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Monday, April 22

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There are some spots around town that offer a dining experience akin to eating a meal at a friend's house. With its quaint atmosphere and wonderfully attentive service, Rick's Café is one such place. Far from being the new kid on the block, this neighborhood restaurant has occupied a small storefront space on Sheridan Road for the last six years; however, it was only until recently that I was so fortunate to make its acquaintance.

It is no mere coincidence that Rick's Café shares the same name as the famous nightclub in Casablanca; rather this Wrigleyville spot pays homage to this 1940s film classic. The walls are covered with movie stills of Bogart and Bergman, and the menu makes mention of the movie in its introduction. The Casablanca references on their own are a bit cheesy, but along with the dim light from oil candles and tiny, well-placed tables, they lend a touch of romance to this spot.

The atmosphere is not the only thing that makes Rick's Café so cozy: The personable service is also endearing. On our recent visit, our hostess/server was the only person waiting on tables in the entire restaurant, yet, she succeeded in delivering competent service to each and every customer. (Most of the people who came in to eat seemed to know her; they were greeted with hugs and kept up a constant chatter with her throughout the meal.) I could foresee a situation whereby this pleasant service could really slow things down on a busy weekend night, but as our visit occurred on a Wednesday evening when the places was more empty than not, we found it to be charming.

But hospitality and ambiance account for little if there aren't good things happening in the kitchen; although I wouldn't describe the food as amazing, Rick's fare is good enough to stand on its own. Serving up a melange of French, Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine, Chef Rick offers creative dishes and great variety. Pasta makes up a good portion of the menu, but there is hefty selection of poultry, seafood and meat options, as well as soups, salads and even tapas.

We started with a mushroom appetizer. A generous portion of button mushrooms were sautéed in a lemony white wine sauce and tossed with pine nuts, garlic, and red chile flakes. This dish, although straightforward, was delicious; the mushrooms were tender and fresh, and the individual flavors really stood out in the subtle sauce.

I opted for the house spaghettini as my dinner -- a heaping portion of angel hair pasta tossed with a light tomato sauce and served with big, juicy shrimp. When the dish was first delivered to the table, I was a little disappointed as it looked like your standard pasta with red sauce. However, after a few bites I realized there was so much more going on in this dish: The tomatoes in the sauce were extraordinarily fresh and the chef had added sprinkles of mint and dill to give the sauce a refreshing, tasty finish. It was definitely unlike any pasta sauce I had tasted before.

My dining companion was also pleased with his choice -- chicken kabob with risotto. Large chunks of grilled chicken were tender and succulent, and tasted of garlic and fresh herbs. The risotto (which resembled the orange rice you get at Mexican joints but had a much smoother texture) was mildly spicy and proved to be an excellent complement for the chicken. The pairing of the Mediterranean and Italian influences in this dish was quite well done.

For dessert, we split a bowl of vanilla bean mousse folded into chocolate espresso mousse. Sure, there was nothing revolutionary about this particular dish, but the silky texture and delicious flavors made this a simply sublime ending to our excellent meal.

All in all, the food at Rick's Café is very good, but it isn't the best I've ever had. There is some creative cooking going on here, but it isn't anything that would qualify as a culinary wonder. Still, there are plenty other items listed on the menu (seafood crepes, salmon in a Bordeaux wine sauce) that piqued my interest. And the cozy, neighborhood setting and amiable service made this a delightful place to spend an occasional evening. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Rick's Café is located at 3915 N. Sheridan Road. The restaurant is BYOB and there is a (rather annoying) $4 per person corkage fee.

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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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