First Impressions and Second Takes

Open only three months, Ringo, a quaint, cheerful Japanese restaurant, already shows great promise. Chef-owner Kazunobu Yoshikawa and his partner, brother-in-law Eugene Chua, aren’t new to the business. Chua’s been rolling sushi in Chicago since 1996–for the first year at Byerly’s grocery store and for the last three as a supplier to four Chicago-area Whole Foods Markets. Yoshikawa joined him in 1998, after 12 years as a sushi chef in Los Angeles. Now, they’ve opened their own eight-table restaurant, where the reasonably priced menu includes a variety of eye-pleasing dishes like takoyaki–soft balls of dough stuffed with a bit of octopus, drizzled with a thick, sweet soy sauce, and topped with ruby red strips of pickled ginger. The kani-su salad is a gorgeous bowl piled with seaweed, shaved cucumbers, and ribbons of daikon and carrot, all topped with a generous serving of plump Alaskan king crab meat (which came slightly too cold–with shards of ice). A standard array of nigiri and maki sushi are offered, each piece expertly composed. The dragon roll is a mouthful of shrimp tempura rolled in rice and nori and layered with unagi (eel), avocado, cucumber, and a spicy sauce. The shrimp roll is also a standout–soft, crunchy, and chewy all at once. The place has a clean, fresh feel, with apricot colored walls hung with Asian banners and artifacts. Service hustled but still seemed a bit green. Ringo is at 2507 N. Lincoln, 773-248-5788.

The new, modern Park Hyatt has finally been unveiled and Nomi, the swank seventh-floor restaurant, is one of its highlights. Architect Tony Chi has pulled out all the stops–from a temperature-controlled wine cellar entrance to a luxurious lounge with comfy beige chairs, dark oak floors, amber drum-shaped light fixtures, and sleek 25-foot-long taupe curtains framing the windows that overlook the city. French chef Sandro Gamba was a finalist this year for the James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star” award and his resume includes turns at Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monte Carlo and Lespinasse in Washington, D.C. He expertly executes a menu designed to dazzle. Appetizers include a rich, satiny chilled white bean soup that’s topped with earthy shaved black summer truffles and subtly seasoned with rosemary and thyme and a few drops of red wine vinegar for vibrancy, and a warm Maine lobster salad served on a rectangular plate full of haricots verts, domestic and wild asparagus, creamy chunks of avocado, and generous pieces of lobster in a Ligurian olive oil. The Hudson Valley foie gras is artfully arranged on top of a scoop of heirloom tomato jam whose delicate sweetness perfectly complements the liver’s rich flavor, and surrounded by a fluffy bed of mache tossed in a balsamic reduction with olive oil. Entrees are artfully simple–there’s an unadulterated roast lamb served with a zucchini gratin and garlic confit; sauteed beef tenderloin with earthy chanterelle mushrooms, black truffle polenta, and shallot croutons; and braised rabbit shoulder with a loin fondant, Japanese eggplant, and Italian panese in a savory sage jus. Sophisticated sides like “grandmother Jannette’s” truffle mashed potatoes complete the menu. The incredibly broad wine list (Joseph Spellman, the former sommelier at Charlie Trotter’s, was the consultant) offers a range of affordable “New World” reds and whites along with some pricier Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone wines. The stemware and dishes are elegant, service is as professional and accommodating as anywhere in town, and the room, complete with a massive exposed kitchen, is pure elegance. NoMI is at 800 N. Michigan, 312-239-4030.

The food never changes at Dave’s Italian Kitchen, but this Evanston favorite has greatly improved its ambience with a recent move. The new sub-street-level room on a more prominent stretch of Chicago Avenue is painted a cheerful canary yellow, with a crimson cement ceiling and framed prints of wine labels adorning the walls. The signature inscribed empty wine bottles still line the walls, but thankfully dingy burlap no longer hangs from the ceiling. Red and white vinyl tablecloths take a beating–it’s a favorite destination for families and there are frequently lots of kids mixed in among the many Northwestern students. The food is as good as ever. Spaghetti with meat sauce or marinara comes in huge portions, pizzas have a perfectly thin crust and fresh toppings, and the bread’s homemade, as always (which makes the best garlic bread). There are plenty of meatless options as well–spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil), fettuccine Alfredo primavera with broccoli, carrots, and red peppers, and a rich, delicious spinach-ricotta cheese pie with a mushroom-lemon butter sauce. This location even has a wine cellar stocked with wine that’s marked up reasonably–never more than twice retail, if that. Service is young and at times unprofessional but just part of Dave’s casual charm. Dave’s Italian Kitchen is at 1635 Chicago in Evanston, 847-864-6000.

The Dish

Geno Bahena, former chef at Frontera Grill and the mastermind behind Ixcapuzalco, plans to open another upscale regional Mexican restaurant, Chilpancingo, in early September at 358 W. Ontario. The 12,000-square-foot space–formerly the Butcher Shop–is currently being remodeled and will open with a formal dining room serving specialties from across Mexico; the adjacent Generoso Bar and Grill will serve lighter, more casual fare.

Rambutan owners Jennifer Aranas and Cesar Casillas are set to reopen their upscale Filipino restaurant in its new, larger home at 2049 W. Division this week.

–Laura Levy Shatkin

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