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First Impressions

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Howard Bailey, Paul Bolger, and Philip Rathle, owners of the Wicker Park record store Beat Parlor, have jumped on the nightclub-restaurant hybrid bandwagon with SLICK'S LOUNGE, a Goose Island lair that pays as much attention to the fare as it does to the scene. A wood dance floor takes up most of the room, with a few dozen tables on the raised platform surrounding it; tunes pulsate at a level conducive to conversation during the dinner hour.

Halogen lights emit a sultry blue glow, and there's a VIP room off to one side with comfy black velvet banquettes and small cocktail tables. Chef Kareem Roberts, who hails from the Astor in South Miami Beach, makes a strong Chicago, debut with his "New World" fusion of Italian, French, and Caribbean cuisines. An appetizer of goat-cheese-and-artichoke-stuffed portobello mushrooms comes elegantly presented, with a mesclun salad, a balsamic reduction, and a red pepper coulis; the flavors all work nicely together. There are also jerked chicken wings in a mango-ginger sauce or prawn seviche to start. The mostly hearty entree selection includes several beef dishes--a special featured filet mignon stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in a smoky strip of bacon, served on a mound of succulent lobster-studded mashed potatoes and ringed with steamed spinach. Desserts are worth a try here, too: the apple cobbler was a bowl of perfectly caramelized fruit and toasted walnuts topped with a buttery crust and a generous dollop of whipped cream. DJs spin a variety of tunes, from salsa on Mondays to hip-hop on Fridays. Friendly and chatty servers aim to please. Slick's Lounge is at I 115 N. North Branch, 312-932-0006.

It may take time for quaint. Italian newcomer CAFE VIAGGIO to stand out, situated as it is along a restaurant-laden stretch of Taylor Street, but the potential is there. The space is tastefully done up with contemporary Italian accents like high-backed wrought iron chairs with eggplant-colored cushions, conical wire-mesh vases of colorful silk flowers, mounted on the exposed brick wells, and a long, mirror-backed bar to wait at Sicilian chef Salvo (who goes by just one name), most recently from Trattoria Gianni, puts out capable, sometimes ambitious fare, drawing on flavors from his roots in both northern and southern Italy. Starters are fairly ordinary: grilled octopus in a balsamic vinaigrette, fried calamari, and several salads. Entrees are a bit more intriguing--a special one night was a generous serving of meaty mahimahi accompanied by crispy browned roasted potatoes and steamed fresh spinach doused in a heavy but delectable roasted garlic cream sauce. A variety of pasta, veal, and chicken dishes rounds out the menu, from manicotti with fresh ricotta and spinach to a scrumptious cavatelli in a balanced tomato-vodka sauce. There's also veal saltimbocca and a daily risotto special. Desserts include several homemade gelati and sorbets, along with tiramisu and changing specials. The wine list ranges from Italian Chiantis to French wines with a few Californians; unfortunately, vintages are not listed. Cafe Viaggio is at 1435 W. Taylor, 312-266-9009.

Arigato means "thank you" in Japanese, and it's the perfect response to husband and wife owners Paul and Jennifer Byun for opening the adorable and unpretentious SUSHI ARIGATO. Located just around the corner from downtown Evanston's new movie complex, this former coffeehouse still has the original scuffed wood floors, but green-upholstered blond wood chairs and subtle floral wallpaper freshen it up a bit. A small L-shaped sushi bar fills the back half of the room, with a dozen or so tables in front. Chef Byun, whose brother owns Chicago's three Kabuki restaurants, put in two and a half years at Kamehachi and another year or two at Tsunami, and his expertise shows. The menu is full of professionally prepared standards in generous portions. A huge bowl of edamame (soybeans in their pods) is served piping hot and lightly salted, and the seaweed salad is tops. Tightly rolled makis are designed to appeal to the eye--the negi hamachi maki, for instance, is bursting with perfectly centered yellowtail and scallions. The dragon roll is also noteworthy, combining sweet glazed broiled eel, crispy shrimp tempura, fresh crab, crunchy cucumber, creamy avocado, and plump tobiko (flying fish roe). The bento boxes are a good way to sample tempura, sushi, California roll, and a marinated cucumber salad. Servers are gracious and prompt, and the low-key atmosphere is a refreshing alternative to all the slick sushi places that have opened of late. Sushi Arigato is at 822 Clark in Evanston, 847-328-4848.

The Dish

Just one year after his much-heralded return to Le Francais, Jean Banchet sold it this week to North Pond Cafe owner Phil Mott A former Gordon executive Don Yamauchi. Yamauchi (most recently at Patrick & James in Glencoe) will take over the world-famous Wheeling kitchen March 8, with Scott Reading (former sous chef at Grace) as chef de cuisine.

Chef Kevin Shikami, currently at the Outpost and most acclaimed for his tenure at Jimmy's Place, plans a spring opening for his new solo venture, Kevin, at 9 W. Hubbard.

--LAURA LEVY SHATKIN

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

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