Fresh Meat quatre


Sunda – New Asian
Chef: Rodelio Aglibot
110 West Illinois Street


Jeremy Piven said “without a doubt” Billy Dec has more celebrity friends than he does. Perhaps Piven is right. Since their opening Sunda continues to pack the house with slender women who suddenly like sake.

After three years of persistent invitation executive chef Rodelio Aglibot a.k.a the “Food Buddha” left ultra-chic Koi in L.A., bought thermal underwear and moved to Chicago. Raised in Hawaii, Rodelio grew up eating his father’s sashimi which has a simple culinary process: sea, knife, mouth.

Rodelio has been an apprentice in the countries connected by the Sunda menu and Sunda shelf (underwater land bridge from the South China Sea to Sumatra).

Rodelio’s menu has a diverse spectrum of savory and spicy with bold confit pork shank that pulls with zero resistance from the bone and the fiery devil’s iron basket of soft shell crabs. Might need a cool cucumber and sake cocktail for that one. The lighter and downright refreshing end features appetizers of crispy rice with American Kobe beef tartare and the pan seared watermelon and unagi nigiri. If it were up to me I’d never go back to un-pan seared watermelon.

Mixologist extraordinaire, Sherryie Geslak, more than makes up for the dessert menu with the toasted ginger snap, twisted Japanese, wasabi H20 martini and lychee petals. By rule, I (now) drink sake under two circumstances: on camping trips near Mt. Fuji or stirred by Geslak.


Tocco - Italian
Chef: Bruno Abate
1266 N. Milwaukee Avenue


“The hardest part of great cooking is keeping it simple,” says Bruno Abate, Italian impresario and fashionista. Attention to the simple details, such as the temperature of fresh mozzarella, is what gives power to these subtle dishes, made from scratch everyday. There is no walk-in cooler or pre-made anything here.

Tocco gives prominence to fashion as well as northern Italian food. From the meatpacking district of NYC’s west side to Chicago’s meatpacking West Loop, Abate’s hotspots such as Follia have been mistaken as designer clothing boutiques. Born on the Amalfi coast to a tailor and chef, modeling for Giorgio Armani by the age of 19, Bruno’s life is food, fashion and a bit of golf.

This new Wicker Park fashion show, er, restaurant - is not Italian as much as it is Italiano. The carpaccio NY strip with arugula and parmigiano-reggiano, wood fired artisan pizzas, elegant daily-made pasta and namesake salad is the real dealio. The final scoop: ball of coconut Italian ice beneath strips of fresh pineapple with flecks of red pepper - and then pour the prosecco, bubbling as it soaks in.

The Mediterranean-style open air and outdoor seating that offers a view of the hyper-modern décor inside makes it hard to imagine that the 99-seater is a reincarnated McDonald’s. That is one hell of a metaphysical upgrade.


Urban Belly
UrbanBelly – Pan Asian
Chef: Bill Kim
3053 N. California Avenue


Listed on almost everyone’s ‘best of’ list, Urban Belly possesses a modesty that creates a refreshing contrast among its upscale contemporaries - and certainly with the neighbors in an Avondale strip mall. Urban Belly, like the common mall restaurant, has communal seating and front counter ordering but oozes with modish sophistication in this highly stylized Asian décor café.

Growing up in Iowa, our mall joints had ‘cookers’ not chefs with the accolades of Bill Kim. Born in Seoul, Kim is a graduate of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, former sous chef at Charlie Trotter’s and executive chef at Le Lan where his insight and dexterity in the kitchen earned him the 2008 Chicago Rising Stars Award.

Urban Belly has been such a success that chef Kim and Yvonne Yasmina-Kim, his wife, launched a follow up Belly Shack two days ago in Humboldt Park. Also BYOB, also amazing.

The dishes like pork belly with pineapple rice and brandy-spiked dumpling soup are what you would expect at an upscale downtown bistro. Chef Kim infuses elegant dining into a chic simplified venue. The concept is simple and the result is extraordinary.

Fetch a bottle of your favorite champagne and friends, and head to this BYOB for a sans-frills delectable meal with so much Seoul.

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