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Monday, February 18

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There's nothing like half-priced bottles of wine to lure me into restaurants I wouldn't ordinarily visit. In fact, that's just what brought me to John's Place on a recent Thursday evening. I had stopped into this Lincoln Park spot a couple times for brunch, but it didn't occur to me to eat dinner there until I caught wind of its wine special offered each Tuesday and Thursday. After all, I'm a sucker for drink deals.

The wine list at John's is neither lengthy nor enormously varied; however, there are plenty of options (about seven each of red and white) priced from $22 to $40 that would satisfy any gastronomical dilettante looking for a drinkable wine. My dining companion and I settled on a $30 pinot noir (on special for $15, for those whose math skills are shaky) and we were content with our choice, which was light, fruity and went down easy.

But while the wine was certainly enjoyable, the informal atmosphere of John's provided a strange backdrop to what is ostensibly an upscale food and drink menu. The bench-style seating, bright lighting, diner-style open kitchen and swarm of kids (this place is definitely popular among the LP families) makes ordering a bottle of wine here akin to asking for a dirty martini in a dive bar or filet mignon in a greasy spoon. John's is certainly comfortable, but it conjures up Grandma's country kitchen more than a place where you want to drop a fair amount of cash.

Besides the wine, the items on the dinner menu were also strangely juxtaposed with the casual space, both in scope and price. That's not to say that the prices are exorbitant: You can order a marinated flank steak or roast half chicken for a reasonable $13. But with a kid coloring on the table just inches to your left, would you really want to?

In spite of the discrepancy between the atmosphere and cuisine, we set about ordering as several of the menu items looked tempting. We began the meal with cornmeal-dusted calamari, a welcome deviation from the usual fried shellfish with cocktail sauce. The batter on the calamari was light and tasty with a gritty, crunchy texture that stood up well against the accompanying spicy tomato sauce.

For dinner, I chose the barbecue chicken tacos ($11.95), a generous portion of grilled chicken, green poblano peppers and onions tossed in a fiery barbecue sauce and served with warm tortillas. This dish, particularly the barbecue sauce, was full-flavored and very tasty. And the accompanying rice, beans and fresh side salad made this a well-rounded meal.

My dining companion opted for one of the night's specials: mango glazed pork loin with Dijon mustard served with mashed potatoes and green beans ($13.95). This dish was decent, but not exactly well-conceived; the meat was tender, but the mango had a marmalade consistency (we expected something more fresh) and the Dijon flavor was unnecessary and out of place in this dish. This meal was certainly memorable, but not in a particularly good way.

For dessert, we split an enormous dish of apple crisp that was light on the apples and crisp and heavy on the caramel gooiness. The dessert was more soupy than what I'm used to and had an overpowering cinnamony flavor that tasted like we had consumed an entire pack of Big Red. While it may be unfair to form an opinion about an entire dessert menu based only on one item, the proximity of Sweet Mandy B's (one of my favorite dessert places in Chicago) makes me hesitant to even think about ordering off this menu when I can get something better a couple doors down.

Overall, I like John's Place; but I think the atmosphere and menu is better suited to brunch or lunch than a three-course dinner. I'd certainly recommend their excellent sandwich and salads and yummy brunch items (tasty omelets and pumpkin pancakes), but I think that will be my first and only time eating dinner at John's.

Then again, who knows what I would do for a cheap bottle of wine.

John's Place is located at 1200 W. Webster. Half-priced bottles of wine are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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