Jody Andre is once again banking on the idea that location isn't always the secret to success. After selling off her first restaurant, Tomboy, earlier this year, she's opened SPEAKEASY in a three-room space at Devon and Glenwood, almost as odd a location for a trendy eatery as Broadway and Hollywood, where she opened her second venture, the Room, two years ago. But she's pulled it off again, making the potentially too-large space feel like a hidden gem. She sticks to her tried-and-true formula: hardwood floors, roughed-up brick walls with minimal art (here, light boxes with portraits of Marilyn and James Dean), and an eclectic American menu that offers more appetizers and half courses than entrees. Most dishes are frilly takeoffs on classics--executive chef Tiffanie Hicks replaces beef with ostrich in her version of a Wellington; a snap pea salad freshens up mint-and-pistachio-crusted lamb chops; and a generous Caesar salad (with a respectable anchovy-laden dressing) gets crunch from deep-fried oysters. The permanent BYO policy should seem familiar as well. The venue has a large raised stage where Andre plans to have regular live music in the near future, once the staff settles in. But within the first week, the place already felt like a well-oiled machine. Speakeasy is at 1401 W. Devon, 773-338-0600.
New American DUNLAY'S ON CLARK, which replaced Clark Street Bistro in early May, is quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite. It's run by cousins Doug and Michael Dunlay and general manager Michael Speh (Bandera, Houston's), who've spiffed up the room with trendy details like crushed orange mesh lamp shades and black stone floors and clad the waitstaff in black T-shirts and blue jeans. The daily specials are for liquor, not food: Monday and Tuesday are half-price wine nights, Wednesday is three-buck tap beer night, and Thursday a Maker's Mark manhattan or flavored Stoli martini is $5. But the drink promotions don't detract from the effort clearly being made in the kitchen. The eclectic menu has many good, if standard, selections--chunky homemade guacamole, pepper-crusted sashimi of ahi tuna, entree-size salads, sandwiches, and pizzas--while several more sophisticated entrees elevate the place above a run-of-the-mill casual American eatery. The pork tenderloin is cured in maple syrup and glazed in a raspberry barbecue sauce, served appropriately rosy in the center and seared on the outside. (A tasty side dish of "killer" wild rice comes studded with almonds, corn, and dried fruit; it's served cold, a nugget of useful information the server smartly offered when we placed our order.) The grilled Idaho ruby red trout was skillfully prepared, done Asian-style with garlic, ginger, and a soy glaze. The limited wine list is predominantly American, full of low-end but reasonably priced selections. For key lime pie fans, Dunlay's offers a rendition that may be one of the best north of the Keys. The service goes beyond attentive, giving the sense that you're a sincerely welcome guest. Dunlay's on Clark is at 2600 N. Clark, 773-883-6000.
Giovanni Garelli, who owns Evanston's Tapas Barcelona, also has years of experience in Italian restaurants like Avanzare, Scoozi, and Vinci. So at GIO, his new Italian restaurant just down the street from the tapas place, he's gone back to his roots. Designer Mark Knauer is responsible for the warm old-world-trattoria decor that includes stone floors, a long oak bar, a wood-burning brick oven, and paintings by local artist Janet McNulty. Roman-style columns connect to wood beams in the ceiling, and brilliant blue hanging light fixtures frame the bar. The menu is full of dishes beautiful in their simplicity. Beef carpaccio gets a lift with fennel, capers, and a lemon aioli; a bread salad is adorned with just cucumbers, tomato, basil, and onion; and a baby spinach salad gets dimension from a dollop of goat cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, and paper-thin crispy prosciutto. The high-temperature oven puts out wonderfully thin pizzas, whether plain (fresh tomato and mozzarella) or jazzed up with artichokes, olives, garlic, and mushrooms. Most entrees are pasta dishes--there's wild mushroom fettuccine in porcini sauce, spinach-and-ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a butter-and-sage sauce, and a daily risotto. But a must-try is the whitefish: two fillets over a bed of perfectly cooked green lentils, grilled radicchio, and grilled fennel (and at $13.95 it seems like a steal). There's a children's menu with a pizza that's easily big enough for two kids. The mostly Italian wine list is full of good deals and unusual finds. Gio is at 1631 Chicago in Evanston, 847-869-3900.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marrie Dostatni.