Leña Brava

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Going against the restaurant kitchen norm, there are no gas-fired dishes coming from the back of the house as just about everything cooked at Rick Bayless’ new West Loop restaurant is wood-fired in a hearth or cooked over oak-stoked grills. The intimate dining room is topped with thick mahogany-colored timber joists and outfitted with exposed brick columns and seats only 75 guests.  Bayless has created a menu divided into two sections: Fire and Ice. The "Ice" side features ceviches and salads while the "Fire" side offers everything from the oven and hearth. From the Ice menu: sustainably sourced yellowtail, albacore tuna and less familiar fish like opah which runneth over cups and plates. The Bloody Maria, a bulbous goblet filled with firm white-fleshed tuna dripping in tomato and lime and tossed with a gazpacho-like assortment of crisp cucumber and zingy red onion. The glass is rimmed with chili-spiked celery salt, and the whole thing is served with a sidecar shooter of mezcal. While the menu is mostly Mexican, there are some Asian nods mixed in. The rock crab salad ($15), for instance, gets a generous helping of Kewpie mayo that binds tender Dungeness and rock crab flesh, flame-grilled serrano pepper rounds, scallions and bitter frisee lettuce. From the Fire side: flaky blackened cod al pastor ($26), gleaming with a rusty orange achiote, red chili and pineapple rub. It’s topped with pineapple salsa that’s studded with bits of citrusy shiso leaf. House-griddled tortillas made from freshly ground heirloom corn masa made especially for Leña Brava are served on the side.