New St. Charles spot worth the drive out west

February 25, 2008 1:59:26 PM PST
The western suburbs are getting some notable new restaurants, including one that's grabbing the attention of food lovers throughout the region. Our food reporter says it's both new and noteworthy, and most surprising of all, it's in a St. Charles strip mall. It's his Friday Night Special.

Food lovers out west have to be excited. Between the French bistro fare at Maijean in Clarendon Hills, to the upscale Mediterranean food at Isabella's in Geneva, not to mention the 18 options in and around Yorktown Mall in Lombard, the dining options have multiplied substantially. Throw in the most recent addition, way out west in St. Charles, and you've got a hidden gem that's really worth the drive.

Pete Balodimas has worked in some major kitchens, including Spiaggia, downtown. But for his first solo effort, he decided to do something in the Western suburbs; turning up the heat from a creative standpoint at Fahrenheit, one of several options in a brand new St. Charles strip mall.

"I didn't want to be known as that kid that worked at Spiaggia's, I really wanted to build my own identity, my own cuisine, my own restaurant," said Pete Balodimas, Fahrenheit.

That he has. Starters are both creative and adventurous. Giant lobes of fresh buffalo mozzarella share a plate with a "jardiniere" of sorts, including olives, cauliflower and carrots; check out the "deconstructed guacamole," an impressionist's palette of avocado, onions, tomatoes and peppers, paired with two giant bricks of organic Berkshire pork shoulder. Another good starter: poached half lobster resting in a deep bowl, surrounded by a coconut broth infused with ginger and lime; like many of his dishes, it's topped with some sort of foam.

"I like to take strong, intense flavors like horseradish or mustard or blue cheese, something that can overpower a dish and try to lighten it up as much as possible to complement the protein, not overpower it, so that's why you'll see a lot of foams here; I know we get knocked for it a lot but it does serve its purpose," said Balodimas.

You'll see it atop beautifully roasted chicken, in a sort of deconstructed "pot pie" -- notice the side of creamed onions. Striped bass arrives with pickled rock shrimp and olive jam, while the braised shortribs nestled into cheddar grits are highly addictive.

Desserts are similarly enticing: an "apple pie" of sorts features an apple-rosemary sorbet above crumbled oatmeal cookies, paired with apple cider and cheddar beignets; the PB and J has yeast donuts with homemade jelly, a malted milk shake and insanely good peanut butter pudding flecked with sea salt. Cheese fans will appreciate the wide selection of domestic gems, each arriving with its own appropriate garnish.

Balodimas says he wants to transport diners as soon as they step in the door.

"And I really didn't want you to feel like you're in a strip mall once you walk in the restaurant, I wanted you to feel like you're in the heart of the city, off Michigan Avenue, so hopefully once you walk into the restaurant you'll totally forget where you're at," said Balodimas.

Other noteworthy newcomers out west include the seafood-focused "Reel Club" at Oakbrook Mall, the revamped Niche in Geneva, and in Oak Park, upscale Mexican fare at Maya del Sol.

1890 W. Main St., St. Charles

Also mentioned:

14 S. Third St., Geneva

The Reel Club
272 Oak Brook Center, Oak Brook

Maya Del Sol
144 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park

330 W. State St., Geneva

30 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills