Stretching the northern bounds of Andersonville is M. HENRY, a quaint American cafe from partners Michael H. Moorman--formerly co-owner of the fast-food Loop eatery Heartwise Express--and Jorge Aviles. Just a block south of the Clark-Ashland intersection, the former Latina bridal shop has been dressed up with red linoleum floors, rows of white pendant lamps, antique doors and windows suspended from the ceiling, and a few simple, modern works of art on the brick walls. It's open for breakfast and lunch only, every day but Monday. Sandwiches and salads are nice and light; there's a turkey burger, a miso-glazed veggie burger, a Caribbean jerk chicken sandwich, a "drunken" chicken sandwich in a chardonnay glaze, and three more, all served with a side of sesame red cabbage slaw or root vegetable chips. Three salads include one layered with Chinese cucumber, watercress, and sesame-crusted chicken in a ginger dressing. Breakfast entries are more interesting: a dish called Vegan Epiphany is organic tofu scrambled with red and green peppers, onions, and yuba (a baconlike soy product), while Dulce Banana Rhumba is thick-cut brioche French toast with warm bananas, rum, golden raisins, and pecans. Pancakes come with either pomegranate or maple syrup--or layered with blackberry compote and vanilla mascarpone and topped with a brown-sugar-and-oat crust. There's a small juice bar toward the back of the room. Prices are reasonable and the staff eager to accommodate. M. Henry is at 5707 N. Clark, 773-561-1600.
Coco Pazzo managing partner Jack Weiss shifts his focus from Italy to Provence at River North newcomer PILI PILI. The two rooms are simply decorated, with stone floors, olive and cream walls, semicircular booths, and a colorful tapestry featuring the restaurant's namesake, a North African hot pepper. Recessed lighting casts a flattering glow, although overall the place feels a bit stark. The food, on the other hand, couldn't be less so. Chef Francois de Melogue, who spent his childhood summers visiting his grandparents in Marseilles, transports diners directly to the open markets and brasseries of southern France with starters like pistou, the classic vegetable, bean, and pasta soup topped with pesto; mussels in a creamy sauce that's subtly flavored with pastis (the anise-flavored liqueur), served with sauteed leeks; and a savory version of tarte tatin featuring layers of sliced artichoke hearts, fennel, and oven-dried tomatoes on a flaky puff pastry with a dollop of briny olive tapenade. Things get even better as the menu progresses. A main course of loup de mer (one day replacing the sea bass listed on the menu) was prepared Riviera-style: a skin-on fillet was rolled around chopped Swiss chard and tomato confit, then set in a stewed tomato sauce dotted with whole cloves of roasted garlic. Tender braised spring rabbit in white wine-chervil sauce was served with a medley of al dente baby vegetables--parsnips, carrots, and, oddly, raw cucumbers. Homemade pasta might include spinach linguine with an assortment of mussels, clams, and fish, tossed in olive oil. Among the desserts are rich combinations like a pineapple beignet with coconut ice cream and a rum-vanilla bean sauce, warm bittersweet chocolate tart with caramelized bananas, and a classic apple tarte tatin with caramel sauce and caramel ice cream. A liquor license is yet to come, but in the meantime Weiss's wife, Tamra, is compiling a wine list that's mostly southern French and unparalleled in Chicago. Fairly priced bottles from the lesser-known regions of France (Cahors, Quincy, Touraine, Jasnieres) will be prominent, along with a handful of selections from Burgundy and California and a few splurges from Bordeaux, like the 1983 Saint-Estephe Chateau Cos d'Estournel ($180) and a 1989 Chateau Palmer Margaux ($225). Pili Pili is at 230 W. Kinzie, 312-464-9988.
The former Antojitos Guatemaltecos has quietly transformed into Mexican eatery LA CONDESITA DE ACAPULCO. Gone are the Central American artifacts, but otherwise the room looks similar--clear plastic tops the tables and a jukebox plays Latin music, which sometimes drowns out the television. The guacamole is tops, but the draw here is the delectable, ultrafresh corn tortillas. The same masa dough goes into several other recommended items: gorditas (thick tortillas stuffed with a choice of braised chicken, spiced pork, steak, or beans), huaraches (long, narrow masa boats filled with the same options), and sopes (rounds of dough with ingredients piled on top). Though these aren't considered entrees, they can easily make a meal. The menu is in the process of changing, so some items (like the ones above) are listed only on a sandwich board up front. An extensive selection of chicken, beef, pork, and fish dishes is also offered. La Condesita de Acapulco is at 4641 N. Clark, 773-989-4903.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Stephen J. Serio.