Mia Francesca owner Scott Harris teamed up with Patrick Concannon (Don Juan's, Don Juan on Halsted) and Kevin Karales (Savor, Frontera Grill) to transform the former Bar San Miguel into PLATIYO, a contemporary Mexican dining room. The similarities to Don Juan's and Frontera Grill are unmistakable: designer Nancy Warren (North Pond Cafe) painted the walls in rich tones of blue and red, then suspended brightly painted plaster animals from the ceiling. The well-thought-out and reasonably priced menu is yet another feather in Concannon's cap. Appetizers make up half of it: sopes (masa cups) are filled with braised mushrooms in a pasilla chili sauce or tinga (shredded pork) and avocado salsa, and there are chicken and poblano flautas, a bay scallop seviche, and cazuela a la plaza (wood-grilled, red-chili-marinated beef tenderloin). Larger plates include enchiladas, served in tomatillo sauce or Oaxacan red mole; make-your-own tacos with wood-grilled chicken, steak, or mahimahi, a jicama pico de gallo, and beer-smoked baked beans; vegetarian tortas de lentejas (garlic-spiked lentil cakes with capers and pine nuts in a mushroom guajillo sauce); and borrego estilo jalisco (an ancho-and-chipotle-braised lamb shank--a flashback to Concannon's Fahrenheit days). The room runs smoothly already, the cheerful and accommodating staff seemingly full of seasoned restaurant workers. It will likely be a great option for next-door neighbor Francesca's spillover. Platiyo is at 3313 N. Clark, 773-477-6700.
Brothers Rakesh and Swetal Patel, who own the Indian Garden restaurants, give their native cuisine an upscale twist at Lakeview newcomer MONSOON. The luxe room is busy with Indian-style details--burgundy velvet floor-to-ceiling drapes, a pleated red silk light fixture that covers half of the ceiling, framed Buddhist sayings mounted above the upholstered banquets ("Knowing harmony is constancy; knowing constancy is enlightenment"). There's a large bar area up front, which will make for a pleasant wait once they have a liquor license. To man the kitchen they've brought in chef Sumanth Das, formerly of the Peninsula Hotel's Shanghai Terrace and trained in French technique. Diners are greeted with crisp pappadam and dipping sauces. The menu is full of intriguing dishes: langoustine-pappadam rolls (like an amorphous egg roll) in a spicy sambal sauce, salty and gamy lamb-stuffed phyllo triangles, and a version of the Filipino lumpia with soft vegetables rolled in rice paper. Flavors are assertive and at times overpowering, but not atypical for Indian cuisine; entrees are somewhat pricey for the portions (and the neighborhood). Cornish game hens are smoked in Darjeeling tea and set on a tasty bed of basmati rice with peas, and a fillet of red snapper is topped with julienned vegetables, then wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. Service is attentive and swift, darting in and out of the bustling exposed kitchen at back. Even the bathrooms are well-appointed. It's an ambitious effort, and the food may hit its stride in time. Monsoon is at 2813 N. Broadway, 773-665-9463.
The space once home to Oo-La-La and more recently Deville has undergone yet another face-lift to become French bistro FIREFLY. Formerly minimalist in cool pistachio, the room is now deep red orange and hung with vintage poster art, the tables partitioned with golden sheers. Standard bistro starters include caramelized onion tart, mussels and clams with duck sausage (which was curiously missing from our serving), a charcuterie plate, escargot in puff pastry, and a Lyonnaise salad. There are more sandwiches on the menu than full plates, including a Delmonico steak sandwich rubbed with a tasty tarragon-shallot paste and served on a crusty ciabatta roll, a burger on pumpernickel, and chicken with Brie. It's a cute enough neighborhood haunt, and could easily be mistaken for a bar. Perhaps that's intentional, since the drink list is as long as the menu, with some decent wine choices and a half dozen specialty martinis. Firefly is at 3335 N. Halsted, 773-525-2505.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric Fogleman.