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What’s New

Jamaican in Lincoln Park, a pricey letdown in River North, and what’s cooking at the renovated Palmer House

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Rogers Park, Chatham, Maywood—all areas whose lucky residents have easy access to excellent home-style island food. Now Lincoln Park does too. Ja' Grill chef Errol Gallimore, who came here from Jamaica in 1992, learned to cook from his mother and did time in south-side restaurants before he was tapped to run the kitchen at this comfortable barstaurant. The few faults I found with his food don't seem to be a result of underestimating the neighborhood's tastes. Jerk chicken, accompanied by a sharp, vinegary jerk sauce in hot or mild, was passable, but it just didn't have the ethereal smokiness and juiciness of its counterpart at, say, Tropic Island. And stewed chicken was a bit dry despite its nice dark brown stew sauce. But the seafood dishes I tried were terrific: a grouper escoveitch piled with julienned vegetables was biting and fruity, jerk catfish had the smokiness and spice the chicken lacked, and a murky fish soup with pumpkin, cho cho (chayote), and house-made dumplings had a powerful kick. My favorite dish, though, was the simple, soft cabbage and carrots steamed in coconut milk. The owner, Tony Coates, stopped by our table to encourage us to suck every scrap of deliriously rich meat off the oxtails—not like we needed the extra motivation. This is a nice quiet spot for lunch, with old-school reggae on the sound system, but at night it's bumping, with DJs in the downstairs lounge and revelers drinking up the house rum punch, made with three kinds of rum and tropical juices. —Mike Sula

Special-event prices demand a special occasion. So for my birthday I went to Prosecco, a posh Italian boite in River North where the entrees top out at $38 for a veal chop. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the restaurant did little to make us feel, well, special. The complimentary toot of namesake bubbly was nice, and our server was unflaggingly sweet and helpful, going so far as to have the sommelier open an off-list bottle when the wine we chose was out of stock. But Prosecco is the sort of top-heavy place where phalanxes of handsome managers in dark suits do a lot of glad-handing while the lone guy bringing out the food is practically running. That top-heavy philosophy applies equally to the kitchen, which seems to operate under the rule of thumb "when in doubt, add butter—and truffles." Orechiette tartufate was a devastatingly rich plate of pasta tossed with wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and a whole lot of black truffle cream and white truffle oil. At first bite (or three) delicious, it was so surprisingly lacking in depth—and so damn rich—that it quickly lost its charm. Seared diver scallops, caramelized to a crisp, came on a puddle of vanilla-scented prosecco reduction powerfully reminiscent of vanilla yogurt. They were, again, so rich—and so salty—I barely made it through half. We had better luck with a Cornish game hen, whose stuffing of porcini mushrooms, sausage, chestnuts, and black truffles delivered enough smoky, nutty flavor to give the dish structure. While the thigh meat was dry, the breast was moist and tender. We shared the pasta and an appetizer, a trio of white tuna, ahi tuna, and salmon crudo—only the citrusy salmon really sang. And though we steered clear of the veal chop, the filet mignon, and the gold-leaf-dusted risotto, the bill still came to more than $200. —Martha Bayne

With so many tony hotel dining rooms biting the dust, you've got to hand it to the Palmer House Hilton for giving Lockwood a chance. The handsome room, which opened last month as part of a major renovation, exudes contemporary sophistication, but strikes against it include the lack of a street entrance, high prices, and a mantra of "fresh seasonal foods" that doesn't distinguish it from scads of other trendy spots. Throw in service that, at least on my visit, was well-meaning but unpolished and the pressure is on executive chef Phillip Foss (Le Cirque, Bistrot Margot) to provide the wow factor. At dinner he concentrates on eight appetizers ($12-$18) and as many entrees ($26-$52), plus a seven-course "signature tasting" ($115, $195 with wine) packed with luxury ingredients. Highlights of the tasting menu were a "Russian sampler" of layered smoked sturgeon and yellow beets coated with vodka creme fraiche and crowned by osetra caviar; tender sliced squab paired with "not faux gras" (i.e., the real thing) and accented by bitter chocolate sauce; and a rectangle of Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson, a raw cow's milk cheese served with mashed persimmons, truffle honey, and brioche. Salty red-wine sauce was all that marred prime beef tenderloin blanketed with black truffles, and while the brownie in "Bertha's famous brownie revisited"—named for Bertha Palmer—was dry, the accompanying chocolate ice cream and mousse were lovely. The a la carte lineup was mixed. I enjoyed the light yet rich "oysters and pearls," Island Creek oysters with caviarlike globes of chenin blanc and a side of hollandaise, but no one would mistake the slightly bitter "faux gras"—duck liver terrine—for genuine foie gras. Creative cocktails and craft beers were more impressive than the wine list, which doesn't give vintages even though prices range from $40 to $600. —Anne Spiselman

OTHER RECENT OPENINGS

Lao Beijing 2138 S. Archer, 312-881-0168

Lao Shanghai 2163 S. China Pl., 312-808-0830

Risque Cafe 3419 N. Clark, 773-555-7711

Rustik 2515 N. California, 773-235-0002

Smoke Shack 800 W. Altgeld, 773-248-8886

Takashi 1952 N. Damen, 773-772-6170

closed

The Painted Lady Organic Eatery 2018 W. Chicago, 773-278-3638

For more on food and drink, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.

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