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Trio Goes "Casual"

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Henry Adaniya, who's owned Trio since it opened in 1993, has stripped the room down, exposing the ceiling beams, painting the walls stark white, and throwing sacks of salt onto the mantel to create TRIO ATELIER, a supposedly casual incarnation of the former four-star destination. "It's supposed to emulate a return to the basics in the decor as well as in the kitchen," says Adaniya. But the simplicity seems forced, and the three flat-panel screens in the dining room, alternating between nature scenes and the restaurant's logo, don't help. The back-to-basics theme doesn't come through very clearly on the menu either, although new executive chef Dale Levitski has toned down the complex multicourse dining that Grant Achatz, who left to open Alinea, was famous for. But when dishes like foie gras mousse with black-pepper shortbread and "thymed peaches" are served next to a "flight of salt," you have to wonder whose definition of casual this is. That's not to say there's nothing good to eat: The grilled octopus on chilled potato salad with fennel and olives is chewy but tender, with lively flavors. The rabbit virtini, a homemade dumpling stuffed with rabbit and served with a horseradish, watercress, and tomato salad, is well executed, if a bit heavy. Levitski's croque monsieur is stuffed with ham, oozes white cheddar, and is grilled to perfection. And the sturgeon with caper aioli is set off nicely by a salad of crunchy purslane greens and baby beets. (The wilted Caesar salad with grilled romaine and an anchovy vinaigrette, on the other hand, is a little too heavy on the salt and oil.) The ample wine list is well curated and reasonably priced. "I've always wanted to have french fries on my menu, but it never quite fit until now," says Adaniya. Those fries, dusted with herbs and served in a cone, are worth a mention too: they've got just enough salt and not too much grease, and they're just about the only thing on the menu that's the least bit casual.

Trio Atelier | 1625 Hinman, Evanston, 847-733-8746

CHARLIE'S ON LEAVITT, on the other hand, does casual right. The new Lincoln Square restaurant from Charlie and Susan Socher (the siblings who own Cafe Matou) is comfortable, and the contemporary American food is satisfying and approachable. To start there's three-mushroom soup (portobello, oyster, and button) with fresh dill and tangy lemon zest or Prince Edward Island mussels in an aromatic garlic cream sauce that's also good on the complimentary warm, crusty baguettes. Entrees include grilled salmon steak (bone-in to maintain moisture) topped with a chipotle mayonnaise, avocado wedges, and diced jicama; and three-chile pork chops cooled off with a dollop of sour cream, a drizzle of honey, and a wedge of lime. There are also a few nightly specials along with sandwiches (chicken and prosciutto or roast pepper, Brie, tomato, and watercress) and several sides. The wine list is short but broad--there are, for example, an Argentine chardonnay, a German Riesling kabinett, and a French uni blanc. Glasses cost $6 to $10.50 and bottles on the regular list top out at $42, but there's also a pricier "chef's selection" list. The room is tranquil, with coffee-colored walls, natural-wood floors and chairs, and creamy ivory banquettes and linens. A glass partition splits the noisier front bar from the main dining room. Lunch service may start this winter. "We want to be sure dinner service is going extremely well before we expand," says Susan.

Charlie's on Leavitt | 4352 N. Leavitt, 773-279-1600

The menu at KAZE, a Roscoe Village sushi place whose name is Japanese for wind, changes with the seasons. Executive chef Macku Chan (Heat) strives for originality, especially in his sushi toppings, but often at the price of clarity and taste. Pieces of amberjack, snapper, and salmon are topped with the likes of foie gras, Asian pears, and banana peppers; a fried-lobster maki is covered with sliced strawberries in a sweet, creamy strawberry puree. There's a place for sweetness in Japanese food, but in moderation: when a beautiful fillet of Atlantic black cod comes on a perfectly cooked bed of baby bok choy, does it need to be dressed with bittersweet chocolate and garnished with almond crunch and raspberries? But when Chan restrains his overactive imagination he excels: his individual nigiri are fresh as can be and his maki expertly rolled. The room is green and gold and furnished with plush Louis XIV-style chairs. There's a shimmering backlit sushi bar with fresh grass growing around the edges and a soothing Japanese rock garden in the front lounge. No liquor license yet; if you're bringing your own, a bottle of crisp white with decent acidity will work with most of the menu.

Kaze | 2032 W. Roscoe, 773-327-4860

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Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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