NRA Show 2008 Preview: New independent operations flourish in Chicago market

NRA Show 2008 Preview: New independent operations flourish in Chicago market

CHICAGO —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

The number of high-profile new independent restaurants to open in or near downtown since the National Restaurant Association [3] Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show took place here last May is far higher than it has been in recent years. Local operators as well as a few big names from out of town have opened new ventures, well aware of Chicago’s growing reputation as an outstanding restaurant city. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“Chicago is right up there as one of the best restaurant cities in the country,” says Richard Melman, the chairman of Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises [4] well known as a prolific creator of restaurant concepts. “It’s not a New York, but it’s probably in the top three in the country now.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Melman praised some of the city’s highest-end restaurants, naming Alinea [5], Charlie Trotter’s and his own Tru, as being “really special.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“We think Chicago is the culinary center of the country,” says Jennifer Hefferly, spokeswoman for the Illinois Restaurant Association. Hefferly points out that the restaurant industry is the state’s No. 1 employer and that Chicago is by far the state’s largest market. In addition, she notes, there is no labor shortage, and the NRA predicts that statewide the industry will grow 10.9 percent in the next 10 years. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Those factors, along with Chicago’s growing reputation for its restaurant scene, are luring out-of-town businesspeople to join local operators in the race to open new restaurants. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, for example, has opened Trump International Hotel & Tower on the Chicago River, complete with a flagship restaurant on the 16th floor called Sixteen. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

With dinner checks running between $115 and $120, Sixteen is not intended to provide an everyday dining occasion. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“Our target market is the cool, trendsetting people of the city, plus hotel guests,” says Philipp Posch, director of food and beverage for the hotel. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Boasting one of the city’s best views, 125-seat Sixteen, with its upscale Tower Room, has a 30-foot-high ceiling accented with a giant Swarovski crystal chandelier. Other expensive touches provide a luxurious backdrop for the modern American cuisine of chef Frank Brunacci, who has presided over other top-end restaurants, including Victor’s at The Ritz Carlton New Orleans and L’Auberge [6] de Sedona in Sedona, Ariz. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

In addition to à la carte ordering, there are six-course and 10-course tasting options. Designed to become a power-lunch destination, Sixteen serves that meal for $30 to $35. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Out-of-town restaurant groups also own several other new fine-dining restaurants making a splash in Chi [7]-town. They include C-House, Brasserie Ruhlmann and Mercat a la Planxa. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

C-House, scheduled to open in mid-May, is the first Chicago venture for New York celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and his partner Hakan Swahn of Aquavit [8], Riingo [9] and Merkato 55, all in Manhattan. Samuelsson says he chose Chicago for this venture after finding it to be “a very vibrant food city” while working here for special events. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

About 70 percent of the restaurant’s menu will be seafood-focused, Saumelsson explains. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“It will be local and seasonal,” he said. “We are trying to work with the local farmers for meats and produce.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Many dishes will come in both large and small portions. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“That fits today’s consumer,” says Samuelsson. “This is the most American of all the restaurants we have.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

In addition to standard fish house favorites, such as oysters, stone crab and lobster, C-House will offer less common sea creatures, including abalone, sea urchin and sweet shrimp. Carnivores will find dry-aged rib eye, lamb chops and roasted chicken. Dinner checks should average about $60. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Mercat a la Planxa is a Spanish-influenced tapas restaurant in the newly renovated historic Blackstone Renaissance Hotel in the South [10] Loop. Sage Restaurant Group of Denver owns and operates the dramatically designed restaurant. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Peter Karpinski, managing partner, says he decided to open his dream restaurant, based on his travels to Barcelona [11] and Spain’s Catalan region, in Chicago because he saw room for it in the marketplace. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“This was a great opportunity for a great addition to Chicago and the South Loop,” he says. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Spearheaded by executive chef Jose Garces, who has Chicago roots but currently works primarily at Tinto and Amada in Philadelphia, the extensive menu carries a full array of small plates, meats and fish from the grill, or “a la planxa.” For four or more guests who order 48 hours in advance, whole-roasted suckling pig with all the trimmings can be had. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

While initial dinner checks are averaging about $60, diners on a budget can easily run up much smaller tabs. For those looking to splurge, the chef will prepare a degustation menu for $55 and will add a wine pairing for $20. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Brasserie Ruhlmann is a stylish French steakhouse set in an Art Deco interior in the former Montgomery Ward headquarters, which has been reincarnated as a contemporary condominium development. Although the brasserie’s primary owners are three New Yorkers, the brasserie has a Chicago partner, restaurateur Miae Lim. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

The New Yorkers are no strangers to Chicago. Rick Wahlstedt and his partners also own Le Colonial and Japonais [12] in the Windy City, as well as the first Brasserie Ruhlmann in New York’s Rockefeller Center. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“Chicago has been great to me,” Wahlstedt says. “Our restaurants are very successful and have a loyal following.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Chef Christian Delouvrier, who has worked with Alain Ducasse and at Lespinasse in New York, presents a classic brasserie menu of salade Niçoise, poached skate wing, braised rabbit with mustard sauce and other French stalwarts. Wahlstedt estimates that checks are averaging $55 for dinner and $23 for lunch. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Bob Djahanguiri, a prominent Chicago transplant, left the restaurant scene for several years but returned to open Old Town Brasserie with acclaimed local chef Roland Liccioni, who brings his light touch, Vietnamese accents and solid French training to the restaurant. Djahanguiri ran several Gold Coast restaurants with live music, including Yvette, Toulouse and Turbot, in the 1980s and 1990s. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Calling the brasserie a combination of those three restaurants, world traveler Djahanguiri says he missed Chicago and the restaurant business. He modeled his new place after some of his favorite Parisian brasseries, but without the ubiquitous onion soup and steak frites. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Diners can expect to see Liccioni’s signature terrines and dessert soufflés, reminiscent of his work at Le Français and Les Nomades. At Old Town Brasserie, dinner check averages of $65 are much lower than they were at the aforementioned fine-dining legends. Djahanguiri describes his brasserie as “a neighborhood restaurant for wealthy people.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

L.20, from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, is one of the most-anticipated openings of the year. Located in the Lincoln Park spot formerly occupied by Ambria [13], which long ranked near the top of Chicago’s restaurants for the 20 years that LEYE operated it, L.20 will emphasize seafood. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Hoping to establish a high-end seafood restaurant that would rank in the top tier of the city’s fine restaurants, LEYE hired chef Laurent Gras, formerly of Fifth Floor in San Francisco, to head the kitchen. LEYE chairman Melman expects L.20 to be open just before the restaurant show and has been taking reservations for months. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“It’s a wonderful seafood restaurant, and what I love—simple food, done extremely well,” Melman says. “I didn’t think there was anything like this here. It’s totally different from Shaw’s Crab House.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Melman estimates the check average will be $150. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Another newcomer in the fine-dining category is Powerhouse, located just west of downtown in a Chicago landmark building that supplied electricity for the railroad after World War II. Veteran restaurateurs Jimmy Alexander and Mitchell Schmieding have created a steak-and-seafood house with broad appeal. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“There are 39,000 homes within 10 blocks with $150,000 in income and multiple businesses nearby,” said Schmieding, who formerly managed Charlie Trotter’s dining room. He says Powerhouse checks average about $74 at dinner and $25 at lunch. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“Our philosophy is that this be timeless and classic American cuisine,” Schmieding says. “Restaurants make mistakes [by doing things] that get outdated. We wanted to be able to keep up with changes in the culture and trends.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Chef John Peters displays the skills he honed under local überchefs Grant Achatz of Alinea and Carrie Nahabedian of Naha. His seasonal affinity is evident in dishes such as this spring’s walleyed pike with English pea custard, morel mushrooms, white corn and roasted red-pepper nage and last winter’s roast pheasant with sage stuffing and cranberry gastrique. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Also in the fine-dining mode is Lockwood in the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, one of the city’s grand historic hotels. The restaurant, along with Potter’s, a lounge with light dishes specializing in the classic cocktails popularized in the 1930s and 1940s, are part of the hotel’s $170 million renovation. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Kirk Alston, food and beverage director, describes Lockwood and Potter’s as “a complete rethinking of the food and beverage department.” He credits executive chef Phillip Foss with putting a modern American twist on European classics. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“These are not typical hotel restaurants,” Alston says, noting that they are aimed at locals even more than at hotel guests. Lockwood’s average dinner check is about $65. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Several other new restaurants stray even further from the classic mode with their ultramodern cuisine. Otom, which is Moto [14] spelled backwards, shares ownership with the latter molecular-gastronomy emporium just down the street. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Daryl Nash, former Moto sous chef, presides over a tamed-down menu that bears hints of Moto’s chemistry lab creations but is more down to earth and charges less than half the prices of its sibling, resulting in an average check of $60. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“This is more loungelike, has more energy and is more upbeat,” says Joseph DeVito, a financial partner in both restaurants. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Adds chef Nash, “We do newer cooking styles, but there is no laser and no big liquid nitrogen tank in the alley.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Everything on Nash’s plates is not what it appears to be, however. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

For instance, the egg-shaped object in the Lyonnaise breakfast salad is more bacon than egg, and the “pork-beans” with the barbecued pork belly are not beans at all. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

The long, narrow contemporary dining room has 60 seats, plus 20 at a communal table and 20 in the lounge. Otom’s West Fulton Market Street location continues to function as a shipping and receiving site for meat and fish by day but is becoming an art gallery and restaurant destination. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Sepia, another newcomer located just a few blocks to the east, reflects both the late-1800s print shop it inhabits and today’s hip trends. Owner Emmanuel Nony and chef Kendal Duque, who worked together at NoMi in Chicago’s Park Hyatt Hotel, strive to apply the artisan approach of the building’s early occupants to the food, much of which is supplied by regional specialty growers. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“I wanted to have a fine-dining perspective but [be] approachable with a focus on ingredients,” Nony says. “We set out to do a very stylish restaurant in an understated way—it’s not stuffy, there are no tablecloths. It’s slightly off the beaten track.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Average dinner checks are $70 and lunch checks are $30. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“The crowd is very mixed,” Nony says. “It’s nice to see different generations enjoying themselves.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

The younger crowd also orders the pre-Prohibition-era classic cocktails that Sepia promotes. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Cocktails also are emphasized at La Pomme Rouge, a lounge and restaurant outfitted in Victorian, Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau furnishings in the River North entertainment district. The kitchen is open until midnight, serving appetizers and a few entrées, largely bearing Cajun flavors reflecting chef Brian Jupiter’s New Orleans background. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“People are starting to see what a restaurant-lounge hybrid is,” says partner Jackson Miranda. “The mood changes as it gets later.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Several booths have curtains that can be pulled closed for privacy. Dinner checks average $40. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

A different kind of intimacy prevails at Takashi, because of space limitations in the 55-seat, two-level restaurant in the Bucktown neighborhood owned by chef Takashi Yagihashi. Yagi-hashi was formerly chef de cuisine at Ambria before leaving for two large, showy restaurants, Tribute in suburban Detroit and later Okada in the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“I wanted to have a more personal relationship with customers and a more cordial atmosphere,” he says. “Here, you can shake hands with customers more often.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Yagihashi also wanted to introduce sophisticated Chicagoans to the Japanese food of his culture. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“I wanted to cook more comfort food,” he says, noting that such fare is a departure from the flashier fusion plates he became known for at his previous restaurants. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

His menu features an array of cold and hot small plates, along with a limited selection of large plates. It is primarily, but not entirely, seafood-focused, and average checks are about $60. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Servers are trained to explain the nuances of the abundant saké choices that complement the wine, beer and liquor lists. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Prosecco, or Italian sparkling wine, is the signature alcoholic beverage at Prosecco, both alone or as a pairing with dishes from all 20 regions of Italy. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“We wanted to focus on Italian sparkling wine, which can stand up well alongside French Champagne,” says Kathryn Sullivan Alvera, managing partner. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

She and her partners, including executive chef Mark Sparacino, are confident they can make Prosecco a success, in spite of the Wells Street building’s record of having housed four restaurants in five years. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“I don’t think the space is jinxed,” Alvera says. “If you open a nice restaurant and do things right, it will work.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Touches like making pasta from scratch, giving customers free samples of one of the 50 proseccos available and creating an art-filled dining room reminiscent of the gilded beauty of Venice are intended to work in Prosecco’s favor. Seasonal menu specials and a summer sidewalk café are other enticements. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Italian food, long popular in Chicago, also crops up in several other new restaurants around downtown. A Mano, located beneath sister restaurant Bin 36 [15], is one of them, offering a varied menu with daily blue-plate specials. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“It’s an Italian trattoria with the energy and decor fitting for a big, downtown restaurant,” says Dan Sachs, managing partner. “All pastas are handmade, and the wood-oven pizzas are seasonal. We are trying to use local ingredients, just like in Italy.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Checks in the 180-seat restaurant average $38 for dinner and $13 for lunch. Sachs says A Mano has a synergy with his Bin 36 flagship, which he claims is widely known for its inventive wine list and food pairings. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Another wood-oven pizza-focused Italian restaurant and wine bar is La Madia, headed by Jonathan Fox, formerly of LEYE and Maggiano’s Little Italy [16]. Although pizzas with ever-changing seasonal toppings are emphasized, La Madia also offers antipasti, salads, pastas, risotto, mini paninis and desserts. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“We have elevated the experience of what a pizzeria really is by our wine program,” Fox says. “We offer 62 wines by the glass.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Alcoholic beverage sales account for 40 percent of total sales, and wine accounts for 37 percent of that amount, he notes. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Checks average $14 for lunch and $29 for dinner, Fox says. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Frankie’s Scaloppine is a remake of LEYE’s former Tucci Benucch, which operated for 20 years on the fifth floor of the Bloomingdale’s mall on North Michigan Avenue. A complete redesign of the menu and interior has resulted in a new restaurant. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“It was time for a change,” says C. Francis Favero, corporate chef. Although mall shoppers eat there, Frankie’s is largely supported by the surrounding Gold Coast neighborhood, which includes 20,000 residents within five square blocks, he says. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“The neighborhood needed a casual Italian place,” says Favero, who recently started offering takeout and is testing delivery to nearby high-rise buildings. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

The pizzeria, which spills out into the mall corridor, has visibility and specializes in classic and Sardinian pizzas, seasonal antipasti and salads. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Checks are averaging $22 at dinner and about $17 at lunch, Favero says. Since the concept was changed, more customers are dining later in the evening than previously, he adds. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Tavern at the Park, across the street from the city’s showpiece Millenium Park, also is aimed at Chicagoans first and tourists second. Veteran restaurateurs James, Peter and Donny de Castro and Glenn and Richard Keefer, along with executive chef John Hogan, have created a tavern-style restaurant offering American comfort food on two levels. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

The partners envisioned the 286-seat restaurant as appealing to the mid-level market seeking a place between the area’s fine-dining and quick-service restaurants, says Peter de Castro. Dinners average $41 and lunch is $21. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

About 70 percent of customers come in on business occasions, De Castro says, and about 80 percent of diners are locals. He expects the number of tourists to increase over the summer. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Southern comfort food is the hook at the cozy Table Fifty-Two, run by Art Smith, a partner in the concept as well as a cookbook author and former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey. The 36-seat dining room has become a Gold Coast neighborhood favorite. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Some of the signature dishes are fried green tomato Napoleon, ancho chile-crusted Berkshire pork chops, a Sunday-only supper of Art’s buttermilk-fried chicken with mashed garlic-Yukon Gold potatoes, and Smith family 12-layer chocolate cake. Entrées are priced from $18 to $39. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Drawing on Chicago’s past as host to the 1893 World Columbia Exposition in Jackson Park is Jackson Park Bar and Grill. Scheduled to open just before the NRA Show, the large restaurant, with oversized arched windows, Beaux Arts moldings, columns, travertine floors and other bold design details, fits Chicago’s image as the City of Big Shoulders. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“We want to be a Chicago restaurant with a Chicago theme, offering value, big steaks and a 500-bottle wine list,” says Jason Paskewitz, a partner with Phillip Lotsoff in JJP Restaurants. “My food is very much like Chicago. It’s sophisticated and worldly while remaining grounded and approachable.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

In addition to four types of Prime [17] aged grilled steaks, Jackson Park will offer fish, such as a pan-roasted and smoked salmon duo with “hash brown” potatoes, wild baby leeks and mushroom broth, rotisserie-style free-range organic chicken, and a full seasonal menu. The partners expect dinner checks to be in the $50 range. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Rick Bayless, chef and co-owner of Frontera Grill [18] and Topolobampo in Chicago and host of the PBS series “Mexico—One Plate at a Time,” says he marvels at how high the bar for excellence has been raised in the city over the last 20 years. He adds that the large number of good new restaurants opening here means that existing restaurant operators must continue to be at the top of their game. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

“Everyone wonders what they can do to up the level of food and service,” he says.“The whole restaurant community has worked in tandem to keep pushing the level up.” —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Chicago’s newest downtown restaurants 2008

Diners are advised to call for reservations, especially during the NRA show. At press time, many of these restaurants were on the cusp of opening. —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

AMano 335 N. Dearborn St. (312) 629-3500 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Brasserie Ruhlmann 500 W. Superior St. (312) 494-1900 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

C-House 166 E. Superior St. (312) 523-0923 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Frankie’s Scaloppine 900 N. Michigan Ave. (312) 266-2500 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Jackson Park Bar and Grill 444 N. Wabash Ave. (312) 644-7200 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

L.20 2300 N. Lincoln Park West (773) 868-0002 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

La Madia 59 W. Grand Ave. (312) 329-0400 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

La Pomme Rouge 108 W. Kinzie St. (312) 245-9555 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Lockwood Palmer House Hilton 17 E. Monroe St. (312) 917-3404 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Mercat a la Planxa 638 S. Michigan Ave. (312) 765-0524 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Old Town Brasserie 1209 N. Wells St. (312) 943-3000 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Otom 951 W. Fulton Market St. (312) 491-5804 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Powerhouse 215 N. Clinton St. (312) 928-0800 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Prosecco 710 N. Wells St. (312) 951-9500 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Sepia 123 N. Jefferson St. (312) 441-1920 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Sixteen Trump International Hotel & Tower 401 N. Wabash Ave. (312) 588-8030 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Table Fifty-Two 52 W. Elm St. (312) 573-4000 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Takashi 1952 N. Damen Ave. (773) 772-6170 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.

Tavern at the Park 130 E. Randolph St. (312) 552-0070 —The slowed economy may be wreaking havoc on the restaurant business in many parts of the country, but not in the Windy City.