The frozen treats at this enchanting Logan Square ice cream shop brim with childhood tastes masterfully augmented by one of Chicago’s best pastry chefs.
Danny Grant’s Mediterranean-inspired Wicker Park concept serves a menu filled with notable dishes, but the service leaves something to be desired.
Pilsen’s newest barstaurant draws you in with its sprawling patio and keeps you coming back with delicious cocktails and crowd-pleasing fare.
Equal parts warm and captivating, this Andersonville storefront turns out Italian-tinged Korean fare and food-loving wines in a homey space.
Mingling California’s bounty with Asian and Mediterranean influences, Erling Wu-Bower’s sprawling River North restaurant is imaginative and intensely likable.
With some tasty chef-driven bites, refined cocktails and a pricey rare spirits library, Mordecai embodies Wrigleyville’s slick new direction.
Team DMK’s treehouse barstaurant is a whimsical choice for post-work tipples and snacks, though globe-trotting small plates occasionally miss the mark.
This unexpected newcomer from Team mfk. serves unrestrained Basque-region flavors in a refreshingly buoyant space with nightclub-lite vibes.
This next-door sibling to Ravenswood's relentlessly popular Gather doles out crowd-pleasing, plant-forward dishes in a casual space that suits the 'hood.
Chef/owner Stephen Gillanders wows with craveable, Asian-inflected dishes at this handsome Pilsen newcomer that pulsates with warmth and generosity.
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Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh With almost no exceptions, you want to order the dish a restaurant is named for. At Momotaro, that’s the momotaro tartare, which melds dehydrated tomato, a spicy hit of Dijon and onion puree into a slightly sweet, savory spread. It’s served with puffy rice crisps, which are totally unnecessary, since my dinner date was content to just scoop up the tartare on its own—and for that matter, so was I. It’s a wholly unexpected dish, and it sets the tone for a dinner at Momotaro, the latest restaurant from the Boka group (Boka, GT Fish & Oyster and others), a restaurant group known for opening exceptional restaurants. Here, chef Mark Hellyar and sushi chef Jeff Ramsey have teamed up for a take on Japanese cuisine that’s elegant, and in most cases, delicious. If you haven’t made a reservation (and even if you have), you may wind up waiting for a table along with boisterous groups of 20- and 30-somethings. There’s a small bar area in the huge, wood-paneled dining room, but a better bet is the downstairs izakaya, which glows with red light and has a four-sided bar and seating designed for groups. I liked the space so much that on a recent Friday, we went to the izakaya to wait for our table and returned to end the evening with a nightcap of Japanese whiskey. There’s a 15-deep Japanese whiskey list, which includes easy-to-find types, like the Yamazaki 12 and Hibiki 12, along with Coffey Grain, a relative newcomer to the U.S., which is round and swee
Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh While we were driving to dinner at Boka last weekend, my dinner date confessed: “All I want to eat for dinner is chicken.” “You’re in luck,” I said. “Lee Wolen is a god of chicken.” When the Boka Group overhauled its ten-year old flagship restaurant earlier this winter, it made a few key changes. It revamped the space so it’s unrecognizable from its previous, staid incarnation—now, there’s a huge moss- and plant-covered wall (designed by former Time Out dining editor Heather Shouse’s Bottle and Branch horticulture company) with paintings of elegantly dressed-up animals; a bar area that feels like a boisterous brasserie, with dark leather, brick walls and dim lighting; and portraits of Bill Murray and Dave Grohl as generals. Bartender Ben Schiller had already departed for the Berkshire Room, and he was replaced with Tim Stanczykiewicz (GT Fish & Oyster, Balena), who handles the list of crowd-pleasing cocktails that don’t overpower the food, like a bee’s knees. And it brought in chicken god Lee Wolen, formerly chef de cuisine at the Lobby, to take over for GT Fish & Oyster’s Giueseppe Tentori. At the Lobby, Wolen’s star dish was a roasted chicken for two, a dish brought to Chicago from New York’s NoMad (the sister restaurant to Eleven Madison Park, where Wolen was a sous chef). It’s a different dish at Boka, but it’s still a knockout—lemon and thyme brioche is stuffed under the skin, then the breasts are roasted and the legs confited, shr
When we first walked up to 5 Rabanitos, my date asked if we were in the right spot—the signage doesn’t provide a lot of promise that it’s going to be a great meal, but once we were in the door, his attitude changed immediately. It’s nothing fancy, but the green walls and a sparse dining room with old Spanish love ballads playing in the background give it a charm that’s perfect for devouring as much Mexican food as possible. Chef Alfonso Sotelo, a XOCO alum, helms the kitchen, providing delightfully comforting dishes with just the right amount of personality. His dishes are flavorful and heartening—if I could sit and eat his food for hours I would. This is definitely a spot where you can hunker down and order a huge plate of tacos without breaking the bank—each is only $2.25. I’d pick at least two of the carnitas tacos, but there’s no doubt in my mind that all varieties are delightful. The only question our server asked after running through our large order was if we also wanted an order of guacamole (the answer is always yes). The refreshing and creamy dish came out on a beautiful plate garnished with radish slices. Actually, everything here is garnished with radishes as a tribute to the restaurant’s name—“rabanitos” is Spanish for radishes. The rest of the menu doesn’t disappoint, whether you’re having the ceviche verde with avocado tomatillo lime salsa, dotted with bits of jicama and cucumber and pieces of tender calamari and shrimp, or the caldo de res, a delicious soup
Tops among the thin crust pizza joints in Chicago is Coalfire, a little spot in West Town that turns out blistered pies with a chewy, slightly crisp edge from its 800-degree coal oven. While the crust is a work of art itself, toppings are inspired—soft whipped peaks of ricotta balance coins of spicy pepperoni; thin slices of fiery 'nduja, a spreadable Calabrian salami, with fresh mozzarella; and a garlicky white pie are among the standouts. The restaurant fills up fast, but there's take-out, and a second, larger location coming soon to Lakeview.
Let’s play a little choose-your-own-adventure. A. Are you serious about your drinks and want to chat with the bartenders while snacking on shared plates? B. Do you want to be in the middle of the hottest new restaurant, or willing to put up with chaos to tackle the dinner menu? C. Are you an early riser who wants to sneak in breakfast before work or have a leisurely morning meeting? If you answered A, just show up and snag seats at Salone Nico, the bar adjacent to Nico Osteria (or at the even quieter bar upstairs). If you answered B, head to Open Table to make a reservation for dinner. And if you answered C, you’re in luck, because Nico serves the best new breakfast in town. Gold Coast newcomer Nico Osteria, an Italian seafood restaurant from Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality that's located in the Thompson Hotel, may offer a variety of experiences, but you'll get excellent food and drinks at all of them. On a recent night, we showed up early for our 9:30 reservation so we could have a drink at the bar first. It’s something you should do, too, since the food is ideally paired with wine (there's an excellent list of Italian wines from Bret Heiar), but you won’t want to miss out entirely on Matty Eggleston’s cocktails. The list is divided into three aperitif and three full-strength cocktails, my favorite of which is the Nico, a Negroni-esque drink that's strong with a bitter backbone and made with gin, amaro, Cocchi Americano and mineral water. The other cocktails, like the
Paul Fehribach's exploration of Southern culinary history draws on historic recipes (like farmhouse chicken and dumplings, circa 1920) to tell the story of Southern cuisine. The collard green sandwich, with tender greens and cheddar tucked between fried corn pone, is a Native American dish, while crispy catfish a la Big Jones is lightly fried and served with grits and piccalilli. Brunch, which begins with complimentary beignets, is a similarly epic affair.
It’s harder than it looks to nail it, the look and the feel of “effortless cool.” It’s even harder to straddle the fence between bar and restaurant, so that everyone eating gets drunk and everyone drinking ends up feeding their face. But that’s what’s happening at Maude’s Liquor Bar, the latest from Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Curio). The two-hour weekend wait signals restaurant. But ramble up the stairs late night and it’s a whiskey-fueled roundtable of postwork line cooks, serving themselves from a community bottle then paying by the honor system at the end of the night. That industry crowd rarely makes it to Maude’s before midnight, when the kitchen closes, so they miss the food their brother-in-arms Jeff Pikus is putting out, a menu as indulgent and classic as his past work at Trio and Alinea was groundbreaking. But nothing is lost on the deep-pocketed scenesters who arrive before them, who gulp down delicious whiskey smashes and stab at $70 shellfish towers. These are the folks paying for those gleaming subway tiles (which don’t come cheap, not even the randomly chipped ones), the mismatched crystal chandeliers and that Victorianesque sofa. But in return they’re getting butter-smooth chicken liver slathered on toast with fig marmalade, ideal with a gin and crème de violette concoction dubbed “Smokey Violet.” And still-quivering oysters from both coasts. And big fat mussels, smartly steamed in a broth studded with punchy picholine olives but inexplicably, annoyingly left
Any taco shop that opens within a mile of the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen will be subject to the Big Star question: Is it as good as Big Star? Is it as cheap? Most important, is it worth potentially missing out on a seat on Big Star’s patio? To maximize the pleasure Antique Taco is capable of providing, ignore all these questions. It’s not that Antique can’t compete with Big Star—it can. But why pit the two against each other? Wicker Park, it turns out, is big enough for both. So on nights that call for shots of whiskey and boys with mustaches, keep going to Big Star. And on the quieter, reflective nights of summer, head to Antique. The vibe is cute and vintage (and some of those vintage items are for sale), but the space is uncluttered enough that you can relax. And the tacos, more composed than most, feel like meals in miniature: Light and crispy battered fish is topped with smoky cabbage; sumptuous carnitas carry a considerable kick from an adobo rub. A corn salad is a decadent mixture of kernels, onions, beans and mayonnaise—it is probably one of the only mayo-based salads you’ll eat and yet still find sophisticated. And the hefty meatball slider is given a proper sauce: a smooth mole poblano. Could you sit on the sidewalk patio with a glass jug of the rosemary margaritas (good, but hard to find the rosemary) in an attempt to re-create the other taco joint in the ’hood? You could. But Antique works best inside, with the happy staff, the adorable interior
“Nostalgia works because it takes us back in time, which is the only place we can’t go,” says Dana Salls Cree, the former Publican brand executive pastry chef who opened Pretty Cool Ice Cream with Bang Bang Pie owner Michael Ciapciak this summer. For Salls Cree, nostalgia is standing at the end of her driveway with change in her pocket awaiting the melodic jingle of the ice cream truck to indicate her favorite cherry-pineapple swirl pop was within reach. Over the past few years, making ice cream has become her main preoccupation—yielding an approachable cookbook (Hello My Name is Ice Cream) and, more recently, a four-seasons ice cream shop in Logan Square. I met two dates at Pretty Cool just before dinner: One of them, a bouncy toddler with a stuffed ice cream toy under her arm, gaped at the sight of the handheld treats lining the display case like technicolor soldiers. “Which flavor do you want?” her mom asked. With a sweeping gesture, she pointed to what I could only decipher meant “all of them.” Starring cream from Lamers Dairy in Wisconsin and an ever-shifting cast of fruits sourced via Local Foods, the pops stand out most for their beautiful density and texture. A peanut butter bar coated in thick chocolate and studded with salty potato chip pieces crunched snappily before giving way to the stretchy chew of nutty, rich custard. Blue moon, Salls Cree’s Smurf-blue take on the beloved Midwestern ice cream flavor, tasted like a concentrated sip of cereal milk from the bo
Chicago is a meat and potatoes city. We love our burgers and steakhouses deeply and unabashedly. So when we found out that Heisler Hospitality (Pub Royale, Queen Mary Tavern, Sportsman’s Club and others) was opening a vegetable-focused concept on Randolph Street, we were curious how Chicago would react. As it turns out, this meat-loving city has a thing for veggies, keeping Bad Hunter regularly packed most nights of the week. We’re also going to tell you something you won’t hear often—skip the meat. Chef Dan Snowden (Nico Osteria) makes veggies the main course here, and it totally works. Start with the beet tartare, presented ruby-red and tender (just like its beef counterpart) alongside house-made flaxseed chips. Maitake mushrooms are dressed up with parsnips, smoked pecans, parmesan shavings and lavender. The end result is so savory and hearty that you won’t miss your usual steak. But you can’t visit without ordering the butter dumplings (admittedly, we’re suckers for anything with the word “butter” in its name). The flavors packed inside these perfectly wrapped dumplings change up seasonally (right now, they’re stuffed with cucumber kimchi, charred fava beans and seaweed), but we wouldn’t hesitate to order this dish again and again. Bad Hunter’s interior boasts a lush, trendy vibe to match the menu. With sun-drenched windows, white-washed walls and verdant greenery, the restaurant feels like a cozy greenhouse. The space itself is larger than expected for West Loop, as t
It’s been a big year for Chicago’s dining ego. First Conde Nast Traveler named us America’s top dining destination; then Bon Appetit dubbed us Restaurant City of the Year. How then, despite this unabashed boosterism of our city’s food cred, am I still suffering from residual Second City Syndrome? I turned inexcusably bratty upon learning that celeb chef Michael Mina would open his first Chicago restaurant in the Gold Coast (actually two—the second being all-day companion café, Petit Margeaux). “See, New York?” I bragged to no one. “We got Michael Mina first.” While I work through these childish feelings, I’m happy to report that Mina’s Midwestern debut brings as much substance as style to the third floor of the palatial Waldorf Astoria. Sure, Margeaux Brasserie may not live in the realm of bootstrapping envelope-pushers and ethnic owner-operated spots that have made us singularly, perfectly Chicagoan in the eyes of the national press, but its celebratory menu and world-class service guarantee you a damn special—albeit pricey—experience. Through the Margeaux-dedicated entrance and up the Margeaux-specific elevator, the marble tile threshold inlaid with the restaurant’s name in gold was a fittingly showy welcome into this sultry boite, which is broken into three dining areas. While I waited for my date (a persnickety fellow writer) I ventured over to the side dining area, where four-top tables with blonde-leather winged chairs are scattered across an expansive oak-plank floo
The people of the Loop have been waiting. They’ve been waiting for an alternative to Bennigan’s or for a liquor list that goes beyond Old Crow and Miller draft. Now, thanks to Billy Lawless, the wait is over. The Ireland native and his father (same name, but call him William) ventured far from their neighborhood pubs the Irish Oak and the Grafton to open a big-deal spot on a big-deal strip of Chicago. And they did it right. A lot of money was sunk into the Gage, and it shows—the design strikes the perfect balance between “What a swank new spot” and “Has this place been here forever?” Multiple rooms extend beyond a big, beautiful wooden bar, with shiny, sage-green subway tiles wrapping each room into the next. Booths are big and comfy, tables are dark wood and sturdy, a couple of TVs by the bar are unobtrusive, and little details give the place a touch of vintage class. Drinks and food sport downtown prices, so plan on spending some loot and don’t look back. Like sweet ’tinis? The signature Gage Cocktail— pear Grey Goose, Aperol, clove-infused apple juice with a splash of cranberry and lime— is your drink. Are you a brown liquor sipper? The whiskey list is lengthy and expertly selected. The beer list goes beyond the basics and wines are accompanied by clever, straightforward descriptions. Assuming that even happy hour–goers need something quality to munch on, chef Dirk Flanigan has created a “snack” menu that includes shrimp cocktail (fresh but with a blah aioli), crispy chi
The newest spot from 4 Star Restaurant Group pairs friendly service with beautiful plates in cozy digs. Grab a bench at the bar (that’s right, there are tall, two-seat benches practically made for couples) and order a round of cocktails. We’re particularly fond of the gimlet with gin, lime cordial and elderflower liqueur. Opt for dishes like a creamy confit potato with pickled mustard seeds and dill. This surprisingly elegant spot makes the perfect backdrop for date night. Vitals: Atmosphere: This chic restaurant is ideal for a spendy date night or drinks with friends if you’re looking to impress. What to eat: We’re fans of the pizza and veggies; the yogurt and seasonal fruit makes for a gorgeously refreshing dessert. What to drink: Cocktails are light and fun, but the servers are happy to point you in the right direction if wine is more your speed. Where to sit: We loved those cozy booths at the bar—a no-brainer for couples who love watching bartenders in action.
“Are you sure it’s west of Ashland? I can’t see it,” the mister frowned, as we strode down Chicago Avenue, past novelty and jewelry shops and the palatial Annex on a Sunday evening. It was chilly, so the sprawling restaurant’s windowed facade was closed, and the dim, candlelit interior hard to see from the sidewalk. But that only made entering this boho-chic boite that much more transportive. Bonhomme Hospitality (Celeste, Black Bull) has a knack for aesthetics, and this dramatic, three-part space evokes the sense of being framed inside a singular, precious shot in a Wes Anderson film no matter where you stand. Executive chef Marcos Campos and chef de cuisine Jonathan Meyer’s global shared plates inhabit this namesake’s bohemian spirit fairly successfully, while the cocktail menu proves low-proof sippers can be just as tasty as their boozy counterparts. It’s hard to keep your mouth closed when you first walk in. To the right of the entryway, an atrium-like enclosed patio bedecked in colorful tiles, painted brick, climbing ivy and potted plants, recalls a sun-bleached courtyard in southern Spain. Our two dates were getting a headstart in the sexy cocktail lounge, which is anchored by an L-shaped brass and vintage tile bar beneath repurposed street lights from 1970s Chicago. A host led us up a short gangway—ducking to avoid a slap from a waving palm—and through the back dining room to a table overlooking the bright open kitchen. Mixing elaborate antiques (midcentury chandeli
Something awkward happened just after the craggy, golden-fried chicken thigh arrived at our table at S.K.Y. The meat was propped up on a ring of sweet creamed corn, and a beaker of bright orange hot sauce sat expectantly in the center of the plate. The server glanced from my date to me. “Shall I pour the sau—” “Yes!” I interrupted, nearly launching out of my chair. As the sauce pooled into its creamed corn barrier like magma, my date brought a sense of civility back to the conversation with a well-timed remark about last seeing a beaker in middle-school science class. In all fairness, though, I wanted that chicken in my mouth as quickly as possible. Lacy, tempura-like crust crackled audibly at the suggestion of my knife, revealing succulent thigh meat imbued with garlic and Korean chili flake. I dragged my forkful through the fiery lake of fermented habanero-vinegar hot sauce, scooping up bits of the creamed corn dam as I went. The resulting bite was a textural, irreverently American jumble of tangy heat, umami and sweetness. The entire pan-Asian menu at chef/owner Stephen Gillanders’s first solo venture—named for his wife’s initials—reverberates with a similar alchemy of meticulous skill, humor and heart. Aromatic, nuanced cocktails and craveable desserts make this striking Pilsen newcomer a must. Walking in, you can easily imagine the window-filled space flooded with natural light by day. At night the dim, bluish-hued room envelops you like a snug wine cellar. We walked
I didn’t expect to find myself in the middle of a clubby lounge in a steakhouse at midnight, but Maple & Ash inverts expectations. You enter the Gold Coast restaurant through a crowded bar, then take the elevator upstairs to a lively lounge before being whisked into the calm, elegant dining room. I also didn’t expect the chef's choice option to be called "I Don't Give a Fuck” or the “Baller” seafood tower, but I did expect classic steaks and sides from chef Danny Grant and exceptional wines from sommelier Belinda Chang. The dichotomy places Maple & Ash in line with other new steakhouses, like RPM Steak, Swift & Sons, STK and Boeufhaus, which update classic dishes while offering a cooler ambience than old-school spots. The meal begins with a round of freebies—a mini gin cocktail, citrus-cured olives, nubs of Hook’s cheddar and radishes with butter—to snack on while you peruse the menu. Seafood is a good choice to start. Pile refreshing salmon tartare atop pieces of fried phyllo dough and order coal-roasted seafood, available in a tower or individual pieces. Fat, sweet crab legs are rich and spicy from garlic butter and chili oil, and the half lobster with the surf and turf has the same presentation. It’s perfect, though the accompanying filet is mushy rather than tender. The bone-in rib-eye is a better choice, with a juicy center, mineral flavor and charred edge. Nearly every table in the dining room ends with sundae service, a $19 tower of ice cream toppings—hot fudge, salt
Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh Prior to last week, I had never eaten bear. Or snail roe, which I didn’t even know was something people ate. Or foie gras molded into tiny owls. Welcome to dinner at Elizabeth, Iliana Regan’s two-year-old Lincoln Square restaurant, which is equal parts fascinating and adorable. It’s easy to be charmed by soup served in owl mugs and decor like tree branches or a white deer head that greets you at the door. But at $354.78 for dinner for two (with service and tax, but before drinks), merely to be charmed by dinner is not enough. My dinner (always) needs to be delicious and, if I’m paying that much, it needs to be something I can’t get elsewhere. Dinner at Elizabeth is both. Elizabeth opened in September 2012 with communal tables and three tasting menus, which ranged in price and size. In other words, your enjoyment of dinner depended heavily on your tablemates, which you had zero control over, unless you bought the whole table. Now, two years later, the communal tables have been replaced with two or four-seat tables, there’s a single tasting menu each night, and there are beer pairings in addition to wine and nonalcoholic pairings, plus a cocktail list. And while you can order tickets online, a la Next and Alinea, as I did, you can also just call up the restaurant and reserve a table. In other words, it’s become a more diner-friendly experience. According to Elizabeth’s website, the restaurant offers “new gatherer” cuisine, which is a way o
Let’s knock this out right away: You’re getting the arroz gordo. It’s a spectacle to behold, a paella-like thicket in which sausage, pork, clams and prawns are piled on a bed of rice—a dish worthy of sharing its name (which translates to fat rice) with the restaurant itself. Tackle the prawns first: Crack their shells and disengage their plump insides. Now the clams. There might be a stray sandy one in there, but the rest have integrity. Next, a tea egg (boiled, then cracked and steeped in tea and soy sauce, such that the liquid seeps in, marbling the exterior): It’s fragrant and saturated with seasoning. And now the unsightly hunks of pork, a disappointing mass of tough and chewy meat. Just when the arroz gordo becomes almost senseless, there’s an olive: an acidic reprieve. And then there’s the soul of the dish, crisped black at the pot’s edges, packed with nuggets of Chinese sausage and pickled raisins that burst with sweet, tangy juices. I’m talking about the rice. There’s something about big, conglomerate dishes like this—the fat rice, the low-country boil at Carriage House, the moqueca at La Sirena Clandestina—that makes them immensely pleasurable to eat. They’re the opposite of faddish: They’re dishes with long histories, things you don’t have to think about to enjoy. This sense of history and of place is what makes Fat Rice’s approach so successful: Owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo (formerly the duo behind the supper club X-Marx) are cooking the food of Macau,
The restaurant is called Boeufhaus and its tagline is “eat carnivorously,” which might mislead you into thinking that this is merely a palace of beef, where vegetarians and pescatarians will be left out. You’d be wrong, since the French and German-inflected steakhouse, led by chef Brian Ahern, gives as much thought to its non-meat dishes. The menu is blessedly focused, and you begin with a mix of snacks and starters. A firework of fresh crudités are beautifully presented in a glass dish and served on ice alongside a creamy Green Goddess dressing. Thin slices of salmon are drizzled with ginger oil, then decorated with pickled mushrooms, chilies and crispy skin. A velvety polenta comes topped with nubs of escargot, a dish I’ll dream about come cold temperatures. A foray into meat led us to the fleischschnacka, pork sausage pinwheels wrapped up in pasta. The starters are so ridiculously good that it’s a little let down when the meal starts to falter. There are steaks, of course, like the 55-day aged ribeye, pricey for the area at $60 (though not for the city), which is well-salted with a nice funk. But it, and the seared halibut, were served lukewarm, while the bread crumbs atop the cauliflower gratin were burned. Desserts change frequently, which is good, since the tiny apple tart felt like an afterthought. Still, there’s a ton to like here, including the delightful server, who knowledgeably guided us through the wine list. Boeufhaus isn’t perfect, but I’m already thinking
There’s nothing quite like the smell of something being cooked over a fire. If you’ve walked by Leña Brava, you know that smell has been turning heads since the restaurant opened. Something about the nostalgia of camping and cooking over an open flame, meats dripping with grease and fats just gets me, and had me eyeing everything on the “fire” section of Rick Bayless’s newest Randolph Street restaurant. Leña Brava (which translates to “ferocious wood”) has two sections on its menu, fire and ice, the former consisting of dishes cooked over open flame or in a wood-burning oven and the latter being a raw bar. A quick glance at the menu makes it easy to fall in love—all the aguachiles and ceviches sound so delicious that it’s hard to pick just one, and the same goes for the fire portion with oven and hearth dishes that are a perfect contrast to the first half of the menu. But I’ll make this easy for you—get the braised shortrib and the verde ceviche. The shortrib is hearty and warm, with Oaxacan pasilla salsa that floods the plate over a buttery cauliflower mash. The ceviche, on the other hand, is bright and acidic, with baja hiramasa yellowtail, green chile adobo and a variety of vegetables like cucumber and radishes. A word to the wise: You’ll want to pick either an aguachile or a ceviche, but steer away from ordering one of each if you have a small party. While delicious, they’re highly acidic and can take a toll on the taste buds. The restaurant continues to hit high notes
Taking fresh lobster meat and stirring it into mashed potatoes is the culinary equivalent of putting rims on a Ferrari: It’s indulgent, absurd and not a little bit tacky. This is why “lobster mashed potatoes,” listed for market price on the menu, are the signature side at Mastro’s. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. The prices actually listed on the menu? They won’t put you much at ease. Vodka martini: $18. Three crab cakes just a bit smaller than hockey pucks: $29. Twenty-ounce New York Strip: $49. Before you shake your head and huff off to the Rock and Roll McDonald’s, hear me out on one thing: If you’ve got these kind of funds at your disposal—and on an elbows-to-Balenciaga-draped-elbows–crowded Friday, I left with the distinct impression that many, many people actually do—Mastro’s is the place to blow them. That martini is shaken with dry ice and poured tableside. As it’s poured, a cold fog emanates like magic out of the glass. The vodka bubbles like a cauldron. There is nothing to do except watch it. And watch it. You’re still watching it. Is this thing ever going to stop fuming? That $18 isn’t just for the show. It’s for the “second drink” that will come out of the shaker later, that will carry you so sufficiently through the first course that when the waiter explains to you that the signature dessert is something called “butter cake,” you’re just a little too woozy to realize that you are about to refresh yourself after a meal of lamb chops and gnocchi (comic
In Chicago, fusion food is arguably easier to come by than authentic ethnic cuisine. That’s not to say that cross-cultural fare is a bad idea; Kimski, Mott Street and En Hakkore are examples of top-notch spots seamlessly blending traditions. But in some ways, creating something authentic seems like the harder feat. That might explain my high hopes for HaiSous, a new restaurant in Pilsen from Embeya vets Thai and Danielle Dang. The tagline promises “a true Vietnamese kitchen preserving heritage through food,” something most Chicagoans haven’t experienced south of Montrose Avenue (aside from the smattering of pho and banh mi spots downtown). Guests can choose from a $33 tasting or the a la carte dinner menu; my date and I went with the latter, which didn’t disappoint. Divided into five sections, the dinner menu offers “for fun” salads, drinking food, house specialties, vegetarian dishes and pickled things. Start with Dang’s papaya salad, a family recipe that’s bursting with fresh, herbaceous flavors. Shards of young papaya, culantro (a cousin to cilantro) and savory Vietnamese beef jerky dance in a puddle of mouth-smacking chili sauce. Similarly refreshing—though a touch sweeter—is the hand-shredded duck salad, with crunchy green cabbage, banana blossom, scallion oil and ginger. En route to the “drinking food” section of the menu, we ordered a round of adult beverages, the favorite of which was the Sake Signature Cocktail, a comforting blend of Japanese rice wine, honey, Tahi
Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh All throughout my dinner at Bohemian House, I wondered why the restaurant had opened in River North and not, say, a hot dining ‘hood like Logan Square or Randolph Street. It’s not just that the space feels homey, with mismatched flowered china, couches for lounging, and a back bar made up of blue tables stacked on top of each other and mounted on the wall. The décor is a stark contrast to the slick restaurants all over the neighborhood, but it’s more because the food, from chef Jimmy Papadopoulos (formerly of Schaumburg steak house Sam & Harry’s), feels intensely personal, like he invited you into his house and made you dinner. This is serious, thought-provoking food, but Papadopoulos makes it approachable. For starters, it’s a treat to dine at a new restaurant that isn’t a big Italian place or a fried chicken joint. I love these things, obviously, but the world is a big place—there are so many more cuisines to celebrate and flavors and ingredients to try. Here, the menu melds Czech, Austrian and German influences into a cuisine that’s rich and deeply flavored with pickles and vinegars to cut through heavier dishes. Start with a drink. There’s a list of straightforward cocktails, like basil lemonade spiked with Pimm’s and an old-fashioned made with house vanilla-fig bourbon. Drink these while you’re perusing the menu, because while they’re pleasant, this is Central European food, and when you eat that area's food, you want to be drinking
A major player in Chicago’s 19th-century meatpacking industry, Gustavus Swift lends his name to Swift & Sons, a sprawling steakhouse that honors tradition while skillfully updating the genre. The restaurant is the second collaboration between Boka Group (Momotaro, etc.) and B. Hospitality (Formento’s, etc.)—the first, Balena, showcases chef Chris Pandel’s Italian fare. Pandel also mans the kitchen at Swift & Sons, where his dishes display similar finesse while rethinking the staples of steakhouse cuisine. Take the hot platter, a spin on the traditional icy seafood tower (you can get one of those, too) with a langoustine stuffed with fluffy shrimp mousse, a pair of oysters basking in bonito butter, and, since the kitchen was out of the usual scallop on my visit, a marvelous clam packed with bacon, breadcrumbs and melted cheese. Surf and turf features an eight-ounce cap steak, beautifully tender with gentle ribbons of fat and served alongside citrus-poached lobster perched atop ribbons of fennel. Tartiflette, a potato gratin, comes layered with caramelized onions and slices of country ham—as expected with country ham, it’s a salt bomb, but it’s hard not to enjoy the cheesy dish. Not everything is reinvented, or needs to be—bone-in ribeye comes with a flawless char and a savory, zesty steak sauce; white wine brightens creamed spinach, and steak tartare is chopped up with cornichons and mustard seeds. The textures are spot-on, though it needs another shake of salt. Meg Galus ex
You don’t get a glimpse of Marisol Escobar until the bill arrives, affixed to a black-and-white postcard depicting the late avant-garde French-Venezuelan sculptor (who was the first to contribute work to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art). But this restaurant’s namesake is homaged throughout the menu—in a cheeky ’70s-style salad dressing and a steak sandwich (the artist loved late-night steak and eggs). She also typifies a creative freedom that permeates chef Jason Hammel and chef de cuisine Sarah Rinkavage’s wide-ranging menu, in which fleeting produce serves as both the inspiration and medium. The MCA’s cool glow spilled onto the wet pavement as my dates and I arrived on a soggy Thursday evening. Housed on the ground floor just inside a street-level entrance, Marisol is partitioned off only a third of the way to the ceiling by wooden booths, creating a disconcertingly exposed feeling of dining in a lobby. Walking in, your eyes are immediately drawn left, to British artist Chris Ofili’s magnetic figurative mural overlooking the enclosed private dining room. Its brilliant jewel tones are echoed in the chairs, benches and couches scattered throughout the mostly grayscale dining room, where Ofili has also etched abstract flora on the windows and walls. Marisol is the centerpiece of a $16 million renovation that aims to make the MCA more accessible. (A companion counter-service café called The Street peddles coffee and pastries.) I tend to find cocktails too bold for foo
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No matter which of the Soho House doors you enter on Green Street, you’ll walk straight into the Allis, the all-day space that spans the width of the building. There are high ceilings and big windows, plus tables, lounge chairs, a bar and couches. The Allis seems designed for two purposes: For people to settle in with a laptop during the day or to get all dressed up and be part of the scene on weekends. It’s also the kind of place you could spend an entire day, with a croissant and coffee in the morning, a salad or sandwich for lunch, or small plates like carrot hummus or burrata on toast over cocktails in the evening. We went to the Allis for afternoon tea, and for $12 received an absurd amount of food—three mini sandwiches, a scone, a brownie, a chocolate chip cookie, a slice of cake and two cups of tea. This is not the best afternoon tea, but for $12? Sure. The brownie is stuffed with chocolate pieces, the scone is pretty decent and the chocolate chip cookie gets the job done. Throw in free Wi-Fi and a spacious, airy ambiance and you’re much better off spending an afternoon here than at Starbucks. We could also see ourselves popping in for a drink while waiting for a table at a nearby restaurant.
With exposed brick and plasma-screen TVs, Pequod's is firmly a neighborhood bar. But Pequod's is a bar that serves some of the best pizza in the city. The signature pan pizza is ringed with caramelized cheese, and slices are massive—one piece makes a meal. Add veggies to lighten it up a bit, or go all in, with the sausage pie, dotted with perfectly spiced, Ping-Pong ball–size pieces of seasoned ground pork.
Springing from the mind of chef Grant Achatz, fine dining institution Alinea has been the recipient of numerous awards and is regularly named the best restaurant in Chicago (and the United States, for that matter), bringing culinary expertise and flawless service to each and every meal. In January of 2016, Alinea closed for renovations, reopening in May with a complete overhaul of the menu, tossing out the original one, which changed frequently, that had garnered the restaurant many accolades. This was my first Alinea experience, which is a pretty big deal, not just because of its reputation, but also because I consider some of my first visits to other Alinea Group restaurants to be some of my finest eating and drinking experiences in Chicago. My first time at the Office—when I was invited down to the bar on a whim by my server at the Aviary—left me forever lusting after the browned butter bourbon concoction they whipped up for me. But Alinea was a bit different—my trip was planned in advance while avoiding all the murmurs about its magical new menu. I wanted to see it for myself. And it is magical. The food comes and goes effortlessly, wine glasses filled and replaced throughout the meal, with the sheer beauty of excellent service extending all the way down to your entry. We walked in and were immediately whisked to the second floor salon for the most affordable meal ($800 total for two diners including a wine pairing). The salon is meant for groups of one to six people,
The new West Loop spot from husband and wife David and Anna Posey (he of Blackbird, she of the Publican) has a name that comes from the Danish word for “love”—a nod to David’s heritage and the fact that the couple got engaged in Copenhagen. The food, however, is not Danish; the menu was made with simple fare and seasonal ingredients in mind. You can choose from a prix fixe menu (eight courses) or à la carte options; on our visit it seemed that groups were taking the latter route while couples opted for the tasting menu. Elske is a perfect intro to fine dining, with reliable and approachable dishes that will school diners new to coursed meals on what to expect—with complicated ingredients that are still complex in flavor, but without overly meticulous plating. We were hooked from the first dish. Two bowls—one filled with smoked fruits and vegetables like radishes topped with dill, the other an herbal tea of the same fruits and vegetables—contrast the bright crunch of the plants with the warm beverage, their flavors blending seamlessly together. The initial combinations (with options for wine or non-alcoholic beverages) were a sparkling Spanish white from the Canary Islands and a white grape juice carbonated with yeast and star anise. My date and I shared both, and after the first sip of the “juice pairing,” as our servers called it, we were taken aback. It’s bubbly and dry—it could have passed as wine. I’d never thought about how closely dry drinks could mimic their boozy cou
Let’s get this out of the way: Roister is not your typical fine dining establishment. It’s loud, it’s boisterous and you sit at a bar. The concept that occupies the former iNG space comes from Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, with chef Andrew Brochu (Alinea, EL Ideas). “The kitchen is the restaurant, the restaurant is the kitchen,” is the slogan on the website, a nod to the fact that for the most part, seats surround the open kitchen. There are a few two-top tables and a handful of seats at the liquor bar toward the back. If you can score a reservation, you have the option of the a la carte menu or the chef’s tasting dinner. The chef’s tasting dinner will sit you in front of the open kitchen, whereas the a la carte menu is served in the dining room and back bar. The a la carte menu is packed with small, medium, large and shareable plates. Whatever you decide to order, you need to get the beef broth—a small plate umami bomb with beef cheek and tongue and soft egg in al dente bucatini noodles. Speaking of things you should absolutely get, the chicken you’ve been hearing about is well worth the hype. It’s on the shared courses menu, which serves 2–6. Our server thought it was ambitious for two people. I’d say you could feed three comfortably with it, and four with a few other plates. It comes three ways: braised chicken breasts, deboned fried thighs and a chicken salad made with the legs and the wings. The breasts are perfectly braised and juicy, the fried chicken is cr
Serving pizza to Chicagoans since 1949 (although this location opened in ’65), Vito and Nick’s is the king of thin-crust pizza done Chicago-style. With Old Style on tap and the Bears on TV, surly waitresses shuffle bubbling-hot pies to a full room of revelers. The crispy but pliant crust, tangy sauce and top-quality sausage separate this pizza from other Chicago thin-crusts. The wait times for pie can run a little long on weekends, so order your drinks by the pitcher, and enjoy a true Chicago scene. (Or, thanks to a glut of national attention after the Food Network blew through town, scan the walls for plenty of reading material.)
I’ve never actively sought out sports bars—mainly due to their reputation for mediocre food, watery macro-brews and overstimulating, dogmatically air-conditioned interiors. I most often choose them based on qualities a bar would never advertise, like “you can always find plenty of empty seats!” or “it smells like an outhouse but has a good beer list!” That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the category-wide trend toward better-quality food and drink, but you probably won’t see me hurrying to a sports bar’s opening week. That is until I heard the team behind beloved, gin-focused Scofflaw had a neighborhoody sports bar in the works across the street. This could be a game changer. My hypothesis turned out to be half true. Drink-wise, the Moonlighter nailed it with a discerning yet unpretentious stable of cocktails and sour-heavy craft beers that complement the come-as-you-are vibe. Food-wise, cleverly topped double burgers verged on dry, and portions were undersized for the price, a few bright spots notwithstanding. As we passed through the expansive beer garden bedecked in twinkle lights and yellow umbrellas on a snowy Friday evening in January, we could easily envision the Logan Square haunt overflowing come summer, with patio-starved Chicagoans downing rosé shots (more on those later) and pitchers of the mescal-, tropical fruit- and cucumber-tinged Out-N-Out, an herbaceous, juicy concoction that begs to quench sticky-hot nights. The rectangular interior is anchored by a w
You’ll find some of the most interesting and indulgent dishes at Smyth. Case in point: On one plate, tender pieces of Dungeness crab are covered with slices of rich foie gras and scrambled kani miso (a.k.a. crab innards). It’s a small but powerful bite that oozes with opulent ingredients. It’s surprising, then, that it feels like you’re eating it in your best friend’s living room—if your best friend happened to be a particularly fantastic cook with impeccable taste in décor. It’s all part of the high-low mix that defines Smyth. The West Loop fine-dining destination is homey and welcoming with dishes that are truly over the top. That balanced dichotomy is all part of the vision for chefs and owners John and Karen Urie Shields (Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea), who dreamed up a happy, easy-going spot that would highlight the time they spent in Smyth County, Virginia. The restaurant is filled with oak wood, yellow light and lived-in touches, such as vases of thistles and a rolling bar cart. Like the Loyalist, the relaxed but classy bar downstairs, it feels like a place where you could truly unwind. The big difference here is the caliber—and price—of what you’re about to put in your mouth. First things first, you’ll have to decide how many courses you’re in for: five, eight or 12. We went for the 10-course menu, which has since been discontinued. Regardless of your choice, prepare for luxurious ingredients (think caramelized lobster, crispy duck tongue and creamy uni) to make their
There are a million steaks in this world, and not one quite like Lula's. Slices of flat-iron pattern a plate, semolina gnocchi tucked here and there. It is not steakhouse food. And it is definitely not that strange genre of Italian steakhouse food. This is a steak strewn with kimchi whose heat and crunch is compulsive. Specks of fried sardine pop with brininess, riffing on the fermented cabbage’s funk. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? It’s anything but. Aesthetically, it’s striking. Technically, it’s accomplished. It’s a dish that is very much of its parts: the high quality, consciously sourced, thoughtfully prepared beef; the rustic housemade pasta; the commitment to canning (kimchi); the penchant for small, sustainable fish (sardines). These are the traits that, for more than a decade, one has come to describe as being soLula. But this steak is more than that. It’s a dish that, in its inspired flavor combinations, is greater even than the sum of its very great parts. And it’s not just the steak. On recent visits to Lula, dish after dish pushed the envelope from interesting to exciting. I had a bite that combined sweet-potato puree, black lentils and candied peanuts, and I was left with nothing else to say except, in awe, “Peanuts!” Multiple times. If food can be genius, that flavor combination—it was the accompaniment to roasted pork loin, by the way—is Stephen Hawking. Surprises like this turned dishes from familiar to wondrous, whether it was cocoa nibs injecting soft not
The Revival Food Hall brings 15 food vendors and a book/record shop to the Loop packed with hip restaurants like Furious Spoon, Graze Kitchenette, Black Dog Gelato and the Fat Shallot. Stop by for a meal or a drink—there's something for everyone with plenty of seating to make your next lunch stop a relaxed one.
Be forewarned: A trip to Proxi will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. It’s not that the menu is lacking; on the contrary, it’s rife with so many tough decisions that you’ll have to book a second visit to try it all. Tempura elotes or roasted baby potato carbonara? Baby octopus or raw tuna? BBQ lamb ribs or Wagyu sirloin? It’s not for the indecisive, but Proxi has officially landed on my short list of restaurants I’d gladly frequent every weekend if I could. The magic starts as soon as you walk through the massive doors off Randolph Street (Proxi is located next to its sister restaurant, Sepia, and down the street from Avec and Blackbird) and into the sun-drenched, tile-adorned bar. My date and I arrived early and grabbed seats at the bar for a round of cocktails. I was immediately enamored with the Don’t Chouette It, a play on an Aperol Spritz with blood orange juice and champagne ice cubes (really); the bright orange concoction evolved as I sipped, making it both dynamic and delicious. The bold but sweet Josper O.F., on the other hand, was the perfect transition into dinner, with Japanese whiskey, roasted demerara, Thai bitters and barbecue smoke. Back to those tough decisions. Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s menu is divided into three sections—veggies, fish and land-cruising meat—and your server will advise you to dabble in each. You can’t walk out of Proxi without trying the tempura elotes, clusters of perfectly fried sweet corn with chives, chili, lime, parmesan and a mayo dr
A framed print of Shel Silverstein’s poem Me and My Giant hangs on the wall of this ironically named Logan Square restaurant—it’s tiny, sitting only 44 people. But what Giant lacks in space it makes up for in flavor. After closing Nightwood in 2015, chef Jason Vincent took time off from the Chicago dining scene before opening Giant with partners Ben Lustbader and Josh Perlman in summer 2016. The menu is filled with shared plates, each with a bit of its own flair. The theme is “simple, unpretentious Midwestern fare,” but expect nothing but big flavors from dishes that might sound unassuming on the page. The menu starts with an attention grabber: uni shooters, bite-size fried balls with a crunchy exterior filled with melty, buttery, briny uni. Peppers are abundant, beginning with sweet biscuits with a sugary crust and a jalapeño honey. Pasta is the other star—our favorite is the “sortallini,” a little like tortellini, served in a refreshingly acidic and bright sauce that’s packed with guanciale, basil and pine nuts. As hard as it is to go wrong with anything on Vincent’s menu, it would be a shame to overlook dessert; choices like cajeta ice cream bring nostalgic notes of strawberry crunch ice cream bars. You’ll feel cozy in Giant’s small confines—the restaurant is crammed with tables that you’ll have to maneuver to get in and out of. But somehow, it doesn’t feel overwhelming—with evenly spaced courses the small space works. Just don’t expect much privacy; you’ll be right up n
It took some time wandering through River West on an icy, blustery night before we finally found the much raved-about Oriole—from industry vets Noah Sandoval, Genie Kwon and Aaron McManus. The door in the back alley is relatively unmarked, as if the restaurant knows it’s worth seeking out. And it’s not wrong. Here is a fine diner that gets everything right, right from the start: The moment we entered, the host whisked away my jacket and replaced it with a steaming cup of sochu-laced cider. It was like she was reading my mind. The room itself is a jaw-dropper—exposed brick gives a warm feeling, while tall wooden columns remind you that you’re in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in town. Pristine white tablecloths drape every table and napkins are folded perfectly. The first choice you’ll make when that napkin is safely in your lap is whether or not to take the $125 drink pairing with the $190 tasting menu (you should—it’s perfect); the last choice you’ll make is if you want tea or coffee when it’s all done (you want that too—you’ll want to savor every moment you can at Oriole.) Our meal starts with a bite of Golden Osetra caviar, with a rich coconut dashi, lychee and grape to brighten the bite, which feels lavish and sets the tone for the rest of the meal. It’s served in an almost egg-shaped bowl with all the components resting inside providing an extra element of surprise. Interestingly presented dishes appear throughout. Take the puffed beef tendon—an über-fancy pork rin
At this tiny Pilsen storefront, regulars get special treatment (a.k.a. refried beans, not always on offer), newcomers just get blank stares, and everybody gets the carnitas. Ordered by the pound, the juicy pork is served to you on a platter with nothing but a side of corn tortillas and a spicy salsa verde so that you can concoct your own tacos. Not leaving any part of the pig to waste, the limited menu also includes fresh, warm, delicious chicharrones.
Don’t get us wrong, we love the fresh toppings, including meaty chunks of mild sausage and fresh vegetables that are crisp and crunchy when you bite into them. But it’s really the sauce—full of fresh tomato flavor, speckled with oregano, basil and the faintest hint of red pepper—that’s made this pizzeria an institution. Both the deep-dish and the (not very thin) thin-crust resist sogginess after a night in the fridge, making them the breakfast of champions.
Sarah Grueneberg left Spiaggia to open her own restaurant, Monteverde, in late 2015, but while she brought along the masterful Italian techniques she honed there, she left the fine dining trappings on Michigan Avenue. At Monteverde, the Top Chef alum's wonderfully relaxed West Loop restaurant, assistant servers wear Blackhawks hats, a TV flips on when the hockey game starts and a gluten-free menu is featured prominently on the website—a nice touch for a pasta-focused restaurant. That menu is important, since the pastas are the main draw. Made in house, they’re all perfectly cooked and accompanied by sauces and ingredients that look surprising on the menu, but make sense once you’ve taken a bite. The cacio whey pepe ratchets up the classic with four peppercorns and whey, so it’s creamy and intensely peppery. To make the wintery tortelloni di zucca, Grueneberg stuffs squash into delicate pasta, then serves it with apples and bacon. If you sit at the bar, you’ll spy pasta-makers rolling out pappardelle, later tossed with tender nuggets of duck, olives and parsnips. Grueneberg knows more than just pasta—arancini packed with spicy nduja sit atop poached tuna sauce; artichoke crostino come with rotating toppings, including shaved black truffle; and grilled octopus chunks share a skewer with sweet potatoes. Desserts are on the smaller side, which is ideal after so much pasta. Salted butterscotch budino wears a delicate bruleed cap, while the perfectly nice sorbetti are upstaged b
Plenty of new Mexican restaurants opened their doors this year, but Mi Tocaya is one to watch. The tacos are the main attraction, including the spicy Campechano stuffed with al pastor, chorizo and carne asada and garnished with salsa and a squeeze of lime. Pair your order with a reposado tequila margarita, an easy summer sipper. But the best part of dining here is the open kitchen, where you’ll spot chef Diana Davila crafting unique regional specialties. And hey, the cozy outdoor patio doesn’t hurt either. Vitals: Atmosphere: Chef Davila makes this place feel like home with an extra special twist of controlled chaos and color in her vibrant Mexican kitchen. What to eat: Tacos are at the top of our list, but we’re certainly not saying no to the queso and guacamole. What to drink: Margaritas rule the roost with a draft and stirred option. Where to sit: The space is quaint and cozy, so it’s likely you won’t have a choice in the matter. On a warm day, the patio is perfect, but you can’t beat the hustle and bustle happening inside.
At Longman & Eagle, there are old fashioneds, stirred slowly and carefully behind a dark, gorgeous bar. There are dozens of whiskeys for three bucks; the house favorite, Cabin Still, is mellow and gentle. And there are flannel shirts, and mustaches, and Grandma sweaters. A lot of them. But if you’ve gotten it into your head that eating at a restaurant owned in part by the Empty Bottle guys means that you’ll be systematically ignored by a waitstaff of smelly, aloof, strategically scruffed dudes and the waifish, Lycra-clad women who dig them, then you have seriously underestimated the genre. Truth is, the folks working here are some of the friendliest and most professional hipsters you’ll ever meet, and their graciousness isn’t lost on the neighborhood. Why else would I have been seated next to couples with babies and families with tweens? Yet, however welcoming and well-informed my server was, T.G.I. Friday’s this is not, and it was hard not to notice that those groups were ordering their fair share of burgers. And, not to start things off on the wrong foot, but the Kobe burger, like most Kobe burgers I’ve had, is nothing to get excited about. The meat’s mushy, the bun’s too big for the patty, and mine reeked of smoke from the bacon, despite the fact that the strips were scarcely cooked. (If those tweens were ordering it simply for the awesome beef fat–fried fries, though, bless their hearts.) To do this restaurant right, you’ve got to allow yourself organ meats. Get the bee
The rooftop restaurant and bar at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel offers some of the best views of the city, with an expansive look at Millennium Park and the Lake. The drinks, from Nandini Khaund, are mostly balanced, and very pretty, while the American food is also mostly well-executed and comes in massive portions and is designed for sharing.
There are rules when eating at avec. One of them is “No talking about Israel.” A few weeks ago I was eating dinner and my friend—not I—was breaking that rule. Loudly. The man sitting next to me, whom I did not know but whom I spent the evening less than one inch from, leaned into our space and said, “What nation are you talking about?” This is why you don’t talk about Israel at avec. I shut down the conversation by slicing an X in the air with my hands and saying one word: “no.” But the man—his name was Brandon, I learned later—was undeterred from talking to us. He changed the subject. “Have you guys ever had these dates?” he asked. He pointed to the hot casserole in front of him with only one date left. “They’re so good.” The bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates are, of course, another rule of avec. You must order them, every time, until you’ve had them so often that you no longer need to be at avec to taste them—you close your eyes, access your taste memory, slip into a bliss coma…. “Are you guys tourists?” I asked Brandon. He and his companions looked wounded. “We live up the street,” they said. The idea that a Chicagoan exists who has not yet eaten the avec dates was inconceivable to me. But here were three people who had lived in Chicago for years and were just now at avec for the first time. Rules dictate this situation, too. “You must eat the focaccia,” I said. “And probably the brandade.” They nodded and smiled. But I knew they weren’t listening. They’d alr
If Au Cheval weren’t such a bizarre and, frankly, difficult restaurant at which to eat, you’d find me there every Friday night for the matzo ball soup. Pre-Cheval, the most I ever wanted from a matzo ball soup was glistening pools of schmaltz. Post-Cheval, I demand it not only glisten but also be stocked with roasted carrots and cippolini onions, sophisticated complements to an enormous matzo ball that is more accurately described as a matzo souffle. This soup is a rarity on Cheval’s menu, but not because of how it tastes. Perfectly executed, endlessly cravable food is in every corner of this place. The chopped chicken liver—another great Jewish dish Brendan Sodikoff’s “diner” is elevating—goes on thick challah with soft salted butter, a combination that is (sorry, but I’ve got to be a drama queen here) so delicious it’s devastating. And the beef stew is exemplary for both its supple texture and silky sauce. Where the soup stands out is its lightness: You can actually start a meal with it (it shares this distinction only with two salads). It’s also a dish you can eat in its entirety without feeling as if you’ve taken a shower in hot beef fat. This cannot be said for much of the rest of the menu. The omelette boasts a smooth, puffy, unblemished surface that looks like butter, but also literally tastes like butter, so much so that it’s hard to take more than one bite. A ham “sandwich” with cheese fondue is not a sandwich at all, but rather a crock of melted cheese dotted with
When I first glimpse the menu at Beatrix, I’m confused and, frankly, a bit skeptical. Chili-chocolate salmon with corn tacos butts up against a snack of potato salad deviled eggs. Hummus (served with naan, rather than pita) is coming out of the same kitchen window as a hamachi crudo with citrus that looks like it’s straight from a sushi bar. Could a menu that just seems cobbled together from every food trend of the past five years possibly be good? Somehow, it is. The latest offering from Chicago restaurant empire Lettuce Entertain You, Beatrix builds a menu mostly of dishes from the Lettuce test kitchen that couldn’t find a home. These orphans were so delicious that Lettuce boss Rich Melman decided to create a place just for them. Despite the restaurant’s slogan, “taste over trend,” in reality each dish could come straight from a food trend roundup. Kale salad! Deviled eggs! Vaguely Mexican flavored fish! Savory bread pudding! Quinoa! Each craze has swept the restaurant world in the last few years, and they’re all together at Beatrix, like an awkward family reunion of has-beens. But as I dig into each dish, I realize that there was a reason that each trend became, well, a trend. Even better, each dish has a spin that makes it seem a little bit new. Take that kale salad, called the “Emerald City Salad” in Lettuce-speak. Instead of the tired, obligatory kale dish that’s on every menu in Chicago at the moment, this kale salad is fresh and crunchy. The leaves are mixed with c
When the temperatures drop, it’s hard to not want to escape to somewhere remote and exotic. After one (or four) slushies in this hidden oasis under Green Street Meats in the West Loop, you can almost pretend you’ve been transported to a gritty basement ramen shop in Tokyo. Reminiscent of the cautioning one might find from a buffalo wing-centric sports bar, the menu begins with a stern warning of how spicy the soup can be—and spicy it is, but worth the momentary pain. Balance the flecks of chili in the classic High Five Ramen with one of the milder bowls like the Shoyu or Special Ramen, which are still impressive without the seductively creamy tonkotsu broth. The bracingly chilly bite of the fruity slushy cocktails will help tame the heat, too.
Ever since it launched in the spring of 2011, Next Restaurant has been wowing us with ever-evolving concepts. There are three themed menus a year, which have included Paris, 1906; Modern Chinese; Vegan and more, and all deliver innovation and flavor. The dinners are ticketed, so you buy tickets in advance.
If you sit in the back half of Mott St, you’ll be dining next to shelves stocked with Cholula hot sauce, jars of beans, tea…and a box of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch. Is that a dessert ingredient? Nope, it’s breakfast for “the early crew,” our server told us. With little storage space in the kitchen, Mott St has constructed a pantry within the dining room. The front half of the restaurant features a bar and two- and four-top tables, and there’s a communal table in back. Add in huge windows, materials sourced from Craigslist and pulsing music, and the room has an energy that makes you want to stay all night. Everyone—the enthusiastic and knowledgeable servers, the kitchen staff, the twenty- and thirtysomething diners, apparently even that early crew—is having a ball at chef Edward Kim’s playful new Asian restaurant, which opened a month ago not far from his much-lauded Ruxbin. But while the vibe may be relaxed, the level of cooking is anything but casual. The Asian night market–inspired menu feels overwhelming at first. There are about two-dozen dishes, many of which require peppering your server with questions. What’s the forcemeat of the day? On my visit, it was a mild but flavorful Chinese sausage that’s fried like a spring roll. You fold it into a lettuce leaf with sprouts and basil, then dip it in a tangy fish sauce. What’s the collar of the day? Yep, Mott St has a daily fish collar preparation. We had halibut, pan-fried and served on the bone. (While the cut is rich,
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