Grilled Wisconsin trout at Nightwood Credit: Eric Futran


4111 N. Lincoln | 773-472-4111


The most unfortunate name, Browntrout (see, in fact commemorates a simply prepared rod-and-reel-caught fish that sustained chef Sean Sanders and his wife while they honeymooned in remote New Zealand. Sanders, a Bin 36 vet, doesn’t have that particular species on his menu, but his signature golden trout is done “New Zealand style,” a crispy crushed-walnut armor protecting the luscious fillet, pan-seared in brown butter and served with fresh peas and mint. It’s an incredibly satisfying piece of fish, and emblematic of nearly everything I’ve sampled on Sanders’s simple menu, which you can expect to change with some frequency. A seemingly bottomless ramekin of light and fluffy brandade studded with sweet corn could have used a bit of salt, but for $5 it’s hard to complain. Simple salads, like one of superfresh pea shoots and pea leaves gilded with an outstanding house-made ricotta, were as refreshing as morels and ramps with French breakfast cheese and potato gaufrettes were rich and intense. Sanders’s preference for simplicity doesn’t rule out unorthodox presentations. The menu features a “pasta of the moment,” which on one visit was a light, feathery pappardelle rolled upon itself with meatballs made of beef and pork and served with wild mushrooms—more like a messy dumpling than a plate of noodles, but very tasty. Silky sliced Amish chicken thigh with smoked pistachio mousse on polenta was among the most memorable poultry dishes I’ve tried recently, and grilled lamb sirloin sat atop an unforgettable celery root risotto, a saucy mound of starch also available as a $5 side. Sanders has set grand goals of eventually going greener than any restaurant in town. We’re at a point in time where these notions, like claims about the locality and seasonality of one’s menu, are so common among new restaurants that a place like Browntrout runs the risk of getting lost in the stream. But it would be a shame to let that happen. —Mike Sula


1531 N. Wells | 312-654-9500


The large double-sided menu at Dudley Nieto’s Old Town tapas restaurant Eivissa, named for the Balearic party isle of Ibiza, features a pair of ostensible bloodstains over which are superimposed a pair of incomprehensible non sequiturs: “Taste the art. Drink with all senses” and “The essence of the essence.” If the aim is to foreshadow a sense of discombobulation, then bravo. Nieto, who rivals Geno Bahena for the archipelago of restaurants he’s skipped about, has forgone his usual Mexican in favor of a bisected approach to tapas, aspiring to both tradition and the more modern wave of Spanish gastronomy born of Ferran Adria. It’s a broad stroke, with sections of the menu devoted to luminous vodka balls and sangrias, charcuterie and cheeses, and plates large and small. One of the more aggravating offerings is a selection of “chupitos,” shots of thick viscous sauces into which has been inserted a single bite of protein or veg impaled on a skewer. Sweet and thick as milk shakes, these are antithetical to the concept of shared plates, as are the stylized Basque pinxtos, oversize slices of bread topped with towering mounds of mushroom duxelles and cheese “air,” or duck breast and tomato mint foam, equally overportioned and little worth the effort. Even the most successful of the offerings, the tapas classicas and paellas, seem a bit off, the tortilla piperada more of custard than a classic Spanish omelet, and Nieto’s rendition of the paella Valenciana is essentially a risotto, with creamy rice and the stark absence of the coveted crusty socorrat scraped from the bottom of the pan. Many plates are accented with pointless El Bulliesque flourishes—quince sodium alginate “ravioli” alongside the rack of lamb ravioli, jamon iberico gelee with seared wild salmon. Nieto is trying to have it both ways, but as one tablemate observed, “If you haven’t mastered the basics don’t attempt an advanced class.” The bar stays open till midnight on Thursdays, 1 AM on Fridays, and 2 AM on Saturdays. —Mike Sula


3440 N. Southport | 773-327-6400


Fianco is one of those low-key neighborhood Italian joints that often fly under the foodie radar. The modestly priced one-page menu hinted at a hip aesthetic with atypical ingredients like saba (a sweet grape-must syrup), but little suggested chef Matt Troost’s considerable talent. Then his chicken liver paté arrived—a dense, ultrasilky slab intriguingly paired with sharp grain mustard, salty-tart olives, sweet house-made strawberry preserves, and crostini. Delicately fried fontina-filled arancini on rapini pesto showed his skill with Italian mainstays, as did black mussels in buttery white wine spiked with herbs and chile flakes. Artful handmade pastas included maltagliata (rough-cut pappardelle) in a bright tomato sauce with basil and ricotta and agnolotti stuffed with a sweet pea-ricotta blend and bathed in tarragon butter sauce. Troost’s Achilles’ heels are a heavy hand with the salt, which especially marred sweet sea scallops that were beautifully cooked, and a tendency to use one too many ingredients—his moist trout was draped with assertive green olives, fennel, arugula, orange segments, cherry tomatoes, and overdone escarole. On the other hand, his milk-braised and grilled pork was a delight: simultaneously crisp and tender, with a toss of borlotti beans, arugula, roasted tomato strips, and shallots. I also loved the mocha and masala ice creams, but fans of bread pudding should go with the gooey-rich chocolate version with caramelized bananas. The all-Italian wine list is small, carefully chosen, and affordable. —Anne Spiselman

Fogo 2 Go

926 W. Diversey | 773-880-8052


Not to be confused with a certain South American meat-on-a-sword chain, this is a small, mostly carryout spot specializing in Brazilian rotisserie chicken and a staggering variety of pizzas. Beyond the penchant for employing a number of unusual ingredients in great variety (corn, hearts of palm, codfish), I’m not sure how closely Fogo’s doughy, practically undercooked crusts hew to the Brazilian model, but combined with excessive quantities of toppings these consequently make for sloppy gut bombs, be they something like a traditional buffalo mozz, tomato, and basil combo or New World iterations such as the “Brasil County,” a rugged geography of dried-out chicken, corn, and house-made catupiry cheese overlaying a thick, sweet layer of sauce. I felt much better about the zestily seasoned rotisserie chicken, which as anywhere would be best at peak hours. There’s also a small selection of salads and a number of traditional Brazilian sides such as rice and beans, cheese bread (pao de queijo), and chicken croquettes (coxinha). —Mike Sula

Kin Sushi & Thai Cuisine

1132 N. Milwaukee | 773-772-2722


I’ve praised many a neighborhood restaurant by saying I’d become a regular if it were in my hood. Well, Kin Sushi & Thai Cuisine is, and based on one visit, I wouldn’t go back. I don’t mind so much that the budget-sleek black-and-gold spot exceeds reasonable decibel levels when crowded, as it often is. What I did mind was waiting half an hour after ordering to get anything to eat and then being served a Kin salad that bore no resemblance to the menu description: “fresh tuna, mango, avocado, soy mint sauce, micro greens.” Instead it consisted of mixed full-size lettuces with tomato, cucumber, and three slices of raw tuna in a standard, mintless Japanese dressing. Our waiter didn’t notice anything amiss with this—or with our Alaskan maki, which was supposed to have fresh salmon, avocado, and ikura on the outside but instead just had seared salmon, leading me to suspect it was the wrong roll entirely (it was). Our nigiri sushi—unagi and saba (pickled-tasting mackerel)—were average at best, as was ice-cold goma-ae with too little of the smooth, thick sesame sauce. Desserts—mochi, coconut ice cream—aren’t made in-house, and free mini cupcakes failed to compensate for a disappointing meal. —Anne Spiselman


2119 S. Halsted | 773-526-3385


Nightwood, the new Pilsen venture from the Lula talent trust of Jason Hammel, Amalea Tshilds, and chef Jason Vincent, in tandem with designer Kevin Heisner and Matt Eisler (Bar DeVille, etc), has had the loyal Lulaphile base licking its lips for months. When Hammel finally posted news of its opening in late May, it practically took over my Facebook feed. This place could serve stale Cheetos and still have ’em lined up down Halsted. So it’s a testament to the team’s creative vision that Nightwood is a lot more than just Lula south. Heisner’s sleek design, simultaneously spare and luxe, sets the tone, from the clean cubism of the outdoor patio to the surprisingly comfortable modern squiggles of the chairs. The vibe is minimalist but polished, right down to the unnervingly attractive staff. The main dining room is both warm and airy, its dark walnut and iron tones set off by light-colored ceiling beams and floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. Behind it, a long counter runs the length of the open kitchen, where the kitchen crew, clad in casual gray T-shirts, tends the wood-fired grill that anchors the ever-changing seasonal menu. The simple yet sophisticated food mirrors the elegant surroundings. I went with a party of five, so we managed to eat our way through half of that night’s handwritten list. Some standouts included delicate grilled Wisconsin trout; half a juicy roast chicken complemented by peppery mustard greens; devastating pork belly; and a duck potpie whose rich flavors were teased out with a restrained, confident hand. Appetizers included a nicely balanced arugula and steak salad starring some flavorful roasted beets and a terrific duo of silken, miso-cured pork tenderloin and savory shank. My only complaints were with the desserts. The blueberry sour cream cake was pedestrian and, while simple is one thing, $8 for a cup of fresh cherries and some milk chocolate dipping sauce? Sure, they were delicious, and you can’t fault the purism behind the dish, but the price sure seemed steep. As the name suggests, this is a late-night spot; dinner’s served till 11 and the bar’s open till 2. The latter features a roster of creative house cocktails and craft beers, though Pabst Blue Ribbon (“Wisconsin, lager”) also makes the cut. The extensive wine list is weighted toward sustainable and/or biodynamic small producers and, like the menu and the restaurant design, demonstrates an abundance of taste, consideration, and savvy planning. The upshot? Go—and take your friends so you can eat off their plates. —Martha Bayne

90 Miles Cuban Cafe

2540 W. Armitage | 773-227-2822


The second outpost of Alberto and Christine Gonzalez’s Cuban cafe has table seating and a charming outdoor dining area in addition to a counter, but it retains the warmth of the tiny original on Clybourn, as well as sharing the menu. Sandwiches include innovations like one with tofu in Creole sauce alongside traditionals like a medianoche, lechon, and Cubano, the last one of the best I’ve had in town. Amply portioned dinner plates also offer a few vegetarian options in addition to ropa vieja, lechon, steak, and chicken; all come with plantains and a molded round of rice and beans. We went with a special of masas de puerco, delicious deep-fried pork chunks smeared with mojo and served with rings of white onion. We also liked the crispy tostones and a savory goat cheese empanada. A big part of the appeal of 90 Miles is the crack service, the staff assiduous and outgoing, making jokes, pouring water, checking on the meal, backslapping. On a friend’s last visit Alberto was going around offering wine to his guests (the restaurant is BYO); on mine it was samples of Cuban coffee that left me vowing to return for breakfast. There’s Latin music on the sound system, and the space is decorated with wallpaper showcasing vintage Cuban posters and hung with photos—sure enough, that’s Alberto with White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras. —Kate Schmidt

Terzo Piano

159 E. Monroe | 312-443-8650


When I told a friend I thought Terzo Piano looked like a colorless 1950s cafeteria with its white-on-white minimalism, long walls of windows, molded-plastic chairs, and translucent resin tabletops, she—in a kinder mood—said she saw it as a blank canvas with the patrons as the paint. Maybe. A diverse crowd certainly comes for lunch (dinner is Thursdays only) to the dining room with the double-entendre name (“third floor” and a reference to Modern Wing architect Renzo Piano), drawn by the star power of chef/partner Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia). The one-page menu alone wouldn’t attract many people, even if it is lavish about listing the midwestern sources of ingredients in the mostly Italian-inspired dishes. But frankly, I don’t care if the piccolo lamb burger on the uno, due, tre burgers started life at Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms in Wisconsin, since it ended up an overdone, overspiced, dry puck of meat unredeemed by Indiana’s Capriole goat cheese or ketchup made from McWethy Farms tomatoes. The shrimp burger with Calabrian pepper spread reminded me of Chinese shrimp toast, only spicier; the Midwestern Piemontese beef burger with Wisconsin Colby cheese was at least better than the limp organic fries. Oddly, much of our meal was as pale as the decor. Satiny but slightly boring potato-fennel soup of the day with a melt of Parmesan practically matched the white oak floors, as did an appetizer of crispy fried Lake Erie perch perked up by tart fried caper berries and sweet fried lemon slices. Handmade spaghetti with a few Oregon porcini mushrooms and a dollop of lemon ricotta tasted as beige as it appeared. Mizuna salad was green with promise—sugar snap peas, fresh favas, avocado (underripe), slices of raw artichoke heart—but the bland ginger-raw cashew dressing didn’t pull it together. Colorful pizzasize flatbreads headed for other tables made me wish I’d ordered one. I might return for desserts like zeppole (fig-filled pastries) with vin cotto and dark-chocolate ice cream, but given that lunch for two cost more than $100, the food—and service—should have been better. —Anne Spiselman