Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on June 7, 2002 · Page 7-18
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · Page 7-18

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Friday, June 7, 2002
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123456 18 CHICAGO TRIBUNESECTION7FNWJUNE7,2002 FRIDAY The traffic jam was impressive at Ohio Street and Lake Shore Drive. It was noon and four taxis blockaded a pint-sized lunch truck. West African cab drivers let nothing get in the way of their goat stew fix. In addition to food, the smiling driver handed out menus and business cards, directing the curious to Toham African Restaurant. Only one driver volunteered information and a peek into his container. For $7 he got a glistening lump of goat resting in a pool of gravy, the shade darker than paprika. Days later, we visited Toham (1422 W. Devon Ave., 773-973-4602), launching a voyage into the world of goat stew with touchdowns in the cuisines of Mexico and Caribbean. If you love mutton, go for goat. It resembles a mix of pork and turkey with a few sharp edges. In restaurants in Medan, in North Sumatra, Indonesia, tourist restaurants lure the unsuspected by advertising lamb. Don’t be fooled. It’s boiled goat, swimming in a coconut-laced sauce flavored with warm spices plus garlic and chilies. Nothing in Chicago comes close. Cooks from Mexico, Africa and the Caribbean skip the warm spices and target acidic variations. At Toham, manager/owner ToyinHammed and sister Aby(she’s the beaming face in the kitchen) don’t mince words or divulge recipes. Most of their customers insist on goat, not lamb, Toyin says. Order it with jollof rice (called dirty rice by the cabbies), a mix of peppers, onions and stewed tomatoes). Expect more starch, gravy and gristle than meat. A portion ($8) serves two. But the exquisite, sharp tastes and flavors in the rice earned more attention as leftovers the next day than the meat. Goat stew goes up a few notches in taste with potatoes, carrots and peppers at Caribbana Bar and Grill (3443 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-880-0008). Owner GaetanValentin keeps his Haitian recipe under wraps. A portion ($12) comes with rice and beans, luscious fried plantains and bread that’s a dead-ringer in texture for pound cake. On most Thursdays (call ahead to make sure), goat rivals combo plates as the house special at Uncle Julio’s Hacienda (855 W. North Ave. 312266-4222). The he-man portion ($21.95) includes 2 pounds of mesquite-flavored meat (leg and ribs, bone-in) with guacamole, rice, beans and faiji- tas (steak or chicken). Daintier appetites can gnaw on The Rancho ($19.95), a leg plus sides. Hudsons Rotisserie (10660 S. Western Ave. 773238-7370) in Beverly is known for great corned beef but also Caribbean-style curried goat. Each order ($17.99) comes with two of 20 sides, including mashed potatoes, rice, beans, tomato and okra. —Margaret Sheridan and Judy Hevrdejs Photo for the Tribune by Erik Unger The goat stew at Toham African restaurant is available from its lunch truck in Streeterville but also at its restaurant in Rogers Park. WORLD EATS Lots of ways to get your goat Is Chicago ready for some Sugar? That’s the name of the new concept by Jerry Suqi (co- owner of Narcisse ). It’s a post-prandial hangout celebrating all things sweet, featuring a dessert menu by pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer , a long list of ports, cognacs, sherries and dessert wines and a candy-colored, modernist design (which Suqi dubs “Willy Wonka meets Austin Powers”) by Stu Hale, who also did MOD and Tizi Melloul. The signature dessert will be a “Marquis de Sucre,” served on a plate made of handblown sugar. Sugar will open at 108 W. Kinzie St. in late June or early July. Not to be outdone, the other Narcisse partners, Stefano and Kathryn Alvera, are working on a project of their own, a European-style restaurant/discotheque in the old Fuzio’s space at 1045 N. Rush St. The unnamed restaurant should open in September. Jim McMahon’s new restaurant, at 3315 Milwaukee Ave. in Glenview, is up and running. The place has everything it needs: downstairs casual dining room, upstairs room featuring dry-aged steaks, VIP lounge, cigar bar — everything except a name. The restaurant co-owned by the former Bears quarterback was all set to open as The Chicago Stadium (the exterior resembles the former home of the Bulls and Blackhawks), but a last-minute legal challenge put that name on the shelf. The restaurant is holding a contest to pick a new name, but for now they’re answering the phone “McMahon’s.” You can get a look at the American steakhouse menu and enter the contest by logging on to www.mcmahonsarena- .com . 847-803-0009. Kamehachi has opened its third and biggest location, at 240 E. Ontario St. The former Spruce space has been redesigned with a waterfall, bamboo flooring and other Asian accents, and the owners are putting the finishing touches to a couple of private tatami dining rooms, one seating two to four and the other accommodating 12-14 patrons. There’s a sushi bar, of course, and an upgraded, 35-bottle wine list. 312-87-0600. Biloxi Grill, 313 E. Liberty St., will close in early/mid-July. David Koelling, citing di- minishing business since Sept. 11, is selling his Southern BBQ specialist. The new owner will turn the space, which sits on the shore of Bangs Lake, into a roadhouse-style casual American. If you’d like to savor Koelling’s pecan-crusted catfish or enjoy the view from the outdoor deck, the clock is ticking. 847-526-2420. Among the riders in next month’s Heartland AIDS Race, a six-day, 500-mile bike ride, will be Nine waiter Kevin Asher. To help his fundraising efforts, Nine will hold an event from 6-9 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs Ghost Bar. A $40 donation gets you three hours of specialty drinks and food samples by chef Michael Shrader. 312-575-9900. An all-inclusive crawfish festival will take place Sunday at Maple Tree Inn, 13301S. Old Western Ave., Blue Island. For $20 at the door, patrons can dig into a buffet, which includes all-you-can-eat boiled crawfish, and enjoy live blues music. 708-388-3461. See Phil Vettel’s reviews Saturdays on CLTV News and the “WGN News at Nine,” and Mondays on the “WGN Morning News.” TABLE HOPPING/ PHIL VETTEL Suqi’s Sugar fetes sweets and other delicacies By Phil Vettel Tribune restaurant critic Simplicity and imagination define the cooking at Fortunato, an impressive, month-old Wicker Park Italian dinette that marks the return, so to speak, of chef/owner Jennifer Newbury. Newbury hasn’t been out of town, exactly, but after more than a decade of impressive work at such restaurants as Sole Mio (with the late Dennis Terczak), Amerique, Chez Jenny, Club Lucky and Palladino’s (only Club Lucky remains today), she took an extended absence from cooking. Given the food I ate at Fortunato, I’d say Newbury’s batteries are fully recharged and her culinary passion rekindled. Not that this passion manifests itself in showy, look-Ma-I’m-cooking pyrotechnics. Newbury’s style is disarmingly simple, true to its countryside Italian roots and so unfussy that it’s easy to overlook the craftsmanship she brings to each dish. A simple-sounding starter pairs soft polenta and braised duck, but the shredded duck meat is bathed in a sauce of braising liquid, marsala wine and a touch of honey, and the creamy polenta is inlaid with marsala-poached prunes—a delightful dish, with balance in every bite. Baby octopus, lightly charred in the kitchen’s wood-burning fireplace, is dressed with a lemony vinaigrette brightened by basil and mint and served with a medley of fresh fava beans, haricots verts and English peas. A baby skillet of wood-scented roasted mussels sit in a luscious, fennel-accented cream sauce (two of my 18 mussels failed to open; the kitchen should have culled those beforehand). At most Italian restaurants restaurants in Chicago and elsewhere, fritto misto (a mix of fried foods) means calamari and maybe some zucchini. Newbury, who semi-seriously declares her restaurant to be a calamari-free zone, boldly presents smelts, squash blossoms, artichokes and green beans, all fried in a crunchy, tempura-style batter with an addictive caper aioli that’s rich but sparingly applied. Handmade pastas include excellent taglia- telle noodles, tossed with crunchy fiddlehead ferns, spongy morel mushrooms, flakes of top- shelf parmesan and a gentle porcini mushroom sauce with just a hint of cream. Ravioli are stuffed with oxtail meat and served with assorted pieces of root vegetables in a tongue-coating broth. The triangolo, three-sided ravioli filled with smoked chicken, were upstaged by a too-strong tomato-herb broth, but Newbury has rebalanced the dish since my last visit. I love the seafood here. A coral-colored fillet of trout benefits greatly from the wood grill, and it’s placed in a sweet-and-sour arrang- ment of dandelion greens (wilted in pancetta fat, which cuts the bitterness slightly), caramelized apples and a tangy shallot marme- lade. The soft flesh of branzino, or black bass, is contrasted with a crunchy risotto-garlic cake. A delicious crab broth, seasoned with star anise, cinnamon, thyme and fresh bay leaf, adds interest to an otherwise pedestrian dish of softshell crabs and soft polenta. Sturdier dishes include pork loin, rolled around a bread crumb-spinach-prosciutto filling that’s kind of a riff on saltimbocca, served with rosemary-seasoned fingerling potatoes. Good-tasting porterhouse lamb chops work well with a mix of mashed and whole English peas, with a touch of mint—an interesting way to deliver the classic lamb-and-mint pairing. Megan Kehoe delivers a dessert assortment that’s refreshingly clear of usual suspects (consider Fortunato a tiramisu-free zone, as well). My favorite is the lovely baked lemon pudding, which melds sharp lemon flavors with light, air-whipped texture—but the torta, which places heavenly pistachio cream between two dense, moist layers of almond-orange cake with grappa-soaked cherries, is a very close second. The ricotta-cherry fritters were merely decent, but I liked the panna cotta made with Nutella (a prepared chocolate-hazelnut spread that’s extremely popular in Europe), served with a hazelnut tuile. And the gelato affogato is a fun dish, a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned (which is what affogato means) in warm espresso containing bits of chocolate-walnut toffee. Amanda Jobb compiled the all-Italian wine list, 50 bottles and growing and organized by weight and flavor profile. There aren’t enough by-the- glass options, but bottle prices are more than fair. And servers have been schooled well enough to offer intelligent suggestions. Service, in fact, is pretty much on the ball most of the time and quite friendly. The appealing decor mixes rustic earth tones with urban accents. Windows are shaded with beaded-metal curtains, which diffuse outside light into a pleasant glow. There are dark brown cork floors, sandblasted brick exterior walls and interior walls clad in shim- mery, silver-leaf wallpaper. Tables are spaced generously. Transparent glass panels separate the dining room from the display kitchen in back and the cool black- slate bar up front. Though reservations are accepted (and advised), about 20 seats are left available for walk-in customers. And the 40-seat sidewalk cafe is not reserved, further improving the odds of spur-of-the-moment diners. Despite some effort at sound modification, Fortunato can be a very noisy room, particularly on weekends. And though Fortunato keeps cigarette smoke out of the dining room, kitchen smoke was a major problem on my visits—though Newbury says this problem is being addressed. Unfussy Fortunato Wicker Park eatery is simply impressive The lemon pudding dessert, a $7 menu item, is a lovely treat that melds sharp lemon flavors with a light, air-whipped texture. ?? Fortunato 2005 W. Division St. 773-645-7200 Open: Dinner Mon.-Sun. Entree prices: $14-$19 Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V Reservations: Accepted Noise: Conversation-challenged Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking available; smoking in bar only Photos for the Tribune by Alex Garcia Jennifer Newbury, the owner/chef of the new Fortunato restaurant in Wicker Park, holds up a fritto misto plate, an example of her culinary imagination. The austere place settings at Fortunato reflect the disarmingly simple elegance of the eatery and blend very nicely with the room’s appealing décor, which mixes rustic earth tones with urban accents. OUTSTANDING EXCELLENT VERY GOOD GOOD Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous.Meals are paid for by the Tribune. DINING

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