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A Critic Says Cocktails Are the Star at Bayless’ New Bar

Bar Sótano

Plus Avli Taverna shows promise

Bar Sótano is “worth the trip for inventive, mezcal-focused cocktails” but some of the food falls flat, writes Maggie Hennessy. The new basement bar from Rick Bayless and his daughter Lanie mixes drinks that “range from bright and fruity to spicy, savory and obscure.” The namesake El Sotano is a “thirst-quenching elixir” made with lime, chartreuse, and a proprietary mezcal blend, while the “Pasilla, Orange” is a “toasty triumph of an Old Fashioned” that warms the body with dried chiles. There are several “intriguing, boundary-pushing nibbles,” such as nutty fried crickets and pork taquitos ahogados that balance “tart-rich umami with the clean heat of arbol chiles.” Others, though, are less successful and include “oversalted” charred broccoli and a $38 Mexican paella that “noticeably skimp[s] on protein.” To finish, yeasty fritters served with a “complex” Mexican chocolate fudge provide a satisfying “savory tang.” [Time Out]

New Greek opening Avli Taverna is a “nice neighborhood spot with potential to be more” according to Phil Vettel. It’s the second restaurant from the owners of Avli in Winnetka and the menu is a “bit bolder, with a broader, regional reach.” Saganaki features vlahotiri cheese topped with peppered figs and honey to produce a “sweet-and-salty dish that might make you forswear the lemony-boozy style forever.” Prawns, wrapped in shredded phyllo and crisped in the oven, are “cute to look at and satisfying to eat” and papoutsakia — grilled eggplant topped with tomatoes, onions, and peppers — is “simple but very good.” Some miscues include “unevenly grilled” lamb chops and a whole sea bass that’s slightly overcooked and needs a “stronger herb presence.” Mistakes aside, Avli Taverna is “off to a promising start.” [Tribune]

Mark Steuer “lightens and balances and adds a small dose of southern flair to reinvent German cuisine” at Funkenhausen. The West Town restaurant impresses Michael Nagrant with more than just hearty, meaty fare. “Steuer’s facility with plants is tops” — charred broccolini’s bitterness is “offset by the sweet juice of plump gold raisins,” while a dish of sunchoke, smoked trout, trout roe, mushroom jam, sunflower seeds, and grapes is “bright, sweet, bitter and well-balanced.”

Ricotta dumplings reward eaters with “silky bits” of Riesling-braised rabbit, carrots, and cippolini onions, and “Oysters Hockafeller” is a riff on the bivalve classic that features braised ham hock and “palate-pleasing” pickled chilis. The schnitzel, “a gigantic fried frisbee of thinly-pounded pork” served with gribiche-sauce, doesn’t disappoint, either. Dessert caps things off with a “dry” Black Forest chocolate donut topped with brandied cherries but overall, “everyone who loathes German food for its leaden carb-heavy characteristics will love Steuer’s approach.” [Michael Nagrant]

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