Trendy market-district Cuban restaurant MARYSOL blends right in with its existing upscale-ethnic neighbors Marche, Vivo, Red Light, and Sushi Wabi. Cafe Bolero owner Barbara Gonzales gave her new place a name that's a play on the sea (mar) and sun (sol) and a decor that exemplifies the two. The front bar is painted in rich shades of blue and green and outfitted with low-backed leather couches and a long, curvy bar; the main dining room is splashed with sunny yellows and oranges and colorful glass tiles fronting the large semiexposed kitchen. Designer Gerardo FitzGibbon (who also did Nacional 27) has an eye for detail on a large scale: seven-foot-long chartreuse light fixtures hang from the wood-beamed ceilings, interspersed with rows of mod halogens. A moderately loud Latin beat wafts through the dining room, adding to the clubby feel. The menu from former Rhumba chef Barbara Bell opens with more than a dozen tapas (all under $10), including tostones (crisp green plantains in a garlic mojo), beef or chicken empanadas in cilantro lime sauce, and an interesting although quite sweet dish, datiles en vueltos (Medjool dates wrapped in smoked bacon with a red beet reduction). The refreshing Marysol salad combines a generous portion of char-grilled calamari, half of a creamy ripe avocado, and greens tossed in a papaya vinaigrette. Entrees are also true to the cuisine: grilled skirt steak comes in a charred-tomato sauce with sweet pepper ceviche, while sugarcane-skewered shrimp is glazed in a sauce of chili and sweet guava and served with an oddly cheesy guacamole. Sides include maduros (sweet fried plantains) and yuca con mojo (fried strips of yuca in a garlic-infused olive oil). While wine and beer are options, the Brazilian caipirinhas and Cuban mojitos are the best match for the sometimes sweet and spicy cuisine. Marysol is at 812-16 W. Randolph, 312-563-1763.
While the closing of Villa Kula is a great loss to Lincoln Square, the new BISTRO CAMPAGNE, owned by Campagnola partners Michael Altenberg and Steve Schwartz, is a graceful replacement. The outdoor patio remains one of the best in town (especially with the Adirondack chairs and overhead canopies still in place), but now French favorites are served there--steak frites, mussels, onion tart--along with dozens of clever and unusual wine selections, all under $48 a bottle. Known for the painstakingly detailed rustic Italian cuisine he serves at Campagnola, Altenberg has reached back to his early roots at Le Francais and Montparnasse to reveal his French culinary acumen. The small menu has something to please most palates, from a creamy and sinful brandade (garlicky salt-cod-and-cream puree) appetizer to a sprightly frisee salad topped with a poached egg and bacon to a wood-plank-roasted Maine salmon livened up with a tart red cabbage slaw. The public parking lot across the street is an added plus. Bistro Campagne is at 4518 N. Lincoln, 773-271-6100.
Another competitor in the restaurant cum nightclub category, GREEN ROOM at least has an unexpected location: just a block west of Halsted in Greektown. Both named and decorated after its Green Street address, the club has pistachio and olive walls and forest green high-backed banquettes. A lounge overhangs the dining room for the club-hopping crowd, although food is also served there until late at night. Owners Steve Dry (BW-3) and Todd Bordenaro (Bordo's) take their first stab at the higher-end dining market with finesse--the menu, which they call comfort food, was thoughtfully and professionally composed. It's fairly eclectic; beef and chicken satay and a jerk duck appetizer are both nicely done. Even the chicken potpie is refined, with a thyme-scented biscuit crust instead of the typical heavy buttermilk variety. A kabob of plump shrimp and juicy scallops came with an interesting black rice in apricot sauce, but the kernels were gummy and the sauce too sweet. There's a run-of-the-mill wine list--with only two reds and two whites by the glass--along with an obligatory martini list. Service is a bit overzealous. Green Room is at 130 S. Green, 312-666-9813.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Bernacchi.