When I first walked in to Green Street Smoked Meats, I remember telling owner Brendan Sodikoff to fuck off. Advertisements
I felt like I’d walked into the secret love nest of Hugh Hefner and a crazy old bird lady. I know that sounds crazy. Like why would Hefner shack up with a bird lady? But, the dude loved quaaludes, so anything is possible. And even if he never did, Bellemore restaurant’s interior design looks like what would have happened if he had.
On the weekends, when the bankers flee to the ’burbs, filching swigs of liquor on the Metra, the LaSalle Street canyon goes dark. The corridor between Jackson Boulevard and Madison Street becomes a lonely hearts club, inhabited by scant hotel dwellers and a few stragglers purged from revelry at The Berghoff or Miller’s Pub. It’s precisely the kind of noir landscape you’d expect Batman might perch above on a skyscraper cornice, contemplating his existential doom.
Like George Clooney, cocktails get better with age.
Ronero, a new Latin American/Cuban restaurant in the West Loop, is the kind of place where I’d imagine dictators or Scarface spending a night away from the rigors of managing a cartel. You could easily picture Fidel Castro hunkered down in one of the rattan peacock chairs, smoking a Cohiba and regarding the glass chandeliers while stroking the straggly tendrils of his prodigious beard.
If you’ve ever dated someone who uses really good-smelling shampoo, you’ve probably found yourself leaning in to catch a whiff. Or maybe it wasn’t shampoo, but a cologne or a scent on a T-shirt or the lingering tang of lip balm after a kiss. The point is, you’re kind of intoxicated or haunted by that scent depending on your experience with its wearer. I had the same reaction to the first dish I tried at Elske, a new West Loop restaurant from husband-and-wife duo David (Blackbird) and Anna Posey (The Publican).
There’s a semi-famous painting called “The Treachery of Images” by Belgian surrealist René Magritte. It’s not as well-known as the artist’s painting of a man in a bowler hat with an apple in front of his face, but you’ve probably seen it. It’s a painting of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or in English, “This is not a pipe.
From the street, you might gaze longingly into Ema, a new River North spot from chef C.J. Jacobson (Intro) and Lettuce Entertain You, and see an oasis. Sheer curtains flutter in the breeze, wicker pendant light fixtures sway and glasses of rosé drip with condensation. White string lights hanging across an indoor trellis cast a gauzy light against green vines.
Leña Brava, which translates to “ferocious wood,” might make a decent character name in the next “Magic Mike” flick. But in this case, it’s a nod to the fact that just about everything cooked at Rick Bayless’ new West Loop restaurant is wood-fired in a hearth or cooked over oak-stoked grills. That’s right; there’s not a single gas-fired dish coming from the kitchen at Leña Brava.
I screwed up. I showed up at a hot new restaurant in the middle of dinner rush hour looking for a table for six without a reservation. You see, I thought I’d made one, but it turned out I mistakenly booked a table a month out at Imperial Lamian in River North. The lobby filled with people. The open kitchen was a flurry. Steam poured from bamboo pots, and hand-pulled noodles thwacked against the counter. The restaurant buzzed, and I panicked. But the host smiled and said there was no need to worry—they’d have a table ready in 15 minutes. We were seated 10 minutes later