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Colombian Barbecue, Kobe Beef Carpaccio, Turkish Fried Cheese Straws

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Jorge and Jeannette Gacharna opened BRASA ROJA, an outpost of their excellent Lakeview churrascaria El Llano, this spring, and it has one major advantage over the original: pollo rostizado. Every morning the birds start spinning over hot coals in the window of the Albany Park storefront. Plump and round, with steadily browning skin, they almost beg to be tucked under the arm like a football and carried away for takeout. Right now Brasa Roja has a lock on the local rotisserie trade, but with the rumored arrival of the Mr. Pollo chain down the street, the neighborhood might soon be reaping the spoils of a South American chicken war. In the dining room the Gacharnas have disguised the ghosts of retail past, festooning the dropped ceiling and walls with folkloric gimcracks and posters of South American ranch life. Olfactory gusts of sizzling flesh precede the arrival of wooden boards laden with grilled steaks, short ribs, or rabbit, accompanied by a sharp salsa verde and the four starches of the apocalypse--rice, fried yuca, boiled potato, and arepa, a fat, fried corn tortilla. Milk- or water-based jugos like blackberry and mango are surpassed by a sweet but oddly peppery passionfruit flavor, and desserts include brevas con arequipe (caramel-filled figs). Doors open at 9 AM for calentado, the traditional Colombian breakfast featuring beans, arepas, potatoes, eggs, carne asada, and cheese-stuffed pastries called buenelos. Brasa Roja is at 3125 W. Montrose, 773-866-2252. --Mike Sula

Miae Lim, owner of Mirai Sushi and Ohba, has joined Le Colonial owners Rick Wahlstedt and Jonathan Segal to open the much-anticipated Franco-Japanese restaurant JAPONAIS. Architect Jeffrey Beers designed the 12,000-square-foot industrial space, formerly the Montgomery Ward catalog building. Wavy dark-wood decorative joists cover the ceiling, a glass-backed waterfall flows behind the host stand, glossy redbrick walls back the sushi bar, and sheer gold floor-to-ceiling curtains act as room dividers. Bargoers can relax on the basement's sleek couches or on the outdoor patio, nestled under a huge cement overhang. The menu isn't a surprise--it duplicates many of chef Gene Kato's Ohba signature dishes and much of sushi chef Jun Ichikawa's Mirai menu. It's a perfect marriage. A seven-spiced smoked duck salad is tossed with frisee, mizuna, and watercress in a refreshingly light dressing of honey and yuzu (a tangerinelike fruit); Kobe beef carpaccio is sliced thinner than paper, fanned out, and topped with crunchy fried garlic, daikon greens, and a dark soy-ginger sauce. More substantial are Gato's maple-leaf-smoked duck served moo shu style, with pancakes, hoisin sauce, scallions, and a mango chutney, and a spring roll of soft-shell crab wrapped in wontons, deep-fried, and balanced by the same chutney. The presentation is exquisite, with most dishes on oversize and unusually shaped white porcelain plates. Japonais got its liquor license just days after its September 10 opening, and along with cocktails and a long sake list there's an impressive wine list. Divided into sensible categories, some by varietal ("les sauvignon" for global sauvignon blancs) and others by style (the "bouquet mixte--floral, perfumed, intoxicating whites" for lesser-known whites including viognier, torrontes, and white Chateauneuf-du-pape), the list features many reasonably priced and rarely seen options that work well with the cuisine. If you bring a bottle, beware of the steep corkage fees ($20 for wine, $30 for champagne). Try to get to this place before it's overrun by trend seekers. Japonais is at 600 W. Chicago, 312-822-9600. --Laura Levy Shatkin

Named after a palace in Istanbul, the white-tablecloth Turkish restaurant TOPKAPI (pronounced "taupe-kuh-puh") is a reincarnation for owner Hakki Uzgun. His original Topkapi, on North Lincoln, opened in 1964 and was the first Turkish restaurant in town. That location closed in 1980, and Uzgun switched from restaurants to the cleaning business, where he stayed for 20 years before opening this charming family-run dining room this summer. Richly textured upholstered pillows rest on a raised platform, but the large room is otherwise simply decorated, with green carpeting and vinyl-covered chairs. An appetizer platter introduces dishes like patlican topkapi (char-grilled eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes tossed with dill, parsley, garlic, and olive oil); cacik (homemade yogurt with diced cucumbers, dill, olive oil, and paprika); and barbunya pilaki (a mix of kidney beans, carrots, and parsley). Other appetizers of note include the shredded zucchini pancake, mucver, and the slender cheese straws, sigara boregi, stuffed with white Turkish sheep's milk cheese (similar to feta) then panfried until crispy and brown. Vegetarians can easily make a meal of the bounty of vegetable and bean-based options (and the warm, chewy homemade bread), and carnivores are treated to dishes like the yaprak doner kebab, a plate of seasoned lamb and beef cooked on a rotisserie, sliced thin, and served with a generous portion of fluffy rice pilaf. The mantarli tavuk sis is a skewer of tender char-grilled chicken, and the karides sote is a tomato-based stew with mushrooms, onions, peppers, and jumbo grilled shrimp. Most entrees come with grilled peppers and tomatoes. Desserts, many of which are deep-fried, tend to be drenched in honey, but they do the trick after a meal of highly seasoned food. Drinks like seftali suyu (sour cherry juice) and ayran (a creamy yogurt beverage) help wash it all down, as do the lovely Turkish tea and coffee. Bring a bottle of crisp white chenin blanc, an aromatic viognier, or a fuller-bodied red such as a Rhone Valley syrah or Australian shiraz, and the meal is complete. Topkapi is at 2544 W. Peterson, 773-274-9970. --Laura Levy Shatkin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andre J. Jackson.

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