Chef and restaurateur Jennifer Newbury--who most recently was the private party planner at Blackbird and a decade ago ran two restaurants, Chez Jenny and Sole Mio--has resurfaced with the new Italian venture FORTUNATO. She seems to have all the pieces in place: the room has stylish appointments like a silver-leaf backsplash behind the front bar, a large exposed kitchen enclosed in glass (which minimizes the clank while allowing for full viewing), and nicely spaced tables. A sandblasted brick wall, white linen tablecloths, a darkly stained cork floor, and dark wood trim throughout make the space handsome and comfortable. The frequently changing menu is refreshingly simple and full of interesting rustic Italian combinations. For starters she might serve a wedge of savory polenta with marsala stewed prunes, pieces of perfectly tender braised duck, and a drizzle of buckwheat honey; jazz up a classic prosciutto di Parma with grilled pineapple, black grapes, and a rich balsamic syrup; or toss a salad of baby artichokes with boiled lemon rind, almonds, and a honey-thyme vinaigrette. The homemade pasta makes a great first or main course; the star of this category is the ravioli stuffed with braised oxtail and served with a fine dice of fennel, carrot, celery, and caramelized onion. Entrees include several wood-grilled items--fresh sardines in a roasted garlic and caper vinaigrette, porterhouse lamb chops, and chicken with bitter greens--along with a Sicilian-style swordfish and a pork loin with prosciutto, spinach, and rosemary potatoes. Servers--some of whom hail from Blackbird--are hip, professional, and friendly enough to make you feel like a regular on your first visit. The all-Italian wine list is sure to pique interest, with esoteric varietals such as Nosiola and Teroldego alongside classics like Barolo and Barbaresco, most of them reasonably priced. Fortunato is at 2005 W. Division, 773-645-7200.
This offbeat part of Uptown feels just right for Frankie Janisch's quirky restaurant and theater. The main-floor dining room at FRANKIE J's has energy--walls are painted in multiple shades of green and hung with a variety of visually captivating enlarged photographs, from a brilliant sunset to a bunch of vibrant blueberries. At the back is the exposed kitchen, full of activity and wonderful smells. Appetizers might include quesadillas filled with a choice of chicken, steak, mixed veggies, or smoked salmon; char-grilled oysters topped with an onion and bacon mixture and wrapped in a lettuce leaf; or a dish of exotic mushrooms cooked over the wood grill and topped with an opal basil vinaigrette. The generously portioned entrees are geared toward meat eaters--there are baby back ribs, 8- and 12-ounce filets mignons, a 28-ounce porterhouse, three sizes of Black Angus New York strip, and a daily pork special. Just to keep everyone happy, Janisch also offers several salads, salmon in a Jack Daniels glaze, and a blue-cheese-and-sage-stuffed chicken breast. Most nights after dinner you can meander up to the MethaDome Theatre for improv or sketch comedy, but the dining room is definitely the more sophisticated destination. Frankie J's is at 4437 N. Broadway, 773-769-2959.
Geno Bahena does it again. The former Frontera Grill master chef has opened MI SUENO SU REALIDAD, his third regional Mexican eatery, in the Wicker Park building that used to house the famous Polish restaurant Mareva's. He's livened up the former banquet hall with a loud mariachi band and huge, colorful canvases of Mexican folk art, some of which he painted himself--and while the ambience still has some kinks, Bahena hardly needs to fine-tune the food. Most dishes come straight off his menus at Ixcapuzalco and Chilpancingo: ensalada de nopalitos (grilled cactus salad with smoked tuna, roasted poblanos, and smoky chipotles); pato en mole verde (grilled duck breast in a green pumpkin seed mole); pollo al chile envinado (grilled free-range chicken breast with woodland mushrooms in an ancho chili red wine sauce); arroz a la tumbada (a paellalike dish of rice, clams, crab, squid, and shrimp simmered with tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro). Flavors are wonderfully true and distinct, and the moles (still made by his mother) are the highlight. Service is congenial and the house margaritas are strong. Mi Sueno Su Realidad is at 1250 N. Milwaukee, 773-782-1500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.