The River’s edge

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River North has seen an explosion of new openings in the past year, including chain invaders like Red Lobster and Chili's. Leave the corporate cuisine to the tourists and check out these new and classic spots.

Japonais
Chefs Jun Ichikawa (Mirai Sushi) and Gene Kato (Ohba) have created an Asian-inflected menu that offers much more than sushi. Specialties include seven-spice Kobe prime rib, and "Le Quack Japonais," a smoked duck with hoisin sauce and mushu wraps that's presented whole at your table, then carved in the kitchen.

Allen's - The New American Cafe
Chef/partner Allen Sternweiler reconcepted Harvest on Huron, changing the name and transforming the former formal dining room into more of a neighborhood cafe. The seasonally changing menu remains American with global influences, but more straightforward presentations have allowed the average entree price to drop a few dollars. Current options include sauteed sea scallops with butter-poached mushrooms and roast capon with goat cheese-stuffed artichokes.

Bijan's Bistro
Former late-night celebrity hang Bijan is back after a three-year gap during which its new digs were under construction. The new space has a similar vibe but features a slightly more upscale menu. Starters include garlic escargots and a shrimp "martini" with wasabi cocktail sauce. Entrees include grilled beef tenderloin and chipotle-barbecued salmon.

Bob Chinn's Crab House - Chicago
The menu changes daily, but house specialties include crabmeat vermicelli, Alaskan king crab legs and, of course, those infamous mai tais. Don't dig fish? Opt for USDA prime steaks or baby back ribs. On Mondays mai tais are $4 all day and selected sushi is $1 a piece from 3-10 p.m. in the bar.

Fogo de Chao
Oh sure, there's the massive salad bar to start the feast, but lets face it: The 15 cuts of meat cooked over an open flame and carved tableside by waiters dressed as gauchos are the real draw. The all-you-can eat meal is $43.50 ($24.50 at lunch) plus drinks, tax and tip, and includes unlimited trips to the salad bar, family-style sides and continuous tableside service until you surrender. Diners receive a "chip" that's red on one side, green on the other. Flip it to green, and gauchos swarm, offering leg of lamb, pork tenderloin, pork sausages, bacon-wrapped chicken and several cuts of beef, including filet mignon.

1492 Tapas Bar
Brothers Victor and John Borras have turned a staid graystone into a four-story tapas bar and lounge. The menu features hot and cold tapas and entrees including pollo relleno, chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, piquillo pepper and spinach; and tierra mar y fuego, a potato and plantain "pillow" topped with smoked salmon and mango brandy sauce. Live flamenco music is featured on Friday and Saturday nights.

Pili Pili
This contemporary Provencal-Mediterranean restaurant recently opened in the shadow of the Merchandise Mart. The kitchen uses both a wood rotisserie and a brick oven to prepare dishes like steamed mussels with pastis; and pistou, a vegetable, bean and pasta soup. Entrees feature tagine of spit roasted chicken with lemon confit, and bourride, a rustic seafood stew.

Red Line
This restaurant and lounge is expected to open mid-September in the former Liquid Kitty space on Chicago Avenue. Look for a multi-cultural menu featuring American cuisine with Eastern European and Baltic influences. Tapas-style portions and a late-light menu will be available.

Rumba
This upscale restaurant named after the folk dance features Nuevo Latino cuisine with influences from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Caribbean and South America. Entrees include churrasco Rumbero, a marinated beef tenderloin with sundried tomato chimichurri; and El Pescador, chorizo, shrimp, mussels, scallops and lobster flamed with brandy and served over Spanish rice. Custom-made banquettes provide great views of the stage area and dance floor, where salsa and merengue bands perform after dinner Wednesday through Saturday nights.

SushiSamba Rio
The Brazilian-Peruvian-Japanese fare at this spot is all but overshadowed by the "Sex and the City"-style crowd and wacky decor. Sushi, sashimi, ceviche and other raw bar items are prepared at the circular sushi bar, while hot dishes like the churrasco Rio Grande--a grilled hanger steak, rib-eye and pork tenderloin platter served in two sizes--come from the kitchen. Long waits are inevitable, even on weeknights. Try the one of the caipirinha or Sambatini selections to while away the time.

The Pepper Canister
The guys behind Garrett Ripley's have opened a modern Irish pub named for St. Stephen's Church, nicknamed the Pepper Canister, a social and cultural neighborhood haunt in Dublin's Temple Bar neighborhood. In keeping with the theme, the room features photos of churches, a "confessional room" and red votive candles. "Angelic Starters" include fried calamari and smoked Irish salmon. Among the "Ecclesiastic Entrees" are Irish favorites like fish and chips, and steak and Guinness pie.

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