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Lettuce pay homage to Mr. Melman

Mon, Jun 6, 2011

By Lee Barrie & Cindy Kurman Barrie StreetWise Contributors

“Wait ‘til next year.”

No, we’re not talking about the Cubs. But we could be talking about restaurant impresario Richard Melman. It’s something he might have said back in May 2010 when, after several years of being nominated as James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur, a national award, he again came home empty-handed.

But 2011 was his year, as he brought the well-deserved award home. Melman is the founder and creative genius behind Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises which, over the years, has grown from one restaurant—R.J. Grunts in Lincoln Park—to more than 40 restaurant concepts—from casual to superlative fine dining, in locations around the country.

Most DineWise readers have enjoyed Let- tuce Entertain You restaurants but because there are so many in Chicago, we thought we’d pay tribute to Mr. Melman by sharing our thoughts about a sampling of the concepts. Check their website, www.leye.com, for information about all the restaurants, including hours and additional locations.

Asian

Ben Pao
52 W. Illinois (312) 222-1888 Casual yet sophisticated; varied menu features favorite dishes from several regions in China. Nice cocktail menu, and also check out the non-alcoholic homemade ginger ale.

Big Bowl
6 E. Cedar (312) 640-8888 Larger than life décor is complemented by a Chinese and Thai menu. Quality ingredients make for tasty dishes. You will enjoy the stir fry bar, where you pick your ingredients and the chefs prepare them for you.

Wao Bao
Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan (312) 642-5888 Bao are Asian steamed buns filled with a tasty meat, vegetable or sweet filling. At Wao Bao, the flavors cover many Asian cui- sines, even dessert bao. They’re more filling than you’d expect.

Ethnic

Mon Ami Gabi
Belden-Stratford Hotel, 2300 N. Lincoln Park West (773) 348-8886 Here you’ll find hearty French bistro comfort food in a delightful rustic French setting. It’s a fun, gregarious place, filled with the sound of people really enjoying their food. The menu is filled with many renditions of Steak Frites and numerous choices in all other categories: appetizers, salads, fish and poultry entrees, sides and desserts. Bon vivre!

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba!
2024 N. Halsted (773) 935-5000 This is one of Chicago’s first Spanish Tapas restaurants, and also one of the first to make “small plates” something for everyone to share and enjoy. It hasn’t lost its touch or charm over the years. If dishes such as goat cheese baked in tomato sauce, mushroom empanada with porcini alioli and fried calamari & tomato crudo with jalapeno alioli sound good to you, you’ve come to the right place and you’ll find many interesting creations to try, including fish, meat and poultry dishes and Paella, a hearty traditional Spanish rice dish.

Nacional 27
325 W. Huron (312) 664-2727 The number refers to the 27 countries of Latin America and the menu offers up a mosaic of dishes from across the Latin American spectrum. There is a sophisticated, nightclub vibe here and although it’s casual, you’ll find a stylish fashionista crowd. Don’t miss one of the ultra-creative cocktails designed by mix- ologist extraordinaire Adam Seger and then move on to the food, which is a great treat: Appetizers, empanadas, ceviche, small plates and hearty entrées round out this extensive Nuevo Latino journey.

Paris Club
59 W. Hubbard (312) 595-0800 Chef Jean Joho from Chicago’s Everest (also LEYE) has helped create a modern and ap- proachable Parisian experience in Chicago with a beautiful restaurant specializing in contemporary renditions of French classics.
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Americana

L Woods
7110 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincolnwood, IL (847) 677-3350 Check out the décor: you’ll think you’ve walked into a fishing lodge in Wisconsin or Michigan—one with good food, wouldn’t ya know. Meat and potatoes are the main focus here: ribs, steaks, and burgers are all in abun- dance amidst the daily specials and tasty fish preparations. We love the beef spare ribs!

Petterino’s
150 N. Dearborn (312) 422-0150 As soon as you walk in, you’re transported to big city Chicago-style nightlife of the 1940’s and 50’s. This is where you go to relax in a comfortable seating and enjoy a classic American dinner. True classics include Beef Stroganoff and Shrimp De Jonghe, and you can also indulge in a wide range of steaks, seafood and pasta dishes. Come on Monday night when it’s open mic night and many of Chicago’s treasured vocalists make their way to the stage for a heartfelt ballad or two.

Hub 51
51 W. Hubbard (312) 828-0051 One of the newer LEYE spots, this hand- some contemporary chic gathering spot serves an eclectic variety of comfort foods, including sushi, tacos, enchiladas, sandwich- es and many meat and fish entrees. Brunch is very popular on weekends.

Italian

Scoozi
410 W. Huron (312) 943-5900 Scoozi is a spacious Italian trattoria that blends the traditional with the contemporary. It was one of the first new-gen restaurants to help build River North into a din- ing Mecca and it’s as popular as ever. Here you can build a meal in stages and really en- joy yourself. There are many delicious start- ers to tease your palate before you dig into the pizza, pasta, salads and entrées. And be sure to stop by during the annual weeklong Tomatofest in late summer to enjoy a special menu and series of events revolving around the fantastic heirloom tomato.

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