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T+L Reports: Chicago's Second Wind

Restaurateurs and chefs as agents of urban renewal?In Chicago, they are playing a vital role in the city's New Urbanism by luring diners to neighborhoods on the verge. Check out some of the Second City's best new transformations.

Avec
615 W. RANDOLPH ST.; 312/377-2002; DINNER FOR TWO $60
THE SCENE Chef Paul Kahan of Blackbird has turned a dive diner into a wine bar in the West Loop's meatpacking district.
THE LOOK Snag a stool at the bar—the only other seating is at five communal tables, each with room for just eight people.
DON'T MISSCrushed-tomato and olive oil-braised octopus, sardines with Serrano ham, house-made fennel and orange salumi.

Saiko
1307 S. WABASH AVE.; 312/922-2222; DINNER FOR TWO $80
THE SCENE A Japanese steak and sushi house in a former United Artists film distribution center in the "loftopolis" of the South Loop.
THE LOOK Japanese street art on the walls includes a three-by-eight-foot vintage neon sign that translates into "pleasure hotel."
DON'T MISS Pan-fried halibut cheeks with a deep-fried halibut futomaki roll; tonkatsu, or deep-fried pork, with Japanese pears.

Rockit Bar & Grill
22 W. HUBBARD ST.; 312/645-6000; DINNER FOR TWO $55
THE SCENE Nightlife duo Billy Dec and Brad Young update a 1900's lamp factory in the River North neighborhood.
THE LOOK Look for a seamless blending of old and new: six-foot-tall "antler" lamps, plasma TV's encased in antique frames.
DON'T MISS Twists on pub grub: Kobe beef burgers with vinegar-soaked fries, cornmeal-crusted calamari with baba ghanoush dipping sauce.

Japonais
600 W. CHICAGO AVE.; 312/822-9600; DINNER FOR TWO $100
THE SCENE Franco-Japanese fusion from co-chefs Gene Kato and Jun Ichikawa in a former Montgomery Ward warehouse.
THE LOOK The flickering "wall of flames" in the dining room and the Chicago Tribune sign glowing across the river.
DON'T MISS Moo shu-style maple leaf-smoked duck; roast chestnut-crusted chicken with shiitake-rice stuffing and ginger-lemon sauce.
—Francine Maroukian

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