The latest to catch my attention is Telegraph, a 3-month-old restaurant that comes from the fertile minds of Jason Norman and Tom McDonald, who also own Webster's Wine Bar and The Bluebird.
"Webster's and Bluebird are obviously more beverage-focused," Anderes says, "but we don't have a huge bar crowd; people come in to eat."
As did I. My visits to Telegraph weren't ideally timed — so many ingredients come to a screeching halt in October that dishes from just two weeks ago are already being overhauled — but I had enough of Anderes' seasonal cooking to make me eager for more.
His tartines, for instance, are great fun, thick slices of toasted bread with well-chosen toppings. If you hurry, you might get one last shot at the smoked whitefish with melrose peppers and roasted sweet corn, but if the corn hasn't disappeared yet, it's about to. The spread of charred eggplant topped with white anchovies and heirloom tomatoes (sigh) has been replaced by a mix of mission figs, duck confit, foie gras and apple salad.
Some dishes adapt, others move on entirely. I thought the tender sweetbreads served with bucatini pasta in a rhubarb agrodolce sauce was extremely clever; the dish hit the table looking like spaghetti and meatballs, but what hit your taste buds was a different animal entirely — earthy and creamy and sweet and tart notes all at once.
But when rhubarb season ended, so did the dish. The steelhead salmon with black rice and pickled melon that I enjoyed has put on a fall jacket now, matched to new potatoes and crisped Brussels sprouts over a citrusy beurre blanc.
"We change the menu quite a bit," warns Anderes. "People will have to deal with it."
I think he meant me.
OK, fine. Take away that luscious lamb saddle with pumpernickel croutons and a splash of ginger veloute. I still have my grilled Amish chicken with basmati rice and cranberry beans, and my thickly sliced flatiron steak and red cabbage, in a vinaigrette with sweet and smoked paprika and espelette peppers.
On my visits, the dessert options have consisted of a cheese plate and one sweet; Anderes says there will be at least two desserts per night in the future. For now, I can recommend the corn panna cotta, a sweet custard balanced by a crust of spicy bacon streusel and some raspberry puree. But cheese is a reliable option, especially with all those cheese-friendly wines to be had.
The two-room restaurant has a bar and bar-height tables in the front room, assorted two- and four-top tables in back, as well as a long communal table that will be used for occasional wine and food events in the future. A rustic aesthetic prevails throughout: natural wood tones, unadorned tabletops and amber-glowing Edison bulbs.
And good news for you impatient types. Telegraph has revised its reservation policy (previously it would reserve only very large parties), accepting reservations for the back dining room while keeping the front room (and bar) open to walk-ins. Not that waiting is particularly onerous — not with Quinn's wine list to keep me entertained.
What I particularly enjoy about the list is Quinn's knack for description, by which one Basque region wine is termed "life affirming," and a chablis is "tense, nervy and keen." What rescues this frothy prose from pointlessness is the intimate and easy familiarity the staffers have with every wine on the list, and their ability to build on Quinn's descriptions with telling detail. Drinking here is an awful lot of fun.
Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine," CLTV and at wgntv.com/vettel.
2601 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-292-9463
Tribune rating: Two Stars
Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday
Entree prices: $15-$22
Credit cards: A, DC, M, V
Other: Wheelchair accessible; metered parking lot nearby
Four Stars: Outstanding
Three Stars: Excellent
Two Stars: Very good
One Star: Good
No stars: Unsatisfactory
Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.