Cru Cafe & Wine Bar

25 E. Delaware


Outfitted with fancy chandeliers, cozy fireplaces, and lots of dark, pretty wood, Debra Sharpe’s reincarnated Cru Cafe & Wine Bar exudes all the elegance and luxury you’d expect of the Gold Coast–and at a commensurate price. Not surprisingly, the wine list is the centerpiece, with as many as 50 wines, ports, brandies, grappas, and sakes available by the glass or in flights of three, plus 30 half-bottle options and another 300-odd bottles in the cellar. The menu–revamped by pinch hitter Dale Levitski (La Tache, Trio Atelier), who stepped in when chef Patrick Crane broke his ankle in the 11th hour–offers a range of well-executed if predictable nibbles, from charcuterie and cheese plates to rich seared scallops wrapped in bacon, and some substantial sandwiches and entrees, including an intriguing “surf and turf” club of lobster and beef tenderloin with avocado and smoked chile mayo and a pretty perfect steak frites dressed up with caramelized onions and tangy cabernet jam. Taken as a whole the scene at this expanded new space (next door to the old one, now occupied by Sharpe’s gourmet take-out shop the Goddess and Grocer) screams class, and it passes a critical test with flying colors: the warm hospitality the smooth staff showed this couple of scuzzy-looking night owls on a recent frigid evening was downright gratifying. –Martha Bayne

Osteria di Tramonto

601 N. Milwaukee, Wheeling

847-777-6570I didn’t care how much of a Midas Rick Tramonto might be as I schlepped up the expressway through a gulag of office parks: would Osteria di Tramonto, his new casual Italian hotel restaurant, really be worth this expedition to Wheeling? The Italian Mojo, a signature cocktail served by an overwhelmed barkeep, seemed an inauspicious beginning: it was essentially a weak mojito further diluted by prosecco. But once we were seated in the bustling, roomy space, which has an arched brick ceiling and dining bar in front of an open kitchen station, things went uphill. The menu ranges all over the boot with antipasti, four crudos, a very sexy collection of cured salumi hanging in a glass “cave,” wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and meaty entrees. Among my favorites were an incredibly plush and creamy burrata caprese salad, house-made meatballs in a bright San Marzano red sauce, and big cuts of meat like a lamb porterhouse with salsa verde in garlic jus and a pork porterhouse with baby brussels sprouts and sour cherries. Everything about the place is big, from the menu to the army of attentive waitstaff to the towering two-story glass “wine wall” and the extensive list of Italian liqueurs, which includes some pretty uncommon options. This, one of the latest restaurants in the superchef’s ever expanding empire, is one of four in the North Shore Westin Hotel complex, and as befits a place that’s gotta play to lots of different kinds of people with different needs, it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. –Mike Sula


1514 Sherman, Evanston


At Kansaku it’s not easy to resist the seductive and colorful signature rolls: we had the Fiesta, a tangy cigar of tuna, salmon, jalapeno, and cilantro, as well as the Citrus Spring Roll, a spicy tuna paste with cucumber and avocado peeking through translucent rice paper. Both of these nouveau Asian items were fine, but my recommendation is to stick with more traditional sashimi or sushi and savor the embarrassingly fresh finned things shipped in several times a week to this atmospherically lit, stylish, and friendly place. A buttery escolar was rich enough to smear on bread, and tuna, sliced thick as a ham steak, so transcendently tender I couldn’t bear to defile it with soy and wasabi. If you really must have meat, there’s tonkatsu, fried pork cutlet, but take my word for it: you’re better off going fishin’. To drink try an unfiltered sake like ozeki nigori, a tongue-coating, richly textured floral beverage, suitable as aperitif or with dinner; a more expensive filtered sake seemed neutered by comparison. Desserts are limited, so you might consider ending the meal with a few syrupy slices of sweet eel. –David Hammond


Chalkboard, 4343 N. Lincoln, 773-477-7144

Graze, 35 W. Ontario, 312-255-1234

Juicy Wine Company, 694 N. Milwaukee, 312-492-6620

Quince, 1625 Hinman, Evanston, 847-570-8400

Smoque, 3800 N. Pulaski, 773-545-7427

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rob Warner.