Postcard From Tom: Chicago

Sunday, March 2, 2003

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

This most American of cities offers great architecture, great sports teams and a restaurant scene that gets more delicious every season. Here are the best of the latest crop of dining rooms in Chicago.

OHBA (2049 Division St., 773-772-2727)
"Our food is Japanese, American and a little bit French," a server says, introducing us to the global cooking at this small, sleek dining room in Wicker Park. Sure enough, we find ourselves dipping lobster tempura in brie fondue, exploring a sashimi sampler accented with eggplant salad and apple-jalapeno jelly, and fighting for the last bite of a beautiful seafood ragout partnered with sun-dried tomato noodles. Splurge on a "flight" of sake (four different tastes in jewel-toned flutes) and rediscover the allure of that clear, clean Japanese mood enhancer. Dinner entrees $19-$27.

PLATIYO (3313 N. Clark St., 773-477-6700)
The decor alone is a feast for the eyes: a welcoming fireplace, animal figures and brushstrokes of yellow, red and blue. What follows at this Wrigleyville address are Mexican dishes that sidestep cliches in favor of flavors that pulse with south-of-the-border authenticity. Pit stops should include seafood braised in a yellow mole, vegetable-stuffed chiles wrapped in coats of steamed masa, and the inches-thick, wood-grilled pork chop. Dinner entrees $11.95-$19.95.

SPRING (2039 W. North Ave., 773-395-7100)
Much like its name, the interior is cool and fresh, with a Zen garden up front and angled banquettes in a light-filled dining room beyond. Fish is a strong suit, be it fluke with a sweet garlic sauce or baramundi with a delicate celery cream, and Asian accents pop up throughout the menu. Dip into the seasonal ice creams for dessert and end dinner with one of the best tea services not just in Chicago, but the country. Dinner entrees $21-$28.

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