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Prasino ups the ante on local scene with fine fare, savvy operation

Prasino’s togarashi grilled escolar comes with sauteed greens ponzu butter sauce complement fish. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Prasino’s togarashi grilled escolar comes with sauteed greens and a ponzu butter sauce to complement the fish. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Prasino ★★1/2

1846 W. Division;
(312) 878-1212;

Hours: Open from 7 a.m. to midnight daily (to 1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday).

Dinner prices: Small plates and sandwiches, $5-$16; entrees, $14-$28; desserts, $7.

Try: Omelets, pancakes, lobster-stuffed avocado, grilled escolar, lamb sandwich, peanut butter gooey cake.

In a bite: “Sustainable Dining in Style” is the mantra at this new Wicker Park restaurant. An inviting vestibule leads into one dining area fitted out with booths and hi-top tables. To the left is another, much larger dining space. Wood and more wood (even the ceiling) dominates the mostly modern decor. Casual overall but with a classy forward approach. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Prasino is drawing patrons of all ages (family-friendly atmosphere to the max). Service was nicely paced, fun and efficient. Reservations recommended.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good; ★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:58AM

One restaurant at a time, Prasino is becoming a player in the high-stakes restaurant game.

Locally owned by the Maglaris family, Prasino started with locations in La Grange and St. Charles. And now with its newest location on West Division Street in Wicker Park, it has thrown itself into the mouth of the feast. Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square have more restaurants and cafes per square block than just about any other Chicago neighborhood. Reason for that? Available space, lower rents, high-income demographic.

Prasino is the Greek word for “green,” and in this instance the translation has an even deeper meaning. The Prasino mission statement is “Eat Well. Eat Green. Live Well.” And further: “Sustainable Dining in Style.” Deliciously, Prasino puts its food where its words are, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. And with a color-coordinated menu for each day-part, this is one savvy operation.

Each dish on the menu gets tagged with a symbol that connects to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. Not a beat has been missed, even to the point of “loco rolls” (sushi; seven creations). Local growers are used as much as feasibly possible. And there are comments about “energy and water conservation, recycling, and eco-friendly cleaning products.”

I managed to try some dishes from each of the day’s menus. Prasino is not exactly an inexpensive place to eat, but you do eat well. For breakfast, the “City Farm” omelet was a masterful piece of work and mighty good eating, too. The eggs, cooked firm, were folded, envelope-like, around a tasty arrangement of spinach, goat cheese and chunks of apple sausage. I couldn’t resist ordering a side of redskin potatoes, and those were every bit as good (chunky and a bit firm) as the omelet itself.

And we tried a stack of buttermilk pancakes with fresh berries. The pancakes were feathery light and had a deep malt flavor. A side of applewood smoked bacon was just fine.

The lunch menu leans heavily into salads, sandwiches and burgers. The lamb sandwich sounded a bit different. Lamb, avocado, tomato, feta and chipotle mayo got tucked into puffy halves of an herbed ciabatta. All that worked well, except for the main ingredient — the lamb, which, though flavorful, was rather tough. I would order it again just to enjoy the flavors of the other ingredients. (Lose the lamb and it could be vegetarian.)

Exactly at 8 one night, the lights were dimmed and the candles on each table gave the rather large restaurant an entirely different atmosphere. And there we were with a starter of “lobster stuffed avocado,” a description that serves the idea well. There was not a wealth of lobster (and not just claw meat), but along with a zingy mango salsa the overall flavor was amped nicely. But it was the tangy, slightly creamy “chili beurre fondue” draped over this “small plate” that moved it to a level of indulgent fine dining that some fine-dining restaurants might want to copy.

Kicking it up a notch, and into one of the seafood dishes, it was the “togarashi grilled escolar.” This dish is priced at $24, but the portion was large enough for two to share, although I put a pretty good dent in it on my own. Several fillets of perfectly grilled escolar were arranged on top of silky sauteed kale. Also entering into the taste picture were toasted sesame seeds and a ponzu butter sauce. Kudos to the kitchen.

It all adds up to culinary creations that are quite enjoyable and well thought out. Like the “chocolate and peanut butter gooey butter cake” for dessert. The base of gooey chocolate and peanut butter cake served as a platform for candied peanuts and peanut butter gelato, the whole of which got a veneer of chocolate-hazelnut sauce. You can split it, but you might not want to after the first bite.

Pat Bruno is a local free-lance critic and author.

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