Lina and Sam Elakhaoui, who cooked 13 years ago at Sam's brother's old restaurant, Rawsha, have opened their own place: FATTOUSH RESTAURANT in Lincoln Park. Importing spices from Lebanon (and some from Lebanese markets in Dearborn, Michigan), Lina makes dishes like beef or chicken shawirma (thinly sliced, marinated, and grilled meat), shish tawouk (charbroiled cubes of boneless chicken), and falafel with unique blends of aromatic mastic, marjoram, sumac, and the like. Most appetizers are meatless, and the sampling platter makes a substantial vegetarian meal or a great shareable starter. The namesake salad--diced tomatoes and cucumber with parsley, mint, spices, and toasted pita squares, tossed in lemon juice and olive oil--is refreshing. The pita-wrapped kefta kebab and beef and chicken shawirma sandwiches (about $5 apiece) are drizzled with a creamy tahini sauce and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. There's only hot mint tea and freshly squeezed juice to drink, but the Elakhaouis say their liquor license is just around the corner. Fattoush Restaurant is at 2652 N. Halsted, 773-327-2652. --Laura Levy Shatkin
After a decade in the nightclub biz, Bortz Entertainment Group (Biology Bar, Dragon Room, Hogs & Honeys) is branching out into food with SANGRIA RESTAURANT AND TAPAS BAR. "We're all getting older, and our priorities are different," says Marc Portugal, Sangria's marketing and development honcho. "We don't want to stand in line anymore. We want to sit down with our friends, share a meal, and have a relaxed conversation." The room is comfortable, bright, and spacious--though if I hear the Gipsy Kings one more time in a Latin restaurant I'm going to jab a fork in my ear. Sangria is of course a specialty, and the bar offers white peach, raspberry, and mango varieties along with the standard red, white, and cava (sparkling wine). The menu lists an array of traditional tapas like garlic-potato salad and baked goat cheese in tomato sauce, as well as paella and a few other entrees. Succulent jumbo shrimps are wrapped in crisp smoky bacon and a touch of manchego cheese or simply grilled in a spicy marinade. The grilled calamari is exceedingly tender. And the black bean soup would have tasted great if it hadn't cooled by the time it reached the table. Which brings me to Sangria's big weakness: service. Although the waiter promised to stagger our order, all but two of about ten dishes were served at once, causing a cacophony of plate passing. Meanwhile, a phalanx of busboys hovered nearby, repeatedly asking if we were "finished with that." (We weren't.) The place is brand-new--you can smell the paint--so the staff may still be working on their timing. Sangria Restaurant and Tapas Bar is at 901 W. Weed, 312-266-1200. --Kathie Bergquist
Despite its name, MOULIN ROUGE CAFE in Portage Park is less European bistro than Polish-American hipster hangout. The small round tables are carefully laid with white tablecloths and artificial flowers, wee cut-glass salt and pepper shakers arrive with each entree, the mural on the far wall features fleshy cancan girls and top-hatted gentlemen, and the single tables in nooks at either end of the front window seem made for romantic tete-a-tetes. But the dated rap ("I like big butts and I cannot lie!") and the crowd of twentysomethings on their cell phones override the attempt at Old World ambience. The dinner menu, at least, seems authentic. Tripe soup, hunter's stew, goulash, and meatballs with mushroom gravy all come with a side of pleasantly tart beet salad bleeding rivulets of red onto the lettuce leaf that cradles it. Most of the breakfast combinations center on pork sausage, with the exception of the "American" option--bread, jam, and cornflakes. There's also the usual range of coffee drinks, a counter display of Polish candy bars, and several enigmatically named juice combinations such as Leo's Dream (black currant and pineapple) and the Chicago Drink (pineapple, orange, grapefruit, and lemon). Moulin Rouge Cafe is at 5749 W. Irving Park, 773-282-3333.
Other Recent Openings
Dinky's Tavern and Grill, 669 N. Milwaukee, 312-829-0003. It's more bar than restaurant, but you can grab some decent American food at this neighbor to Iggy's.
Green Zebra, 1460 W. Chicago, 312-243-7100. Shawn McClain (Spring) has finally opened his mostly vegetarian place.
Urban Fridge, 2679 N. Lincoln, 773-244-6568. Yet more gourmet takeout.
Candlelight, 7452 N. Western, 773-465-0087. After being shuttered for two and a half years, this Rogers Park favorite for American food and pizza has been renovated and reopened by Pat Cunningham (owner of the Evanston Athletic Club).
Pearl Supper Club and Lounge, 2360 N. Clybourn, 773-348-2106. Marco Conti has transformed Ferrari into this late-night dining club.
Benedict's, 3937 N. Lincoln; Billy Goat Tavern, 3615 N. Clark; Blue Mountain Restaurant, 1319 W. Wilson; Savvy Fare, 3911 N. Sheridan; Voltaire, 3441 N. Halsted. --LLS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.