In Wrigleyville's sea of sports bars and hot dog stands, Raw Bar stands as one of only a few date spots, which suits owner Mehrdad Toni Motamen just fine. He opened the romantic restaurant in 1987 because he wanted somewhere to take a date. And, he says, he wanted to work in seafood.
Like many chefs, Motamen was drawn to seafood for its freshness, variety and healthy reputation, and his love of underwater delicacies shows on the menu. Some of the most popular items include the crispy fillet of salmon with potatoes and ravioli in a sweet roasted almond sauce, blackened Mahi Mahi and tempura tiger shrimp ($13-$14). Smaller plates showcase Raw Bar's adventurous side with items like tender alligator smothered in a rich wild mushroom sauce teaming with tarragon and blackened ostrich steak served with caramelized onions, baby carrots and spinach in a burgundy sauce. Other tapas choices include clams, octopus, squid and frog legs.
Alongside the seafood you'll find some Persian offerings, as Motamen wanted to pay homage to his lineage. Try the homemade hummus and blackened shrimp or the lamb shank with tomato sauce and rice. A special menu rotates every week or so, and includes seasonal specialties like soft-shell blue crab doused in a savory sauce.
The atmosphere here changes between the bar area and main dining room. A red speakeasy-like hue casts over the bar, where friendly bartenders serve the best mango martinis around to a host of regulars. The dining room, dimly lit with white-clothed tables decked with fresh flowers and candles, gives off a celebratory Mardi Gras-like feel combined with the comfort of a really hip living room. At the front of the room, a stage hosts live jazz musicians who play relaxing, soft tunes that won't drown out your date's small talk.
Centerstage Reviewer: Christy Bonstell