Monday, October 12, 2009

Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Fabrice Calmels and April Daily in Joffrey Ballet's season opener of "Othello." (Photo: Herbert Migdoll)

"Where can we get a meal under $30 before Jersey Boys?"

"What's the most romantic spot for drinks near the United Center?"

"Who has the best Mexican food around the Lookingglass Theatre?"

Questions like these hit the 312DD inbox so often that it makes total sense to create a weekly Stage Bites guide.

Every Monday look for the week's top performances paired with the best deals before/after the show:

Joffery Ballet's Othello at Auditorium Theatre Oct. 14-25. Local choreographer Lar Lubovitch gets his shine on for the company's season opener featuring the classic, full-length ballet. Get tickets here.

Custom House: Menu changes daily for the three-course deal, offered nightly at 5 and 5:30pm seatings. $46 per person.

Epic Burger: The all-natural signature burger topped off with a caged-free organic fried egg is the business. $7.

Mercat a la Planxa: Hit up the first-level lounge for potent pitchers of seasonal sangria in red or white. And if you come on Mondays, it's only $1.99 a glass.

Me'Shell Ndegeocello at Old Town School of Folk Music. 7, 10pm shows Oct. 16. Expect a funk-fueled show as the soulful songbird returns with her eighth album, Devil's Halo (Downtown). Get tickets here.

Bistro Campagne: Keep it simple with the Bistro Burger ($13) made with aged Cheddar and Tallgrass beef, or go decadent with a hearty cassoulet ($24) filled with Pinn-Oak Ridge lamb, pork sausage, duck confit, pork belly, cannellini beans and herbed bread crumbs.

Cafe Selmarie: You'll savor the wild mushroom ravioli ($13.75) right down to the last bite, especially the sage-brown butter sauce and toasted panko breadcrumbs. We also love the daily quiche special ($10.50) and sweet potato "fries" with chipotle dipping sauce ($4).

Tiny Lounge: After the show head here and ask for Tito's Hammock—a signature drink that's not on the menu. The vodka-based cocktail comes with crushed ice, thinly sliced lemons and limes, cucumber, and topped off with seltzer. Also great are seriously hand-crafted versions of The Hemingway and Pisco Sour.

The Message Is In The Music (God Is A Black Man Named Ricky) at Black Ensemble Theater Oct. 18-open run. Season opener blasts off with soul-stirring musical featuring hits from Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, The Beatles and Paul Simon. Get tickets here.

Agami Contemporary Sushi: They're doing wine specials every day, plus you can indulge in the "early bird special" of buy one, get one at half off on any maki or entrees such as teriyaki-infused filet mignon or blackened seared tuna. 5-7pm Fridays and Saturdays only.

Anna Maria Pasteria: Get $8 spaghetti dinners and $2 meatballs on Sundays at this North Side institution known for divine handmade pastas and sauces.

Mixteco Grill: BYOB Mexican with high marks for dishes like carne asada, enchiladas rojas and the tamales. Nothing's over $20!

Wish Upon a (Big) Star . . .

Paul Kahan (Photo: Battman Studios)

Big news early on this gloomy holiday morning arrives in the form of something we've been waiting for awhile.

The award-winning chef Paul Kahan's finally given a name to his taco-focused project going into the old Pontiac Cafe space.

Look for Big Star to open sometime in the late fall/early winter season. The honky-tonk inspired bar should be a welcome addition to the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood indeed.

The menu's simple and inexpensive, offering tacos (including a specialty flavor of the week), queso fundido, and chips and salsa. Plus the drink list reads like a downscaled version of its uppity sister across the street, The Violet Hour, whose bar director, Michael Rubel, created the mixology program.

This is where people will go for nightly whiskey shots, bourbon and updated old-school sippers like La Paloma (Herradura Plata, lime, Squirt made in Mexico), Bakersfield Buck (Old Heaven Hill bottled in bond, lime, AJ Stephans ginger beer) and Tequila Completo (Don Julio Plata with housemade sangrita).

And finally, country music may not be our thing, but something tells us that the way it'll go down here will quickly change our minds. Deejays from sister bar Danny’s Tavern and Reckless Records will spin insurgent country jams.