You have to love both the color and the flavor to appreciate Orange, serving breakfast and lunch only and situated in the former Cafe Voltaire space. Oranges float in tall glass vases full of fresh flowers, and behind the counter are rows of more oranges, squeezed by the order. Coffee is flavored with essence of orange, and water glasses are garnished with a slice of the citrus. The decor is simple: a sign on an orange crate in the large front window, exposed brick walls, and natural wood floors and chairs. Owners Matt Miller and Andrew Klemen and chef Dale Levitski (who honed his skills at Saussy and Blackbird) have dubbed their genre "contemporary brunch" and created a menu full of whimsical surprises: French toast comes in the form of coconut-milk-soaked kabobs skewered alongside strawberries, pineapple, and bananas and served with a mango coconut salad, while pancakes come in traditional buttermilk or an intriguing spice and carrot version topped with roasted parsnip puree and a satiny vanilla maple creme fraiche. There's the Jelly Doughnut Pancake (a Swedish pancake filled with lingonberries), as well as Green Eggs and Ham (three eggs scrambled with basil pesto, roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and pancetta). Currently served as a complimentary sample but soon to be on the menu is "frushi"--a maki of fresh fruit and sweet rice in a rice paper wrapper. Lunch options include soup, sandwiches (one combines aged Canadian cheddar with caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes), and a vegetable napoleon consisting of loosely layered phyllo dough, grilled leeks, wild mushrooms, spinach, zucchini, and artichokes, with a dab of creamy Boursin cheese and a sweet onion puree. In spite of all the dotting and drizzling and eclectic combinations, the food shows respect for boundaries along with an appreciation for fine ingredients. Prices are reasonable, and the BYO policy includes offering mixers for Bloody Marys and mimosas. Orange is at 3231 N. Clark, 773-549-4400.
Ted Cizma, named one of Food & Wine's best new chefs last year for his work at Grace, has brought his trademark cuisine to his native western suburbs with elaine. He's created a slice of downtown Chicago just off the main drag in Naperville: the dimly lit two-room space features galvanized steel trim, circular modern wall sconces, and slate blue faux-finished walls juxtaposed with white linen tablecloths, wheat-colored napkins, and pale wood round-backed chairs. The menu is full of Cizma's typically bold flavors. Succulent slow-cooked short ribs come on a mound of potato and celery root puree with chanterelle mushrooms, topped with apples and a meaty jus; salmon is served with fresh artichoke hearts and browned fingerling potatoes drizzled with lemon basil oil and set off by a blend of herbs and lacy baby mache. The thoughtful wine list includes bottles priced from $24 to $450; the 1999 Hanna Russian River Valley sauvignon blanc is a good match for lobster salad in a warm curry dressing, while a 1999 Brokenstone cabernet shiraz blend had just the velvety finish to work with Cizma's hearty meat dishes. He's exported several former staffers from Grace. Elaine is at 10 W. Jackson in Naperville, 630-548-3100.
Overlooking the old Chicago Water Tower (and competitor NoMi) is avenues, a seafood restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel where executive chef Gerhard Doll and chef de cuisine Damien Audusseau show off their culinary artistry. The emphasis here is on freshly caught fish, often whole, prepared with a delicate hand. The elegant surroundings complement the food--comfy upholstered chairs, floor-to-ceiling gold satin drapes, gold and green textured walls, oversize Wedgwood dishware--while an exhibition kitchen at the entrance to the room helps maintain a customer-friendly tone. Settling in was easy, especially when the first amuse-bouche came: a carpaccio of langoustine served with osetra caviar and a dab of creme fraiche, followed by a demitasse of tomato consomme with a skewer of olive-oil-poached tomato. A starter of Alaskan king crab was served with a crown of delicate white asparagus and shaved summer truffles in a foamed crustacean butter. Entrees include a whole sea bass for two, either roasted with thyme or baked whole in coarse sea salt with candied garlic and parsley; a crisp dorade, served skin side up and layered between fresh Asian herbs in a parsley jus with squid ink pasta; and tender Dover sole in garlic butter with pappardelle, clams, squid, and pimiento. There's an extensive selection of fish-appropriate wines--over 450 bottles--including gems like a 1995 Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Premier Cru (also available nonvintage at half the price), a 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot d'Alsace, and a 1999 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Loiser Berg. Service is attentive and accommodating. Avenues is at 108 E. Superior, 312-573-6754.
At the west end of Roscoe Village is hot doug's, a sausage stand owned by culinary school grad and caterer Doug Sohn. The walls are painted in primary colors and hung with Elvis memorabilia, the tables are inlaid with Spanish tiles, and a sign on the wall says, "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend." Sohn offers over a dozen kinds of sausage (including the standard Vienna beef and Polish). More goofy varieties include the Britney Spears, a beef sausage full of hot chilies; the P.J. Soles, made with chorizo; and a game dog of the week, which might be buffalo or blood sausage. There are also veal and chicken sausages, and even a vegetarian version. Customers choose their cooking method--char-grilled, steamed, or fried--and toppings. Fries are freshly cut and served with the skin but are inordinately greasy, perhaps cooked at too low a temperature. Hot-dog-themed kitsch like a napkin dispenser, a fork holder, and a straw holder are displayed up front. Hot Doug's is at 2314 W. Roscoe, 773-348-0326.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.