Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Looking into the dining room at Cafe 36, 22 Calendar Ave., in downtown La Grange did not provide very good views in recent months, as the economy turned on its ear and owner Terry Gilmer struggled to keep the American bistro afloat following its apparently ill-fated appearance on "Kitchen Nightmares" -- internationally known chef Gordon Ramsay's cable television program targeting restaurants in need of drastic change.

Although the production kept a handful of regulars streaming through the doors from time to time, most typically busy nights saw more traffic across the street at Aurelio's, a tasty pizza restaurant and bar that has generated more business of late than, say, Blueberry Hill pancake house on weekend mornings.

It seems Cafe 36 -- which closed its doors after its licenses were suspiciously not renewed at Village Hall a few weeks ago -- never regained the reputation it held from upscale foodies once attracted to former owner Reinhard Barthel's more gamey and exotic cuisine.

But nearby La Pinta (25 Calendar) is also closed and under reconstruction, in a move to change its colors again -- to the Mambo Room Bar & Grill and NOT the popular River North eatery Mambo Grill & Lounge as has been rumored.

Not that would be delectable, to say the least, but with its world renowned selection of rums and tequilas and festive Latino-flavored fare -- and the fact it's been Zagat-rated (just as Cafe 36 once was on a routine basis) from years 2002 through 2006.

But nothing could be further from the truth and, it seems, the rumor mill is just that -- and that comes right from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

In a May 20 interview, Chicago's Mambo owner Susan Frasca said it's not her restaurant that's coming to La Grange.

Frasca, who has owned Mambo Grill for the past 11 years and is in the process of relocating it from 412 N. Clark St., where the lease ran out after it outgrew its digs, to 410 N. Wells, called it
"very complimentary," however, that people might think it's her place.

Rather, the Mambo ROOM is opening in place of La Pinta -- as soon as the end of May -- and will be offering some of the same fare as the original tapas restaurant that opened there a couple years ago -- once dubbed "a fusion of continents and colors," a blend of Spanish and Latin American cuisine traced to a region of the world that once existed on a diet of corn, tropical fruit and seafood.

We can't wait to see how things have changed.

No word specifically why Cafe 36 closed, but finding a replacement may be difficult as the space is owned and not rented by its owners. Attempts to reach the place fell on deaf ears; the contact number was disconnected.

One good thing is that the authentic Thai cuisine restaurant Thipi Thai remains strong and is not leaving -- and we like that. (Thipi Thai is owned by the same family as the Mambo Room)

Meanwhile, business appears to be booming at Francesca's, which just opened in the former Via Bella space next to the La Grange Pointe senior living development -- which, by the way, has still yet to attract any shops to its long-vacant new retail space.

Marconi's Ristorante on Calendar also is finding popularity with its price fixe menu: offering patrons any appetizer, entree and dessert of their choice for just 25 bucks apiece.

However, people also seem to be enjoying the new Applewood Smokehouse on Burlington as well, as well as one of our favorites (the longest existing Italian restaurant near downtown), Antonino's on West Hillgrove Avenue near the Stone Avenue station.

For those unfamiliar with the terrain in La Grange, here's a quick primer: for Italian, there's also Lucca on Burlington; for Mexican, there's Santiago's on La Grange; for British, there's Chequers on Burlington and for Asian, there's Sushi House on Calendar.

Coffee? We recommend Caribou, but there's also Starbucks and Seattle's Best (inside Borders) on La Grange, as well as a cheaper cup at Cafe Calbay on Burlington. Although Kilwin's has left the scene, there's still Cold Stone next to the revamped La Grange Theatre and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (between Thipi Thai and another outdoor summer favorite, Palmer Place Restaurant & Bier Garten) also on La Grange.

Stay tuned for more.


TMI said...

Just ate at Mambo. It was horrible. Patas bravas had zero taste. Guacamole was "meh". The bacon wrapped shrimp was flavorless. The wine selection as abismal. Sad. I had high hopes.

beth said...

The way the owner talked to the server Brian serves him right for losing his shitty business