Hot New Restaurants - January 2010

Big Star
Hotness rating: Scorching

Paul Kahan's new taco and whiskey joint is so hot it was at capacity by 8 p.m. on a cold Saturday night in mid-January. If you can get in, expect a small menu of cheap and tasty tacos and tostadas (mmm, pork belly), country tunes and hoards of people trying to find out what all the fuss is about. Saddle up to the large wooden bar in the middle of the sparsely decorated room for whiskeys and tequilas--straight up or in cocktail form--and reasonably priced beers. Don't want to fight your way through the crowd? Get your tacos to go from the takeout window, or wait until spring when the beer garden opens and more than doubles Big Star's capacity.

Hotness rating: Burning a hole in your pocket


That's the attitude you'll need to have about money if you're headed to Epic, where dinner entrees average around $30 (a 40-oz. porterhouse for two will run you $73). Executive chef Stephen Wambach serves up contemporary American dishes like spiced lamb shank, Berkshire pork chops and Chilean sea bass in this massive 14,000-square-foot space, which includes the second-floor dining room and first-floor lounge with its own menu. The wine list is equally huge, with 230 bottles and 30 wines available by the glass. A signature Hum Liqueur and Hennessy Black concoction called The Epic anchors the cocktail menu. Look for lunch and brunch to be added soon and a 3,000-square-foot rooftop bar come spring.

The Purple Pig
Hotness rating: Roasting on a spit

What do you get when you cross Mia Francesca's Scott Harris with Jimmy Bannos (senior and junior) of Heaven on Seven? Evidently, the answer is an eclectic array of Mediterranean small plates that they summarize as "cheese, swine and wine." Diners can get to know Babe and his relatives intimately by nibbling on their ears, necks, tails, livers, shoulders and other, more traditional body parts. A variety of cured meats, cheese plates and antipasti like clams, poached tuna and almonds fried in--what else?--pork fat are also on this intriguingly unique menu. So where does the Louisiana influence come in? One section of the menu is dedicated entirely to fried items.

Ceres' Table
Hotness rating: Sizzling


If the chef's name is Giuseppe, and it's the same Giuseppe that used to be at Boka and Landmark, chances are you're in for a pretty tasty meal. Opening a restaurant at a much less hip address than his former ventures, Chef Giuseppe Scurato has brought a contemporary American menu with Italian flair to this otherwise dingy strip of Clark Street. The dark wood tables and sky blue walls make for a modern atmosphere, with food to match. The mussels appetizer with merguez sausage is divine, the gnocchi with Gunthorp rabbit confit and arugula pesto is deliciously fresh, and the lamb shank with horseradish mashed potatoes (pictured) falls delicately off the bone, just the way it should. I think it's safe to say that Giuseppe can definitely cook, no matter the address.

Nohea Cafe
Hotness rating: Warm and fuzzy



This adorable European-style cafe is a welcome addition to the heart of Roscoe Village, offering incredibly fresh sandwiches, mouth-watering pastries and various grocery items, including Boar's Head deli meat by the pound. Open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week, Nohea is the kind of place you can come with your laptop (hooray for free WiFi) or a good book and settle in for a few hours. And with a kid's menu and game table, you don't have to leave the little ones at home. The owners, a mother/daughter team that includes Shirley Garcia of The Goddess and Grocer, are also open to suggestions from their customers ... an espresso machine and expanded grocery section are on the way thanks to patrons' requests.