Travelle Restaurant | Downtown, Chicago

Saganaki chicken and other favorites from Tim Graham's new venture

We didn't expect dinner at Travelle to include pyrotechnics.

The restaurant's space is large and on the formal side of casual, bordering on staid, with a sea of tan giving way to a dramatic glass-enclosed kitchen.

By contrast, the best of chef Tim Graham's pan-Mediterranean dishes are creative, unexpected and playful.

Take the fried chicken drumsticks ($13), listed on the menu as "Saganaki Wings," for example. In the kitchen, they're all sophistication: brined, marinated in oregano and lemon, cooked low and slow, then fried and tossed with lemon zest, espelette pepper and oregano.

At the table, they're all fun: flamed Saganaki-style with fennel-infused booze and extinguished with a squeeze of a lemon half. This is flavor-packed fried chicken that's hard to stop eating–especially when dragged through garlicky, harissa-laced aioli.

Chef Tim Graham | Travelle's dining room and kitchen

Another reason to order them is plain old civic pride. "In my research, I found that Saganaki originated in Chicago in the early 1960s," says Graham.

Fill out your table with the dishes that look to the Eastern Mediterranean for inspiration, like oblong nuggets of nutty, heavily spiced falafel–arguably the best we've come across in Chicago–perched on vadouvan yogurt ($11).

Try the muhammara, a Turkish walnut dip flavored with pomegranate molasses ($6); it's served with a balloon-shaped pita, cooked until crisp and chip-like, to be broken into dippable shards at the table.