Perhaps Tom Colicchio would have understood Radhika “Rad” Desai’s food better had he eaten it while reclining in a plush, private banquette set off with a curtain of thin red ropes. Desai’s creative mash-ups at Between (introducing bao to burger, avocado to chocolate) resulted in unexpected flavors suited for a restaurant very earnestly—if somewhat goofily—concerned with sensuality. Alas, Colicchio sent her packing from the Top Chef kitchen, and she subsequently departed from Chicago as well.
In her wake she left disarmingly attractive and pleasantly attentive servers; strong capirinhas; and her former sous chef, Noah Sandoval, who has taken over her role and created a new menu that buffers, but doesn’t fight with, this restaurant’s unusual aesthetic. Carrot soup has the balanced heat and sweetness of a complex Thai curry—better yet, tiny mugs and saucers make it easily shareable. Bits of cocao hide in a mild blue-cheese sauce coating duck breast; and whole sections of lemon top an artful nest of fresh greens, jolting the salad with acidity.
Despite fairly damaging errors of execution—scallops toughened from overcooking, greasy breading on a skate wing—Sandoval’s intentions here seem promising: He takes fish that tend to be prepared delicately and makes them taste homey (by plating the scallops over a Southern-inflected corn “pudding,” for instance). It’s the kind of food you actually want to eat (but wouldn’t expect to get to) in Between’s dark, secluded confines.