Wednesday, April 30, 2008

312 Dining Diva had it first!

Randy Zweiban, executive chef for Nacional 27, just announced his resignation. (Photo: Laurie Proffitt Photography)

Turned out I was right all along when I posted a couple of weeks ago that Randy Zweiban was resigning his position as Nacional 27's (325 W. Huron St., 312-664-2727) exec chef.

Just got this interesting email from Nacional 27's publicist:

"Chef Randy Zweiban announces new restaurant! Executive Chef Randy Zweiban announces departure from Nacional 27 and his new restaurant!"

In September, he's set to open Province (161 N. Jefferson St.)—a new American restaurant influenced by the modern, evolving cuisines of South America and Spain—in the West Loop. Look for the starting menu to include dishes like slow-roasted Tasmanian salmon; prawn and bay scallop "paella" with saffron and roasted peppers; and grilled beef tenderloin with Picon blue cheese and buttermilk whipped potatoes.

Housed in a certified green building, Province will incorporate green building materials, recycled design materials, low-voltage lighting and Energy Star equipment.

Girls on film

I can breathe a sigh of relief: Local Chicago chef Jennifer Gavin breezed through another grueling episode of Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" on FOX last night.

And let's cross our fingers for that other local culinary cutie, Stephanie Izard, who's still in the running to become the next "Top Chef," which airs tonight at 9pm on Bravo.

If you want to watch it with a large group, head to Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club (3700 N. Halsted St., 773-525-1111) or Paramount Room (415 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-829-6300); both are showing the hit chef-driven series on several flatscreen monitors.

Do you know this dude?!


Anyone have an idea of who this cat is?! I see him out all the time, and so did the tipster who sent in this shot and wrote:

"I've never actually dealt with (him) at the door (fortunately or unfortunately), I've just seen them once they're in. Grrrr."

If anyone knows the identity of the newest member of The Eat & Drink Club, kindly let us know!


And as always, please send tips on who you think should join the newest crew in town!

Vino, vibes and vittles . . .


MID-WEEK FUN is just hours away at:

Quartino (626 N. State St., 312-698-5000), for the end-of-the-month wine tasting event where you get to take home one of the bottles of wine as part of the deal. This time, they're featuring vino from Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli S.p.A., the most decorated winery in the Marche. Four selections will be offered and paired with Neopolitan thin-crust stone oven pizza, classic Italian salumi, cured meats and cicchetti (bar snacks). 7-9pm. $30.

Dragonfly (832 W. Randolph St., 773-687-0784), for yet another wine-centric set, Wine Down in West Town, that's hosted by the Chicago Wine Club. You'll get to sample more than 50 wines and light appetizers and craft beers. You'll also get their exclusive wine diary so you can score all your favorites. 6-9pm. $40 ($50 at door).

The Drawing Room (937 N. Rush St., 773-276-7582), for a change of pace with the Rite of Spring Cocktail Dinner. Be one of the first to get a taste of executive chef Nick Lacasse's new spring menu with this specially designed three-course dinner. All items will be perfectly paired with spring-y cocktails created by master bartender Lynn House. 7:30pm. $45.

Moonshine (1824 W. Division St., 773-862-8686), for deals and DJ Bear Who? on the wheels—of steel—during Mamby. Hang out in this neighborhood gem and order half-price pizzas and $5 Absolut cocktails. Other deejays include Trilogy and Newlife. 8pm-2am. Free.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Phil Vettel snaps one off

Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel sounds off on how he really feels about Rick Bayless, Art Smith, Shawn McClain, Arun Sampanthavivat and other local luminaries headlining a press preview of Taste of Chicago (which returns to town on June 27) in Washington D.C.

Post your favorite party crasher

A member of "The Eat & Drink Club" settles in at the opening of ZED451. (Photo: Anonymous)

SOME INTERESTING dialogue came about (via email and phone) as a result of "notorious" party crasher Jerry Berliant, who was escorted out of the Trump Hotel's opening reception last night.

So here's the deal. 312 Dining Diva is going to do a public service for all the restaurants and bars who have to put up with these types whenever they hold special events. Send me your photos of members of "The Eat & Drink Club" and I'll post them, so everyone knows who the party-lovin' people are!

Notes on the inaugural member in the above photo sent in by a tipster: "She came to the ZED opening on Friday (after trying at least 4 names) - finally called a friend who was on list and got her to confirm she was her guest.... but at least we made her wait for a good 20 minutes or so.

THEN... she showed up on Monday at ZED for concierge night!
That's when I snapped the photo."

What are you doing for lunch today?!


HOT-BLOODED master chef Gordon Ramsay makes his way to Macy's on State (111 N. State St., lower level) this afternoon to push his new cookbook, Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food (Key Porter). The event starts at 1pm in Macy's culinary kitchen, but if you miss that you can always catch him at 8pm tonight on his emotionally charged "Hell's Kitchen" on FOX-TV, which also stars local chef Jennifer Gavin.

If you need more chef action, head to the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St., 312-642-4600) for a Chef Showcase, featuring some local culinary kings and queens. Gale Gand of Tru, Michael Kornick of MK, Bruce Sherman of North Pond and Carol Wallack of Sola will serve up the 411 on Chicago's impact on food. 7pm. $10.

Can't wait for "Sex and the City: The Movie" to hit the big screen on May 30?! Head to Lincoln Park's Tsuki Lounge (1441-45 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-883-8722) with your girls and do your own Ladies Night. The event includes complimentary manis and massages, plus $5 Skyy cocktail specials. And if you get there early, you get a goody bag stuffed with the good stuff. 7-10pm. RSVP required at

Cellar Notes continues its weekly series at NoMI (Park Hyatt Chicago, 7th Floor, 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030) with a tasting of stellar Austrian producers. NoMI Sommelier Fernando Beteta leads this interactive seminar that includes up to 10 selections paired with appetizers. 5:30-7:30pm. $30.

Party crasher finally gets the boot

Notorious "party crasher" Jerry Berliant (Photo: Denver Post)

FROM today's Stella's Column in the Chicago Sun-Times:

"THE NOTORIOUS PARTY-CRASHER Jerry Berliant was thrown out by Donald Trump's bodyguards after The Donald pointed to Berliant and said 'He's a crasher' at the new Trump Tower reception last night. The bodyguards got Berliant's coat and escorted him to the street."

It's about damn time! There should be photos circulating of this loser—and the dozens like him—who think it's cool to crash restaurant and bar openings for free food and drinks.

Honestly, I would've paid big bucks to see those guards kick his ass out!

UPDATE: From the publicist, Wagstaff Worldwide, who hosted the festivities: "We also got a picture of a woman (in a red dress) that frequently crashes our parties and she was escorted out too."

Ha! Their days are numbered!

Monday, April 28, 2008

A sneak preview of graham elliot's menu

Graham Elliot Bowles gets ready to rock River North with his "bistronomic" restaurant in May. (Photo: graham elliot)

Set to open on May 13, Graham Elliot Bowles' "bistronomic" restaurant graham elliot (217 W. Huron St., 312-624-9975) has released some cool images of what to expect when it opens:

Signature Caesar salad, romaine lettuce, white anchovies, Parmesan fluff, brioche Twinkie croutons (Photo: graham elliot)

Pistachio-crusted lamb shank, tomato-artichoke ragout, Israeli couscous, shaved fennel, black olive puree (Photo: graham elliot)

What a difference a week makes . . .


. . .in Chicago when it comes to weather.

Last week it was nice and sunny and everyone was scrambling to do alfresco. This week . . . not so much.

So now that you're going back indoors, you may as well make it good:

At Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St., 312-664-2727), they're offering two major specials tonight. If you head here straight after work, you'll get the Late Latin Lunch, an amazing deal available every night from 5:30-6:15. Enjoy a three-course meal with a glass of wine or sangria for under $30. Or, if you need to sate a big appetite, go for Big Rib-Big Red Mondays, which includes a Latin-spice rubbed prime rib steak and a glass of reserve red wine that's hand selected by advanced sommelier Adam Seger for $5.

Head to copperblue (580 E. Illinois St., 312-527-1200) for Cinema Gourmet Mondays as they showcase Gene Hackman and John Cazale in Francis Ford Coppola's mystery thriller "The Conversation." It's accompanied by a three-course dinner paired with wines and lively dialogue with U of C professor Elliott Krick, who specializes in film and literature. $79. Movie starts at 6:30pm.

For big laughs, make your way to La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St., 312-245-9555) for Movie Mondays, which concludes its month of 1980s classics with "The Blues Brothers" starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Wach the movie and sing along to your favorite tunes while enjoying half-price bottles of wine. Movie starts at 8pm. Free.

And speaking of half-price stuff, you'll get that also during Taste It!, a lively Monday-night series at Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard St., 312-645-6000). All guests get discounted food, beer and wine all night. Free pool too!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Food & Wine: Chicago's #8 in the world


CHECK OUT Food & Wine's annual Go List—eight essential guides to the best places to eat worldwide.

Chicago represents on only one of them: We rank #8 on the Ten Best Restaurant Cities List, which points to nine of our hottest offerings, including Sepia (123 Jefferson St., 312-441-1920), Bonsoiree (2728 W. Armitage Ave., 773-486-7511), Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St., 312-715-0708) and Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-2755). New to that list are Table Fifty-Two (52 W. Elm St., 312-573-4000) and Takashi (1952 N. Damen Ave., 773-772-6170).

Now, that's what's up!

Friday, April 25, 2008

This is what happens when you take a night off!


I TAKE one night off from partying, and I miss meeting the ultimate party girl—Lindsay Lohan—who hung out in the deejay booth alongside galpal and celeb deejay Samantha Ronson at Crimson Lounge (333 N. Dearborn St.) in Hotel Sax last night.

Samantha was in town for her monthly residency and Lohan, dressed down in her usual uniform of black leggings and flowy frock, made a surprise appearance that had guests doing double takes and WTFs like crazy. And according to an Ultimate Insider, she hung out for three hours and drank no liquor.

Oops! And yet another Ultimate Insider tells me that she attempted to light up some smokes at least twice before being told that smoking was a no-no in Chicago venues. Bad Lindsay, bad girl!

Gale Gand adds sweetest touch to MORE


WHAT will set MORE (One E. Delaware Pl., 312-951-0001), the sexy Gold Coast cupcake spot, apart from other cupcakeries around town when it opens in mid-May?!

They've got Gale Gand, the award-winning pastry chef and partner of TRU (676 N. Saint Clair St., 312-202-0001), as a consulting chef. The multiple James Beard award winner—including for Outstanding Pastry Chef—is designing a rotating collection of more than 30 varieties of the ultra-moist cupcakes.

Look for twists like ganache-filled chocolate, passion fruit poppyseed, pink grapefruit and creme brulée. Savory flavors, such as cracked pepper and parmesan, pear, bleu cheese and port, corn and bacon and maple, will also be featured. Of course, you'll also be able to indulge in more conventional flavors like chocolate, white, yellow and lemon.

Yum, just yum!

Update on 'Hell's Kitchen,' 'Top Chef'

Chicago's culinary cuties are still in the mix on chef-driven reality series Bravo's "Top Chef" and FOX's "Hell's Kitchen."

While Stephanie Izard almost goes home on "Top Chef," Jennifer Gavin emerges as the one to watch on Gordon Ramsay's emotionally charged "Hell's Kitchen."

Let's give it up for both of them for making it another week!

Jazz Showcase on its way back, finally

Great news: Looks like Joe Segal's legendary Jazz Showcase, which lost its lease in early 2007, is finally on track to reopening by May 1, according to the site. New location is at 47 W. Polk St. in the South Loop.

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Aria (200 N. Columbus Dr., 312-444-9494): "We also liked the global takes on chicken entrees (often a low point for menus) — nothing mind-blowing, but very solid and pleasantly different. Tandoori chicken is lightly spiced with masala rub and served with a tomato-based curry-style sauce and lentil salad. Also fun, light and inventive: chicken crusted with the makings of falafel (ground chickpeas, herbs and breadcrumbs) and sauced with tahini-thinned hummos."—Alison Neumer Lara (Crain's Chicago Business) Read it all here.

Jane's Restaurant (1655 W. Cortland St., 773-862-5263): "The potatoes that come on the side are a very reasonably molded sphere of rosemary breakfast potatoes, a far cry from the huge pile of oozing greasy potatoes you can find at many other brunch spots. The rosemary was just enough to make them flavorful and a great accompaniment to the egg dishes. Moreover, they were glad to sub fresh fruit for the potatoes and chicken sausage that were the standard sides. The turkey Canadian bacon, as I have said, was some of the best I've ever had. If she hadn't told me it was turkey, I would never have guessed."—The Skinny Gourmet Read it all here.

Kan Pou (4256 N. Western Ave., 773-866-2839): "Lacquered mahogany chairs flank tables topped with sea-blue cloth and white butcher paper, while modular bookcases display food mags like Saveur and Food Arts alongside small cellophane bags of the restaurant’s secret weapon: traditional Thai butter cookies, baked by the owner’s wife. There are a handful of varieties, including subtle lemongrass, sesame seed, toasty coconut and the standout buttery clove. A plate of them arrives, gratis, at the end of the meal, but trust us—you’ll also want to take a bag or two home."—Heather Shouse (Time Out Chicago) Read it all here.

Prosecco (710 N. Wells St., 312-951-9500): "Among the main courses, the quartet of fat scallops in a gently sweet vanilla-prosecco cream reduction is dazzling, as is the veal saltimbocca, in a brandy-tomato sauce that nicely balances sweet and acidic flavors. One cannot go wrong with the daily risotto, judging by my sampling. The elegant mushroom-and-tomato version had a fragrant whiff of truffle oil."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune) Read it all here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Samantha Ronson shakes up local scene


Last week we had cougar drama and an earthquake. Now how can we possibly top that excitement?!


Sexy new boutique Hotel Sax (333 N. Dearborn St., 312-245-0333) celebrates getting props on Conde Nast Traveler's 12th annual Hot List with a complimentary champagne event from 7-9pm. Immediately following, rock star deejay Samantha Ronson cranks out the hits during her monthly residency at hot hotel lounge Crimson. 9pm-2am. No cover.

Today is the 15th anniversary of Dining Out for Life in Chicago, the single largest HIV/AIDS benefit in America with 43 restaurants in the United States and Canada participating. Il Covo Restaurant & Lounge (2152 N. Damen Ave., 773-862-5555) does its part with an appearance by WGN's Dean Richards. Proceeds from dinner and drink sales benefit the organization.

Scotch lovers should RSVP immediately to for tonight's single malt scotch whiskey tasting at J Bar (610 N. Rush St., 312-660-7200). The VIP complimentary tasting occurs 9-10pm, featuring The Glenrothes Scotch Whisky. Immediately following, you'll be able to chill out to deejay Jesse de la Pena, who's accompanied by a percussionist or saxophonist. 10pm-2am. No cover; RSVP necessary.

There's a lot of well-deserved hype surrounding Kid Sister, a local-bred artist who's made a name for herself by touring with Kanye West and also performing at Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival, Coachella and South by Southwest. She'll do a live, late-night set at Underground (56 W. Illinois St., 312-644-7600) with Flosstradamus, a DJ duo with a solid Chicago following. 10pm-4am. $20.


After Dark, the Art Institute's (111 S. Michigan Ave., 312-575-8000) popular after-work series, returns with a photography exhibition by the West Coast's Ed Ruscha. Also included in the event are live performance stylings by Collaboraction, appetizers, cash bar and DJ Daisy O'Dell (also from LA). Hosted by my pals over at UR Chicago magazine. 6-10pm. $15 for Art Institute members; $20 general admission.

The Bowler Hat Art Party, the official opening night party of Artropolis/Art Chicago, is hosted by Factio Magazine. Guests will get to view multimedia works by local art royalty like JC Steinbrunner, Christine Scott, M5 and Neftali Centeno as they mingle with cocktails and appetizers. Taking place at En-Vent, 344 N. Ogden Ave. RSVP to 8-10:30pm. No cover, but RSVP necessary.

The HotHouse (3111 N. Western Ave., 312-957-6073) continues to burn up every weekend in its new home. They're hosting an African and Latin dance party featuring popular seven-piece Brazilian band Chicago Samba for a special performance. Wherever Chicago Samba plays always sells out, and for this event, during intermission, Edilson Lima will give samba dance lessons. 10pm. $10.

New entertainment show "24/7: Secrets of the City" tapes an episode at Plan-B (1635 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-252-2680), and if you've got TV dreams, you'll want to make it. Complimentary cocktail reception 9-10pm, and the party goes on until 2am. "24/7" airs every week on NBC-5 right after "Saturday Night Live." No cover.


Can't wait for Kentucky Derby Day next week?! hosts Illinois Champions Day, a daytime party featuring local celebrity athletes, including former Bears star Shaun Gayle, Blackhawks head coach Denis Savard, and former Bulls coach/announcer Johnny Red Kerr. Benefiting the Special Olympics, the event includes a buffet, three-hour open bar and six $100,000 stake races for Illinois-bred horses. The party takes place in the Turf Club at Hawthorne Race Course (3501 Laramie Ave., Cicero, 708-780-3770). Starts at 12:30pm. $40.

The Junior Board of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls hosts Have Mercy! Spring Gala, its annual cocktail party that includes an open bar, appetizers, karaoke, dancing and silent auction. The party occurs at The James (55 E. Ontario St.) 8pm-midnight. Purchase tickets at for $85-$125.


A host of local culinary stars will be on hand for Charlie's Angels, an event hosted by Common Ground to support underprivileged children. Bill Kim (Le Lan), Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate), Graham Elliott Bowles (Graham Elliott), Elizabeth Dahl (Boka) and Giuseppe Tentori (Boka) are all Charlie Trotter's alumni and will showcase their skills for a six-course dinner paired with wines. Kendall College Dining Room, 900 N. Branch St., 312-752-2692. 6pm. $125.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A first look at C-House, C-View

Marcus Samuelsson (right), shown here with David Burke's Primehouse executive chef Rick Gresh, is the chef/partner of C-House. (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

It sucks that I have no pictures to share from my sneak preview tour of C-House and C-View, two of Chicago's hottest new spots going into new boutique hotel Affinia (166 E. Superior St., 787-6000) in mid-May. They're still under construction, but when this seafood-and-steak small plates venue opens on the first floor of the hotel, it's certain to be a prime destination. Not to mention that star chef Marcus Samuelsson (of NYC's award-winning Aquavit) is at the helm.

Zebra wood is the main design element throughout both venues, giving them a warm, chilled-out vibe as guests settle into the various banquettes, tables and barstools. You'll also find one communal table situated in the middle of each spot, where you won't miss a thing going on around you.

And when you head to the 28th floor, the doors open to C-View—the city's only rooftop lounge. I've been here all my life and didn't realize that we've never had a rooftop lounge. How could that happen?! Offering spectacular views of the city, C-View at night will be truly unbelievable with all the lights from surrounding buildings setting it off. A limited small-plates menu from C-House will also be offered here, but of course you'll get to indulge in a full-service bar.

Japan's #1 spirit arrives in Lakeview

Two shochu-infused cocktails are shown here at the hot new lounge/eatery of the same name in Lakeview. (Photo: Shochu)

Shochu (3313 N. Clark St., 773-348-3313), which opens today in Lakeview, is the first-ever "shochu" lounge in the United States. But what is shochu, you ask?! It's the #1 Japanese distilled spirit that is made from rice, barley, sweet potatoes and black sugar. Husband-and-wife duo Lynne Wallack and John Handler—who are also behind the popular Lakeview brunch fave Deleece (4004 N. Southport Ave., 773-325-1710)—are pairing signature cocktails with small plates.

The cocktail menu offers a large collection of shochu-based cocktails, like Black Dragon (mixing shochu with muddled blackberries and simple syrup) and Iwo Oyama (a mixture of shochu with pear and green tea). The menu offers moderately priced fare with an Asian edge, including a number of maki rolls, marinated grilled steak wrapped in butter lettuce and eggplant maitake sesame tempura.

Also happening tonight:

Landmark Grill + Lounge (1633 N. Halsted St., 312-587-1600) heads in a completely different direction with its music tonight for the Beatles Wine Tasting. Yes, that's right. They're pairing classic Beatles tunes with vino, but it'll be interesting to see what they pair with “Helter Skelter!” 7pm. $30.

Catch the next episode of Bravo's "Top Chef" at Paramount Room (415 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-829-6300), which is showing the series on LCD screens on both levels. You'll get a chance to sink your teeth into their specialty Amish fried chicken, which is only served on Wednesdays.

And country music continues to burn up the charts as evidenced by hot Capitol recording artists Lady Antebellum, with their hit "Love Don't Live Here." You will be able to say, "We saw them when...." and you get a free CD. Joe's (940 W. Weed St., 312-337-3486) 8pm. $10.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This pub's got no name, but the chef's got game . . .

Brian Huston, chef de cuisine, chills out at yet-unnamed Warehouse District gastropub. (Photo: Anthony Tahlier)

Brian Huston, chef de cuisine of the Blackbird team's no-named restaurant at 845 W. Fulton Market, sounds off in this recent interview by Restaurant Intelligence Agency:

Is there anything you won't eat?
I'll try anything once.

If you could travel (just for the food and money wasn't an object) where would you go and why?
Southeast Asia for the street food.

What is the best restaurant we've probably never heard of?
Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant on Argyle St. in Chicago. Go for the Hong Kong-style pork.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and who gave it to you?
Jimmy Bannos (of Heaven on Seven) told me that cooking was a great hobby.

Describe a perfect Sunday.
75 and sunny, a Bears win followed by barbecuing out back with my girlfriend.

What profession would you try if you could?
Professional basketball player.

Do you take any vacations that have nothing to do with food; if so, what was your last one?
Recently my vacations have been spent coming home to Chicago to be with my family but some might consider my last six years in Colorado a vacation.

Five Chicago properties make Conde Nast Traveler's annual Hot List

Chicago, stand up!

Several local red-hot properties get props in Conde Nast Traveler's 12th annual Hot List, which comes out in May. It's considered the insider's guide to the newest, hottest, sexiest hotels, restaurants, spas and nightclubs opened all over the world in the past year.

Chicago hotels:

Hotel Sax: 333 N. Dearborn St., 312-245-0333

Trump International Hotel & Tower: 401 N. Wabash Ave., 877-458-7867

Chicago restaurants:

Aigre Doux: 230 W. Kinzie St., 312-329-9400

Brasserie Ruhlman: 500 W. Superior St., 312-475-9112

Sepia: 123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920

A toast to TreeTinis, eco-friendly fashions

All TreeTinis sold at Whiskey Bars will help save America's trees. (Photo: Gerber Group)

I'm not going to get all preachy about Earth Day—which fetes its 38th anniversary today—but there are some pretty cool things going on around town where you can have your usual fun while helping the environment:

At hip, Euro-style Lumen (839 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-2222), you'll get an eco-friendly fashion show hosted by Wicker Park's Funkshion (2121 W. Division St., 773-697-4119) and Image magazine. As always, drink specials, and a sophisticated industry crowd. 9pm-2am. No cover.

All three of Rande Gerber's Whiskey Bars get in on the action with a special on the TreeTini. Tonight only they're $6 (regularly $14), and for each one sold, a tree is being donated to a place in dire need of forestation and ecological improvement. The TreeTini was created by Live It Green, an Illinois-based sustainability company, and it's available for the special price at Whiskey Blue (172 W. Adams St., 312-782-4933), Whiskey Sky (644 N. Lake Shore Dr., 312-255-4463) and The Whiskey Bar/MEXX Kitchen (1015 N. Rush St., 312-475-0300).

Make your way to the fourth-annual Get Trashed on Earth Day at Mahoney’s Pub & Grille (551 N. Ogden Ave., 312-733-2121). The idea is for this event to be a chill-out opportunity for those who've spent the day cleaning up trash in the local neighborhoods. They’ll be serving up three special Earth Day cocktails: a Mud-tini (a creamy chocolate martini), Ocean Blue (a blue, citrus vodka cocktail) and Greenie-Tini (melon and green apple martini). Fifty percent of the profits of the cocktails benefit Keep Chicago Beautiful, a non-profit organization that works with the business community, schools, neighborhoods and government agencies to improve our environment through education, public awareness and community involvement.

And ZED451 (739 N. Clark St., 312-932-1100) finally debuts today. The contemporary steakhouse designed by renowned architect Chris Smith (Buddakan, Philadelphia and New York; Grayz, New York; and OLA, Miami) is very heavy on wood throughout the interior and much of it is reclaimed. One of my fave highlights of this sexy newcomer is its rooftop lounge, which features real grass, a fireplace and no reservations to sit down. Seasonally driven cocktails include the Cucumber Sage Martini (fresh cucumber and sage mixed with lemon and Hendrick’s gin), Gingered Bourbon Lemonade (composed of citrus infused Woodford Reserve Small Batch Bourbon with freshly squeezed lemonade and a zesty ginger kick) and the Kiwi Strawberry Martini (with fresh kiwi and strawberries blended with Reyka vodka and housemade sour mix).

Monday, April 21, 2008

More props for Alinea

Grant Achatz's Alinea continues to collect accolades. (Photo: Alinea)

S. Pellegrino's World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2008 list includes Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St., 312-867-0110) ranking in the 21st position—a 15 position jump from 2007’s list. The highest-seeded Chicago restaurant, Alinea debuted on the list last year as the Highest New Entry at 36. The entire list is here.

The S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, now in its seventh year, has established itself internationally as the most credible guide to the best places to eat on earth. A restaurant’s ranking is decided purely on the votes of a large panel of well-respected international judges collectively called The Nespresso World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. The Academy comprises of 700 chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and restaurant critics.

Get out . . .


. . . tonight and enjoy the amazing weather at:

Bistrot Margot (1437 N. Wells St., 312-587-3660) on the relaxing sidewalk cafe for half price on all bottles of wine. The unassuming French bistro is a favorite for chilled-out evenings with a sig other or friends.

Chaise Lounge (1840 W. North Ave., 773-342-1840) for industry night. Grab seats in the outdoor cafe or on the rooftop for cabana action. It's $4 for most premium cocktails on the menu.

La Vita (1359 W. Taylor St., 312-491-1414) for half-price wine bottles. On Monday and Tuesday, any wine this family-style Italian eatery sells by the glass you'll also get by the bottle. Their rooftop deck, which seats about 30 guests, should be open tonight.

Sheffield's Wine & Beer (3258 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-281-4989), in Lakeview, for $3.50 pint specials and $2 cans of "bad beer" of the month. The sprawling beer garden attracts a healthy number of the area's young professionals.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mole master on next mission

Got a message in the mailbag over the weekend that Geno Bahena—the "king of mole"—is planning to open yet another haute cuisine Mexican eatery in Lincoln Park at Halsted and Webster.

I'm still trying to track down the name, but if it's any indication of his previous projects like Tepatulco Restaurante (2558 N. Halsted St., 773-472-7419) in Lincoln Park as well as the now shuttered Ixcapuzalco, Chilpancingo and Mi Sueno Su Realidad, it's gonna be a tongue twister.

Stay tuned . . .

New look, menu unveiled by 312 Chicago

Dean Zanella, executive chef of 312 Chicago, returns with a new menu and look for the restaurant on Wednesday. (Photo: 312 Chicago)

312 Chicago (136 N. LaSalle St., 312-696-2420), which closed for a week for a complete overhaul, reopens Wednesday. The changes are part of a major renovation of Hotel Allegro, and includes a new menu from Executive Chef Dean Zanella.

Highlights of the new contemporary Italian menu include grilled boar sausage with dandelion, white bean and radish salad as a starter, as well as a lobster panini and a grilled filet of beef on Sicilian potato cake, with gorgonzola and barolo wine sauce.

Bob Puccini Design is behind 312 Chicago's new look, which includes a wine wall that becomes a focal point of the space, while the upstairs library has been transformed into a private wine-tasting room cleverly encased in wine displays. The newly refreshed bar is updated with charcoal-granite countertops, a black back bar with alabaster inlays and a focus on displaying wine through a new cruvinet system.

How did we overlook her?!

While all the Chicago foodies and dining writers are going absolutely rabid over Stephanie Izard's performance on Bravo's "Top Chef," there's another local culinary cutie competing on a similar show.

Twenty-four-year-old Jennifer Gavin, who's in the running to become executive chef of Gordon Ramsey's new LA restaurant on his "Hell's Kitchen" reality series on FOX, is originally from Chicago and a line cook for a five-star country club.

She's a little buck wild and may not have as much experience as Stephanie or some of the chefs she's competing against on "Hell's Kitchen," but let's show her some love too, ok?!

"Hell's Kitchen 4" airs on FOX every Tuesday at 8pm CST. Miss an episode? See them all here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Cape Cod Room (140 E. Walton Pl., 312-787-2200): "The mid-twentieth century seafood-house menu has a few of 21st-century additions, but the famous Bookbinder’s soup with the little vial of sherry is still there (it tastes exactly the same), along with Dover sole, lobster thermidor, oysters Rockefeller, creamed spinach, etc."--Emily Nunn (Chicago Tribune) Read it all here.

The Drawing Room (937 N. Rush St., 312-266-2694): D.C. Crenshaw's video blog at Fete Select TV.

Gene & Georgetti (500 N. Franklin St., 312-527-3718): "Steaks and chops, the heart of the menu, are right on the money, but barren plates need a splash of color, if only a sprig of parsley. Lightly charred, the petite strip ($23.75) is well-marbled, robustly flavored and tender. For beef en brochette ($24.75), two substantial filet medallions are capped with thick bacon slices and flanked by whole mushrooms, finished with white wine, garlic and herb sauce. The meat is irreproachable, but a few red peppers or tomatoes would add color and variety."--Laura Bianchi (Crain's Chicago Business) Read it all here.

Miss Asia (434 W. Diversey Pkwy., 773-248-3999): "You could play it safe with Thai standards (Sticky Rice’s legendary sausage and other interesting favorites are noticeably absent), but for a more memorable meal, try hopping around the map. The Cambodian lotus root and banana blossom salads both pack bracing tart-spicy-sweet flavors; soft Vietnamese crêpes bulge with ground pork, bits of shrimp and mushroom; and Bambu Bali catfish gets a subtle (maybe too subtle) jerklike dusting."--Heather Shouse (Time Out Chicago) Read it all here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The 'Hot Chef' challenge

Just got this in the mailbag about the first-ever "Hot Chef" Challenge for the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show 2008:

Aspiring top chefs are encouraged to create a two-minute video to win a chance to demonstrate at NRA. Professional chefs and home cooks alike can submit entries of themselves preparing their favorite recipes using trendy food and alcohol ingredients.

The winner, as selected by fellow YouTube users and the National Restaurant Association, will showcase his/her culinary creations among a lineup of leading chefs and tens of thousands of attendees at the restaurant industry's biggest event of the year – the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show at McCormick Place in Chicago (Saturday May 17- Tuesday, May 20).

Those interested should submit an original video of themselves doing a cooking demonstration by May 7. Each video should be no longer than two minutes and must include one food item and one alcohol item (as an ingredient or as a pairing with a dish) from the Association's “What's Hot & What's Not” Chef Survey, available here.

YouTube users will vote for the top three videos, and the winning entry will then be selected by an Association panel. Viewers can vote by selecting “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” through May 7.

The winner will be given a live 60-minute demonstration spot in the Culinary Scene area at the NRA Show on Saturday, May 17, at 1pm, as well as have his/her video featured on the show web site. Additionally, the winner will also receive a three day/two night trip to Chicago (total approximate retail value $850) to be scheduled around the demonstration spot. Trip package includes one single/double occupancy hotel room for two nights at a select hotel and a round trip coach airline ticket (from the nearest major airport to the winner’s home). The Culinary Scene features custom-built demonstration kitchens in which trend-setter chefs, such as Rick Bayless, Grady Spears and Charlie Ayers, will perform culinary showcases throughout the four NRA Show days.

Duchamp takes over old Meritage space

The guys behind Lumen (839 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-2222) and Zealous (419 W. Superior St., 312-475-9112) owner/chef Michael Taus are working on a May/June opening for the French-focused Duchamp (2118 N. Damen Ave.) in the old Meritage home, reports Time Out Chicago.

The Great Smoque Out, DJ Kiss returns

DJ Kiss performs Friday at Le Passage. (Photo: DJ Kiss)

There's so much great stuff going on this weekend that I'm almost at a loss for words:


I'm hearing buzz that Rodney Alex's Great Smoque Out event is completely sold out at his Juicy Wine Co. (1658 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-492-6620). But who knows . . . he might have pity and let in a few more people. He's teamed up with Smoque BBQ (3800 N. Pulaski Rd., 773-545-7427) in Portage Park and K Vintners of Walla Walla, Wash., who will be pairing some select vino—including Boom Boom Syrah and Holy Cow Chardonnay—with the ‘cue. And you’ve just gotta have those beats with the eats: DJ L.A. Jesus spins his favorite tracks. 7-9pm. $25.

Be one of the first to experience revolutionary new River North steakhouse ZED451 (739 N. Clark St., 888-493-3451), where the culinary team not only prepares the cuisine, but also serves it tableside. ZED451 hosts this event benefiting Imerman Angels, an outstanding one-on-one cancer support service based in Chicago. A 30-year-old cancer survivor will speak, and 100 percent of the proceeds from the evening go to Imerman Angels. 5:30-9:30pm. $50.

Familiarize yourself with more than 300 wines from Portugal. More than 30 of the country’s main producers, such as Casa de Santa Vitoria, PV and Symington Family Estates, will be on hand to showcase extraordinary Ports as well as red, white and rosé wines. Suggested donation for the event is $30, which benefits the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a non-profit food distribution and training center. 5:30-8pm. Hotel Allegro: 171 W. Randolph St., 800-871-9012, ext. 24552.

Need something harder than wine? Sign up for Mixology 101, where you'll get to explore the basics of making great cocktails at home, including techniques, ingredients and flavor profiles. Program will be led by Sonja Kassebaum of North Shore Distillery and Angie Jackson of Ultimate Elixirs. 6:30-8pm. Sam's Wine & Spirits: 50 E. Roosevelt Rd., 312-663-9463. $10.

"Iron Chef" judge Mario Rizzotti leads a Food & Wine Pairing at the Lincoln Park Sam's Wine & Spirits (1925 N. Clybourn Ave., 800-777-9137). Guests will have the opportunity to sample gourmet goodies, learn how to prepare Spanish tapas, cook traditional Mexican dishes and more. Of course, all will be paired with various vino. 5-8pm. $20.

The party continues during Manor Thursdays, hosted by nightlife impresario Tony Macey. DJ White Shadow spins his favorite hits, and if you get there between 10-11pm, you can indulge in complimentary Snow Queen vodka cocktails. RSVP to with "Thursdays" in the subject line, to be placed on the guest list. Manor: 642 N. Clark St., 312-475-1390.


Phaiz (673 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-226-9070) hosts its sixth installation, Route3Box324, an autobiographical journey of Suzanne Cummings, who represents flowers as art, along with aprons as accessories by Chorma Designs and Backbone Fashions. Deejay Norwejohn spins; comp cocktails. 7-11pm. Free.

DJ Kiss will seduce you with her sounds, just like she did for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, Puff Daddy and OutKast’s Big Boi—who all personally requested her presence to play for their private parties. But this tempting turntablist is not just another pretty face, even though she was named a “Woman on the Verge” by Come see what all the fuss is about when she cranks out mashups, hip-hop and soul during a late-night set at Le Passage (937 N. Rush St., 312-255-0022). Bottle service recommended; she’s on the turntables 1-4am. $20.

The return of the HotHouse

Thank God the globally influenced HotHouse found a new home!

It felt like the day the music died a couple of years ago when they lost their lease for their South Loop space. HotHouse was one of the few places you could go in town and hear live music—for a reasonable price—from all over the world. From deep house music sets to Afro-Latin jazz, their entertaining sets always turned into all-out dance parties.

Last weekend they had a grand re-opening celebration in the Viaduct Theater (3111 N. Western Ave., 312-957-6073), and it looks like they're going to be there for awhile.

Tonight at 9pm, they're featuring flutist Nicole Mitchell for only $10, but we're more excited about tomorrow's set:

The Casa Caliente! HotHouse Latin Dance Party! features Papo Santiago y Orchestra Infraverde, De La Buena and deejays. The Latin dance parties are HotHouse's most popular and tickets usually sell out quickly. The event starts at 9pm Friday. $12 in advance; $15 at door.

Exec chef not going anywhere

Randy Zwieban, executive chef for Nacional 27 (Photo: Nacional 27)

Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St., 312-664-2727) top chef/partner Randy Zwieban will continue his successful reign at the helm of the Nuevo Latin eatery in River North. It was reported here last week that he was leaving to do his own thing. Wrong!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Get those dialing fingers ready . . .

. . . because world-acclaimed chef Laurent Gras' long-awaited seafood-focused L.2O (2300 N. Lincoln Park West, 773-868-0002) just announced that they're now accepting reservations for dinner three months in advance (!!!). They're not opening until May 14, but they're gearing up for the lines to be busy.

"We're very excited about finally being able to open!" exclaimed general manager Serge Krieger, adding that what will set L.2O apart from other local seafood spots is that they'll be featuring fish from around the world from small providers.

They're also quite enthusiastic about the restaurant's smart and swanky interior, which is warm with rich leather, light and dark wood, and soft colored stones. Get ready, y'all.

I got a sweet tooth today

Pina Colada, Persephone and Mango Peach Poptails (Photo: DeLaCosta)

Today's the perfect day to indulge in one of DeLaCosta's (465 E. Illinois St., 312-321-8930) new Poptails, a cool combo of a cocktail and popsicle.

Choose between Pina Colada (DLC's pineapple infused vodka, pineapple juice, lime and Coco lopez popsicle), Persephone (Grey Goose L'Orange vodka, Pama pomegranate liquer, blood orange puree, cava and a pomegrante popsicle) or Mango Peach (Bacardi Peach red rum, mango puree, orange juice, lime juice and a peach popsicle). Get on it!

Chicago's gone cuckoo over cooking competition

"Top Chef" gets its own cupcakes at Bleeding Heart Bakery (1955 W. Belmont Ave., 773-327-6931). And speaking of BHB, get ready to get a sugar high when you look at this.

The Note changes its tune

Wicker Park mainstay The Note (1565 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-489-0011) plans to close on May 4, then transform into a neighborhood tavern, reports Time Out Chicago.

Be the star in new Food Network series

Now this is something I can get behind:


Do you or someone you know have an amazing food related story to tell? Do you know someone who has gone from being homeless to the owner of their own restaurant, makes pop art out of pineapples, or eats nothing but peanuts? Do you know someone who is battling food fears or phobias? Has food helped to cure an illness, changed the course of your life, or helped to inspire you in some dramatic way? We are looking for all types of stories even those that are odd or humorous to feature on and upcoming series for the Food Network.

Casting is underway, so Email a brief description of your story with your contact information and picture of yourself ASAP to or call 646.723.9848 to be considered for the show.

Padma's Passion, Hump Day Happy Hour and more

Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi, judges of "Top Chef" (Photo: Bravo)

You know you're hot stuff when they name a cocktail in your honor.

So goes Padma's Passion, the mighty delicious-sounding drink Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club (3700 N. Halsted St., 773-525-1111) has created to give props to sexy supermodel Padma Lakshmi, the host of "Top Chef." Made with Absolut vodka and passion fruit puree, it's available tonight as the restaurant hosts a viewing party every Wednesday during the popular chef-driven reality show.

Or sip a TopChefTini (Absolut Citron, wild strawberry liquer, melon liquer, splash of lemonade) or The Quickfire (Absolut Rasberri, melon liquer, lemonade) as you cheer for homegirl Stephanie Izard, who is still in the running to become "Top Chef." Other Wednesday specials include buy-one-get-one free entrees and half-price martinis and cocktails. The show will be presented on five large screens, with sound.

You can also view "Top Chef" at Paramount Room (415 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-829-6300), which is showing the series on LCD screens on both levels. You'll get a chance to sink your teeth into their specialty Amish fried chicken, which is only served on Wednesdays.

To fete an early Earth Day, Le Passage (937 N. Rush St., 312-255-0022) and Go Green Management are hosting an eco-friendly night. Everything served will be made with fresh, organic ingredients such as complimentary VEEV cocktails and heavy passed hors d'oeuvres. 7-10pm. $10 admission.

And if you're getting started right after work, head to Hump Day Happy Hour at Cityscape Bar (350 W. Mart Center Dr., 15th Floor, 312-836-5000). Each week, they're serving up a complimentary appetizer buffet with Guinness BBQ chicken wings, cheddar jalapeno poppers and grilled fresh vegetables with aged balsamic reduction. Also, all bottled domestic beer and house wines are $4. 5-7pm.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A taste of Paris in the Loop

Heather Terhune, executive chef at Atwood Cafe (Photo: Atwood Cafe)

Heather Terhune, cuisine queen at Atwood Cafe (1 W. Washington St., 312-368-1900), is one of my favorite local chefs because she loves to have fun with her food.

And her latest creation, American in Paris, is no exception with its quirky offerings of fantastic spring fare. Highlights of her menu include soup au pistou with spring vegetables and rich chicken broth; Coriander-crusted butterfish with fingerling potatoes, French green beans, grape tomatoes and a warm niçoise olive-lemon-caper vinaigrette; oven-roasted Georgia quail with garlic-herb butter, mashed potatoes, sweet onion jus and crispy onion straws; and a heavenly-sounding vanilla bean crème brûlée.

It's $45 per person (with wine pairing for each course, an additional $20), and only available through April, so get on it.

A 'Star' is born and other openings

As you can see, there's never a shortage of hot new restaurants and bars in Chicago. There's quite a few openings this week that may pique your interest:

Formerly known as Jay's Amore, Viaggio (1330 W. Madison St., 312-829-3333) opened yesterday in the West Loop. After shutting down for a few weeks for renovation and overhauling the menu, they're now ready to serve a contemporary menu of Italian classics.

Starfruit Cafe (1745 W. Division St., 773-328-2900), boasting froyo parfaits, smoothies and frozen treats made from kefir, opens today in Ukrainian Village.

And Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (25 E. Ohio St., 312-329-9463) actually opened last Friday. It's a national chain, but don't let that scare you away.

A toast to Tax Day . . . going away


Well, it's here. Tax Day, that is. It's time to celebrate with a cocktail or two, or three . . .

Get a jumpstart on some fabulous finds for Mother's Day tonight at the tony Tory Burch boutique (66 E. Walton St., 312-280-0010). Author Melanie Charlton Fascietelli will be there to celebrate the launch of her new tome, "Shop Your Closet," and all guests get 20 percent off on all purchases. Cocktails, light appetizers, but they'll need your RSVP for entry at 6-8pm. Free.

Don't pull your hair out about your tax woes. Instead head to Juicy Wine Co. (694 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-492-6620) for its fourth-annual 1040 Tasting. Taste 40 different shackle-breaking wines and swirl against the machine to seething jams from DJ Fiscal Response. 5:30-7:30pm. $10.

Pops For Champagne (601 N. State St., 312-266-7677) hosts its annual 1040 Tax Relief Celebration, which includes bubbly and food specials for $10.40, including three premium sparkling wines: Rosell Boher Brut Rose from Mendoza, Argentina, a North American exclusive at Pops; Argyle 2002 Brut; and Ruggeri & C. Prosecco. Also, guests may enjoy a discounted cover charge to the Jazz Club ($10.40 for two) to listen to the Chris Sargent Trio.

CityScape Bar (350 W. Mart Plaza Center Dr., 312-836-5000) is really offering some relief with a complimentary appetizer buffet from 5-7pm and drink specials all night. Go for the Effen IRS Blue Lemonade Martini, In The Red Bloody Mary, In The Black Russian or the Deduction Draft (Samuel Adams Draft)—all for $4.15.

And if you're still in need of relief by tomorrow, make your way over to Martini Park (151 W. Erie St., 312-640-0577) for Tax Bash 2008. The Karaoke Dokies will perform popular money-themed songs (“The Taxman” by the Beatles, “Take The Money & Run” by Steve Miller Band). The karaoke starts at 8pm, and there will be a $500 “refund” prize for the best performance of the evening. Judges will be, ahem, Amanda Puck from X/A PR, LeeAnn Trotter (entertainment reporter for NBC-5) and 312 Dining Diva (!!!). There is also some crazy rumor going around that we're supposed to perform too. I think I'll suddenly get a case of laryngitis. . .

Monday, April 14, 2008

Goose Island brew pub loses lease

The Stew reports that Goose Island will close the Clybourn Avenue brew pub location by year's end. They lost their lease. Wow. Just wow.

RSVP list closes today at 5pm . . .

. . .for the KRS-One event happening tomorrow evening at Blu 47 (4655 Martin Luther King Dr., 773-536-6000), the sleek, soul food-focused spot in Bronzeville.

I was going to write something about it tomorrow morning, but I just got word that they're shutting down the guest list because it's such a hot event.

The former frontman for seminal hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One is in town to host a dinner reception that will also serve as a wake-up call to our communities with a Stop the Violence message. It's from 7-10pm, with comp cocktails, dinner and music served up by DJ World. to get in.

Wind down with wine after tax time


More than ever this week you're probably trying to save some dough, especially after being in tax preparation hell. These budget-conscious wine events should put you in good spirits:

Every Monday in April La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St., 312-245-9555) dedicates its Dinner and a Movie! night to fun 1980s Brat Pack films. Get there at 7pm for one of my all-time favorites, "The Breakfast Club," starring Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy. You'll also get half-priced bottles of wine when you order dinner.

This week marks the fourth-year anniversary for Green Zebra (1460 W. Chicago Ave., 312-243-7100), the hip vegetarian-focused spot in West Town. They're doing it up big with a special four-course prix-fixe menu and wine pairings for $4 a glass.

Tonight's the second session in the six-part Global Grapes Series at Just Grapes (560 W. Washington Blvd., 312-627-9463). Guests will get the chance to learn about Cabernet and taste four to six different wines. 6-7pm. $35.

And as always, cool, Euro-style Taste Food & Wine (1506 W. Jarvis Ave., 773-761-3663) in Jarvis Square hosts its weekly Monday night tasting event where shoppers get the opportunity to sample specially selected vino and/or spirits. 6-7:30pm. Free.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nacional 27 chef resigns

(Photo: Laurie Proffitt Photography)

HUGE news for the local dining community: Randy Zweiban—who's been the executive chef at Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St., 312-664-2727) since it opened in 1998—just announced his resignation from the highly acclaimed Nuevo Latin restaurant. He's moving on to work on opening his own downtown restaurant, according to one of my Ultimate Insiders.

Bon Appetit called Zweiban's modern Latin cooking "a bold combination of flavors," so look for him to continue his stride when it opens. We'll be following this one closely.

Zweiban is one of several high-profile chefs breaking off to do their own thing this year. Graham Elliot Bowles, the former chef for Avenues (108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6754) in Peninsula Chicago, is set to open a "bistronomic" eatery by May 13. "Top Chef" finalist Dale Levitski plans to open Town & Country at Canal and Monroe this summer. And "Food Network Challenge" contestant Jason Paskewitz is also working very hard to open his Jackson Park Bar & Grill (444 N. Wabash Ave., 312-644-7200) by late April.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Coming at ya . . .

. . . on May 15 is Salute (44 E. Superior St.), an Italian wine bar and eatery opening right near the Peninsula Chicago (108 E. Superior St., 312-337-2888). There's also going to be a 2,000-square-foot party space right next to the restaurant as well as two really nice outdoor patio spaces you'll want to check out when everything else gets crowded this summer. Developing . . .


Turns out The Pony (1638 W. Belmont Ave., 773-828-5055), that multilevel sports lounge in Lakeview, is not opening tonight as expected. Looks like it's now set to open the weekend of April 25 due to some minor delays. Oh well. We'll still be looking forward to those chicken ‘n’ waffles and “stacks” of biscuits or Texas toast piled high with meats.

Shop, swing and swig


Your weekend starts right here:


With the weather acting all crazy and stuff, it's going to be a rough one tonight for those who brave It's in the Bag, a hot shopping event taking place in Roscoe Village. Shoppers will get a goodie bag on their first purchase at participating stores, then with each additional purchase, they'll collect envelopes full of coupons to various area stores, bars and restaurants. One envelope will contain $375 in gift certificates, while other envelopes will have coupons like $20 off at Kaze Sushi, $5 off at Village Tap, free Starbucks drinks, as well as deals from spots like Orange, Rudy's Bakery, Volo, Kitsch'n, Victory's Banner, Four Treys, Thai Linda, Que Rico, Riverview Tavern and Piazza Bella. Between Damen and Oakley Avenues. 5-9pm.

Sheque teams up with Lincoln Park Young Professionals for A Girl's Night Out event at STATE (935 W. Webster Ave., 773-975-8030), where you'll be indulged with martinis, margaritas, massages and manicures (oh my!). Also enjoy California Pizza Kitchen gourmet pizzas, bites from Devon Seafood and fresh fruit from Edible Arrangements. 6-8pm. $25.

Mark Domitrovich is the man responsible for transforming the notorious Lotties Pub—a speakeasy with a checkered past—into a cool neighborhood watering hole. And now he’s on to The Pony (1638 W. Belmont Ave., 773-828-5055), a multilevel sports lounge in Lakeview with flatscreens installed at comfy leather booths, roomy bucket-style barstools and rustic accents that set this spot apart from the numerous sports bars in the area. The former home to Guthries serves chicken ‘n’ waffles on the weekend and “stacks” of biscuits or Texas toast piled high with meats. Grand opening tonight at 8pm. Free.

The Keep On Keeping On Foundation, which assists those born with severe physical disabilities, hosts an after-work party to support its cause. Event includes light appetizers and drink specials. 7:30pm. $10.


Local hot shot designer Maria Pinto (who creates beautiful dresses for the likes of power women Michelle Obama and Oprah) teams up with Tabula Tua (1015 W. Armitage Ave., 773-525-3500) for Fashion Plates to benefit the Illinois Education Foundation. Held at Tabula Tua, the Lincoln Park tabletop store filled with everyday treasures and fine china from around the world, the event showcases Pinto's spring 2008 evening collection. Also, classical music by the Lincoln String Quartet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, appetizers and wine. You can also shop till you drop while you're there. 6-8pm. $125.

Be the first to sample a Nicotini—made with tobacco liquor—and Jackfruit (made with a tropical fruit from South Asia) with Viet Bistro’s first Svedka Vodka Tasting Night. Executive Chef Dan Nguyen pairs signature French-Vietnamese appetizers with the cocktails so you won’t go stumbling out the door. 7-9pm. 1346 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-5720. Free.

Stop by Juicy Wine Co. (694 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-492-6620) tonight and tomorrow for wine and a funky good time. Deejay Poptastic spins Friday and Darren from The Changes makes another Juicy appearance on Saturday. So if you're in the mood for some fantastic music, juicy wine, stinky cheese or mouth-watering grilled panini, drop by for awhile. 9pm-2am Friday; 9pm-3am Saturday. Free.


LA spin star DJ AM spends so much time here these days that he might as well make Chicago his second home. So what makes this appearance at Enclave (220 W. Chicago Ave., 312-654-0234) different from the others? He’s headlining an Outfit Events party, which have quietly become the bashes you can count on for a good time. It doesn’t hurt either that their parties attract all the PYTs. 10pm-3am. $20-$30

Radio Paradiso's weekly Saturday night party continues at La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St., 312-245-9555) with resident deejays Andre Harris and Craig Alexander spinning deep house and Latin beats. Hosted by Music 101 with $5 Stoli drinks all night. 10pm-3am. Free.


Since it’s likely you won’t find too many bars showing the final round action of The Masters, you might want to check out the WineStyles event at GolfTec (2847 N. Halsted St., 773-549-2227). The popular Lakeview wine shop will be pouring five exclusive PGA wines for guests as multiple screens show The Masters. Also, get tips from PGA pros, and participate in long drive and putting contests. 2:30-7pm. Free.

One of the hottest industry parties in the city fetes its one-year anny tonight. Expect Krem Sundays to be extra lively as all the local stars come thru. You never know who'll be there, so just show up. Krem: 1750 N. Clark St., 312-965-5777. 9pm-2am. Free.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Interesting choice for a celeb guest

So The Joynt (650 N. Dearborn St., 312-573-2233) is hosting a "sneak peek" party Thursday, and they've picked a mighty curious headliner to help launch the club.

Early 1990s comic star Joe Piscopo is listed as their very special guest along with "Sopranos" star Federico Castelluccio.

The nightclub and piano bar is from the guys behind the Jilly's (1007 N. Rush St., 312-664-1001) brand, and the event includes cocktails and apps from 5 to 8pm. RSVP to if you want in.

It's about damn time

I was waiting for the shit to hit the fan! Read info on the lawsuit filed by LA's Roscoe Chicken 'N Waffles here over the new Rosscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in Bronzeville.

Sneeky 'Top Chef' party and more


Be one of the first people in the country to see tonight's "Top Chef" episode at Jake Melnicks Corner Tap (41 E. Superior St., 312-266-0400) during the Top Chef Gala Sneek Preview. The party benefits Meals on Wheels Chicago's annual Celebrity Chef Gala, which happens this fall.

Apparently, the producers from "Top Chef" taped an episode at last year's event and sent an advance DVD copy to the Meals on Wheels folks. Sooooo, they're going to take advantage of the situation and show it a few hours ahead. Enjoy the episode and root for local homegirl Stephanie Izard as you chow down on complimentary appetizers and drink booze courtesy of Beam Liquors. 6-9pm. $15.

Also going down tonight is the He Said Beer, She Said Wine booksigning and tasting event at Lush Wine and Spirits (1306 S. Halsted St., 312-738-1900). Dogfish Head brewmaster Sam Calagione and Marnie Old, the director of wine studies at NYC French Culinary Institute, square off as they promote their new book "He Said Beer, She Said Wine," and Lush pits beer against wine with food pairings. Space limited; event free. 7-9pm.

And indulge in the $23 five-course tasting menu at Swirl Wine Bar (111 W. Hubbard St., 312-828-9000). Executive Chef Luis Sanchez whips up different dishes using seasonal ingredients every week. Two guests minimum per table. Also happening every Wednesday at Swirl is Wine & Shes, as groups of female patrons are treated to a complimentary platter of cheese when they order a bottle of wine. One cheese plate per bottle.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Giddy up, yo!

Upscale sports lounge The Pony (1638 W. Belmont Ave., 773-828-5055) jumps off with a grand opening on Thursday, and Time Out Chicago saddles up with this preview.

The 411 on aja

Earlier, I posted something about aja (660 N. State St.), the Asian-influenced steakhouse going into the new Dana Hotel and Spa.

Now, I've got even more info from their publicist:

"Opening early June, aja will offer the precision of Asian cuisine with the robust flavors of a modern steakhouse. The bold, progressive menu will offer a number of top-quality specialty cuts from authentic Japanese Kobe beef prepared by the ounce to artisan-raised beef and pork offered alongside yakitori, premium sushi and a boutique, savvy sake list. A modern, sophisticated restaurant, aja will feature two fireplaces and a second level 'floating' sushi bar, ideal for intimate meals and small gatherings. aja will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Also during the summer, the hotel will unveil its rooftop lounge, Vertigo, which should give NoMI, Peninsula and Conrad Chicago some competition when it opens in August.

Hyde Park finally gets a trendy eatery

Park 52 (5201 S. Harper Ave., 773-241-5200), the much-needed upscale eatery in Hyde Park, finally arrives today. And even though the American-style bistro's destined to be a trendy after-work hang for the South Side's young urban professionals, what the neighborhood really needs is a late-night spot. But beggars cannot be choosy, right?!

Whatever the case, we're certain this will be a hit for the 'hood because not only is respected restaurateur Jerry Kleiner (Marche, Carnivale, Opera, Gioco, Red Light, Room21) behind it, but he's brought aboard Marc Brooks (also Room21), who has strong ties to the movers and shakers in the African-American community.

Back in the day, Brooks was known for throwing the hottest parties on the South Side that attracted celebrities, political heavyweights and the cream of the crop of the black party crowd. And even though he's mostly moved on from nightlife to dining, expect Park 52 to be jumpin' every weekend. Entrees range from grilled jumbo shrimp and grits ($24) to a 16 oz. bone-in Rib Eye with onion rings ($36).

Some deals . . . and a debut


Head to Lumen (839 W. Fulton Market) tonight for A Toast Heard Round the World, a Grand Marnier-sponsored event where you'll get the chance to sample exotic cocktails and listen to some groovy sounds. Award-winning mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim judges a contest sponsored by the liqueur and Conde Nast Traveler magazine. 9-11pm. Free with RSVP to 866-229-0728.

For a laid-back evening, make your way to Feast (1616 N. Damen Ave., 773-772-7100) for their weekly delight: Buy an entree and get half off on any bottle of wine—or BYOB.

And get a sneak preview of Andersonville's hot new Southern spot Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St., 773-275-5725) at this celebration to benefit eco-Andersonville, a comprehensive environmental initiative with the mission of promoting environmental, economic and social sustainability in the community. Guests will enjoy a sampling of the entire menu, cocktails and selected wines. 6-10pm. $50.

More spring things coming your way

Celebrated chef Graham Elliot Bowles is working overtime to open his eponymous "bistronomic" eatery by May 13. The former executive chef for Avenues (108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6754) is redefining fine dining with this River North spot offering hip music (including music performed and recorded by Bowles himself), dynamic gastronomy, and a lively and relaxed atmosphere. graham elliot: 217 W. Huron St., 312-624-9975.

Mixteco, boasting Mexican cuisine with a French twist, plans a May opening when it opens next door to Natalino's (1523 W. Chicago Ave., 312-997-3700) in West Town.

Starfruit (1745 W. Division St., 773-328-2900) is the latest to jump on the froyo bandwagon when it opens in the East Village on April 15. They're the country’s first frozen kefir boutique, with goodies like smoothies, frozen treats and parfaits.

Look for yet another steakhouse to open in River North this spring. AJA (22 W Erie St.) aims to be a high-end steakhouse with a full sushi menu.

And coming this summer is Draft Tavern and Urban Grille (2843 N. Halsted St., 773-549-3500) in Lakeview. Brian Galati, formerly of Old Town’s Suite Lounge, teams up with Mark Kwiatkowski from Bottle Bar (950 W. Wolfram St., 773-665-5660) for this project.

Good vibrations . . .

BOKA's Giuseppe Tentori (Photo: BOKA)

. . . go out to two local culinary stars who garnered major kudos from Food & Wine magazine last week:

BOKA (1729 N. Halsted St., 312-337-6070) Executive Chef/parnter Giuseppe Tentori was named as one of 2008’s "Best New Chefs" for his innovative menu revolving around seasonal ingredients.

And avec (615 W. Randolph St., 312-377-2002) Executive Chef Koren Grieveson—known for her penchant for simple, clean flavors presented without pretension—was named one of the pub's highly coveted "Rising Star Chefs."

Tentori, Grieveson and the other 2008 winners will be featured on the cover of the July 2008 issue and profiled as part of a 20th-anniversary package on

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cleared for takeoff!

If you're a regular on 312 Dining Diva, you may have noticed that I haven't posted since April 1. And it wasn't a joke. Tech difficulties locked me out of the system, but now I'm back, baby!

Look for regular posts again starting tomorrow. . .

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No more BYOB at favorite sushi spot


So part of Coast Sushi's appeal is the fact that you can BYOB (even though it's $1 a bottle, including beer!). But apparently they've been angling to get in on the serving of the liquor business for awhile because they finally applied for a license today. SO get there while you can with your best bottles of sake and sparkling wine because the jig will be up soon.

They're likely to get one first for the South Loop location (1700 S. Michigan Ave., 312-662-1700), then work on getting another for the original spot in Bucktown (2045 N. Damen Ave., 773-235-5775).

As usual, stay tuned.

A speakeasy sports bar?! Uhmmm, OK!

Methinks this is going to be ridiculous. This is Wrigleyville for crying out loud—not Wicker Park.

Gibson's Steakhouse finally breaks ground in Miami

My Ultimate Insider who gave me this scoop back in January tells me that Gold Coast favorite Gibson's Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush St., 312-266-8999) has finally decided on a space for its third location, which is going to be in Miami. We'll keep you updated on when this project wraps up, which will likely be in late fall or early '09.

Desserts go designer in Lincoln Park

Couture Crepe Cafe (2568 N. Clark St.) quietly opened in mid-March in Lincoln Park. And so far Yelpers are really feeling it:

"I tried this place out over the weekend and got a crepe with nutella and strawberries. I thought it was great! It wasn't overly sweet and yet it was filling. It tasted very 'natural' and I didn't feel like I just ate a couple of donuts."—Priya

"The atmosphere of the restaurant is pretty cool. Definitely 'couture' compared to neighboring establishments, they have these great tables with magazines that serve as the decor but you can also read them too. Staff was friendly and attentive."—Ms. C

"The chef queried my preferences and we settled for a sweet honey mascarpone and cherries crepe suzette and a small cappuccino. The crepe was small enough to eat by myself, but large enough to be shared with one other person and still hit the spot. It was fantastic, a bit sweet for my taste, but highly recommendable nonetheless."—Ricardo

'WhiskeyFest' takes over this week


OK, all you single-malt and single-grain whiskey lovers. This is your week.

While the eighth-annual WhiskeyFest happening at the Hyatt (151 E. Wacker Dr.) is sold out for April 4, I’ve come across a number of events happening all week long that you can still attend.

Head over to Sam’s Wines & Spirits (1720 N. Marcey St., 312-664-4394) for a Johnnie Walker tasting. Guests will get to sample Red Label, Black Label, Green Label, Gold Label and new to Illinois—Johnnie Walker Swing. You’ll also get to know the history behind the product. 5-8pm. Free tonight.

At Socca (3301 N. Clark St., 773-248-1155), whiskey lovers will be treated to a VIP experience with a Singleton of Glendullan single malt tasting. It’s only available in limited consumption in the U.S., so drink up as the trendy restaurant pairs it with complimentary appetizers. 7-10pm. Free tonight.

You’ll probably want to get to Chief O'Neill's Irish Pub (3471 N. Elston Ave., 773-583-3066) early Wednesday for the Distiller's Editions of the Classic Malts Selection Seminar. Several experts will lead formal whiskey seminars, then guests may indulge in complimentary food, spirits and live music. 8-10:30pm. Free.

A Gentlemen’s Night Out also happens Wednesday at the River East Arts Center (435 E. Illinois St.). Jack Daniel’s sponsors this exclusive event with a special appearance by “America’s Sexiest Bartender 2007” Stefaney Lewis. $10 donation benefits Ignite the Spirit. Ladies are welcome too! 6:30-10pm. RSVP here.

Also happening Wednesday is a Bulleit Bourbon event at West Lakeview Liquors (2156 W. Addison St., 773-525-1916) when brand ambassador Brenda Wojcik samples this very popular small-batch bourbon coming out of Kentucky. 6-9pm. Free.

And on Thursday, you’ll want to make a move to Delilah’s (2771 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-472-2771) to sip on $3 Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey as Mod Chicago deejays Eric & John spin Mod, soul, Garage and Psyche. 10pm-2am. Free.