The two-story house next door to Le Bouchon has been home to several eateries (most recently Gilgamesh), but New England-themed newcomer GLORY seems especially well suited to the space. Chef and owner Sharon Cohen has whitewashed the wooden benches, painted the walls a dusty blue, and trimmed the windows with crisp white paint but no curtains, letting the natural light stream in. The effect is that of an east-coast beach house, which is the perfect setting for menu items like whole belly Ipswich fried clams with homemade tartar sauce, for instance, or a lobster roll (a long bun filled with a mayonnaise-based lobster salad). Native New Englander Cohen also prepares more modern interpretations of classics, including a changing johnnycakes special--stone-ground cornmeal pancakes topped with combinations like seared scallops, caramelized onions, and sauteed mushrooms--and a thin version of the traditional cream-based clam chowder, scented with herbs but long on potatoes and short on chewy clams. Daily blue plate specials range from Yankee pot roast with parsnips and a carrot souffle (Sunday) to a seafood chowder of lobster, shrimp, clams, and cod (Friday). There's also a Providence-style pizza (a roasted-tomato-and-Gruyere version was offered on one visit), along with a composed salad of the day for lighter appetites. Among the homemade desserts are Boston cream pie and a cranberry pear cobbler served with dollops of both vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday; there's also a kids' menu featuring favorites like macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, and a grilled cheese sandwich. Prices are reasonable, and it's BYO. Glory is at 1952 N. Damen, 773-235-7400.
The former Grace space has been brightened up by new owners (and spouses) Maria Ambriz and Daniel Kelly, who've renamed it D. KELLY. Tables have been reconfigured so that there's an open aisle down the center of the room; the bar up front remains, though a liquor license is still pending. Kelly, former executive chef at the Rosemont Hyatt, offers a capable dinner menu full of standard American dishes like oysters Rockefeller and a wonderfully meaty Maryland crab cake served with remoulade sauce and a chilled avocado-tomato relish. A few Asian-inspired dishes show up too: one is an appetizer of rice-paper-wrapped shrimp on a cucumber noodle salad in an orange-ginger reduction, another an entree of seared black cod accompanied by baby bok choy, a golden tomato relish, and pickled baby beets (the last served cold, though a consistent temperature might have made the already nice dish even better). The sauce on a veal ragout with Michigan morels (served over pappardelle) had a good flavor but unfortunately overwhelmed the mushrooms. The eight-ounce grilled tenderloin--otherwise known as filet mignon--seemed a lot larger than it should've been and came with delicate baby carrots, pattypan squash, and roasted potatoes in a truffle demiglace. Tempting side dishes, which aren't really necessary with such generous entrees, include brussels sprouts in a seductive creamy garlic sauce, "garlic cream of spinach" mashed potatoes, and corn straight off the cob. The value-oriented lunch menu--a selection of salads and sandwiches (including four kinds of panini), a couple of entrees, and a pasta of the day--is a less elegant, less expensive option to neighboring Blackbird. Servers will likely get up to speed over time. D. Kelly is at 623 W. Randolph, 312-628-0755.
The Fairmont Hotel has shut down its two long-standing dining rooms, Entre Nous and Primavera, to make way for the "culturally inspired," elegant American restaurant ARIA. The long, narrow, L-shaped space, designed by Marve Cooper (who was responsible for Fogo de Chao and Nacional 27), is dripping with ritzy details, from the mahogany trim to the richly upholstered gold and black chairs to the sheer bronze curtains under gray polka-dot valances. An "action kitchen" is arranged so that diners can see both the tandoori and pizza ovens at work; across from it a wine cabinet makes up the whole wall. At one end of the room is a large, round semiprivate chef's table. Dinner starts with a basket of warm nan (Indian flatbread) and four dipping sauces--raita, peanut, lentil, and curried vegetable; you could easily make a meal of that and an appetizer to avoid the maze of the menu. At first glance the theme appears to be southeast Asian, which isn't surprising, since chef James Wierzelewski cooked in Thailand and Malaysia. But it quickly gets muddied by many other influences: a carpaccio of smoked Angus beef with arugula and Stilton is listed next to a crispy duck leg confit topped with sultanas (pale yellow seedless grapes), apricots, and a port wine syrup. A salad of frisee, peppercress, and French green beans is embellished with blue cheese and candied pecans, while field greens come with marinated cucumbers and an Assyrian tahini vinaigrette with mint. The clear winner in this category is the Kyoto sashimi tuna salad--thickly sliced and coated in black sesame seeds and topped with fresh microgreens. The entree selection is even more eclectic, with dishes like swordfish osso buco next to a wonderful scallion-and-ginger-steamed black bass, the latter accompanied by a French press full of red Thai curry broth, coconut milk, and fresh Thai basil, meant to be poured on top. Perhaps to acknowledge that this is a meat town, there's a small "Chicago Cuts" section offering four char-grilled prime aged steaks. Unlike the menu, the wine list benefits from the international slant: it features notable, reasonably priced cabernets from South Africa and Chile along with higher-end Californian and French varieties. But Wierzelewski would be better off sticking to his strengths instead of trying to appeal to everyone. And given the name, it's odd that soft rock would be piped through the excellent sound system. Aria is at 200 N. Columbus, 312-444-9494.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Merideth.