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Geno Bahena, chef and owner of Ixcapuzalco, has expanded his holdings with Chilpancingo, an elegant yet lively River North restaurant that opened September 15. The room is rich with detail: dozens of brightly colored paper cutouts dangle from the ceiling beams; huge, vibrant oil paintings hang on the walls; and the floor-to-ceiling oak back bar with a sliding library ladder features dozens of papier-mache viejitos (statuettes of elderly Mexicans) set on the shelves. High-backed vinyl booths in rich green and burgundy comprise most of the seating, and the exposed kitchen in back dishes up the regional Mexican delicacies Bahena's famous for. The complimentary creamy guacamole with jicama and cucumber slices is a refreshing starter; another appetizer not to be missed is the sopes surtidos, four homemade corn masa boats brimming with different fillings--chicken in red mole, sweet plantain topped with sour cream, black beans with savory mushrooms, and guacamole. The coctel de mariscos--a chunky seafood cocktail of shrimp, scallops, and crab tossed in a fresh tomatillo-avocado sauce served in a martini glass and garnished, oddly, with saltines--is delicious. However the chile ancho relleno--a marinated, chilled chili stuffed with potatoes and chorizo--is uninspired and overly vinegary. The dazzling entrees taste as good as they look. There's conejo a la poblana, rabbit cooked until it's fork-tender and smothered in a creamy green sauce of roasted poblano peppers, seared onion, and herbs, served on a stack of tangy chilaquiles layered with braised wild greens. Meat lovers can't miss with the borrego en mole negro--roasted rack of lamb on a bed of chunky mashed potatoes, in a pool of Oaxacan black mole--and the adventurous should try the nopales asados con mariscos al chipotle, scallops, shrimp, and crab in a smoky chipotle sour cream served with wood-grilled cactus paddles and roasted potatoes. Service is cheerful and enthusiastic; the wine list is a work in progress, but the house margaritas with your choice of premium tequilas are a safe bet. In the style of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill--where Bahena worked for 12 years--Chilpancingo will be paired with Generoso's Bar and Grill, a more casual Mexican bar and billiard room next door that's slated to open in mid-October. Chilpancingo is at 358 W. Ontario, 312-266-9525.

Chef Steve Cannella, formerly of the now defunct Cannella's in Lincoln Park, is back in business with Cannella's on Grand. The 110-seat restaurant doesn't try to be trendy--there's green floral carpeting, wainscoting, and classic red-and-white checked tablecloths in the more casual front room--and Cannella has the formula for simple, well-prepared regional Italian fare down pat. Servers may still need time to get comfortable--on a recent visit they seemed overwhelmed--but the kitchen is already in full gear. The cozze alla marinara, a large plate brimming with plump mussels in a chunky, flavorful sauce, and the misto di pesce alla griglia, a generous serving of grilled calamari and octopus dressed simply with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, are outstanding. Doggie bags are the norm for those ordering pasta--the farfalle comes with artichokes and grilled chicken in a pesto sauce, linguine is topped with an array of seafood in a tangy tomato sauce, and spaghetti gets a classic meatballs-and-sausage treatment. Entrees include fresh fish of the day, chicken or veal in a variety of traditional preparations, and a small and significantly pricier selection of steaks, including a 20-ounce New York sirloin, a 24-ounce porterhouse, and a grilled veal chop. Cannella's on Grand is at 1132 W. Grand, 312-433-9400.

LocaL GRIND, a two-month-old coffee shop, is the latest entry at the hyperactive intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen. The coffee bar up front offers the typical roster of drinks, bagels, giant cookies, and muffins, plus 20 goofy specialty lattes like the "peppermint patty" (chocolate, mint syrup, whipped cream, and peppermint candy) and the "peanut butter cup" (chocolate, peanut butter, whipped cream, with a Reese's cup perched on top). The adjoining lounge is large and bright, with raw cement floors, apricot walls covered with paintings by local artists, and a fresco of a stormy evening sky daubed on the ceiling. It's a great hangout space, with about a dozen weathered, comfy couches and chairs, mismatched tables, speakers in every corner, and a casual, mostly vegetarian menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches. The house salad is a nice mix of baby greens, mandarin oranges, walnuts, and Gorgonzola in a balsamic vinaigrette, and the Thai cucumber salad, tossed with a balanced chili-sesame vinaigrette and peanuts, is tasty as well. Sandwiches include hummus and cucumber on multigrain toast, fresh mozzarella with pesto and roasted red pepper strips on a baguette that would have been better toasted, and grilled zucchini, squash mushrooms, and goat cheese on focaccia. There's also a special fish preparation, pasta, and salad every day, and everything is priced under $10. Sunday's $9.75 Beatles-themed brunch buffet is the most popular meal--and the only one for which reservations are accepted. Service is laid-back and friendly. Local Grind is at 1585 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3490.

The Dish

On September 17, partners Sal Ismail and Jaree Kantatan opened Oriente Noodle and Pasta Cafe, a stylish place offering a mix of Asian and Italian dishes, at 3343 N. Clark. oSettimana, a northern Italian restaurant, opened September 26 at 2056 W. Division. oSteve Soble of Spare Time Ventures (Hudson Club) is finishing up renovations on the former Salsa Boracha space at 750 Chicago in Evanston. It's slated to open as the Firehouse Grill in mid-October. oRed Rock Grill at 160 E. Huron and Oo-La-La at 3335 N. Halsted have closed.

--Laura Levy Shatkin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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