Taking some cues from neighboring Cafe Absinthe, d'vine, an elegant new Wicker Park bistro, is clubby and sleek. Guests enter through the alley into a warm, blue space hung with dramatic conical light fixtures and minimalist artworks; huge round candles burn in the center of the room. Chef Griff Finch (former executive sous chef at Gordon's) has created a short but seriously sophisticated menu of Provencal-inspired dishes. The amuse bouche was just right--three small bites of avocado spread, house-cured salmon, and sauteed wild mushrooms. Appetizers include indulgences like a pan-roasted squab breast with wild mushroom risotto, squab consomme, and black truffles and a classic foie gras that's given a contemporary spin with caramelized banana and white truffled honey. An entree of pan-seared scallops, nicely browned, was served with a mix of barley, corn, green beans, and oyster mushrooms in a subtle curry sauce; sauteed duck breast came with a savory, perfectly cooked leg confit but got a pleasing lift from a roasted mirepoix, braised cabbage, and nicely undercooked green lentils. The wine selection is growing daily under the direction of steward (and general manager) Jason Sleight, with 35 currently available by the glass and over 350 bottles in the cellar. Service is pleasant and professional. D'Vine, 1950 W. North, 773-235-5700.
Pegasus owners John Melidas and James Alexander have expanded their holdings with artopolis, a new Greektown establishment that combines a bakery, cafe, bar, and retail store under one roof. It's a family affair, with Melidas's wife, Maria, in charge behind the scenes and Alexander's brother Steve cheerfully managing the floor. The exposed kitchen is fronted by a heated display case full of their signature "artopitas"--a flaky, calzonelike puff pastry stuffed with your choice of fillings like spinach and feta, mushroom and Emmentaler, or even smoked salmon and fontina. There's an extensive selection of soups, salads, sandwiches on hearth-baked bread, and wood-fired pizzas. A few traditional dishes like moussaka, stuffed peppers, and roasted leg of lamb with oregano, rosemary, and mint aioli are also available. Everything's reasonably priced, and it's self-service at lunch, when it's usually packed. A subterranean bakery turns out fantastic breads and pastries that are sold retail along with colorful gift baskets and a variety of chocolates, olive oils, and vinegars. Artopolis, 306 S. Halsted, 312-559-9000.
The tasting room at Randolph Wine Cellars is an intriguing and appealing addition to the West Randolph strip. Attached to the retail wine shop, the sleek two-story bar is stocked with a selection of over 100 wines, ports, Madeiras, sherries, and cognacs available by the glass. Owners Perry and Brenda Fotopoulos have created a simple and contemporary space with exposed brick walls, natural wood floors, and high ceilings that showcase a dramatic skyline view. While the menu is limited to cheeses, charcuterie (pates, mousses, and sausages), and desserts, it's easy to settle in for an evening of grazing. The cheese selection is remarkable, and very reasonably priced. You can create your own board--on your own or following the recommendations of the knowledgeable staff--from the dozens of offerings such as rich French explorateur, spicy German cambazola, and buttery Italian fontal. Almost all are priced under $2 for a one-and-a-half-ounce serving. Or opt for a preassembled off-the-menu board that's amply garnished with fruits, nuts, and outstanding Red Hen bread. Much of the seating area is outfitted with comfy couches instead of traditional tables and chairs, so you can relax for a long stretch. The Tasting Room at Randolph Wine Cellars, 1415 W. Randolph, 312-942-1212.
Tonic 661 has been "reconceptualized" as the more casual, burgers-and-beer-oriented Doc's River North.
Steve Sobel's planning a summer opening for his new Firehouse Grill, located inside a former firehouse at 750 Chicago Avenue in Evanston (now home to Salsa Boracha).
--Laura Levy Shatkin
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.