Summer eating list

A lot of new restaurants will be clamoring for your attention; here are the ones that deserve it

I don't know if teachers still do this, but at the end of each school year, I was handed a summer reading list, a sheet of required and optional books that would prepare students for the coming school year. (I still owe a measure of revenge to the teacher who saddled me with "Lord Jim.")

We never had to read everything on the list; there were a few required books, and a list of options from which we'd choose a few more.

Well, summer's almost here, and the Chicago area is packed with new restaurants and restaurants that will open very soon. And so, adopting my sternest schoolmarm scowl, I present a Summer Eating List of upcoming and recently arrived dining options, divided into required eating (you have to visit these if you're to have an intelligent dining conversation in September), dining electives (you need to visit at least some of these) and extra credit (prove that you care, and dine at these spots).

Have a good summer, but remember to engage your fine-dining brain.

Required eating

Argent, 660 N. State St., 312-202-6050. Rodelio Aglibot, the chef who created the River North hot spot Sunda, is weaving his contemporary-Asian magic in this Dana Hotel dining room, replacing Aja. There's a raw bar with the usual shellfish and sushi suspects, though the Spam nigiri (seriously) is a bit offbeat. Jackie Shen (Red Light, Chicago Cut) is the day-to-day chef, overseeing a mashup menu that includes tournedos Rossini and a salad with "the best French dressing ever" along with burgers and a Philly cheesesteak. Comfort-food desserts include moon pies, Boston cream pie and, of course, Shen's signature chocolate bag. ETA: Open now.

Balena, 1633 N. Halsted St., 312-867-3888. Another winner from the Boka group (Boka, Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, Perennial Virant), this one a low-key but gorgeous Italian featuring chef Chris Pandel of The Bristol. ETA: Open now.

BellyQ, 1400 W. Randolph St., no phone yet. The former one sixtyblue is undergoing a complete transformation to become BellyQ, a collaboration between Cornerstone Restaurant Group (Michael Jordan's Steak House) and chef Bill Kim (Urban Belly, Belly Shack). "One sixty was very masculine," Kim says. "This will be more feminine — but I want it to be a surprise." The menu will offer tea-smoked chicken, duck and salmon prepared on a special Chinese water smoker, and many dishes, Kim says, will have interactive, some-assembly-required elements. And because eight tables will feature built-in grills imported from Japan, some cooking may be required of customers as well. ETA: July.

Boarding House, 720 N. Wells St., no phone yet. A circa-1870s building, previous home for nightclubs Cairo, Religion and Club 720, will house a new restaurant concept by sommelier and "Check, Please!" host Alpana Singh. There will be a first-floor wine bar with communal tables and a small-plates menu, a third floor dining room with more substantial plates and vintages, and private party space in between. But can it show up on Alpana's TV show? ETA: August.

Frog n Snail, 3124 N. Broadway, 773-661-9166. Chef Dale Levitski and Mike Causevic, the duo behind Sprout, opened this lunch-and-dinner bistro (with an all-day crepes menu) a few weeks back, but only recently received a liquor license. Straight-up French food, modestly priced. ETA: Open now.

G.E.B., 841 W. Randolph St., no phone yet. Graham Elliot (Bowles) jokes that he'll rename the place Graham and the Goat to get more traffic, but as this rock 'n' roll cathedral (check out the candles adorned with "Saint Johnny Cash" and others) gets up and running, visitors will not be scarce. ETA: Early June.

La Sirena Clandestina, 954 W. Fulton Market, no phone yet. John Manion (Mas, Branch 27) will apply a Chicago sensibility to Argentine and Brazilian food in this "Latin local" 40-seater. "It's not ethnic," Manion clarifies. "It's just what I love." The concept was born from a pop-up dinner Manion held in the space, back when it was Dodo restaurant, and the rest ... well, will be history, once La Sirena Clandestina (the hidden mermaid) opens. ETA: Early July.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen Ave., 773-489-1747. Chef/owner Mindy Segal wasn't in New York last week to pick up her James Beard Award as the nation's outstanding pastry chef because she was putting the finishing touches on the makeover of her popular Bucktown restaurant. Segal now oversees the savory and sweet sides of her operation, redoing her dishes to "get more into the craft of cooking," she says. Though many of her original dishes remain on the menu, all have been reworked in obvious and less-obvious ways. It's unusual for a chef this accomplished to feel the need to reinvent herself, but I suspect people are going to like the results: ETA: Open now.

OON, 802 W. Randolph St., no phone yet. Matt Eversman, who garnered universal praise for his work at Saigon Sisters, will bring his riffs on Southeast Asian cuisine to the market district this summer. The menu at OON (stands for out of nowhere) will include dishes such as pho with foie gras, smoked scallops and polenta with grilled bok choy and blackberry-lemongrass sauce and hoisin-glazed hen with coconut-fried rice. A sidewalk cafe will offer a street-food menu. ETA: Late June.

Pecking Order, 4416 N. Clark St., no phone yet. Kristine Subido left her gig at Wave (where she did fine, fine work) to open a "pretty much chicken" restaurant featuring sauces and marinades reflective of her Filipino heritage. Wash the chicken down with local drafts and bottled Asian beers, and save room for halo-halo, a dessert made with shaved ice, evaporated milk and fresh fruit. ETA: "Still looking at early summer," Subido says. "If I'm guessing, June."

Red Door, 2118 N. Damen Ave., 773-697-7221. This new Bucktown restaurant represents a homecoming for executive chef Troy Graves, who cooked at this spot when it was known as Meritage Cafe, before leaving to open restaurants Tallulah and Eve. Now with partners Christopher Peckat and Fei Tang, Graves oversees a global menu that ranges from hanger steak to chicken-confit poutine to buttermilk-fried oyster saam with tasso ham and kimchi. All dishes are less than $16, and many are $10 or less. I've been coming to this location since it was Cafe du Midi, and I'm eager to return. ETA: Open now.

Trenchermen, 2039 W. North Ave., no phone yet. Seemingly years in the making (OK, one year since the project was announced), Trenchermen (i.e., those who dine and drink to excess) features the sibling-chef team of Michael (Blackbird) Sheerin and Patrick (Signature Room) Sheerin. Housed in the old Spring space, just west of the Milwaukee-North-Damen nexus. The food will be local, seasonal, highly experimental and wholly unexpected. ETA: Midsummer.

Dining electives

Ada Street, 1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069. Fun and funky small-plates bar with cocktails named for rock-tune lyrics (All this Useless Beauty, Tangled Up in Blue) and an all-vinyl music list. Michael Kornick and David Morton are the principals; Zoe Schor is chef. ETA: Open now.

CHICAGO

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