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RUSHMORE opened only three weeks ago, but the staff at this contemporary American restaurant already has an air of confident professionalism. Considering the team behind the place, that's not such a surprise: the owners are Rodney Alex of Bin 36 and Franco Gianni of Sushi Wabi, with chef Michael Dean Hazen, formerly a sous chef at Blackbird. Pushing the Randolph Street restaurant scene slightly northward, Rushmore sits on Lake under the rumbling Green Line tracks. The softly lit, minimally decorated room is elegant, with linen-topped tables and warm wood trim, but it's casual enough to be comfortable. The menu has a similar easy grace. There are sophisticated offerings reminiscent of the chefs former place of work like Colorado rack of lamb with a navy bean and fennel gratin and tender braised lamb shoulder, all in a satiny merlot reduction, and a fish special that one day featured wild striped bass on a celery root puree with fennel. As a counterpoint, there are also daily blue-plate specials like buttermilk fried chicken and meat loaf with onion rings. Sides include macaroni and cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, and braised collard greens. All of the dishes are prepared with a light hand and an attention to detail that shows experience and talent. Rushmore is at 1023 W. Lake, 312-421-8845.

Once rich, dark, and romantic, the space formerly occupied by Gordon now houses the sparse, bright, and sleek NAHA, a contemporary American restaurant from chef and owner Carrie Nahabedian. The floors are darkly stained wood with low-backed chairs to match, the walls are taupe with a few neutral-toned artworks, and there's a neat row of ornamental grasses serving as a room divider. Nahabedian shows a fondness for sweet elements in starters like two roasted sea scallops dusted with ground vanilla bean, served on a mound of caramelized Belgian endive with candied orange zest, and seared foie gras with roasted quince, quince jelly, and green peppercorns. The grilled quail salad with frisee, baby fingerling potatoes, and porcini mushrooms, topped with a poached quail egg, is full of bold, smoky flavors, but suffers visually from a haphazard arrangement. The wood-grilled Kansas City sirloin is a somewhat chewy 16-ounce cut fanned out next to a delicate gratin of goat cheese and Yukon Gold potatoes with a beautifully balanced oxtail and red wine reduction--a savory marriage of strong flavors. Another sweet dish, a holdover from the chefs days at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, is hot, smoked salmon in a mustard seed glaze; it's remarkably moist, and served on a bed of French lentils with caramelized onions, savoy cabbage, fresh thyme, and a drizzle of balsamic syrup. The white-truffle-scented mascarpone-and-spinach ravioli is light as a feather, offset by earthy strips of black trumpet mushrooms, slender asparagus spears, and greens. Service is extremely professional--knowledgeable and unintimidating. Naha doesn't have a liquor license yet, but already shows signs of becoming a destination restaurant of the caliber of Blackbird or MK. Naha is at 500 N. Clark, 312-321-6642.

Owner Debra Sharpe has turned the space formerly occupied by her contemporary American restaurant Con Fusion into COMMUNE, a warm, casual coffee bar and restaurant. The color change--from stark white to deep tones of mustard and burgundy--is striking. Inviting couches and leather chairs sit in the front windows around a fireplace, the long bar is now a coffee bar, and the back room is a softly lit dining area with high black banquettes. The menu still has her trademark global twists, like chipotle-glazed barbecued chicken wings, black mussels in a Thai coconut-red curry sauce, and sesame tempura shrimp with a ponzu dipping sauce. The restaurant also offers a breakfast menu full of comfort foods like homemade doughnuts, peanut-butter-and-jelly French toast, and a breakfast burger of fried egg, bacon, and cheddar. It's obviously intended as a cozy local hangout, and may well succeed, though it lacks some of the charm of neighboring Local Grind. Commune is at 1616 N. Damen, 773-772-7100.

The Dish

Becco d'Oro, a fine Italian restaurant from the owners of Milwaukee's Becco Fino and executive chef Gaetano DiBenedetto, is scheduled for a December 7 opening at 160 E. Huron.

Hubie Greenwald plans an early January opening for Otro Mas, a smaller version of his successful nuevo Latino restaurant in Wicker Park, at 3651 N. Southport.

The Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club, the first U.S. outpost of this swing-themed Puerto Vallarta cabaret and restaurant, opened November 28 at 3700 N. Halsted. It features an eclectic menu of Asian-influenced dishes and performances by impersonators (male and female) of Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Eartha Kitt, and other stars of the 40s and 50s.

LAURA LEVY SHATKIN

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

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