Restaurant reviews and profiles from Tribune food critic Phil Vettel, staff reporters and freelance writers. No stars indicates a restaurant has been profiled but not reviewed, and does not reflect on quality of dining.
Ratings key: ★★★★ outstanding; ★★★ excellent; ★★ very good; ★ good.
Passerotto ★★ Cute as a button and loaded with charm, Passerotto serves up “fun Korean fare” with a smidgen of Italian from chef-owner Jennifer Kim. The dining room cozily seats 42, and intact are the worn brick walls, tiled floor and pressedtin ceiling. Well-composed small plates are consistently interesting, approachable with a touch of the unexpected. Prices are low enough to encourage multiple tastes. And the large plates are family-style platters that add a communal element to dining. Cavatelli mixes Italian pasta with Asian flavors, including a smoky nori butter sauce and crisp-fried wakame. Kim does nice work with raw fish, seasoning them sparingly and highlighting their pristine flavor. Star large plates include gochujangglazed pork shoulder, traditional kalbi, or, better still, the soondubu, a stew featuring clams, mussels and tofu in a kimchi broth, sort of a Korean bouillabaisse. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: Small plates $9-$16; shared entrees $32-$38. 5420 N. Clark St., 708-607-2102. — Phil Vettel
Etta ★★★ Picking up from the hearthgrilled steaks at executive chef Danny Grant’s Maple & Ash, his latest project, Etta, excels in flame-kissed cooking. We begin with the Pig Picnic, a shared entree of tender pork shoulder and crisped pork belly that perfectly embodies Grant’s simple, flavor-forward ethos. Pizza preparations are impressive, and pastas range from the marvelously complex mafaldine with manila clams, king crab meat and ’nduja butter to the beautiful-in-its-simplicity bucatini cacio e pepe. For more substantial dishes, you’ll find fork-tender lamb and lightly smoky wood-roasted chicken. As she does at Maple & Ash, Aya Fukai handles the pastry work, and does so brilliantly. Open: Dinner daily. Prices: Pastas and entrees $14-$39. 1840 W. North Ave., 312-757-4444. — P.V.