A display case at the front of the cheerful and spacious Thai Pastry, a new restaurant on Broadway near Argyle, showcases exquisite pastries created by owner and chef Aumphai (Add) Kusub: colorful pink and green rice vermicelli served with a sweet coconut milk sauce, jewel-toned mini gelatin molds, and a variety of beautiful cakes. Inside, the extensive menu is just as enticing, full of offerings like baby egg rolls with minced shrimp; mee krob, crispy vermicelli in a sweet plum sauce; and kuchai, pillows of freshly rolled rice noodles stuffed with chive greens in a sweet and spicy rice vinegar sauce. The pad lad na is a wonderful dish of wide, flat noodles in a classic dark sauce with shrimp and broccoli rabe. A showstopper from the back of the menu is the clam curry--lots of perfectly steamed shelled clams with long, flat strips of sour bamboo (nothing like the little canned pieces) in a red curry coconut milk broth served in a hot ceramic pot. The catfish with green Thai eggplant was less successful. While the sauce was tasty and spicy, the tiny chunks of fish were lost in the barely cooked rounds of eggplant and large slices of jalapeno, although the fresh, peppery Thai basil did lend it a nice flavor. There's also an array of whole fish like snapper and pike and even a snail curry dish. The colorful room has ornate pink tablecloths, blond wood chairs, and tasteful Thai artifacts covering the crisp white walls. All in all, it's a nice addition to this primarily Vietnamese dining district. Thai Pastry is at 4925 N. Broadway, 773-784-5399.
If Okno seemed futuristic and stylized, mod., the newest Terry Alexander (Soul Kitchen, Tizi Melloul) project, reaches for even loftier heights of eccentricity. Designed by Suhail (who also worked with Alexander on Tizi Melloul and the furniture designs for Okno), the operative word here is "plastic," as evidenced by the wavy walls, room dividers, egg-shaped chairs, and bench seating. Circular and ovoid shapes are everywhere--from the large mirrors mounted on the back wall to the orange light fixtures in the ceiling to the hard-boiled eggs on the bar, complimentary snacks arranged in a stainless-steel holder. Chef and partner Kelly Courtney, a protegee of renowned San Francisco chef Jeremiah Towers, is dedicated to creating contemporary American cuisine using produce from small local farms in pure and simple preparations. The seasonal menu currently features dishes like an appetizer of pan-seared soft-shell crab on a "sunomono-style" salad of cucumbers and seaweed served in a deep square bowl and a refreshing tuna tartare with spaghetti-thin strips of cool cucumber, served in a cone-shaped glass dish that rests in a round bowl full of crispy pappadams for scooping. Her version of fritto misto is less well-balanced, full of fennel and artichokes sliced so thin that the flavor of frying oil dominates the orange-rosemary aioli. Main courses include an oven-roasted whole New Zealand rainbow snapper with artichokes, yellowfin potatoes, and piquant picholine olives in a natural jus that's just right.
The duck breast was too rare for the thick, bias-cut preparation but the balsamic-fig sauce and red chard made a tasty accompaniment. The wine list is concise and well-selected, with many options in the $50 range like a 1998 Prager Steinreigl--a crisp Austrian Riesling--as well as pricier cult wines like a $105 1997 Sine Qua Non Imposter McCoy syrah. Pastry chef Nancy Silver's desserts--particularly the tropical split with bruleed bananas, passion fruit, and coconut gelato topped with macadamia nut brittle and passion fruit caramel--provide a luscious conclusion. MOD. is at 1520 N. Damen, 773-252-1500.
Finestra di calo, a Tuscan-style Italian restaurant, joined the growing stretch of casually upscale dining options in Andersonville in mid-June. The rooms are attractive, with faux-finished terra-cotta and blue walls, multicolored Venetian blown-glass fixtures over the bar, and French doors that open onto the sidewalk for semi-al fresco dining. Roman chef Gualtiero Carosi, formerly of Pizza D.O.C., has created a refined but approachable menu. The char-grilled calamari appetizer, a generous serving of at least ten little bodies (no tentacles), sits on a bed of wilted greens dressed with a simple squeeze of lemon. There's also a shrimp and artichoke dish of four plump, nicely cooked shrimp arranged with several artichoke hearts. Main courses range from simple pasta, seafood, and veal dishes to more complex creations like ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, prosciutto, and walnuts and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. The wine list is a work in progress--vintages aren't currently specified. Servers and hosts are congenial and aim to please. Finestra di Calo is at 5341 N. Clark, 773-334-4525.
Sushi Doruku, an offshoot of the Benihana of Tokyo organization, is slated for a mid-August opening at State and Elm.
Vintage, at 1967 N. Halsted, has closed.
--Laura Levy Shatkin
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.