Partners Craig Fass (Green Dolphin Street) and Mandy Franklin (Spring, Green Dolphin Street, Hudson Club) have teamed up with general manager Gian Garofalo (Bistro 110, Spiaggia) to open the contemporary American dining room MENAGERIE. They’ve lightened up the room–previously home to the short-lived Lakeview Supper Club–with pistachio walls and colorful local art, but it’s still cozy, with burgundy velvet curtains in the front windows and a handcrafted wrought iron wine rack behind the bar. The dozen and a half tables are generously spaced, and seating capacity will double when the enclosed patio opens. While the food may be a bit precious for a neighborhood eatery, it’s well thought out and elegantly presented. Chef Fass displays a French sensibility in dishes like surf-and-turf carpaccio: tender filet mignon stuffed with a poached lobster tail, rolled tight, sliced paper thin, and topped with arugula and spinach salad dressed in a vanilla-bean vinaigrette. His beet appetizer is also tempting–half of one of the ruby tubers is hollowed out and stuffed with goat cheese, then dotted with a sweet-and-sour balsamic reduction. The warm mushroom tart was less dazzling thanks to undercooked pastry despite the wonderful assortment of mushrooms (button, portobello, oyster), the melted Spanish Mahon cheese, and the accompanying truffled mache salad. Entrees on the current menu (it’ll change seasonally) include a flavorful grilled rack of lamb served with half an eggplant stuffed with couscous, curried vegetables, and fig chutney. There’s also a clever take on fish-and-chips: thick slabs of tuna wrapped in nori, dipped in tempura batter, and lightly fried. The fish ends up barely cooked, with Asian-seasoned fried potatoes and an aioli flavored with sambal (hot chili paste) adding textural interest. Franklin’s desserts range from a luscious lemongrass meringue pie to a succulent roasted apple with spiced ice cream and mulled wine. The global wine list includes at least a dozen by the glass, and you can bring your own for a $10 corkage fee. Menagerie is at 1232 W. Belmont, 773-404-8333.
The once whimsical room that was home to the Dellwood Pickle has been remodeled into LA TACHE, a romantic French bistro. Handsome mahogany wainscoting wraps around the dining room and bar, where there’s a cozy waiting area with a fireplace, and the muted colors and dim lighting make a suitable environment for chef Dale Levitski’s new-French cuisine. Time at Blackbird and Fortunato helped Levitski fine-tune his craft (he also did a short stint at Orange when it opened in 2002), and his menu here is refined but approachable. A mini croque monsieur updates the traditional sandwich with rosemary-scented ham, aged white cheddar, and an onion marmalade. Escargots come with lardons (pieces of thick-cut bacon) and a chunky celery-root puree, all bathed in a heavenly mushroom jus. The Lyonnaise salad is a must-try, drizzled in aromatic truffle oil and topped with a poached egg; also of note is a salad that combines oven-roasted beets with Brie and apples in a pistachio vinaigrette. More substantial dishes include red-wine-braised veal cheeks (with melted leeks and rapini) and a mix-and-match steak frites option: tenderloin, center-cut sirloin, or flank steak topped with a choice of herbed garlic-anchovy butter, bordelaise, or green peppercorn sauce and a mound of crispy fries. Rabbit-and-celery-root ravioli was tasty, although the thick-rolled pasta was too al dente. Levitski has a penchant for using orange and lemon zest, which might work better if he’d dice the citrus finely rather than use whole strips. Desserts are a real treat, with pastry chef Allison Levitt (of Gramercy Tavern in New York) whipping up fresh versions of old standbys: creme brulee, a cookie plate. There’s a martini list that suits the mood of the room and also a limited wine list spanning both the new and old world. La Tache is at 1475 W. Balmoral, 773-334-7168.
The crew at Bucktown’s COAST SUSHI BAR hails from Sushido on Fullerton, which had an accomplished kitchen but an easy-to-miss address. This time around they have not only location in their favor but also an attractive room. Subtle lighting casts a flattering glow on the wood tables and comfortable woven leather chairs; carved wood chopsticks are another nice touch. Familiar starters include asparagus beef–tenderloin slices glazed in teriyaki sauce and wrapped around asparagus spears–and unique creations like sesame-crusted scallops on a bed of mesclun tossed in a garlic-and-ginger vinaigrette and “Sunny Side Shiitake,” in which the mushrooms are filled with a sinfully rich egg-yolk sauce. (The only gripe is that the shiitakes tasted reconstituted rather than fresh.) A fresh agedashi tofu salad will suit vegetarians who eat fish: tofu is cut into thick triangles, quickly fried (leaving the center soft and creamy), set on a bed of baby spinach, and topped with scallion, bonito (dried fish flakes), and a light dressing of dashi (soup stock). The oyako soup (chicken, eggs, scallions, and thick rice noodles) had great flavor but was a little short on broth. The nigiri is superfresh and generously cut; the red snapper, yellowtail, and sea bass are all worth a try. Signature maki include “Coast Crab”–tobiko, king crab, and spicy mayo–and a Maine lobster variety rolled with cucumber and drizzled with ginger sauce. (Though tightly rolled, both could’ve used a bit more filling.) Hot dishes include the expected tempura and teriyaki along with a seared wasabi-and-ginger-glazed tuna and an expertly prepared orange-tamarind duck served with chilled baby spinach; in the latter, the variation in temperature between the cooked duck and the raw greens worked masterfully. The staff seems genuinely pleased to be there, with the sushi master behind the long bar making sure customers are happy. The BYO policy will probably attract a large neighborhood following. Coast is at 2045 N. Damen, 773-235-5775.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.