While the Pasta Palazzo on Armitage still thrives, husband and wife Michael and Natalie Moore have converted the Wrigleyville location into a tapas lounge called Twist, designed to appeal to a younger neighborhood with more late-night dining habits. The room's cozier now--they faux-finished the walls in rich tones of terra-cotta, painted the ceiling midnight blue, and installed a long upholstered banquette along one wall. There's plenty of bar seating, plus several tables set on a raised platform in the window, overlooking a patio with more tables enclosed by a sculptural stainless steel fence. Emilio's and Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba veteran Roberto Duran mans the open kitchen (actually more of a grill line). One side of the menu is dedicated to tapas, the other to "twisted," or international, small plates that globe-trot from Italy to Morocco to Mexico: Moroccan-spiced chicken brochettes, jalapeno gnocchi, and a guacamole and brie melt with sun-dried tomatoes. The traditional tapas are more successful. The ensalada mariscos combines shrimp, bay scallops, and calamari with a confetti of red, yellow, and green peppers and a lemon olive oil vinaigrette. A highlight is the solomillo con Cabrales, a thick cut of grilled beef tenderloin crusted in Spanish blue cheese. Several predictable but skillfully executed dishes include baked goat cheese in tomato sauce with garlic toast, served in the classic earthenware dish, and grilled calamari splashed with a balanced lemon herb vinaigrette. Pitchers of homemade sangria make a nice accompaniment. Casual servers are cheerful and prompt. Twist is at 3412 N. Sheffield, 773-388-2727.
In May, Leona's president Leon Toia converted the former Stacks & Steaks at Devon and Clark into the stylized, retro Deluxe Diner (no relation to the short-lived Wicker Park restaurant of the same name). Red vinyl booths and shiny chrome fixtures freshen up the formerly dingy coffee shop, and striking color photographs of city scenes line the walls. The counter doubles as an ice cream fountain offering sundaes, banana splits, and milk shakes in flavors like Oreo cookie, Butterfinger, and chocolate banana. Breakfast, served 24 hours a day, revolves mainly around individual cast-iron skillets filled with hash browns and your choice of themed eggs--the Mexicano comes with rice, beans, taco meat, and cheese, the Mediterranean with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and feta, and so on. There are pancakes, waffles, and French toast to suit those with a sweet tooth, and everything's served in huge portions. Lunch and dinner offerings stay in the same over-the-top vein: wings, onion rings, messy nachos, and pizza varieties including buffalo chicken, fire-roasted veggie, and caliente (spicy ground beef with jalapeno peppers). It wouldn't be a diner without a burger; theirs is a half-pounder. Plus there are obligatory sides like mashed potatoes and gravy, mac 'n' cheese, and waffle fries. Monster slices of desserts like apple pie and chocolate cake fill a display case near the counter. Many of the professional Stacks & Steaks servers have stayed on, so food comes quickly and always with terms of endearment. Deluxe Diner is at 6349 N. Clark, 773-743-8244.
The Midland Hotel has been converted into the first of two W Hotels opening in Chicago this year, and this one houses the innovative restaurant We. Architectural details like the bronze plaster-cast ceiling and vaulted archways remain, but decorators have added trendy elements--the flowing white curtains hanging in the entryway, for example, reminiscent of Ian Schraeger's South Beach hotel, the Delano. There are more beautiful-people touches in the restaurant: burgundy velvet booths, brushed stainless steel trim, retro light fixtures. The "creative American" cuisine is straightforward when it comes to starters; there are baked fingerling potatoes with three caviars and creme fraiche, a rolled lobster pancake in a red Thai curry cream, and a ham, cheese, and grilled asparagus sandwich on brioche. With entrees, the ordering process gets more complicated: in each of five pretentious categories (including "water" for seafood and "air" for fowl), the menu is divided into three numbered columns--meats, accompaniments, and sauces--that patrons can mix and match. (For ideal combinations, states the menu, diners should order straight across.) Seared diver scallops, for example, can be paired with spring leeks and a lemon vinaigrette or with artichoke fondue and a chardonnay broth, though the suggested pairing is with Asian greens and a citrus balsamic nage. A slightly undercooked roast veal medallion went nicely with a three-grain sage salad and a balsamic demiglace, although the rosemary broth also might have been interesting. This approach requires a lot of work, and it might prove daunting for the power-lunch crowd--but it'll suit those enlightened foodies who always claim they could do better than the chef. Service needs some serious improvement: dirty dishes were slow to be cleared and food temperatures were off, though our water glasses remained full. We is at 172 W. Adams, 312-917-5608.
--Laura Levy Shatkin
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.