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redeyechicago.com

Summer eating list

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

Phil Vettel

May 17, 2012

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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.

BadHappy Poutine Shop, 939 N. Orleans St., 312-890-2165. Lots of chefs are making versions of poutine, that Canadian dish of smothered cheese curds, but this tiny spot, opened in the original location of Big & Little's, is all about poutine, and maybe a couple of burgers. Try traditional, Asian-inspired, redneck-style (with pulled pork) and even vegan poutine versions. BadHappy is BYO, and Sunday brunch is BYOV (for vodka), when various bottomless mixers are available. ETA: Open now.

Bakersfield, 330 E. Ogden Ave., Westmont, 630-568-3615. Across the street from the sprawling, upscale Standard Market (launched by three guys from Bakersfield, Calif.) sits this new American restaurant where the menu is made up of ingredients sold at the market. (So if you really like that asparagus salad, run on over for some more to bring home.) Farm-to-table, meet market-to-table. ETA: Open now.

Bavette's Bar & Boeuf, 218 W. Kinzie St., no phone yet. Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Maude's Liquor Bar, Doughnut Vault, Au Cheval) is behind this beef-focused, Euro steakhouse concept, which, like everything else Sodikoff has opened, figures to draw a lot of attention: ETA: Late May.

Brasserie by LM, 800 S. Michigan Ave., 312-431-1788. The short-lived Tribute has been taken over by the folks behind LM Restaurant and Troquet. The familiar, French-inflected menu is by chef Brad Phillips (Pump Room). ETA: Open now.

Chez Moi, 2100 N. Halsted St., 773-871-2100. Dominique Tougne, longtime chef of Bistro 110 (shuttered to become Bar Toma) took over the old Cafe Bernard and redecorated the dining room in light, contemporary neutral shades (it looks gorgeous). But the menu is still French bistro, offering classic steak au poivre in cognac sauce, matelote (fish stew) and duck confit with yam gratin. Dinner only for now, but Tougne intends to add lunch and brunch service, to maximize his spacious sidewalk cafe (and to bring back such dishes as quiche Lorraine and croque monsieur). ETA: Open now.

City Tavern, 1416 S. Michigan Ave., no phone yet. Mainstay Hospitality closed Grace O'Malley's to create this seasonally driven modern tavern, overseen by chef Kendal Duque (who also heads up Mainstay's Chicago Firehouse Restaurant). ETA: Late May.

Forza, 2476 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-248-7888. A sophisticated southern Italian bar and restaurant. Good looks, good food, and a substantial wine list. ETA: Open now.

J. Parker, 1800 N. Lincoln Ave., no phone yet. The rooftop perch atop the Hotel Lincoln will have gorgeous views of Lincoln Park, the lake and downtown. Menu and craft cocktails will be provided by Perennial Virant, which occupies most of the building's ground floor. ETA: Late June.

Moderno, 1850 Second St., Highland Park, 847-433-8600. John des Rosiers of Inovasi opened his second North Shore restaurant, an Italian-themed version of his healthy, sustainable, made-from-scratch ethic. Phil Rubino, ex-L2O, is the chef; menu includes pickled sardines with preserved lemons, spiced lamb and goat-cheese pizza, walleye with artichokes and tomato-olive ragu. This place is going to be worth a trip. ETA: Open now.

Ombra, 5308 N. Clark St., 773-506-8600. Warm Italian wine bar by Marty Fosse, who already has established Anteprima and Acre as must-visits in Andersonville. ETA: Open now.

Piccolo Sogno Due, 340 N. Clark St., 312-822-0077. Tony Priolo will open a sequel to his very successful Piccolo Sogno, featuring a more seafood-focused menu; Todd Stein (The Florentine, Cibo Matto) will run the kitchen. ETA: Late May-early June.

Premise, 5420 N. Clark St., 773-334-9463. A casual fine-dining restaurant by Brian Runge, former chef de cuisine at Graham Elliot. ETA: Open now.

Extra credit

Amuse, 323 E. Wacker Drive, 312-268-8142. Swissotel's lobby (post $12 million renovation) is now home to this gourmet-nibbles, signature-cocktails, DJ-music spot, which should play well with the after-5 crowd: ETA: Open now.

Au Cheval, 800 W. Randolph St., 312-929-4580. Brendan Sodikoff's take on the modern American diner, augmented with an international beer list and a support-small-producers ethic. ETA: Open now.

Bub City, 435 N. Clark St., no phone yet. A country bar and barbecue by the Melman siblings, its name taken from a Weed Street restaurant that Rich Melman launched in 1989. Underneath will be an as-yet-unnamed tiki bar (the drinks menu by ex-Whistler mixologist Paul McGee). ETA: Late summer.

Goosefoot, 2656 W. Lawrence Ave., 773-942-7547. If you haven't been to this stellar, fine-dining BYO, run by Chris Nugent (ex-Les Nomades), you need to make plans. Yes, dinner is $90, but that's for eight courses, and you're supplying the no-corkage wine. You'll spend far more for far less elsewhere. ETA: Open now.

Little Goat, 820 W. Randolph St., no phone yet. Stephanie Izard's follow-up to across-the-street Girl & the Goat will be the chef's interpretation of an American diner. It still might open this summer, late. ETA: September.

Pasteur, 5525 N. Broadway, 773-728-4800. This upscale Vietnamese restaurant reopened a few months ago and already has changed chefs and is revamping its menu. But the Vietnamese food here was always solid. ETA: Open now.

Red Violet, 121 W. Hubbard St., 312-828-0222. Upscale Chinese restaurant from the folks behind NIU, the under-appreciated sushi bar in Streeterville. ETA: Open now.

Seasons 52, 3 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook, 630-571-4752. A second Chicago-area location (the first is in Schaumburg) of this sophisticated, healthy-eating chain (all menu items 500 calories or fewer) opens in Oak Brook Center mall. ETA: Monday.

Tokyo 21, 1400 N. Wells St., 312-664-1900. The former Kamehachi moved a couple of blocks north, and the owners converted the space into a Japanese izakaya of cooked, small-plate dishes. ETA: Open now.

Two, 1132 W. Grand Ave., no phone yet. The people behind the successful Zak's in downtown Hinsdale will open a farm-to-table American restaurant in the space that once housed Black Sheep and May Street Market. Tom Van Lente will be chef. ETA: Midsummer.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel