The phrase “neighborhood restaurant” has become something of a pejorative in these times of multimillion-dollar restaurant build-outs, innovative guerrilla pop-ups and clubby small-plates spots. The connotations of a neighborhood restaurant are of a place that is at best classic and unfussy and at worst cheap, unrefined and just uninteresting enough that it could never be a destination. And there are plenty of those kinds of neighborhood restaurants in Chicago. But what I’ve also found is that the restaurants that really get me—where something unique and exciting is going on, where they’re forwarding a new vision of dining and also doing it in a personalized way that satisfies the individual diner—are restaurants that are also often identified as neighborhood restaurants. De Quay, a new Dutch-Indonesian spot in Lakeview, identifies itself as a neighborhood restaurant. I stopped in recently to find out if it would be the kind of mediocre ‘hood spot that repels or the killer kind that thrills Advertisements
One of the bigger restaurant myths is that the recipes are from Mom or that Mom’s in the kitchen. What the chef (usually) really means when they say the recipes were adapted from mom is, “Mom’s meatballs were desiccated golf balls. I went to culinary school and now I make mine with three different meats, soak the organic breadcrumbs in organic milk and simmer them in hand-squeezed tomato sauce.” Given that, it makes it all that more extraordinary that at Rickshaw Republic, a new Indonesian restaurant in Lincoln Park, mom — Elice Setiawan — really is in the kitchen — and she’s rockin’ it.