The Corner House couldn’t have picked a better time to host a media preview of the new fall menu: gray & chilly as it was outside yesterday, the warm & woody space, with moody jazz playing the background, felt like shelter of a distinctly New Wave-cinema sort. I wished I’d been dressed like this, gazing dreamily out the window with a Norman Mailer novel to finish or something.

And of course the food completed the cozy picture, darkened only by the realization that I’d only been here once before, for the opening preview. So many times I’ve looked at the online menu with lunch plans—what has stopped me? Partly the sense that it’s way over there in isolated Jefferson Park. Apparently I’m not alone in that impression, because chef-partner Matt Selby told us that he’s started to put maps on all his press materials. Truth is it’s a few-minute drive from Uptown, and I need to make it more often.

This terrific “play on arroz con pollo,” as Selby termed it, is as good a reason as any to do so. The crackling, juicy chicken thigh sits atop a mound of chorizo-studded rice in a generous smear of saffron aioli, garnished with sangria-marinated onions & queso fresco. It’s earthy & comforting &, in short, a keeper.

In fact, earthy comforts abound on the new menu, which reflects Selby’s current motto, “Keep it simple—that’s what the neighborhood wants. Just a few ingredients; nothing should take longer than 10 or 15 minutes to plate.” But he’s not budging on foie gras, bless him. The seared lobe below accompanies a veritable spring mattress of pumpkin bread pudding, plus the last of the season’s figs & a charred fig-rum reduction that, mingling with sage oil, is a light, bright rejoinder to its cloying, jammy counterparts. (As winter sets in, kumquats will feature here instead.) Loved that bracingly citrusy, capsicum-laced cocktail too, called When Doves Cry, made simply with tequila blanco, grapefruit, lime & Fresno chiles.

And PEI mussels bathed in white wine, tomatoes & butter, served alongside City Bakery ciabatta brushed with chive aioli & grilled. Could have made a cocktail out of that broth, actually.

And seared Alamosa striped bass, topped with braised frisée, over criminally & eternally underrated lima beans plus brandade (salt-cod emulsion) that incorporates parsnips instead of potatoes for a touch of sweetness echoed in the sherry reduction.

And an ultra-meaty though wholly vegetarian dish of lentils with duxelles, grilled apple slices & sautéed broccolini.

The peach cobbler à la mode pictured in back will disappear soon; Selby’s considering a berry buckle in its stead. As for the mighty fine, tapioca-like banana pudding, he seemed worried about guests who are taken aback by its hue. Anyone schooled in the art of Italian gelato, though, should know that bright yellow means Stop—artificial flavoring ahead.

Yes, Corner House is the ultimate neighborhood place. But it’s also proof that expanding our own sense of neighborliness never hurts.

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