Friday, December 28, 2007

Fat Cat wins top honors for 'Favorite New Hot Spot of 2007' in Nightlife Poll

(Photo: Fat Cat)

And with that, this is the end of my postings on 312 Dining Diva for the year. Fans of Uptown's Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway, 773-506-3100) were relentless in voting this retro-style lounge Favorite New Hot Spot of 2007 in the first-ever 312 Dining Diva Nightlife Poll.

Also, I just want to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of you for your support since 312 Dining Diva launched on Nov. 4. It's been an exciting experience, and I cannot wait to do it again next year as I cover Chicago's hottest nightlife and dining destinations (blogging six days a week, updating several times a day). And yes, expect more nightlife and dining exclusives often (!!!). So tell your friends, sign up for my semi-weekly newsletter (twice a week!) and keep coming back.

Have a safe, prosperous and fabulous New Year, and remember this:

It is ON in '08!

What the critics said in 2007 . . .

Wicker Park's The Violet Hour was called "the country's most exciting bar" by Food & Wine magazine in 2007. (Photo: The Violet Hour)

. . . about:

The Gage (24 S. Michigan Ave., 312-372-4243). "If you’re in it for the long haul and are doing dinner, expect to fill up—everything is rich and aggressively flavorful. Smoky haddock is formed into a cake and crisped, its smokiness balanced with lemony crème fraîche. The 'salad of crisp potato' is the Gage’s answer to those national chain fried-chicken salads: Crispy panko-coated potato pieces and chunks of tallegio cheese are tossed with a handful of arugula for a dieter’s nightmare (but a glutton’s dream)."—Heather Shouse (Time Out Chicago)

Martini Park (151 W. Erie St., 312-640-0577). "Occupying roughly a quarter of a downtown city block requires disparate areas but coherent design. CEO Chris Barish unites two bars—one curved and looming, the other underlit and backed by a stage. The massive space opens to dozens of tables and plenty of outdoors by limiting decor to metallic fabrics, flagstones, wood, slate and technology in the form of plasmas and illuminated panels. The effect: Vegas in Chicago, including the tanned and expensively dressed patrons."—Fred Schlatter (Chicago CitySearch)

Manor (642 N. Clark St., 312-475-1390). "It’s one thing to be a club that the glitterrati are clamoring to get into. It’s another if they want to come back. Flash in the pans are de rigeur for the River North club scene, and if Manor wants to live up to the solidity of its name, it has to do better than its current you-owe-me staff."—Theresa Carter (The Local Tourist)

Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St. 312-943-3000). "Appropriately, a trio of patés leads off the menu, including a creamy slab of 'chicken' liver that might have rejiggered my opinion of the bird’s potential had a server not hinted it was made from the outlawed organ of another species. Duck consomme with a single truffle ravioli was a paradigm of clear, dark amber purity, and escargots were broiled in a tomato confit, funky with Roquefort, that begged for the bread basket."—Mike Sula (Chicago Reader)

Sepia (123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920). "Relatively obscure cuts such as veal breast and lamb sirloin get star treatment in Kendal Duque's kitchen, while razor-sharp service (overseen by owner Emmanuel Nony) keeps the dining room humming. The restaurant draws a dress-to-impress crowd, so snag a corner table and enjoy the eye candy. Recommended: Roasted rabbit, flatbread pizzas, veal with minted noodles, lemon-sage bread pudding."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune)

The Violet Hour (1520 N. Damen Ave., 773-252-1500). "The country's most exciting bar right at this moment is the The Violet Hour which just opened in Chicago's Wicker Park. Toby Maloney, the mixologist, is a veteran of Manhattan's Milk & Honey, Pegu Club and Freeman's and, according to some experts, he's as good a bartender as there is anywhere. On a recent eGullet post, Maloney outlined his cocktail menu, which includes a Manhattan mixed with housemade peach bitters and a rinse of Laphroaig (he's reportedly adding eye-droppers of the single malt whisky to a few of his drinks). As if that weren't enough, The Violet Hour's bar-food menu was designed by Justin Large, who cooks at Avec, one of Chicago's best places to eat; I've heard stories about his insanely good deep-fried pickles and croquettes stuffed with chorizo. I wasn't necessarily looking for a new place to drink, but I do hear that Manhattan calling my name."—Kate Krader (Food & Wine Magazine)

NYE: Day After

Wouldn’t you just love a stack of these gooey bread pudding pancakes, from Southport Café, to cure that New Year’s Eve hangover? (Photo: Southport Cafe)

Don’t overdo it on New Year’s Eve, so you can have some more fun on New Year’s Day. There’s plenty to do, whether you want to do something active like a 5K run or check out a favorite brunch spot. Or, if you’d rather stay in, whip up brunch yourself and invite friends over.

Check my recs:


August (1500 W. Division St., 773-252-9560). If you seriously enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, this is your spot. This corner gourmet market has a cooking focus and you’ll find a rotating lineup of meats, fish, veggies and groceries that you won’t find anywhere else. Also, owner/chef George Djurvic creates daily recipes (and he’s sampling them, too!) so you can surprise and thrill your guests. Oh, and if you don’t want to cook, there’s also heat-and-go entrees.

Goddess and Grocer. Get in touch with the Bucktown or Gold Coast location for specialty gourmet platters. Order a basket of assorted breakfast pastries (muffins, scones, Danish, bagels, etc.) or frittatas (Spanish, Mexican or Italian); trays of assorted mini wraps and rolls, petite sandwiches, Spanish tapas or beef tenderloin rolls; or skewers (chicken teriyaki, sesame-honey shrimp, tomato and basil). 25 E. Delaware Pl., 312-896-2600 or 1646 N. Damen Ave., 773-342-3200.

Southport Café and Grocery (3552 N. Southport Ave., 773-665-0100). Many items from this popular Lakeview café’s menu can be made at home. Treat your guests to their gooey good bread pudding pancakes, which comes with cinnamon-sugar butter and vanilla custard sauce. They’re certain to cure any hangover.


Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! (2024 N. Halsted St., 773-935-5000). Guests who dine in their jammies on New Year’s Day receive a gift certificate valued for the dollar amount of their meals, so brunch is essentially free. Indulge in options like crepes filled with goat cheese and quince or Spanish-style French toast, and belly up to the build-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar, with seven top-shelf vodkas, stuffed olives and all the spicy trimmings.

Rail Bar & Grill (4709 N. Damen Ave., 773-878-9400). Get an unlimited bloody mary bar, one plate and one side order off the breakfast menu for $20 at this cozy neighborhood hang. Also, single bloody marys $3.50; single menu items $5. 10am-2pm.

Winston’s Market (3440 N. Southport Ave., 773-327-6400). The up-and-coming brunch joint in Lakeview serves sandwiches, build-your-own salad options, house-pressed burgers, grilled skirt steak and stews. Also a family-friendly atmosphere.


23rd Annual New Year's Day 5K Fun Run and Walk. Benefiting the Lakeview Citizen’s Council, this event’s route travels north along the lakefront to Diversey Harbor before looping back to the finish. A post-race party at Gamekeepers Tavern & Grill (1971 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-549-0400) includes an awards ceremony, raffle and drinks for runners. 11am. $25 in advance; $30 day of event. Call 773-868-3010 for more info.

Exhale Spa (945 N. State St., 312-753-6500). Only two classes are offered on New Year’s Day: a 75-minute level 2 yoga class at 10:30am and Core Fusion (a combination of yoga, Pilates and strength training) at 12:05pm. $24 drop-in fee.

Moksha Yoga. The River West and Lakeview locations offer classes for the hardcore yogis. Check out the River West location (700 N. Carpenter St., 312-942-9642) for vinyasa or Lakeview (3334 N. Clark St., 773-975-9642) for full-primary Astanga. Both at 10am. $16 drop-in fee.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tucci Benucch goes buh-bye

Should've known something was brewing over there at the 900 Shops (900 N. Michigan Ave.) when Frankie's Fifth Floor Pizzeria suddenly appeared out of nowhere in that little cafe area right in front of Tucci Benucch.

Now comes word that Tucci Benucch is closing for good on Jan. 5, making way for a new Italian concept called Frankie's Scaloppini. Not many details are available yet about this new spot other than that it's opening in February once owner Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises totally renovates the space. Man, LEYE is busy as hell these days!

It's over for Spy Bar—for now

Yet another long-standing venue bites the dust.

Spy Bar (646 N. Franklin St., 312-587-8779), which lost its major A-Lister appeal five or six years ago, has its last party on Saturday, Dec. 28 with a big blowout featuring local deejays Dino G, Agent 47 and Brent Brewer. There's no cover, and the party goes on until 5am.

But it's not going away forever. They're planning a major renovation and a reopening in the spring.

NYE: Costumed Countdowns

With New Year’s Eve and Halloween being the two most festive holidays of the year, it only makes sense to combine them.

So if you’re looking to step into character as you celebrate, here’s where to go:

Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway, 773-506-3100). The sleek, retro-style lounge hosts a Roaring 20s party with a deejay spinning swing and contemporary sounds, passed hors d’oeuvres, a top-shelf bar package as well as a champagne fountain for the midnight toast. Make sure to come dressed to the nines in your flapper dresses, zoot suits, boas, pearls, garter belts and thigh highs for the occasion. A costume contest for the sharpest dresser will be held and the winners will receive prizes. 9pm-1:30am. $75 in advance; $100 at the door.

Opera (1301 S. Wabash Ave., 312.461.0161). Guests are encouraged to show up in masquerade or other costumed attire for this end-of-the-year bash. All staffers will be dressed up, and the menu is a la carte. Dinner reservations are available 5:30pm-midnight.

Prosecco (710 N. Wells St., 312-951-9500). The bangin’ new River North eatery transforms into a Fellini-esque setting for the night. Guests may order from the a la carte menu or from a pre-fixe menu for the night for $80. The last seating of the night will include feathered masks, merrymakers, sparklers, female impersonators and more.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

La Strada serves last meal on NYE; two for Chinatown

Writes the Chicago Tribune's Phil Vettel in The Stew:

"After 28 years, La Strada Ristorante (155 N. Michigan Ave., 312-565-2200) is closing its doors. Along with sister property J. Randolph’s Bar & Grill next door, the two restaurants will serve their last meals on Dec. 31. Owner Michael Mormando says he fell victim to re-development; a 40-story residential tower will rise from the space where La Strada now sits, abutting Millennium Park Plaza (aka Doral Plaza).

'My staff and I have been honored to proudly serve the Chicago and worldwide community for the past 28 years,' said Mormando in a statement, 'but the time has come to close our restaurants and make way for a wonderful new residential high rise apartment building development.'

Mormando is negotiating to re-create La Strada in that residential tower when it opens (scheduled for 2010), but nothing is finalized. If you want one more taste of La Strada, head down there soon, or tank up the car: the suburban La Strada (2380 Lakewood Blvd., Hoffman Estates, 847-765-1700) remains open."

And from an LTHForum moderator:

"Just back from a terrific lunch at Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S. Archer Ave., 312-326-5040) with breaking news, Tony Hu is opening two new restaurants, Lao Beijing (2138 S. Archer Ave.) and Lao Shanghai (2163 S. China Pl.). Both are in Chinatown Square, Lao Shanghai will be going in the recently closed KS Seafood and Lao Beijing where Dragon King was. Tony mentioned he was shooting for a January 1 opening for both."

His Airness drops by Table 52

A little-known secret for getting into Table 52 is to try to get a seat at the bar. There's no reservations at the bar, and it's first come, first served.

So, a couple of my friends managed to snag a damn-near-impossible-to-get table at Table 52 (52 W. Elm St., 312-573-4000) last Friday and were rewarded with the ultimate local celeb sighting.

As they noshed on luscious portions of Executive Chef Art Smith's Low-Country shrimp with stone-ground grits and a pistachio-crusted chicken breast with coconut-chile sauce, in saunters Michael Jordan.

And being Michael Jordan, of course it took him several minutes to get to his table because everyone in the room wanted to talk to him. It wasn't a mad frenzy because this is a sophisticated dining establishment, but c'mon, this is MJ we're talking about and the space is pretty tiny. Even Art Smith paid his respects to the table, but no word on whether His Airness got any freebies. . .

NYE: Late-Night Affairs


Many of you plan to go the private house party route for New Year's Eve. But what if you start feeling antsy after midnight? You know, you want to check out other festivities, but who wants to shell out all those bucks? Open until 4am, these spots should satisfy your late-night cravings:

Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury, 312-266-1900). One of the official after-parties for the annual Chicago-Scene affair, Crobar's event includes techno and hip-hop, plenty of space to dance and a crowd ready to party until last call. $30, with a cash bar.

Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552). Jazz fans should head over to this Uptown institution for Battle of the Saxes headlined by legendary music men Von Freeman and Edward Petersen. It's a $5 cover after midnight, and then free 2am-4am. The Green Mill Quartet Jam Session plays after the main show.

Le Passage (937 N. Rush St., 312-255-0022). The other official Chicago-Scene after party takes place at the all-new Le Passage in the Gold Coast. Deejays spin dance music. $30, cash bar.

Relax (1450 W. Chicago Ave., 312-666-6006). You can stop in at any time at this cool new neighborhood lounge specializing in old-school rock and R&B. Open seating, too! Free.

Stone Lotus (873 N. Orleans St., 312-440-9680). New York's DJ Klutch spins dance music at the Outfit Events party. After 1am, it's a cash bar. Under $30.

Friday, December 21, 2007

S'more winter openings

In dining news: Shinobu (1131 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., 773-334-9062) is the latest to roll in on the sushi scene in Edgewater. Lincoln Park brunch fave John's Place (1202 W. Webster Ave., 773-525-6670) branches out with a second location in Roscoe Village at 2132 W. Roscoe St. in January. And Just Indulge (1755 W. North Ave.), a cute little dessert and ice cream shop, opens in Bucktown in February.

Just for the noel of it . . .


Just wanted to bring to your attention this very festive cocktail being offered by Prost (2566 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-880-9900) throughout the month. If you love the nog, then you'll dig this German lounge's version that they're calling Hoochnoggin. It's only $7, and so rich (with chocolate syrup, heavy cream and whiskey) that you won't even need that pumpkin pie.

Also, if you're dreading watching Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Story this year, head a couple blocks down to Delilah’s (2771 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-472-2771) for something completely different. They're showing the wild-ass flick Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on all their flatscreen monitors, and it should go down well with all those whiskey selections they offer. Sunday, Dec. 23 at 6pm.

And finally, if you're in a singing mood, then get ye to Davenport's Piano Bar (1383 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-278-1830) for Cabaroke, a non-stop event where you can have at all the old Christmas standards in front of a crowd that will egg you on. The back room offers recorded tunes, while you'll get it live in the front showroom. Hosted by the "Queen of Karaoke" Alma Mendoza. 10pm-1:30am tonight. $2 cover for front room; no cover in back room.

Campagnola moving down the street?

The windows are papered over at the original location for friendly neighborhood Italian eatery Campagnola (815 Chicago Ave.). But have no fear, they've been working for months on a second location a few blocks down at 1245 Chicago Ave., scheduled to open in January. The new space will offer fans a new concept with 25 tables in an open dining room, plentiful bar seating and a view of their handcrafted, woodburning pizza oven.

UPDATE: New restaurant is going to be called Wild Geese.

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Bluprint (222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, 312-410-9800): “The rock crab starter ($8) is a beauty: a loose disc of lightly dressed crab crowned with avocado and accented with a pool of red pepper coulis. A nice kick comes from the Kalamata olive purée dotting the plate. Crispy, hot short-rib potstickers ($7), packed with tender, slow-cooked meat, were killer on one occasion, but lacked depth of flavor on another. Order them anyway (ignore the bland Asian slaw) and hope for a good day.”—Alison Neumer Lara (Crain’s Chicago Business)

Cafe Mediterra (728 S. Dearborn St., 312-427-2610): "The combo kebab platter—beef, chicken and kefta, or ground lamb—was enough for two people, if not three, when you factor in a generous serving of rice of the day. The cubed meats were nicely charred around the edges, and the vegetables had a roasty, smoky flavor. We also loved the sausage and tomato flatbread, a pizza-style item that would work for an appetizer for two people or a light supper for one. Its Roma tomatoes, ground lamb and Mediterranean spices won't leave you mistaking it for Italian, that's for sure."—Robin Mather Jenkins (Chicago Tribune)

Macarena (618 S. State Rte. 59, Naperville, 630-420-8995): “The duo (of John Borras and Jose Marcial) successfully executes mango 'caviar'—a classic (Ferran) Adrià prep—with juice congealed to yield balls of fruit essence served in small circular tins. Adrià-esque skinless 'ravioli' pop open in the mouth with intense flavors of peach, chocolate or squid ink. Similarly, the crispy shells of 'liquid empanadas' encase warm vegetable broth; a splash of piquillo pepper sauce finishes the dish.”—David Hammond (Time Out Chicago)

Mythos (2030 W Montrose St., 773-334-2000): “Loukaniko ($9) pork sausage arrived hot, juicy and char-grilled crisp, fragrant with anise and orange rind. Potato and zucchini keftedes ($9) reminded us of savory vegetable doughnuts served with a mild skordalia. Creamy tzatziki ($6) was rich and full of garlic and cucumber flavor, tender chicken souvlaki was served with OK rice and, despite their faded color, sweet peas. The big broad beans called gigandes ($6), however were served in a humdrum tomato sauce and arrived just warm.”—Monica Eng (Chicago Tribune)

Pepitone’s (5437 N. Broadway, 773-293-3730): “Smothered chicken breast really hit the spot: topped with plenty of mushrooms in a goat-cheese sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus that helped counteract its richness. . . . Portions are generous, and weeknight food and drink specials offer some real bargains—don’t skip the portobello mushroom caps with melted goat cheese, which you’ll vacuum up in no time.”—Rob Christopher (Chicago Reader)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More hot updates

Super star funkster George Clinton has just confirmed to play the annual Jingle Bell Jam, hosted by Lip Service Productions on Sunday, Dec. 23. The event also features dozens of local and national musicians doing what they do best. Highlighted performers include Phil Baron, Brad Peterson, Brad Elvis, Ruby Harris, Chip Z'Nuff and Kevon Smith. The evening features all types of music, including rock, reggae, funk, blues and jazz. The $20 donation (or unwrapped new toy) benefits Rock For Kids, a nonprofit organization providing support to young homeless people. 7pm-4am at evilOlive (1551 W. Division St., 773-235-9100).

'Humboldt Park' soon to hit the big screen

Actor Freddy Rodriguez

Found out last night that filmmaker George Tillman, Jr., who attended Columbia College but hails from Milwaukee, begins filming a Latin-flavored Soul Food entitled Humboldt Park at the end of January or beginning of February. Expect him to use a lot of those cool restaurants, coffeeshops and bars in that 'hood as background. John Leguizamo (Love in the Time of Cholera) and Freddy Rodriguez (Grindhouse: Planet Terror) will star.

You may remember Tillman as the force behind such hits as Barbershop, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Beauty Shop, Men of Honor and, of course, Soul Food.

Another closing—and an opening

There's yet another popular restaurant closing on New Year's Eve. If you dig the Nuevo Latin fare, make your reservations for the last dinner service at Mas (1670 W. Division St., 773-276-8700) in Wicker Park. No word on what they're doing yet on Dec. 31, but expect them to make a lasting impression. And remember that they still own Motel Bar (600 W. Chicago Ave., 312-822-2900), which is right down the street in the River North neighborhood.

So, in with the new: Takashi finally opens on Dec. 30. The award-winning chef Takashi Yagihashi melds contemporary French and American cuisines with Japanese influences to bring on this exciting new Bucktown option. You'll want to indulge in hot small plates like the soy-ginger caramel pork belly or crispy organic chicken wings; or large plates like the sauteed skatewing, roasted New York strip steak or seared local loin of pork "on the bone." The wine list offers a unique sake program featuring sake (and beer) from Ibaraki Prefecture, Yagihashi’s hometown. Look for this one to win many awards in 2008. 1952 N. Damen Ave., 773-772-6170.

A weekend of holiday cheer


Put down that carton of eggnog and get out this weekend, beginning with hot events happening tonight:

Bella Lounge. It's the holiday edition of Miracle Entertainment's Music & Martinis party, so get there for the $20 manager's special of a full dinner buffet as well as unlimited specialty martinis and imported beer. Also, deejays C-Vicious, Mark Fullaflavor and Malik Shabazz spin all the hits you like to hear. 5pm-2am tonight. RSVP to for free admission. 1212 N. State Pkwy., 312-787-9405.

evilOlive. Lip Service Productions hosts its annual Jingle Bell Jam, featuring dozens of local and national musicians doing what they do best. Highlighted performers include Phil Baron, Brad Peterson, Brad Elvis, Ruby Harris, Chip Z'Nuff and Kevon Smith. The evening features all types of music, including rock, reggae, funk, blues and jazz. The $10 donation benefits Rock For Kids, a nonprofit organization providing support to young homeless people. Dec. 23 9pm-4am. 1551 W. Division St., 773-235-9100. UPDATE FROM THE EMAIL BAG: "There is a good chance that George Clinton (the Grad Daddy of Funk, himself!!!) might be doing the Jam on Sunday!! It's not 100 percent for sure yet . . ."

Latin Street Dancing Studios. Wanna show off some fresh dance moves at all your holiday and New Year's Eve parties? There's still time to sign up for Latin Street Dancing Company's Bootcamp, a three-hour crash course in salsa, cha cha cha, bachata and other sexy dances. The classes are tonight from 6-9:30pm and Saturday noon-3:30pm at 540 N. LaSalle St., 312-427-2572. $35 for each three-hour class.

Manor. It'll be a hip-hop hooray holiday tonight at this swanky River North lounge as old-school rappers Naughty By Nature perform their classic hits. Has it really been that long that OPP and Hip-Hop Hooray are considered oldies, but goodies?! 9pm-2am tonight. 642 N. Clark St., 312-475-1390.

Provenance Food & Wine. Stop by this casual, holiday wine tasting sponsored by Fine Vines. 6-8:30pm tonight. 2528 N. California Ave., 773-384-0699. Or for a Champagne experience tonight, head to WineStyles Chicago (1433 W. Belmont Ave., 773-549-2227). From 6-8pm, you'll get to sample wonderful products from Heritage Wine Cellars.

Soiree. Check out this sneak peek holiday party in Lincoln Park. They'll have drink specials, menu sampling and shadow dancers. Also, if you'd like to make things simpler, go for the $35 package that includes cocktails, beer and table service. Those who bring a nonperishable food donation receive a free cocktail. Dec. 22, 9pm-3am. 2438 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-477-8880. Free admission.

Tini Martini. If you've got six friends who are ready to party this Saturday, book your table now for the champagne party where each table gets a free bottle. There's also complimentary cocktails from 9-10pm. Deejay Dino Latino spins all the Latin and popular hits. Dec. 22 9pm-3am. 2169 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-269-2900. Free.

Victor Hotel. New Euro-style boutique Funkshion throws a fashion show and party with free gifts and some other surprises. Dec. 22 9pm-3am. 311 N. Sangamon Ave., 312-733-6900. Free.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Update on Rustik in Logan Square

(Photo: Rustik)

I've got some more news you can use if you're heading over to Rustik (2515 N. California Ave., 773-235-0002) in Logan Square this weekend:

Partner Tim Leahy tells me that it's looking good that they'll have a liquor license by the weekend. Just to be on the safe side, I'd take a bottle or two with me if I were you.

He also gave me details on their menu, and it turns out that the team behind this restaurant has quite a history.

Executive Chef Pedro Angel is best known for Angel's, his Latin-influenced, family-owned eatery in Andersonville that was closed over the summer (they're scouting for a new Angel's location in 2008). It was always mad crowded for brunch, so look for Angel to gain another cult following once Rustik begins brunch service sometime in January. He'll probably even add a little Latin spice to it, too.

Rustik's daily menu consists of modern American comfort food, including meatloaf stuffed with Boursin cheese and topped with caramelized mushrooms and onions; mac 'n' cheese with smoked gouda; a "Rustik" burger stuffed with chorizo, smoked gouda and bacon; root vegetable pot pie and grilled hangar steak.

It's only 50 seats, plus a communal, “showpiece” table in the middle of the dining room.

Don't forget to vote

The Nightlife Poll is still open, so cast your vote for the top new hot spot of 2007. Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway, 773-506-3100) is still dominating, so if you disagree, then get on it!

NYE: Last call

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It's official. These popular restaurants will serve their last dinners on New Year's Eve. Want to get a taste of what's certain to be memorable, emotional events? Make your reservations now at:

The Grotto. The Gold Coast hot spot will offer an Italian buffet,
two champagne fountains, two chocolate fountains and two deejays spinning dance music. Of course, there's going to be a midnight champagne toast and party favors for revelers. 9pm-2am. $150. NOTE: Guests are required to show ID on the night of the event. A manager added that they're opening a new location in Oakbrook in February and also they're shopping for a new downtown location later in 2008. 1030 N. State St., 312-280-1005.

Meritage. The swanky, wine-focused Bucktown restaurant will serve a seasonal, five-course dinner with seafood and steak entrees. There's open seating and alcohol will not be factored into the $85 cost. For those who just want to say a final farewell, a cocktail party takes place 11pm-2am. And you get one more chance on New Year's Day for a special brunch. 2118 N. Damen Ave., 773-235-6434.

Timo. After 10 years, John Bubula is closing his award-winning, Italian-style restaurant in River West. And he plans on doing it in high style with two seatings: the first, at 5:30pm, is three courses for $50; the second, at 9:30pm, is four courses for $80. Guests choose from a list of 20 signature items, among them risotto with sausage, smoked Gouda, and asparagus; “chef’s whim” house-made ravioli; steak in red wine sauce; pork shank with gnocchi, bacon, and roasted onions; and six desserts, including a creme brulee trio and a chocolate gateau. Both packages come with a complimentary glass of champagne, and the Dan Cray Trio plays jazz at the second seating. 464 N. Halsted St., 312-226-4300.

Herban Gourmet expands to Mag Mile

Josh Gelvan, who's done well with his Lincoln Park catering biz, Herban Gourmet Catering (1750 N. Clark St.), expands to a full-scale retail space in January.

Look out for Herban Gourmet Cafe and Smoothie Bar to open on Jan. 7 in the 900 Shops (900 N. Michigan Ave.) with gourmet sandwiches, soups and smoothies.

Deal of the day . . .

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Spend quality time with your sig other at this Couples' Night Out event at the Denim Lounge (43 E. Oak St.) on the Gold Coast. It's a chance to grab some last-minute gifts as four local independent business owners are joining forces to offer some serious deals. G Boutique, Sarah's Pastries, Lush Wine and Spirits along with Denim Lounge will offer discounts on denim, tops, lingerie, "adult" items, chocolates and wine. Also, enjoy appetizers and a wine tasting provided by Lush. For more information, call 312-642-6403. 5-8:30pm tonight.

Or head to Wicker Park's Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St., 773-772-6656) to celebrate the arrival of their new, state-of-the-art smoker with a barbecue celebration. They're retiring the Lil Red Smoker—which has been smoking meat for more than 26 years—tonight from 8pm-midnight. They're celebrating with complimentary cake and live music.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gourmet market comes to O'Hare

For those frequent fliers tired of the usual fast-food chains and such at O'Hare Airport, you'll be happy to learn that CIBO Gourmet Market will be opening soon.

The airport's first-ever grocery store will offer more than 550 different food items, including gourmet sandwiches, organic foods, vegan dishes, sushi, caviar, fresh and dried fruit, chocolates from around the world and more. Look for two locations in Terminals 2 and 3.

Some happy holiday news from Grant Achatz

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An email just dropped in my inbox from award-winning Alinea Executive Chef/Managing Partner Grant Achatz on his health:

"It is with a tremendous sense of gratitude and relief that I have successfully completed my course of therapy at the University of Chicago. It was incredibly important to me to remain as engaged as possible at Alinea while receiving treatment, and during that time I only missed 14 services. I continue to stand committed to innovating fine dining long into the future.

At this time I want to thank everyone at Alinea -- the staff, investors, and patrons of the restaurant have offered their unwavering commitment and support in ways large and small. The community of restaurants, chefs, and industry professionals who reached out to us was exceptionally gratifying.

Most of all, I must make special mention of doctors Vokes, Blair, and Haraf at the University of Chicago Medical Center, as well as the countless number of medical professionals and support staff there who cared for me. Where other doctors at prominent institutions saw little hope of a normal life, let alone a cure, these doctors saw an opportunity to think differently, preserve my tongue and taste, and maintain a long term high quality of life. Through the use of a new and rigorous Chemotherapy and Radiation protocol, they were able achieve a full remission while ensuring that the use of invasive surgery on my tongue was not needed.


Farewell to Green City Market

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Vie's Paul Virant—who received the honor of Best New Chef 2007 from Food & Wine Magazine—closes out the weekly chef demonstrations at the Green City Market on Dec. 19 at 10:30am.

At Vie (4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs, 708-246-2082), Virant is cooking up seasonal American cuisine that's strongly influenced by Western European cultures and rustic fare. He'll show off his skills with this one-hour show.

Also, this is the last week for the winter market, the only farmers' market in Chicago in November and December for you to shop for locally grown, sustainable foods, fresh from the farm. Saturday, Dec. 22 is the final day until May 2008.

Green City Market takes place at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's North Gallery at 2430 N. Cannon Dr. Wednesday and Saturday 7am-noon. Free.

Smoke Shack opens in Lincoln Park

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Julio Nepomiachi, an Argentinean native who also owns Tonic Room (2447 N. Halsted St., 773-248-8400), is going back to his roots with his latest project.

Just last Friday he opened Smoke Shack (800 W. Altgeld St., 773-248-8886), whose specialty is, of course, smoked meats. They've got a 1,600 pound smoker where they're cranking out Argentinean chorizo sandwiches, churrasco, St. Louis-style barbecue, Baby Back ribs, brisket, burgers and whatever kind of meat they can get their hands on. All sides are made fresh, and what's really going to make this place popular with the late-night revelers frequenting the area are the hours: Open Monday-Thursday until 3am; Friday-Saturday until 5am; and until 11pm on Sunday. BYOB.

Official Lupe Fiasco CD release party tonight

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Common. Kanye. And now another Chicago native hip-hop star is throwing his official CD release party in his hometown.

Tonight, Rockstar Tuesdays—hosted by ClubNet360—treats Lupe Fiasco fans to a listening party for The Cool album that's soon to be released. The event also includes drink specials. Rednofive, 440 N. Halsted St., 312-421-1239. 10pm-4am. Ladies free until midnight; $20 after.

UPDATE: Lupe Fiasco will be in the house (!!!!!), escorted by his record label, Atlantic.

BYOB, baby!

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The chicken and waffles entree at CJ's Eatery in Humboldt Park is not to be missed. (Photo: Mike G.)

For those of you waiting with baited breath for that Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles (3949 S. King Dr.) to open in Bronzeville, I've got some bad news and some good news. The bad news—according to a manager at the flagship Hollywood-based, soul-food favorite—is that it probably won't open in a few years. Why? He didn't want to say, but he assured me that it wasn't coming any time soon.

What's the good news, you ask?

In the meantime, you can check out CJ's Eatery (3839 W. Grand Ave., 773-292-0990) in Humboldt Park, where they're making a name for themselves with their own version of the addictive chicken and waffles dish. Crispy, well-seasoned fried chicken wings are accompanied by an oversize round waffle and homestyle pecan syrup.

And because CJ's Eatery is BYOB, you'll be able to drink like a king or queen and still get out of there for less than $15 a person.

NYE countdown: Eve of the Eve events

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For those of you who'd rather skip New Year's Eve, 312 Dining Diva has come up with a few alternatives.

Here are a few great parties going on the night before NYE:

Eve of the Eve. Highsight's annual black-tie benefit is actually two parties in one: Classic takes place at the Santa Fe Building (224 S. Michigan Ave.) and is more of an intimate, sit-down dinner; while the Union Station (210 S. Canal St.) set attracts more than 2,000 revelers. It's one of the biggest benefits for Chicago's young professionals and tickets range $125-$140. Open bar, light appetizers, live music. Call 312-787-9824 for more information.

Industry Night at Krem. It may not be a dress-up affair at this Lincoln Park lounge, but hosts Ryan Brooks, Carlos R, and the Krem Sundays staff will certainly put you in a festive mood. Party includes deejays spinning, a hosted premium bar and delicious passed hors d’oeuvres provided by the club. 9pm-2am. $75. 1750 N. Clark St., 773-932-1750.

Sippin on Sunday. It's been going strong for more than 15 years, and this party just continues to get better. DJ World spins house, hip-hop and club beats for this upscale, urban professional crowd. Get there between 9-10pm and your admission is free. Green Dolphin Street (2200 N. Ashland Ave., 312-431-8801). $20 at door.

Deal of the day . . .

It's countdown to Christmas, and if you need a mid-week chillout before you hit the shops one more time, head out to Tsuki (1441 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-883-8722) tonight for complimentary massages and manicures.

It's their ladies' night event, where there will also be $5 martini specials, complimentary Sky 90 gift bags, and a raffle for an MP3 player, gift certificates to Tsuki and Ai (358 W. Ontario St., 312-335-9888), as well as other prizes. RSVP required at 6-10pm tonight.

Or, if you're hangin' with the girls and boys, make your way to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (2024 N. Halsted St., 773-935-5000) for the $3 tapas special at the bar every Monday-Sunday 4-6pm.

Go for favorites like the aceitunas aliñadas (house marinated olives), ensalada de mariscos (seafood salad, shrimp, scallops and squid), calamares a la plancha (grilled squid in olive oil and garlic), dátiles con tocino (roast dates with bacon and apple vinaigrette), empanada de pollo (chicken empanada), albondigas al jerez (meatballs with sherry tomato sauce) and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes with tomato aioli).

And you cannot go to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba without ordering the sangria. Pitchers of red, white, black raspberry, passion fruit, peach and cava sangria are not to be missed. ($17.95-$19.95 a pitcher).

Monday, December 17, 2007

NYE countdown

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I just realized that in exactly two weeks from today is New Year's Eve. Have you made plans yet? Do you need some recommendations?

Starting tomorrow, I will be picking three great options a day for you to choose from. Or, if you cannot wait, feel free to shoot me an email at where I will be happy to lend a helping hand.

Publicists, promoters and bar/restaurant owners are strongly encouraged to send stuff for consideration--especially if they're offering something offbeat.

In the meantime, check back as often as you can.

Red Carpet madness . . .

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This weekend was especially busy for celebrity types, with rock stars, a reality show sweetheart and a songwriting genius making the scene:

--The Hills star Lauren Conrad co-hosted the Holiday for Hope fundraiser with the U.S. Marines at Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury, 312-266-1900) Friday. The aspiring fashion designer mentioned that her clothing line is coming to several Chicago boutiques in February, but had no idea which stores. Interesting.

--Award-winning R&B songwriter/vocalist John Legend braved Saturday's snowstorm to hit two Chicago hot spots: Table 52 (52 W. Elm St., 312-573-4000) for a quiet dinner with friends; and Carnivale (702 W. Fulton Market, 312-850-5005), where he performed in the fabulous upstairs party room for a private affair.

--And pop legends Duran Duran hit Rockit Bar & Grill last Thursday (22 W. Hubbard St., 312-645-6000) for the famous Rockit burgers (according to Good Morning America), and sat next to Mayor Daley, his wife Maggie, former Friends star David Schwimmer and Rockit partner Billy Dec. Duran Duran was in town headlining a holiday concert at the Chicago Theatre, and then made their way over to Dec's late-night club Underground (56 W. Illinois St., 312-644-7600) for a party to celebrate their new CD release, Red Carpet Massacre.

Go 'Underground' for dinner tonight?

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Bon Soiree's signature braised lamb shank in puff pastry will be one of the dishes on the "Underground" dinner menu tonight.

At Bon Soiree (2728 W. Armitage Ave., 773-486-7511), the hot catering company and cafe in Logan Square, the Underground Wine Dinners are what keep foodies coming back. And tonight they still have a few tables left for their event that's pairing vino provided by Provenance Food & Wine (2528 N. California Ave., 773-384-0699).

If you manage to get a seat, get ready for a five-course feast, which includes: celery root and roasted garlic bisque paired with a Villa Villa Carafia Asprinio D'Aversa wine; braised lamb shank in puff pastry and Moroccan pesto paired with Jaume Mesquida Callet; and sweet potato-stuffed whole quail, curried carrot quinoa, apple-maple gastrique paired with Villa Carafia Zine Aglianico. Seating is extremely limited; call Provenance at 773-784-2314 ASAP to book seats. Tonight 7pm-midnight; $85.

Deal of the day . . .

It's incredibly cold out there today, and if you just happen to get cabin fever this evening, make your way over to Deleece (4004 N. Southport Ave., 773-325-1710).

The cozy, family-friendly Lakeview eatery offers a $20 three-course, prix-fixe menu every Monday and Tuesday, and I'm sure it's enough to warm you down to the bones. Menu highlights include the braised short ribs spiced up with a chile morita glaze, a pan-roasted salmon served with Chinese sticky black rice, and the herb-cured Amish chicken with apple and sage stuffing.

I'm getting all warm just thinking about it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Warm up this winter with Cinner's Cincinnati-style chili

OMG. I'm starting to get just as excited as the folks over in Lincoln Square for the January arrival of Cinner's Chili Parlour & Cocktail Lounge (4757 N. Talman Ave.).

Got my hands on the menu, and if you're a true chili fan, then this is the place for you. Cinner's specialty will be Cincinnati-style chili, with the tasty sauce spilling over a bed of spaghetti. Depending on how many toppings you want, you can get your chili 3-way, 4-way or 5-way, with shredded mild cheddar cheese, onions and red beans.

And for something a little different, try the Cinners Muff (four warm muffins with chili and diced onions baked in the center), Cinful Fries (a giant platter of fries topped with chili and shredded cheddar cheese) or Phoney Coney (a steamed bun with chili, diced onions, mustard and shredded cheddar cheese).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fat Cat still leading Nightlife Poll

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Uptown's Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway, 773-506-3100) continues to lead the Nightlife Poll for Best New Bar of 2007. Looks like the retro-style pub has a strong following because they're certainly coming out to vote!

Agree? Disagree? Cast your vote at the bottom of the page. 16 more days to go . . .

Taste offers a 'taste' of super-premium tequilas tonight

If you were wondering whatever happened to Eric Aubriot (Aubriot, Hotel 71's Fuse), we found out. He's landed at Taste Food & Wine (1506 W. Jarvis Ave., 773-761-3663) in Rogers Park where he's a partner in this gourmet cheese, wine and liquor shop.

Every Monday at 6:30pm, they're offering wine tastings paired with various cheeses. But tonight they're stepping out with a super-premium tequila tasting event.

Partida—known for its handcrafted tequilas from Mexico that come from blue agave plants grown 7-10 years—will be sampling four different tequilas tonight from 6-8pm. Partida has only been in the country for three years, according to Partida Ambassador Alex Fowler, and 16 months in Chicago.

For shoppers, Fowler's serving up Blanco (boasting a soft floral aroma and blended with hints of citrus, fresh herbs and tropical fruit), Resposado (aged for six months in Jack Daniels barrels; a rich finish topped off with scents of vanilla, hazelnut and almond), Añejo (aged for 18 months in Jack Daniels barrels; soft honey fruited tones blended with flavors of banana, chocolate and sweet pear) and Elegante Extra Añejo (aged for 38 months; uses the very best Partida estate-grown blue agave, carefully selected by estate owner Enrique Partida himself).

He'll also be sampling margaritas made from the super-premium tequila. Oh, and if you can't make it to Taste in Rogers Park, Fowler is also a bartender every Saturday at Wicker Park's Moonshine (1824 W. Division St., 773-278-3735), where he'll be happy to make one for you that's strong and long.

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Blu 47 (4655 S. King Dr., 773-536-6000). "I'm not dissing the dinner menu when I say that Sunday brunch might be the best time to visit Blu 47. The $19.95 buffet is a bargain, a fine array of Southern comfort food that includes white grits and cheese grits (take the white grits; the cheese grits are gummy), chicken wings, biscuits with honey, catfish nuggets, pork sausage patties and one or two entrees such as gumbo or smothered pork chops. Omelets and waffles are made to order, and there's a cereal station for youngsters. The food is simple, down-home and good. The price includes a complimentary mimosa. It's a tough deal to beat."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune)

Bonsoiree Cafe & Delicacies (2728 W. Armitage Ave., 773-486-7511). "The contemporary American menu showcases clean, streamlined, seasonal flavors. The autumn menu introduces an appetizer of cured pork belly with star anise, fig sauce, and polenta and a main course of duck breast with acorn squash puree, fried parsnips, and a white balsamic gastrique."—Martha Bayne (Chicago Reader)

Ja' Grill (1008 W. Armitage Ave., 773-929-5375). "The menu is tight. The place is small. But there is a good deal of character and creativity in both. The highest-priced dish on the menu is the whole snapper, which runs $20 but includes (as do all entrees) rice and peas ("peas" in Jamaican cuisine are actually kidney beans), steamed cabbage and carrots, plantains and bread. (Ja' Grill offers preparations -- chicken, shrimp -- that involve curry, but I didn't try any of them.)"—Pat Bruno (Chicago Sun-Times)

Tavern at the Park (130 E. Randolph St., 312-552-0070). "Perhaps the finest dish is braised beef short ribs, slow-roasted tenderness soaking up a concentrated red wine demi-glace ($22). I don't know why they gave me a knife. A side of whipped potato casserole ($5) is buttery and creamy."—Laura Bianchi (Crain's Chicago Business)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Connoisseur grand opening, holiday bashes and so much more . . .

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The scene at Connoisseur during one of its tasting parties

I have no idea why it’s so busy this weekend, but it’s enough to keep everyone happy:

Connoisseur Wine Co. The grand-opening weekend is finally here for this tiny, yet stylish River West wine lounge with a mobile martini bar (bartender shakes up signature chocolate and green tea cocktails tableside), shareable Creole-inspired plates and some of the best underground deejays in town. Confirmed spin stars include ?, Lee Farmer, DJ I.N.C., Joe Glover, Madrid and World. Guests who RSVP receive gift bags, complimentary champagne, wine and tastings from the menu. Dec. 14-16. 1041 W. Grand Ave., 312-738-3055.

Joe’s. The 5th annual Kandy Kane Ball happens on Dec. 15 as this sports bar is transformed into a winter wonderland for a holiday atmosphere. Guests are requested to bring unwrapped toys (none with batteries) and kids’ hats, jackets and gloves, with all donations going to Chicago’s children’s charities. Party starts at 9pm, and for $20 you get an open bar and appetizers. 940 W. Weed St., 312-337-3486.

Krem. The fabulous Lincoln Park lounge celebrates its first-year anniversary with a party benefiting Toys For Tots. Guests are encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy for admission. Also, to celebrate the anniversary—and new renovations to the VIP and main rooms—they’re pouring complimentary Champagne and passing appetizers 9-10:30pm. Dec. 14. Also, come back on Dec. 15 for the Holiday Sweater event during their hot Sunday-night industry party. 1750 N. Clark St., 312-932-1750.

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Plan B. Also, dig into those old boxes (you know you’ve got ‘em!) for the ugliest sweater for The Sweater that Stole Christmas Bar Crawl. Strut with no style when it kicks off at this new Wicker Park lounge (1635 N. Milwaukee Ave.) at 2pm, then hits Cans (1640 N. Damen Ave.), Northside Bar and Grill (1635 N. Damen Ave.) and Pint (1547 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Guests will then return to Plan B for a private You Made It reception until 8pm where local deejays will spin the usual beats. Drink specials include Leinenkugel drafts for $2 and Imperia vodka drinks for $4 at Plan B; $2 beer and vodka mixed drinks for $4 at Cans; Kalamazoo Bell’s amber ale beer for $4 and Southern Comfort and lime shots for $5 at Northside; and Point Pale Ale beer for $2.50 and Shiner beer pints for $4 at Pint. $20 donation; all proceeds benefit Inner Voice, Inc., a Wicker Park-based non-profit organization that assists Chicago’s homeless community. Dec. 15.

Rednofive. Two fashion events happen this weekend: Friday’s Holiday Fashion Fantasy includes shopping, a runway show, comp admission and appetizers by Chaise Lounge. 8pm-midnight. And Saturday—back by popular demand—they’re hosting the Glam Live and Mario Ink Body Painted Fire and Ice Fashion Show at midnight. It’s the perfect chance to order Redno’s Champagne Bouquet—designed by Rednofive and Moet—that’s a trio of champagne splits from Moët and Chandon, Impérial Rosé, Nectar Impérial and White Star. The bouquet comes with special champagne flutes shaped like the petals of a flower and have been a very popular item with female guests for $75. 440 N. Halsted St., 312-421-1239.

Salud. And Lip Service Productions hosts a jolly Downtown Divas X-Mas Soiree. The Thanksgiving party they had over at Jillys will be pale in comparison. From 8-9pm, you’ll get complimentary holiday cocktails. Party happens Dec. 13 (tonight!). Free. 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-235-5577.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quote of the week . . .

“It’s an American bistro, which means we have no rules at all,” said Perennial partner Kevin Boehm about his new Lincoln Park restaurant set to open in March 2008. “It’s warm and friendly and prices are affordable.”

A select few local restaurant writers were invited Wednesday to get the first “hard-hat” tour of the venue (1800 N. Lincoln Ave.), which is bare bones now, but Boehm's partner Rob Katz assured us that it’s on schedule to open on time.

The restaurant/lounge takes over the entire first floor of boutique hotel Park View, which will open simultaneously. The team of Boehm and Katz are best known for Boka (1729 N. Halsted St., 312-337-6070) and Landmark (1633 N. Halsted St., 312-587-1600), but the ambitious Perennial will be the most eye-catching of the trio. Colors throughout the venue will range from dramatic seagrass tomato to festive bursts of turquoise, pink and gold. Imposing birch branches will spring from behind banquettes, while the dining room ceiling will be draped in cloth, giving the effect of a circus atmosphere. And two lounges, one private, the other public, will be ideal to chill out in with small-plate offerings near the fireplace.

And speaking of small plates, Executive Chef Guiseppe Tentori plans to buck the current trend to offer mostly robust, seasonal dishes. And with Perennial’s perfect position directly across the street from Green City Market, expect him to use local and organic produce whenever possible.

Also on the horizon is Natalino’s (1523 W. Chicago Ave.), a pretty Italian storefront in West Town that’s right near Flo, West Town Tavern and Habana Libre. It’s simply designed in deep hard wood and clean lines, and should do really well considering that there’s really no Italian restaurants in the area. No opening date yet, but by the looks of it, they’re probably shooting for January.

I'm not one to gossip, but . . .

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Hunky "The Hills" star Brody Jenner makes an appearance at Enclave this weekend, and possibly Crobar too?

Now this is too much of a coincidence!

On the season finale of "The Hills" on Monday, star Lauren Conrad kissed her former "boyfriend" and co-star Brody Jenner. Now somehow both of them have wound up in Chicago this weekend to host separate events.

Conrad is the guest of honor for the 19th Annual Holiday for Hope Fundraiser Friday at Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury, 312-266-1900). The reality starlet will be there all night, and they're requesting that guests bring an unwrapped, new toy for the kids in exchange for free entry. The U.S. Marines will be on hand to collect all toys. Doors open at 9pm.

And on Saturday—ahem—Brody Jenner hosts a model search event for Archangel at Enclave (220 W. Chicago Ave., 312-654-0234). Doors also open at 9pm, and RSVP to

Let the drama begin!

(Thanks, Emily!)

This just in . . .

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Pop legends Duran Duran hit Underground (56 W. Illinois St., 312-644-7600) Friday, Dec. 14 for the official after party of their new CD, Red Carpet Massacre. RSVP at for guest list ASAP. Doors open at 10pm, but don't expect them to get there anytime before midnight.

Hope Simon Le Bon is on his best behavior this time around; the last time I saw him at a club (Narcisse, RIP), he was acting like he was "Hungry Like The Wolf."

Hump Day happenings

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Order the $60 cocktail tree with friends tonight at SUSHISAMBA rio.

Warm up at SUSHISAMBA rio's (504 N. Wells St., 312-595-2300) Wednesday night bash atop the sexy Sugarcane roof deck lounge. Deejays Mixin’ Marc and Alex Peace, who spin a signature blend of bangin' club hits, perform 9pm to close. Get a group of friends together and order the $60 cocktail tree (I know it's steep, but it features 12 miniature drinks!) of some of SUSHISAMBA's specialty drinks.

Also tonight, Jay Emerich of the West Loop's romantic Jay Amore (1330 W. Madison St., 312-829-3333) celebrates his 43rd Christmas party. From 6-9pm, he's offering guests complimentary champagne, a buffet and live entertainment.

Scoop on latest Lettuce project

From Chicago Tribune's Phil Vettel in "The Stew":

"We now have a name for the latest Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant, the one going in the old Ambria space (2300 N. Lincoln Park West) and featuring star chef Laurent Gras.

The restaurant, opening in the spring, will be called (drumroll): L.2O.

The name is easy to pronounce (el-two-oh, like H2O, reflective of the restaurant’s seafood emphasis) but a big pain in the patoot to write, as it includes a subscript numeral 2, plus an entirely superfluous period after the L. Most people are just going to write L2O, I’m guessing.

In addition, we’re told, the restaurant will feature modern décor with sen (a light Japanese wood) paneling, ebony tabletops, white leather chairs and white onyx accents.

The memorable line in the press release (parenthetical comments mine): 'Gras’ goal is to bring fish and shellfish from their natural state to a finished presentation (i.e., cooking them) without compromising their inherent qualities (i.e., ruining them).'

Sounds like a plan to me."

Very interesting. Seems like LEYE is updating all their restaurants these days. First there was Osteria Via Stato (620 N. State St.) adding Pizzeria via Stato to its front room. Then Frankie's Fifth Floor (900 N. Michigan Ave.) took over the open space in front of Tucci Benucch. Now this. Don't be surprised if you start hearing buzz about some of their older restaurants like Scoozi! (410 W. Huron St.) getting a facelift soon.

Rustik debuts in Logan Square this weekend

(Photo: Rustik)

Got this random email in my inbox yesterday:

"Thanks for your patience. The opening of Rustik is being delayed by a week. We will be opening tentatively Friday the 14th of December. Looking forward to seeing you. Thanks again for your patience."

That's all that was sent, so I did a little digging and found out that Rustik (2515 N. California Ave., 773-235-0002) is a New American contemporary restaurant in Logan Square. They're not answering the phone yet, but I'm still on the case . . .

Deal of the day . . .

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At Frasca's, every Wednesday, if you buy one pizza, you get the second one free.

Relaxed neighborhood eatery Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar (3358 N. Paulina St., 773-248-5222) is much fancier than your average pizza parlor, but they’re also not offering your average pies.

You’ll find premium toppings on their thin-crust specialties like the Rustica (with diced prosciutto, oven dried tomatoes, basil pesto, smoked provolone), shrimp + pancetta (tomato sauce, mozzarella, wood fired red onions, evoo) and Caponata (tomato sauce, eggplant, goat cheese, red peppers, shrooms and artichokes). Or, if you’re in a creative mood, they’ll even let you build your own with fennel sausage, homemade mozzarella, Italian anchovies, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms and other toppings.

But the best thing about Wednesday nights here is that if you buy one pizza, you get the second one at no cost. Woo hoo!

Or, if you’ve got more of a sweet tooth this evening, you might want to make your way to the Lincoln Square location of Provenance Food & Wine (2312 W. Leland Ave., 773-784-2314) for an offbeat chocolate tasting by non other than Vosges Haut Chocolat. They’re sampling three Vosges cocoa flavors and also their newest exotic candy bar, the Mo’s Bacon Bar. The “Vosges Haut Chocolat Cocoa & ...Bacon?!” event happens 5-7pm and it’s free.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fat Cat's fans come out strong for Nightlife Poll

Uhmmm, just yesterday Crimson Lounge (333 N. Dearborn St., 312-923-2473) was waaaay ahead in the Nightlife Poll for "2007's Best New Bar" at the bottom of the page. But I just checked it a few minutes ago, and Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway, 773-506-3100) is back in the lead.

Agree? Disagree? Click on your favorite bar at the bottom of the page. You've got 19 more days to vote!

North Pond chef to demo at Green City Market

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He's got a quirky sense of humor and he's one of our hometown heroes when it comes to supporting small local farmers.

And now Bruce Sherman, chef/partner of the esteemed contemporary French-American North Pond (2610 N. Cannon Dr., 773-477-5845), will take his turn as the demonstrating chef for the day at Green City Market, tomorrow at 10:30am.

His Lincoln Park eatery is known for its innovative, seasonal cuisine, so expect his loyal followers to come out in full force.

As always, Green City Market occurs every Wednesday and Saturday (through Dec. 22) 7am-noon at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's North Gallery at 2430 N. Cannon Dr. Free admission.

Fahrenheit turns up the heat in St. Charles

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Chef Peter Balodimas' duo of organic Berkshire pork grilled belly and confit shoulder served with six-year cheddar grits, shaved apple and Blis 30-year sherry

Every once in a while 312 Dining Diva will kick it to the suburbs, and last night's venture to the 630 didn't disappoint.

New American eatery Fahrenheit & Celcius Lounge, with chef/owner Peter Balodimas at the helm, has only been open for a month and is already getting plenty of local and national buzz.

The 27-year-old Balodimas picked up his skills in the kitchens of such well-known spots as Spiaggia and Heaven on Seven, and it shows. In his new St. Charles restaurant, he's dabbling in different flavors and presentations, so many of those dishes have unexpected twists.

Take, for example, the amuse he served last night of a truffled beef tartar "burger." The tiny, flavor-packed delight—that you popped in your mouth in a single bite—made Minnies' sandwiches look like Burger King's Whoppers. Also, the organic Berkshire pork grilled belly paired with six-year cheddar grits was a brilliant combo, especially when dipped in the 30-year sherry drizzled on the plate.

And how could we forget the "BBQ" Kobe beef brisket, which was marinated in Guinness and Balodimas' secret "BBQ" sauce and complemented by the tiniest portions of corn bread I had ever seen in my life. Somehow he made it work.

The wine list here is pretty good too (with a nod to Balodimas' Greek heritage), but the by-the-glass selections are pretty steep, ranging between $12-$28.

Fahrenheit & Celcius Lounge: 1890 West Main St., 630-444-1350. Open Tuesday-Sunday; lunch service begins today.

Deal of the day . . .

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Cozy little BeviAmo Wine Bar (1358 W. Taylor St., 312-455-8255), tucked away in Little Italy, doesn't have a huge menu for food, but they've got nice small plates for when you just want to nosh.

Every Tuesday they're hosting a wine tasting event featuring wines from different regions for $25. 7-11pm.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Top designer Suhail takes a stand against poverty

If you don't recognize his name, you'll certainly recognize his memorable, high-profile projects with a definitive edge.

Suhail—the master designer/architect behind such hot spots as DeLaCosta, Lava Lounge, Sonotheque and Tizi Melloul (also del Toro, Fahrenheit 212, Mod. and Sugar RIP)—is working on the most important project of his life: rebuilding Kashmir following its devastating earthquake in 2005.

His life was forever changed when he visited and volunteered in the region last year, and he wants to do even more by returning with more volunteers. Thursday's event is his biggest benefit to date in an effort to raise funds for this cause. All proceeds will be used to directly improve and rebuild schools, provide educational supplies and establish scholarship funds.

But don't expect this to be a stuffy event: Being Suhail, you know that it's going to be hip and happening. The multi-culti, creative black tie includes live traditional Indian music, DJ Madrid spinning global beats, a video installation by Brian Cho, open bar, photography exhibition and Kashmiri fusion menu. Premium silent auction items are donated by such favorites as avec, Blackbird, Moto, Orange Skin, Randolph Wine Cellars and the Joffrey Ballet.

Deets: 1101 W. Fulton St., Dec. 13 7-11pm. For more info, call 312-733-9411. $100 in advance; $125 at door.

Bring on the bubbly

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(Photo: Paulus Rusyanto)

If you haven't had enough of the good stuff, we've uncovered even more. Hey, it's the holiday season: Drink UP!

Since last week, Geja’s Café (340 W. Armitage Ave., 773-281-9101) has been celebrating its 28th Annual Champagne Festival, featuring sparkling wines from around the world. During the two-month festival, which ends on Jan. 31, they're offering an impressive assortment of Champagnes by the glass and the bottle at special promotional prices. Guests may also enjoy Geja’s yummy fondue cuisine, including hot cheese dripping from chunks of bread; lobster, beef tenderloin and chicken breasts sizzling in a pot; and sweet fruit and tender marshmallows covered in creamy chocolate.

Or, if you're shopping along the Mag Mile, head over to Park Hyatt Chicago (800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4051) each Tuesday-Saturday from 4:30-6:30pm for "Truffles & Champagne" in their elegant Library. Settle in for a trio of handmade chocolate truffles from Coco Rouge (1940 W. Division St., 773-772-2626) paired with a nice selection of champagnes and cognac by the glass. There's also a classical guitarist for background sounds. Prices range $14-$20 and this is going on until Dec. 22.

And then there's the half-priced Mondays at The Tasting Room (1415 W. Randolph St., 312-942-1313). Their more than 115 wines, including dessert and sparkling wines, by the glass are all half off. Sip and swirl as you chill out in their simply gorgeous two-level lounge.

Rock Star Dogs update

Looks like Weiner Circle (2622 N. Clark St., 773-477-7444) is finally getting some competition with the arrival of Dion Antic's Rock Star Dogs in Ukrainian Village.

The pioneering restaurateur behind such memorable joints as Liquid Kitty, Get Me High Lounge, Harry's Velvet Room and of course Iggy's (now Iggys3 at Chicago and Dearborn) opens his late-night hot dog spot in January. There's about 20 dogs on the menu with cool names like Tommy Lee (our foot-long tribute), Los Lobos (Latin-style bacon wrapped dog), Sting (Tantric tofu dog) and the J. Timberlake (Our Cheezy Dog . . .Dawg!). And non hot dog lovers can get The Misfits, two mini cheeseburgers. All sandwiches come with fries and a can of soda, and range $4-$6. It will stay open 'til 4am on most nights, 5am on Saturday. 801 N. Ashland Ave.

Deal of the day . . .

In West Town, Five Star Bar and Grill's (1424 W. Chicago Ave., 312-850-2555) got it all: a pool table, plenty of plasmas to watch the game or news, one of the largest selections of bourbons in town and that infamous stripper pole in the back room.

But it's their nightly specials driving the crowds earlier in the week, such as tonight's: 50 cent mini sandwiches (cheeseburgers, pulled pork or Sloppy Joes), ribs ($6.75 half slab/$10.75 full slab) and the $2 Old Style cans. No takeout.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Statewide smoking ban doesn't affect everyone

You've got less than a month to smoke in area bars and restaurants, then come Jan. 1 it's to the streets to freeze your ass off when the statewide smoking ban takes effect. Illinois will become the 22nd state to prohibit smoking in nearly all indoor workplaces, with notable exceptions being tobacco stores, nonalcoholic hookah lounges and hotels.

Look for an increase in business in places like Marshall McGearty Tobacco Artisans (1553 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-772-8410), a "tobacco lounge" in Wicker Park, Up Down Cigar (1550 N. Wells St., 312-337-8025) in Old Town and Old Chicago Smoke Shop (10 S. La Salle St., 312-236-9771) in the Financial District.

But what's certain to be an interesting development is over at Sigara Hookah Cafe (2013 W. Division St., 773-292-9190) in Ukrainian Village, where there's a full bar to go along with the more than 30 shiska flavors. According to their web site and an employee at the store, they're in compliance with the new ban, but how is that possible if they'll still have the liquor? A manager wasn't available to address this issue until Tuesday, so we'll be following up.

Crimson Lounge leads the Nightlife Poll

The Nightlife Poll for Best New Bar of '07 has only been up for a few days, and now Hotel Sax's Crimson Lounge (333 N. Dearborn St., 312-245-0333) is waaaay ahead of the others.

Agree? Disagree? Cast your vote now at the bottom of the page.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Marcus Samuelsson’s C-House pushed back

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Those waiting for acclaimed Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson (New York's Riingo, Aquavit) to make his Chicago debut will have to wait a little longer.

A call over to Streeterville’s Affinia Chicago Hotel (166 E. Superior St., 312-787-6000), where his Scandinavian-style cuisine will take centerstage at C-House, rewarded 312 Dining Diva with the latest and greatest info. Turns out that the hotel is still renovating and running behind schedule, so the restaurant will not be opening in early 2008, as other media outlets have been reporting.

At this point, they’re looking for C-House to open in late March or possibly sometime in April. Really, who knows, as you know how these things go. As usual, we’ll keep you posted.

Soiree opens this weekend

There’s absolutely no relation between the two, but Soiree Bar and Bistro (2438 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-477-8880) just opened in Lincoln Park and Soiree Bar and Restaurant recently closed over at 4539 N. Lincoln Ave.

That’s where the similarities end as the former replaces The Gramercy—an overrated Lincoln Park college bar masquerading as a Miami-esque lounge. New owners have replaced the all-white interior with lush colors of crimson and purple hues. And they’ve added a menu of French-American bites, which is targeted toward those who sit in the front section.

It’ll be interesting to see if the young, post-collegiate crowd that frequents this Lincoln Avenue strip warms up to the idea of this pretty sophisticated concept dropped in the middle of frat boy heaven.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Weekend dealios . . .

Not sure what you've got going on this weekend, but if you've got wine on your mind—and shopping for your wine enthusiast friends—head over to Randolph Street Cellars (1415 W. Randolph St., 312-942-1212). Every Saturday, they're popping open some wines for you to sample as you shop. 2-6pm.

And if the infamous Uptown Poetry Slam at Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552) is your thing, get to Agami (4712 N. Broadway, 773-506-1845) first for half-price cocktails and sushi at the bar. $6 for Uptown Poetry Slam; 7-10pm Sundays.

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Honky Tonk Barbeque (1213 W. 18th St., 312-226-7427): "Memphis-style baby backs and Saint Louis-style spare ribs are sprinkled with a mildly piquant dry rub, then cooked low and slow to render fat while leaving loads of flavor on the bone."—David Hammond (Chicago Reader)

The Gage (24 S. Michigan Ave., 312-372-4243): "Downtown's the Gage has a split personality, and that's a good thing. In the front is a traditional pub with one of the city's best Guinness pours. At the back of this turn-of-the-century building is a more serious restaurant, with big booths and plenty of tablecloth-covered tables. But no matter where you sit, you win with Irish-inspired food from Chef Dirk Flanigan (Meritage, Blue Water Grill)."—Lisa Shames (UR Chicago)

Les Nomades (222 E. Ontario St., 312-649-9010): "For a bigger punch of flavor, I preferred (Chris) Nugent's elegant take on salade Lyonnaise — frisée and lardons meet octopus and a poached quail egg. The sweet tartness of aged sherry vinegar ties it all together, offsetting the salty bacon and just-charred hint of grilled seafood."—Alison Neumer Lara (Crain's Chicago Business)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Shop, sip and stroll in these ‘hoods

There's a major holiday party going on at the 900 Shops (900 N. Michigan Ave.) tonight, but if you miss out on it, you can check out these shop-sip-and-stroll events on Friday:

Head to the Division Street Corridor: Slick new unisex boutique Funkshion (2121 W. Division St., 773-697-4119) hosts an event with Fortune Denim. Party includes cocktails, dessert and special product giveaways. 7-9pm. After-party takes place at Bon V (1100 W. Randolph St.) at 10pm.

Also, head down the street to Gamma Player (2035 W. Division St., 773-235-0755), where designer Agga B. presents her spring/summer collection. 6-9pm with cocktails.

And Plein Aire (2036 W. Division St., 773-227-3772) throws a Hanky Panky party from 6-9pm for its buy-two-get-one-free sale. Cocktails, dessert and other nonsense will be going on.

Over in Roscoe Village, merchants host a Holiday Stroll (Roscoe Street from Damen Avenue to Oakley Street) from 6-9pm with cocktails, appetizers, trunk shows, discounts and a tree lighting ceremony at 6pm at Costello’s (2015 W. Roscoe St.).

And finally, the Southport Holiday Stroll runs along Southport Avenue in Lakeview from 5-11pm, with late-night shopping, cocktails, carolers and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Deal of the day . . .

There's just no fighting this snowy weather, so just go somewhere and chill out tonight.

You can start the weekend off right at sushi hot spot Blue Fin (1952 W. North Ave., 312-394-7373), which offers half-priced beer, mixed cocktails and hot sake every Thursday.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fat Cat leads Nightlife Poll

312 Dining Diva's poll to pick the best new night spot to open in '07 is off to a great start, with Uptown's retro martini lounge Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway St., 773-506-3100) holding on to a strong lead.

Agree? Disagree? Cast your vote now at the bottom of the page.

Webster's Wine Bar still open, Bluebird is next big thing

If you've driven past pioneering wine bar Webster's (1480 W. Webster Ave.) recently, you probably noticed a lot of construction going on over there. Have no fear, says owner Tom MacDonald, adding that they're just updating the interior to compete with the newer bars out there.

Tickets are also still available for tonight's annual Champagne tasting at Webster's, where guests may walk around sampling more than 30 Champagnes and sparkling wines for $50. Starts at 7:30pm.

And speaking of new, I talked a group of friends last night into going to MacDonald's brand-new wine-and-beer-focused lounge Bluebird Bistro & Winebar (1749 N. Damen Ave., 773-486-2473), which is only about five minutes away. It was actually refreshing not to see a bunch of familiar beer and wine brands on the menu, as Bluebird specializes in offbeat libations. Those really looking for something offbeat can indulge in the 12 or so bio-dynamic wines by the bottle only. I didn't really eat, but my friends noshed down on the fiery chicken wings (accompanied by grilled citrus fruit) and what appeared to be the most popular flatbread that night, the one with tomato, basil and pine nuts with calabrese salami, arugula and fresh mozzarella. Mmmmmmmm. Wish I hadn't eaten so much earlier.

Also, try to get here during the week because the weekends are complete madness.

Are you cool enough to get in?!

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One of the Tuaca Body Art Ball performers

If you're in tight with one of our fabulous local bartenders or servers who's been invited to the Tuaca Body Art Ball, then you might just be lucky enough to get into this exclusive party happening Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Park West (322 W. Armitage Ave.).

The Body Art Ball is an invite-only, private event hosted for the hundreds of area bartenders and servers who have helped to make Chicago one of Tuaca’s top markets. I've never heard of it, but Tuaca is apparently a super-premium, brandy-based Italian liqueur. The brandy is fused with ripe citrus fruit flavors, and sweet aromatics, most notably light vanilla. Want to get an invite? You’ll have to buddy up to your bartender to get into this hot show that includes performers painted in body art, cocktails by Tuaca and plenty to eat.

Doors open at 8pm; show starts at 9:10pm sharp.

'Survivor' star on a roll with RA Sushi

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Mookie Lee and his winning RAVU Roll, which is on the menus at all RA Sushi locations through December.

Remember a few weeks ago when all those former reality show contestants had to come up with creative sushi rolls for a RA Sushi contest?

Mookie Lee—who was on "Survivor Fiji"—won for his RAVU Roll, which was named after his tribe on the Emmy award-winning show. The RAVU Roll is made of tuna, spicy salmon, unagi, scallion, avocado and cucumber, topped with tempura bits and drizzled with eel sauce and wasabi mayo. If this sounds yummy to you, it's $10 until the end of the month at all RA Sushi locations, including the one at 1139 N. State St., 312-274-0011.

And finally, $3 from the sale of every RAVU roll goes to ACTIVE Chicago, Lee's group that provides underprivileged children the opportunity to participate in organized athletics and programs within the Chicagoland community.

Silver Room expands (sort of)

Eric Williams' hip accessories boutique Silver Room (1442 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-278-7130) has been a Wicker Park staple for a number of years, and also served as sort of a hipster hangout for deejays and other nightlife industry types.

So like in the early 2000s, he opened Square One, a stylish cafeteria offering inexpensive comfort food, down the street from the boutique. Alas, it didn't last that long, but he's decided to have another go at it with a low-key juice bar tucked inside Silver Room.

Longtime owners of the South Side's venerable Soul Vegetarian (203 E. 75th St., 773-224-0104) have been working on the space for a few months, and plan to offer smoothies, teas, juices and some light vegetarian bites when it opens later this month.

Deal of the day . . .

Two noteworthy events demand your attention—especially if you're totes looking for unique holiday gifts:

The How's Your Drink: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well booksigning party happens tonight at Le Passage/The Drawing Room (937 N. Rush St., 312-255-0022), with an appearance by author Eric Felten, whose Wall Street Journal column covers the craze over cocktails. You'll find 50 extensively researched (yeah, I bet!) and time-tested recipes that's certain to thrill the cocktail connoisseur. Event happens tonight 5-7pm with drinks featured from the book at a special price.

And tomorrow get to the 900 Shops (900 N. Michigan Ave.) for the mall's annual holiday party featuring all sorts of deals from many of the boutiques and specialty shops. You'll also get complimentary cocktails and tasty lil' bites from Frankie's Fifth Floor Pizzeria, King Cafe, Blue Water Grill, Rockit Bar & Grill, The Drawing Room, Lux Bar and American Dog. It occurs 5:30-8:30pm, so RSVP to by this evening (Dec. 5).

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Blackstone Hotel gets hip with upscale Spanish eatery

First it was the Palmer House Hilton (17 E. Monroe St.) to update its fuddy duddy image with the more contemporary dining option Lockwood. Now comes the historic Blackstone Hotel (638 S. Michigan Ave.) that's teaming up with restaurateur Peter Karpinski of the Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group for Mercat a la Planxa, a modern Catalan tapas restaurant and bar, scheduled to open in early 2008.

They've gotten local star chef Jose Garces to work Mercat's kitchen, which will crank out tasty tapas like cut-to-order charcuterie, Pulpo con Patatas (Spanish octopus, confit potato and smoked paprika), Confit de Bacalao (black cod confit, haricot vert salad, morcilla-potatoes, orange-saffron emulsion), Mar i Muntanya (slowed-cooked short ribs and diver scallops, shaved Parmesan artichokes) and Buitfarra con Judias (Catalan sausage with rosemary-thyme white beans and carrot escabeche).

At the bar, a tempting array of seasonally inspired sangrias, Spanish-styled cocktails and martinis will be available. Guests can also choose from Mercat’s extensive collection of Spanish cavas, wines, ciders and beer. A carefully selected wine list will feature 40 Spanish wines available by the bottle or by glass.

Rick Bayless at Green City Market

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Make arrangements now to attend the demonstration by celebrity chef Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo), whose appearance at Wednesday's Green City Market is certain to be off the hook. The event starts at 10:30am, and doors open at 7am, so I'm sure that's when the crowds will start forming for this one.

While you're there, take advantage of the city's only winter farmers' market, where you can shop for poultry, veggies, fruit and other locally grown and sustainable foods.

Green City Market occurs every Wednesday and Saturday (7am-noon) through Dec. 22 at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's North Gallery at 2430 N. Cannon Dr. Free.

BYOB, baby

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With so many Italian options around town, it's difficult to choose only one, but this friendly Uptown restaurant is one to consider for a BYOB outing.

Consider Caro Mio (1827 W. Wilson Ave., 773-275-5000) when you've got a large group and need a family-style situation. Portions are hearty, traditional and almost everything is made on premises. You'll get gleeful over traditional Italian fare like the homemade meatballs, Italian sausage and pastas like the tri-colored rotolo (baked tri-colored pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, topped with marinara and mozzarella cheese), Agnelotti Rossini (half-moon pastas stuffed with ricotta cheese in a delicious creamy tomato sauce with prosciutto and peas) or the risotto Milanese seasoned with saffron.

Oh, and there's no corkage fee.

Deal of the day ...

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A trio of Adobo Grill’s famous moles

Starting today and every Tuesday thereafter, you’ll want to get to Wicker Park’s Adobo Grill (2005 W. Division St., 773-252-9990) for the “Two-Course Tuesday Tasting Menu” for only $20. Diners get to mix and match any item from the dinner menu, and can choose between an appetizer, entrée or dessert.

If I were you, I’d go for the entrees that usually range from $18.95-$25.99 like the roasted beef tenderloin with roasted Yukon gold potatoes, wood-oven roasted tilapia with wild mushrooms or the shrimp marinated in chipotle. You just can’t miss—especially since you also get to choose an appetizer or dessert.

Also, on tap for Tuesdays is the $2 Sloppy Joes and $2 cans over at Silver Cloud (1700 N. Damen Ave., 773-489-6212). It’s the perfect deal for those fans of F/X’s “Nip/Tuck,” which they’ll be showing on the multiple plasmas in the dining room.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Is Grotto on State closing or not?

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Are the owners of Grotto on State (1030 N. State St., 312-280-1005) on the fence about closing their Gold Coast location for good on Dec. 31?

It certainly sounds like Grotto's days are numbered over there if they're sending the executive chef, Abraham Aguirre (who ruled the kitchen at Harry Caray's before he made his move), to their new Oak Brook location, which isn't scheduled to open until March 2008.

When called, they didn't want to confirm or deny the rumors, only saying that "they haven't made up their minds about closing." If the rumors turn out to be true, if you haven't made those New Year's Eve plans and you want to check out Grotto, now is the time.

Developing . . .

New wine bar opens in River West

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Connoisseur Wine Company managing partner Gerald Lott

Word is that Connoisseur Wine Company (1041 W. Grand Ave., 312-738-3055) quietly opened in the River West neighborhood last week. It's a tiny, intimate space--and I was just on Grand last night and somehow missed it!--so you really have to look out for it.

Managing partner is veteran entertainment guru Gerald Lott, who has guided promotions for some of the city’s finest venues and celebrities for nearly 20 years. And with Connoisseur, he's promoting his prime interests: atmosphere, social drinking and familiar music all as one concept.

Connoisseur is open every day except Monday, and you'll find specialty martinis, as well as a nice selection of wine, cognacs and sparkling wines to complement the small-plate and dessert offerings.

Through Dec. 15, guests receive 20% off entire menu. Also, to be invited to their upcoming grand-opening event, go to the website:

Amped-up comfort food at BB's

Since Wrigleyville's The Outpost closed several years ago, there haven't been many places to go for some Aussie pub grub. But maybe there's a reason for that.

Well, recently, BB's (22 E. Hubbard St., 312-755-0007) quietly unveiled a new fall menu and on it, you'll find some Australian-inspired dishes and wines. There's the Bondi Burger, which comes with bacon, cheddar, beet root, pineapple and fried egg. It sounds pretty strange, but these flavors actually work together pretty well. And then there's the Aussie chicken Schnitzel "Parmi," a filling, tangy dish that's pretty similar to the chicken parmesan.

And then there's what's certain to become a big deal over at BB's: the Friday all-you-can-eat fish & chips special. For $12.95, you get Bass pale ale battered cod that comes with peas and tartar sauce. Sign me up.

Uncommon Ground opens second location today

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Husband-and-wife team Michael and Helen Cameron have had much success with their Wrigleyville Uncommon Ground location (3800 N. Clark St.), so it's no surprise that they're finally branching out.

Today they're opening a second outpost--with an eco-friendly design--in Edgewater (1401 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-9801) near Loyola University.

In addition to signature dishes like the Black Cat espresso and cocoa nib-rubbed American Buffalo Rib-eye and coriander-crusted, naturally raised chicken breast with chipotle cheddar mashed potatoes, expect the same desserts and cocktails that they've become legendary for.

Also, they're planning to embrace the community's local artist scene, featuring local artwork and nightly performances from area musicians.

Deal of the day . . .

This week only, David Burke Primehouse (616 N. Rush St., 312-660-6000) offers a very special deal for the power lunchers.

Today through Friday, Dec. 7, you can get a taste of seven wines from seven different regions for only $7. Also, special regionally themed menu items will be featured each day. Monday, they're showcasing the wines from Austria, Northern Italy and Tokaji; Tuesday come for wines from Australia; Wednesday get ready to go ooh-la-la over French vino; Thursday are those from North America; and Friday features vino from Spain.

Reservations strongly recommended and proceeds benefit Common Threads, which provides after-school programming to children educating them on the importance of nutrition and physical well being.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Best new bar poll

Thanks to all who voted in the Best New Restaurant Poll. Sepia (123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920) won, and no other restaurant was even close.

There's a new poll up. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and choose your favorite new bar of 2007. Or if you think I left one out, feel free to comment below. You've got until the end of the month to vote.

Prosecco off to a good start

Blackbird's (619 W. Randolph St., 312-715-0708) 10-year anniversary party on Sunday brought out all the local rock star chefs and restaurateurs, but Mark Sparacino was probably in the most celebratory mood.

His long-awaited Prosecco (710 N. Wells St., 312-951-9500) debuted during Saturday's wild snow and ice storm, yet he managed to have a great night and almost a full house. With his third venture (he also owns Sparacino at 6966 W. North Ave. and Traveling Fare Catering), he's partnering with Kathryn Sullivan-Alvera, who's best known for co-owning Narcisse and Domaine.

The Italian-focused eatery highlights cuisine from all 20 regions of Italy and features Chicago's largest selection of Prosecco, or Italian sparkling wine.

Bleeding Heart Bakery strikes back

A Chowhound poster who tried to diss the pastries at the new Roscoe Village Bleeding Heart Bakery (1955 W. Belmont Ave., 773-327-6931) got shut down by its owner on Sunday.

The poster wrote, in part:

"The loaf of bread seemed stale - so dry, heavy, and hard that we abandoned trying to chew it and decided to use it as a weapon instead. The two muffins were the best items of the lot, by far, but they were just adequate (and the 'tea cake' muffin had a strange chemical-ish aftertaste). The two croissants were practically inedible - so dry that we worried they'd burst into flames if we rubbed them together."

And, in response, the owner struck back:

"I try very hard to stay off these sites as I see them biased and without responsibilty, however, I have always liked chowhound and was very surprised to see this post today. We are delighted to be in Roscoe Village and have been welcomed by most with open arms. All of our products are the same we have always offered but with many new choices, which is what boggles me about this post. All of our products are within Europen style (not bought at many places'd be suprised how many costco croissants you've consumed thinking they were homemade) With that being said, most of our flaky pastries..such as croissants are as such...flaky. They are not meant to be doughy or chewy and we are not trying to go for that. Everyone has there own taste and there are bakeries all around Chicago that cater to all of these tastes. Our bread is levain based bread, it is made with a fermented dough and is meant to be very hearty and have a thick, dense crust. It is not meant to be fluffy or squishy or soft for that matter. I cannot understand a 'chemical taste' as we are certified orgainc and cannot use any type of chemical even in our cleaning methods, everything here has to be environmentally friendly and biodegradeable.

In the end I am sorry that you had a bad experience, I would invite you back in hopes you would have a better time the next time around, however it seems as though the problems you had are not really problems at all, but a matter of taste, which I both understand and respect, though there are many who would disagree (keep in mind that we moved to roscoe village because our business grew so big and we became so busy that we needed a bigger space, our chicago ave location was outgrown in two years..not very long at all)

One last ting, although it may be 'cute' to use extreem sarcasm when reviewing a place it really is not. Reviews in that manner are hard to take seriously and seem very personal, very attacking, which is the only reason I have become so defensive. We have recieved bad reviews, everyone does, we can take it (learn from it) but little is learned from the sarcasm."

Wow, just wow. Finally, an owner who's turned the tables on those anonymous types who get off on posting vicious comments on these dining/nightlife message boards. Personally, if it was me and I had such an experience, I'd just tell the manager while I was actually in the store. But that's just me.

On a related note, Bleeding Heart's original location at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. reopened last Friday as the Painted Lady Organic Eatery.