The local restaurant scene continues to heat up this winter with several high-profile openings in just the past few weeks.Despite a half-dozen prominent closings at the end of last year, 2008 is shaping up to be a big year for local restaurants. This month's pair of new and noteworthies is linked by the train. One sits beneath the Green Line and cranks out southern Italian pizzas. The other is housed in a former Metra line coal power plant and recreates standard American fare in some fancier surroundings. The ovens get star-billing at the new Macello, located beneath the Green Line in the meatpacking district just west of the Loop. There two wood-burning ovens here,.one for fish and meat; the other for blistered thin pizzas. It's unique because everything here is inspired by the Puglia region of Italy. "The cheese, the olive oil, the tomato, the pasta - different pasta shape they make it," said Giovanni Denigris, Macello. Tiny ears of pasta, called orecchiette, support large beef braciola, rolled up with pancetta and garlic. Whole fish is roasted, then filleted and dressed with olive oil, paired with spaghetti and sauteed spinach or garlicky rapini. Pizzas are old-school, especially ones made with burrata, a delicate, creamier version of mozzarella that rests above a thin layer of tomato sauce; once cooked in the blazing oven, it's removed and topped with layers of prosciutto. It's clear the ovens here play a major role. "They cook a lot of meat out of oven, and the wood burn, and a lot of pizza goes also in the wood burn," said Denigris. About a mile east of Macello - in the building that used to power all of the trains coming and going from downtown - the aptly-named Powerhouse is cranking out upscale American food in a space that's both cozy and somewhat sophisticated. "It was built in 1907, and up until 40 years ago, it was abandoned, it used to produce electricity. I would say this is a modern version of a steakhouse, which is not just steaks, but we have game, we have seafood, many appetizers, salads," said James Alexander, Powerhouse. A slow-roasted chicken thigh hovers over toasted farro, winter root vegetables and thyme, while another starter - roasted pork belly - is supported by toasted barley and is bathed in a curry broth. Atlantic cod is fork tender, accompanied by celery root, chanterelle mushrooms and melted leeks. Few dishes speak the season better than seared venison loins resting above wild rice studded with dried fruits; the fresh chestnuts and huckleberry jus just add to the complexity, begging for a fruity red wine. Alexander says like all of the dishes on the menu, it's elegant without being stuffy. "Chicken looks like chicken, fish looks like fish, and that was the idea," he said. One other benefits at Powerhouse is that the bar area is completely separate, so you don't have to watch those flat-screen TVs while you dig into your $30 entrees. Powerhouse
215 N. Clinton St.
1235 W. Lake St.