Shallots Keeps It Kosher in Skokie

When Shallots’ five-year lease expired in January, the rent on its Clark Street space in Lincoln Park doubled. So owners and chefs Laura Frankel and Dennis Wasko packed up their kosher kitchen and moved it to Skokie, where the new SHALLOTS BISTRO opened in June. Skokie seems a natural home for the restaurant, which is usually filled with Hasidim. “It was weird in Lincoln Park to see all the black hats, but here, they can just walk from their homes,” says Frankel. The cuisine has changed too, from Mediterranean to Franco-American bistro fare like roast chicken with herbes de Provence, seasonal fish (at the moment, Copper River salmon on a bed of white lentils, topped with roasted-red-pepper tapenade), and thinly sliced hanger steak with caramelized onions and a mildly sweet shallot confit. Within the confines of kashrut, the strict kosher dietary laws (e.g., meat and dairy can’t be eaten together, and pork and shellfish are forbidden entirely), the menu is ambitious: a country-style pate uses duck fat instead of pork fat, and a five-onion soup replaces the customary Gruyere-topped crouton with garlic toast. Keeping a kosher kitchen isn’t cheap: a rabbi must inspect the kitchen regularly as well as all the food that comes from it–even using a light box to check every leaf of lettuce for insects, which aren’t kosher–and most entrees cost between $20 and $25. Shallots Bistro is closed on Fridays and Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath, but will be open for dinner on Saturdays starting in November, after clocks shift back an hour. It’s at 4741 W. Main, Skokie, 847-677-3463.

Dragonfly Metamorphoses on Randolph

With its move from the Gold Coast to the Randolph Street corridor, DRAGONFLY MANDARIN has become more like a nightclub, adding high-decibel techno music and an upstairs bar–called Fly Bar–devoted to hip-hop and house after 10 PM. The food tastes better now too, thanks to new executive chef Chen Hsiang Hsieh. The menu offers an extensive array of traditional Chinese fare with a touch of Japanese influence. The ponzu crab–lightly fried bite-size pieces of soft-shell crab–is simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and the teriyaki-glazed calamari comes on a bed of greens with a light coating of ginger dressing. Koo-teigh are similar to gyoza: panfried dumplings stuffed with ground chicken and vegetables. A dish called Treasures of the Sea is just as straightforward: tender sea scallops and prawns wok seared in a garlic-and-ginger sauce. Dragonfly Mandarin is at 832 W. Randolph, 312-455-9151.

A New Chef Spices Up Saffron

Jennifer Jara converted the second floor of her Minx Cafe & Lounge into a restaurant a few years ago. This summer she gave the eatery its own name–SAFFRON ON HUBBARD–and hired chef Carlos Contreras (Roy’s, Bin 36) to overhaul Luis Sanchez’s original tapas menu. Contreras’s menu blends classic American, Asian, Italian, and Mediterranean flavors: Alaskan halibut seviche is served with paper-thin cucumber slices and corn tortilla strips, while blackened prawns come with guacamole puree, jicama salad, and a paprika sauce. A salad of baby greens has candied walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and pear slices in it, all dressed in a sherry vinaigrette. Jara has added a few tables but beyond that the room hasn’t changed, and more’s the pity: the abundant hard surfaces–wood floors and brick walls–make for noisy dining, even if you’re seated in the curtain-enclosed private booths. Saffron is at 111 W. Hubbard, 312-464-1100.

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