Overcoming the disadvantage of its subterranean location may be DOZO SUSHI & LOBSTER's biggest challenge: it's difficult to see from the street, and parking's a pain. But the loungelike room inside is inviting, with large upholstered wingback chairs, regal seven-foot-high semicircular booths, and rich red and orange walls. Vases of fresh flowers line a dark wood divider separating a raised dining area from the main room; the only misstep is the easy listening coming through the speakers. The menu moves beyond the usual lineup of sushi, sashimi, and maki--though it offers these too, all expertly prepared, ultrafresh, and generously portioned--with several notable items like an oyster pancake appetizer similar to a Korean pajon, full of scallions and carrots and served in a pool of soy dipping sauce (which would have worked better on the side). There's also a Japanese tuna salad: large cubes of fresh tuna in a spicy mayonnaise topped with tobiko caviar and surrounded by sliced cucumber, wakame (seaweed), and shredded daikon. But the signature dish here is lobster. Pulled live from a tank near the sushi bar, the crustacean is presented in three courses: first the tail, served raw, an interesting textural experience best reserved for die-hard sashimi lovers; next the tender claws, cooked in a savory black bean and garlic sauce; and finally the head and innards, steeped in a piping hot tofu seaweed broth. It's worth trying, and suitable for sharing between up to three people, which makes the $56 price tag a bit more tolerable. Service is cordial. A liquor license is still pending; meanwhile, there's a Chalet around the corner. Dozo Sushi & Lobster is at 100 E. Walton, 312-274-1000.
Wicker Park Thai eatery ROONG is a step up for Roong Petch owners John Sopanarat and his mother Chariys and brother Paul. An arched ceiling in the subtly lit entryway is royal blue, separated from the pumpkin-colored dining room by sheer white floor-to-ceiling drapes. A few Thai artifacts decorate the walls, handsome dark wood tables and chairs fill the space, and a pair of royal Thai figures are projected onto the back of the room. Just as artfully done is the food, presented on square and rectangular plates. Appetizers include the expected--pot stickers, chicken satay, and tod mun--along with a few surprises, like steamed greenlip mussels in oyster sauce spiced with Thai basil and chilies. Soups and salads are abundant, as are noodle dishes--wide "drunken" rice noodles are stir-fried with elegantly cut carrots, baby corn, tomatoes, and red peppers in a spicy fish sauce. Entrees, made with a choice of meat, tofu, or vegetables, include several outstanding curries; especially good was a combination of shelled mussels, squid, and shrimp in a rich, coconut-scented red curry with green peas and onions. The comforting scents of jasmine rice and tea fill the air. Temporarily BYO. Roong is at 1633 N. Milwaukee, 773-252-3488.
Replacing QP inside Streeterville's Seneca Hotel is the upscale regional Italian CANTARE. The decor hasn't changed much, but Volare owner Benny Siddu and certified master chef Edward Leonard have teamed up to create an extremely sophisticated (and pricey) menu of elegantly presented dishes. A delicate veal carpaccio on a bed of fresh arugula and capers was drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; a terrine of homemade mozzarella cheese and olives in a sweet oregano vinaigrette was surrounded by red grapes and plump olives; and a refreshing salad of fennel, red onions, and arugula came with a scoop of melon-proscuitto sorbet and a blood orange vinaigrette. (Braised lamb cheeks with an eggplant caponata also make an appearance on the starter menu.) There are several categories of entrees: pasta and risotto, dishes from the grill, and main plates. A beautifully composed risotto special incorporated veal bacon, wild mushrooms, peas, and grilled prawns. Other offerings included a monkfish osso bucco, a marinated sea bass, and two steak dishes, one of which didn't match a menu description; though it was supposed to be marinated in garlic, rosemary, and lemon, there wasn't a hint of rosemary on this moderately tough grilled steak, resting on a row of fingerling potato halves with a side of roasted red and yellow peppers. Desserts--homemade gelato, panna cotta, and truffles--were a high point. The wine list is mostly Italian with a limited by-the-glass selection and a few half-bottle offerings. Service is attentive and aims to please. Cantare is at 200 E. Chestnut, 312-266-4500.
--Laura Levy Shatkin
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.