Best New Restaurants
Avec Co-owned by Blackbird's Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia, this Mediterranean wine bar is a favorite of Chicago's top chefs, but there are plenty of other reasons to recommend it: chef de cuisine Koren Grieveson's homemade salami, 30 wines by the carafina, and a menu of rustic dishes like bucatini with eggs, cheese and guanciale (cured pig cheek). Open until 2 a.m., Avec can get sceney, but communal seating on cedar benches keeps the vibe friendly. DETAILS 615 W. Randolph St.; 312-377-2002.
Le Lan The collaboration between powerhouse chefs Roland Liccioni (of Les Nomades) and Arun Sampanthavivat (of Arun's) is proving to be one of Chicago's most electric. Their menu offers seasonally inspired French-Vietnamese dishes like zucchini blossoms stuffed with scallop mousse along with classics like pho. DETAILS 749 N. Clark St.; 312-280-9100.
Merlo on Maple This more formal offshoot of Merlo Ristorante has been received just as warmly as the original, thanks to co-owner Giampaolo Sassi's small-but-smart wine list and the menu of Emilia-Romagna classics by his wife and business partner, chef Luisa Silvia Marani. Her tagliatelle with ragù Bolognese is a standout. DETAILS 16 W. Maple St.; 312-335-8200.
Moto Charlie Trotter alum Homaro Cantu is attracting crowdsand generating controversywith his experimental cuisine: He re-creates various potato-chip and corn-chip flavors, for instance, and spins them into ice creams which are served on a spoon between courses. DETAILS 945 W. Fulton Market Ave.; 312-491-0058.
Acqualina Although it's in historically German Lincoln Square and its owners, Steven Ford and Quay Tao, also run the Mediterranean restaurant Tizi Melloul, Acqualina still doesn't suffer from an identity crisis. The menu, which Ford and Tao describe as "Cal-Med," features expertly prepared dishes like a white-grape gazpacho with toasted almonds and mint. DETAILS 4363 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-770-4363.
Pluton Chef-owner Jacky Pluton (formerly of Jacky's Bistro) is turning out inventive dishes like Tasmanian salmon with unagi brandade and watercress tossed with bacon powder. His prix fixe-only menu gives a choice of four, five, seven or 10 courses. DETAILS 873 N. Orleans St.; 312-266-1440.
Shawn McClain Chicago is known as a meat-lover's town. Spring chef Shawn McClain's second restaurant, Green Zebra, is offering an alternative with some of the most ambitious vegetarian cuisine in the U.S. His avocado panna cottaa savory parfait with layers of avocado custard and grape tomato relishis fast becoming a signature dish. DETAILS 1460 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-7100.
Best of the Burbs
Isabella's Estiatorio In the suburb of Geneva, English-born Irish chef Sean Eastwood cooks Mediterranean food like a native. On his menu: dishes like whole dorado stuffed with herbs. DETAILS 330 W. State St., Geneva; 630-845-8624.
Les Deux Autres After the departure of Michael and Thomas Lachowicz, the two namesake "fat guys" who ran Les Deux Gros (formerly in this Glen Ellyn space), chef Jonji Gaffud and pastry chef Louisa Lima took over as les deux autres ("the other two"). They're serving modern-French dishes like venison with red wine and juniper. DETAILS 462 N. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn; 630-469-4002.
Vie Paul Virant learned canning from his grandmothers. In this Western Springs space, he offers combinations like halibut with pickle salad. DETAILS 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs; 708-246-2082.
Le Magasin Didier Milleriot, the owner of this new tableware and antiques store, makes frequent trips to France to meet artisans and hire them to re-create tableware lines from archival patterns. To help customers try out table settings as they look through the shop's collection, which includes Limoges porcelain and Alsatian linens, he keeps an empty dining table in the store. DETAILS 408 N. Clark St.; 312-396-0030.
Too Soon to Review
Alinea This new venture from Grant Achatz, an F&W Best New Chef 2002, is slated to open in January. At Alinea, he picks up where he left off at Trio, combining ingredients in playful but revelatory ways, as in his poached broccoli stems with osetra caviar, Meyer lemon and crispy black bread. DETAILS 1723 N. Halsted St.; no phone yet.
Hot Chocolate Pastry chef Mindy Segal, known for her desserts at MK, strikes out on her own with this casual restaurant, serving savory dishes, like roasted baby chicken with onion marmalade and sweet potato puree. Her confections are still terrific: Try the chocolate soufflé tart with salted caramel ice cream and crushed pretzels. DETAILS 1747 N. Damen Ave.; no phone yet.
Avenues Former Chicago resident Graham Elliot Bowles, an F&W Best New Chef 2004, recently left the Jackson House Inn in Woodstock, Vermont, to return to the city. His new post: this three-year-old restaurant in the Peninsula Chicago. DETAILS 108 E. Superior St.; 312-337-2888.
JP Kitchen Chef Jason Paskewitz, formerly of Wave, joins Marc Bortz (owner of the nightclub Circus) to create an American bistro next door to Sangrìa, the pair's new tapas lounge. DETAILS 901 Weed St.; 312-409-3000.
Prairie Grass Cafe Chef Sarah Stegner made her name at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. At her new restaurant, she's teamed up with a fellow Ritz-Carlton alumher co-chef, George Bumbarisand her husband, sommelier Rohit Nambiar (formerly at the Four Seasons). Look for tweaked classics, like shepherd's pie with braised beef. DETAILS 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433.
Charlie's on Leavitt Charlie Socher of Cafe Matou has just opened this stylish restaurant in the Lincoln Square area. His menu features contemporary American dishes like almond-crusted chicken with ginger-yogurt relish. DETAILS 4352 N. Leavitt St.; 773-279-1600.
Saltaus Small-plate dishes, like wild-mushroom dumplings and rack of lamb with date puree, are the specialty at this new restaurant from chef Michael Taus (of Zealous) and co-owner Nader Salti. DETAILS 1350 W. Randolph St.; no phone yet.