Executive chef Min Thapa’s ambrosial Nepali menu is pure sensory delight, matched by theatrical cocktails and some of the city’s finest service.
This easygoing Wicker Park café specializes in meaty, tangy-sauced home cooking from its namesake Filipino province of Cebu.
Though this chi-chi vegan kitchen inside Saks Fifth Avenue trots the globe for flavor inspiration, the joyless menu ultimately falls flat.
This delightful Irving Park café avenges the sad, cellophane-strangled coffee-shop sandwich with Hungarian small plates alongside high-grade coffees and tea.
Julia Momose’s elegant West Loop bar pairs Japanese omakase with bespoke cocktails—and the results are sublime.
This edgy Logan Square barstaurant spotlights buzzy dishes and drinks, like CBD-infused cocktails and Instagram-famous Goth Bread.
Erick Williams’ ambitious solo venture captures the depth and scope of Southern cooking with soul-satisfying results.
One of Chicago’s best new restaurants soulfully blends Filipino and Cuban flavors, making it a coveted reservation in Ravenswood.
This energetic little wine bar is a solid option for fascinating pours and shared bites, but uneven service hinders the experience.
Like good-fitting denim and a red lip, Le Sud walks the line of elegance and ease, with craveable Provencal-inspired dishes matched by classic sips with a twist.
Time Out loves
“Excuse me, do you know what this line is for?” “It’s for doughnuts,” I said, humiliated. I was waiting in a line 50 deep for a food most often preceded by the word Dunkin’. “Are they that good?” Before I could answer, the lady in front of me brushed aside her long blond hair and turned to face us with a look of exasperation: “They are.” This was Doughnut Vault: the minuscule, chandeliered vestibule (capacity: approximately four) from which doughnuts appear Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30am, only to disappear just as ephemerally approximately 12 tweets and 90 minutes later. Currently, 750 are made each day, 900 on the weekend. There is no question the rounds of fried dough that emerge from this shoebox—the creation of the restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar)—are as good as any doughnut being made in Chicago. The problem is they’re better. “Stupid!” The Dance editor of Time Out Chicago is not one to raise his voice. “Stupidly good. The über–Krispy Kreme.” He held a chestnut-glazed doughnut, as fresh as one has ever come. I waited exactly 56 minutes for it. After the first 15 of those minutes, the couple behind me left for Sprinkles. The rest of us read novels. We played with dogs. We pretended we knew this was worth it. I, for one, did not know. Not until I took my box of doughnuts to a bench and let my hands and face fall prey to the sticky, airy perfection that is a Doughnut Vault glazed doughnut. Do I wish the glazed doughnuts were less grotes
Food writers often squirm at the descriptors we lean on to talk about restaurants and bars (I’m looking at you, contemporary American). But “fusion,” or the idea of combining elements from different cuisines into a single dish, might be the worst of all. The word first cropped up in the 1980s, when chef Norman Van Aken claims to have coined it in the name of “Floribbean”—squirm—cooking. In my dozen years of food writing, I can say that chefs on the whole can’t stand the term, mainly because it represents a glib catchall for the years-long process of tinkering with flavors and techniques to achieve flawless balance. “I hate the word fusion,” said Pacific Standard Time executive chef/partner Erling Wu-Bower as he knelt beside me, sweating and coated in flour, on my first of two visits. “This food is American.” Unfortunately, diners require more context from restaurant slogans, however inadequate or trite. For instance, I might have rolled my eyes the first time I read PST’s tagline pledging Californian warmth and authenticity. But visiting cemented how maddenly short this descriptor falls of conveying the enterprising dishes that mingle pristine West Coast bounty with Mediterranean influences and Wu-Bower’s sensory memories of cooking with his mother, a Chinese immigrant and food writer. Then again, maybe not. “People have always cooked that way out west, no boundaries between cuisines,” Wu-Bower told me. Perhaps we should call it assimilation cooking. With tables booked
I arrived at Blackbird two weeks ago at 9:45pm on a snowy Thursday. I walked in, and the hostess kindly asked for my coat. I hesitated. It was a cold night. I had walked a mile in bad weather to get there. I was still thawing. But I was also familiar with the legend about Blackbird’s owner, Donnie Madia, and how coats on the backs of chairs made him furious. Having met Donnie a few times, I could see how this would be the case. I handed the coat over. But I kept my bag. I took a seat at the bar, by myself, and I had every intention of eating my dinner unoccupied—no phone, no book. That was the way I wanted it. It was also the way I think Donnie would have wanted it. Still, should a cocktail instill in me the boldness to take out my novel, I wanted to be prepared. The place was almost empty—just a few tables still occupied in the back, near the kitchen. I had the bar all to myself. So when I saw the bartender, my server, ruffling through the day’s newspapers, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had leaned against the wall and started reading. Instead, she fished a New Yorker out of the pile and handed it to me with a raised eyebrow. Yes? she asked with her eyes. Yes, I nodded, and took it from her hand. It was the type of service gesture I expect from a specific kind of great restaurant, but not necessarily from Blackbird. My last meal here—lunch, several months ago—had been presided over with excruciating snobbishness. And since then, the Blackbird group of restaurant
There are cities in this country where the modern restaurant’s purpose is to take you somewhere else: London via a gastropub, North Carolina via a smoke shack. Restaurants become the tool of escapism. Chicagoans mostly have the opposite experience. In our buzziest contemporary American spots, a shared aesthetic has emerged, and it’s not American food—it’s Chicago food. Grubby and pubby at its base, Chicago cuisine is often accompanied by beer, and it venerates miscellaneous cuts of meat from an animal’s organs or forehead. It’s deceptively pricey (all those small plates add up). It claims European influences (but it’s really inspired by the Midwest). There are vegetables in Contemporary Chicago Cuisine, but they’re tossed with cheese or lard. And desserts— ironically, they’re afterthoughts: a waffle here, a shortbread cookie there. CCC is a masculine—no, a machismo—way of eating, and men eat meat. Dessert is for Nellies. Eating this food is the opposite of a transporting experience. You don’t escape Chicago at these restaurants. You fall deeper into it. The “roasted pig face” at Girl and the Goat is classic CCC. Two patties, looking like something thawed from a Jimmy Dean box, formed from the meat of a pig’s jowls and chin. Some fried potato sticks, almost identical to Potato Stix, are strewn around the plate. There’s a fried egg on top, of course, because, though not quite unique to CCC, fried eggs are the cuisine’s default garnish. Unpleasantly charred on the outside, th
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
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
Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits poses some downright tough dilemmas: Pie or biscuits? Key lime or mint-chocolate? Candied bacon or braised greens? The good news is, if you visit often enough, you'll be able to try it all. Other Chicagoans know this, too, as evidenced by the line that often stretches out the front door on warm summer days. Whether you visit the Logan Square or Ravenswood outpost, there are usually six pies on the menu every day. The flavors rotate regularly, offering a taste of seasonal produce and funky flavor combinations concocted for special holidays. Come summer, diners might be able to grab a slice of lemon pie with tangy lemon cream, frothy lemon mousse and lip-smacking lemon curd. In the winter months, keep an eye out for more indulgent creations, like the chocolate-caramel pie with shortbread cookie crust. Key lime is available all year for good reason—it's an excellent example of what the little shop can do. Citrusy custard pools in a graham cracker crust before being topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. It's spectacularly simple yet inexplicably divine. The biscuit menu is a bit more complex, with biscuit sandwiches, biscuits drowning in gravy and biscuits piled with eggs and candied bacon, among other iterations. First-timers will delight in the Scratch variety, which is served with seasonal butter and jam, allowing the dense but fluffy pastry to really shine. But that shouldn't keep you from ordering the avocado biscuit, which is topped with p
Now under the talented Cosmo Goss, Paul Kahan's Publican is still as relevant as it was when it opened in 2008. It boasts a fantastic beer list, packed with Belgian and local brews; a menu that equally celebrates meat, seafood and veggies; and the best brunch in town, served Saturdays and Sundays. The chicken is legendary, the oysters pristine, and the desserts, from Anna Posey, are inventive—we'd happily eat every meal here, if we could.
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
I didn’t grow up eating the delectable, Filipino chopped pork skillet known as sisig. But the version at Cebu—with pig-face nubs, duck livers and jalapeños slicked in oyster sauce and topped with a poached egg—elicited childhood memories of the ham hashes my family would fry up the day after a roast. Cebuano-style barbecue chicken wasn’t in my regular dinner rotation in the Chicago suburbs, either. But on hot summer nights, Dad would nestle chicken thighs into an aluminum pan with a whole bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce and grill them till tender and sticky—flavors that flooded back as I tore into Cebu’s caramelized, bone-in chicken inasal painted with sugary sauce. Cebu is one of a small handful of restaurants around the country specializing in the food of its namesake Filipino island province, known for sugar-white beaches and lechon (crisp-skinned roasted pork). This easy-going Wicker Park café’s generous, meaty comfort dishes have a transportive quality that takes you somewhere warmer but also familiar. This skinny North Avenue storefront lives in the bygone locations of Euro-emulating Americano 2211 and brunch fave Birchwood Kitchen. As my date and I walked in, our eyes were drawn to chef de cuisine/partner Malvin Tan methodically assembling Halo-Halo, the layered shaved ice dessert, at the marble counter behind a glass display case. Tan opened the restaurant with his two siblings, pastry chef/partner Cybill Tan and partner Marlon Tan. If you couldn’t yet tell, this
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
I couldn’t get into the lobster roll at GT Fish—the bread was too sweet, the lobster too wet. And when it came to the stuffed squid, I found myself digging out the chorizo, shrimp and rice—the squid itself had been overcooked, and I wanted to avoid having to gnaw on it. Desserts—I’ll get to those in a minute. But let’s just say they did not provide happy endings. Everything else at GT Fish I loved. I loved the cocktails, which was no surprise given these expert Dark & Stormys were designed by Benjamin Schiller. And I loved the room, which ever since the Boka Group (those guys behind Girl & the Goat and Perennial, among others) announced would become GT Fish I’ve mistakenly referred to, in conversation and in print, as a “fish shack.” Clearly, I did not know of what I spoke. Fish Bar in Lincoln Park—that’s a fish shack. GT Fish is a restaurant. And in contrast to Fish Bar, here the nautical details lend the room a sleekness. The aura is cool, salty. Not unlike the wind in Cape Cod. The Cape is not the only thing this place is selling, though. With every order of oysters—cool and plump and ocean-kissed—comes two bottles of GT-branded hot sauce, in packaging that leads me to believe we’ll soon see the stuff at Jewel. The sauce itself is neither remarkable nor un, but it’s indicative of this restaurant’s secondary ambitions: to raise the profile of chef Giuseppe Tentori, perhaps even to the level of the other star chefs in this company, Paul Virant and (especially) Stephanie I
By now, I, and Chicago diners, should be tired of Italian restaurants. Over the past couple of years, we’ve eaten so many variations on the cuisine—Piedmontese at Osteria Langhe, seafood at Nico Osteria, Sicilian at Ceres’ Table—plus so many generic Italian spots that it almost feels like a reward to be handed a place like Formento’s. The restaurant, from B Hospitality Co. (The Bristol, Balena), offers takes on classic Italian-American dishes, like shrimp scampi, fettuccine alfredo and chicken Parmesan. It’s a comfortable restaurant—the dining room has an old-school vibe, with red leather banquette seating, white tablecloths and black and white photos affixed to the walls, while the long, curved bar and tin ceiling provide a dark, comfortable place to sip well-executed classics like Manhattans and Negronis. Our engaging server commented that the theme reminded her of the Italian supper clubs she grew up with in central Illinois, but the restaurant only claims to be “inspired by” the classics, so those expecting faithful, straightforward dishes won’t find them on Tony Quartaro’s menu. And that’s not a bad thing, because it means dishes like the scampi, fat, sweet langoustines that are halved and topped with nubs of shrimp sausage and lemony breadcrumbs. I started scraping up the buttery garlic sauce with my fork, and a server brought us pieces of garlic focaccia to soak up every drop. Similarly great was Nonna’s relish tray, an array of tiny vegetable bites, including olives
Oyster Bah, the new seafood spot from Lettuce Entertain You, is a bit of a misnomer. Besides being ridiculously silly (shouldn’t it be “Oystah Bah,” if you’re truly trying to embrace a Boston accent?), the name doesn’t fully get across how wide-ranging the menu is. Oysters from both the East and West coasts share menu space with New Orleans barbecue shrimp, fish tacos and tuna poke. Classic New England dishes are here, but this restaurant is more of a paean to American seafood, in all styles, rather than a New England seafood shack. And that’s a fine thing, given how expertly chef Peter Balodimas prepares dishes. Starting with raw or chilled seafood is necessary, and cleanly shucked oysters, teeming with liquor, pop with a drop of tangy stout granita, while plump chilled shrimp come with or without a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning. On the cooked side, a pair of hearty New England stuffies pack chopped clams and chorizo into quahog shells—it’s a classic dish I love but never see around Chicago. Entrees are fairly simple, like steamed crab legs with lemon and butter for dunking, though the most buzzed-about dish, the crispy one-sided snapper, is a scene-stealer. Spicy Thai chili glaze adds heat to the flaky fish, which is served on the bone. It’s not surprising that Oyster Bah is so strong so soon after opening—it’s the little sister to Shaw’s Crab House, which has long been my favorite Chicago seafood restaurant. Though between the casual space and thoughtful drink offerings
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,
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.
When I ask Erick Williams, the chef/owner of Virtue, to describe the inspiration behind his effusively warm, broad-spectrum Southern restaurant in Hyde Park, he heaves a long sigh. “I want to be thorough,” he says, pausing again. “The food is inspired by the Southern experience of cooking.” That sentiment encompasses centuries of chosen and forced migration, strife and survival, and the collision of myriad regions and ethnicities—which Williams channels into satiating, elevated fare at his solo debut. The menu’s boiled-down dish descriptions (pork chop, salmon, shrimp) all but hide the intense attention to detail that he devotes to techniques and sourcing methods. It's a reminder that we're here to be fed, first and foremost. “What’s with this place? I keep dropping people off here,” our Lyft driver commented as we pulled up to the Hyde Park storefront that formerly housed A10. Inside, the soaring dining room and bar were already brimming with revelers despite single-digit temperatures outside. Much like the menu verbiage, Virtue’s design elements reverberate with deeper meaning. Burnt reclaimed-wood sideboards from a Detroit artist nod to urban blight and perseverance; cut-paper works by Bridgeport artist Amanda Williams depict Chicago neighborhood grids inlaid in maps of Iraq. In a large, warm-toned portrait by Dominican-born artist Raelis Vasquez, a time-traveling salon of influential African-Americans—from journalist and activist Ida B. Wells to poet Langston Hughes—ga
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 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
There’s no denying that the quality of coffee and tea across Chicago—not least of all in coffee shops—has never been better. So how come coffee-shop food, on the whole, still sucks? This quandary so irritated Rafael Esparza (Yusho, Kimski) and Daniel Speer (Nordstrom’s former corporate chef) that they decided to open a café of their own. Finom’s tight, affordable food menu draws on the meaty and paprika-tinged cooking of Speer’s wife’s native Hungary. Relying on little more than a toaster oven and an induction burner, Esparza and Speer Macgyver everything from veal-brain pate on toast to custardy scrambled eggs to sausage-and-pepper ragout. It’s delicate yet sustaining—like the dainty, mismatched china it sits on—and, frankly, the sort of food we should expect alongside a $3.50 cup of coffee. My mom and I arrived on a sunny weekday to Esparza’s warm greeting, his figure obscured by a hulking manual-lever espresso machine on the wood-paneled bar. Finom lives in a 200-year-old two-story frame structure that’s housed a grocery store, pharmacy, bar and even a spa in its lifetime. The owners leaned into its time-worn vibe, outfitting the wood-paneled space in vintage bureaus, tchotchkes and a handful of squashy upholstered seats. The decor seemed to match my Turkish delight, a fragrant latte from beverage manager Ari Franco (Brew Brew Coffee & Tea) comprising espresso and steamed milk kissed with ground cardamom and rosewater syrup, then framed preciously with dusty-sweet drie
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
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
We’re all guilty of preconceptions. When I read that mfk.’s Sari Zernich Worsham and Scott Worsham were opening a spot inspired by the Basque region with Joe Campagna, I pictured a sunny boite slinging garlicky prawns and cascading bright, fizzy wines from porrones into delighted open mouths. Delayed debuts and pre-opening chef shuffles notwithstanding, the entire Chicago foodsphere was awaiting this opening with rapt attention. Thanks to joyfully irreverent design and a broad mix of dreamy, Franco-Spanish–tinged eats from chef Johnny Anderes (avec, Honey’s) to match botanically inclined cocktails, Bar Biscay upended many of my expectations. And I can’t wait to return. My husband and I arrived before our two dates early on a Friday to find the bar already teeming with weekend revelers. That half of our foursome (my BFF and I) had spent time in the Spain portion of Bar Biscay’s purview only ratcheted up our anticipation. As its name suggests, the restaurant focuses its gastronomic sights on the roughly 1,100 square miles of Spanish and French coastline edging the Bay of Biscay. For a spot that stakes such a clear geographic claim, Bar Biscay doesn’t necessarily scream “Spanish” or “French” in its design. In fact, I can’t think of any place quite like this South Beach-lite brasserie from the future. The three-part space is bright and airy up front, with blonde-wood booths and tables, pastel-toned wire chairs and natural light seeping in from the wall of windows facing Chica
Chinatown’s Richland Center mall is a Windy City favorite for cheap, authentic Asian eats: its food court counts excellent Filipino, Japanese and Chinese vendors among its yummy offerings. In the latter category, we flock to Qing Xiang Yuan, a sleek, recently renovated sliver of a restaurant steaming up delicious dumplings in a variety of flavors. The lamb and coriander variety, bursting with juicy, well-seasoned meat, is our fave, but we’re also partial to pork and zucchini and shrimp and leek dumplings.
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Before Vajra opened this winter, my only experience with Nepali cuisine was as a menu addendum at Indian restaurants—steamed momos (dumplings) and cauliflower-potato curries scattered among pan-Indian staples like butter chicken and saag paneer. It’s not surprising when you consider that Nepal—which shares borders with India, Tibet and China—has been isolated for much of its history, only opening to tourists in the 1950s. Named for a mythical weapon used by the Hindu God of Thunder, Vajra illuminates this diminutive yet diverse destination through adaptations of the dishes co-owner Dipesh Kakshapaty grew up eating in bustling Butwal, from tandoori-roasted game to soothing root-veg curries. Our senses were abuzz the moment we walked through the door. Head bartender Juanjo Pulgarin presided over the narrow bar, streaming colorful house-made syrups into shakers and coaxing smoke into a wine decanter filled with whiskey and soju. The latter cocktail—dubbed the Spiny Babbler’s Nest—would be cascaded into my rocks glass minutes later, its lazily snaking smoke turning heads nearby. The drink’s campfire-sweet aroma disguised the ambling burn of szechuan-infused demerara syrup. My sister’s thirst-quenching Fields of Elysium tasted like a melted pisco-spiked lime freeze pop, mingling tropical-sweet kiwi purée and elderflower liqueur. I’m already plotting return visits to eat my way through Vajra’s entire small plates menu, a parade of classic Himalayan dishes in miniature, lik
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.
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,
One of half a dozen dishes you should not miss at Etta is a curious little appetizer called bubbling shrimp. Swiping your blistered pita triangle through a shallow cauldron of nubbly red sauce and pinching a fat, tender shrimp, you may wonder aloud, “Is there cheese in that sauce?” No, that’s just the beautiful alchemy of fire-roasted butter, melted into a shimmering slick atop a ruddy melange of smoked tomato, ground shrimp, mint, spicy ginger and smoky chiltepin chiles. It’s at once inspired and undeniably likeable—a trait carried across much of executive chef Danny Grant’s Mediterranean-inspired menu at this relentlessly thronged bi-level eatery. Where Etta falls short, however, is an area for which Grant’s Maple & Ash has become quite famous: hospitality. From the dazed way in which Etta’s host staff shuffled us between floors to the flippant negligence of our server, my two dates and I felt less than welcomed here despite being so dazzlingly well fed. I arrived early on a Friday without a reservation, owing to my last-minute planning and Etta’s tendency to book solid two weeks in advance since it opened in July. I asked a beleaguered hostess to put my name down for a table for three, who suggested that I consider grabbing a seat on the rooftop patio or at one of the two bars (both of which exclusively serve walk-ins). “Do you know the wait time for three? I’d like to add my name,” I repeated, gazing out at the cheerful dining room with whitewashed brick walls and recla
Serving as a sister restaurant to Ēma in River North, Aba is a collaboration between chef CJ Jacobson and Lettuce Entertain You. Like Ēma, Aba offers Mediterranean-inspired bites like red beet tzatziki, yellowtail dolmas and a Jerusalem bagel. But the menu here offers something different, too: Diners will notice a larger focus on steaks and seafood, with dishes like skirt steak shawarma, char-grilled lamb chops and toasted sesame shrimp. On the beverage front, expect summer-ready sippers like the Aloe? It's Me, a tantalizing blend of mescal, aloe, green juice, lime and jalapeño. The booze menu also includes a roster of cocktails made with high-end spirits, several large-format elixirs, a local-heavy beer list and wines by the glass and bottle.
Upon entering this breathtaking riverfront oasis, you might catch yourself wondering if you've been transported to a faraway destination. An offshoot of the popular West Town dining destination by the same name, Beatnik On the River draws inspiration from the ’50s and ’60s, offering dishes and drinks from around the globe. The best tables in the house are on the 80-seat patio, which sits along the Chicago River and is outfitted with colorful tile, Indonesian daybeds and fringe-lined umbrellas. Order a glass of bubbly and stay awhile.
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
I don’t think of red carpeting when I think of diners. I don’t like to think of carpeting when it comes to any restaurant, really, but I especially don’t think of carpeted diners. Nor do I associate diners with anything from the era that plush red carpeting comes from (that’s the ’70s). When I walked into Little Goat and saw that carpet, and the golden vintage wallpaper, and the wood booths, I thought it reflected the spirit not of the chrome diner of “Nighthawks,” but of the 24-hour, family-friendly, breakfast-all-day restaurants where teenagers perfect their angst. Think Perkins/Denny’s/Waffle House. The fact that on each visit to Little Goat I found myself surrounded by young families and their babies only fed into this. But, of course, I purposely showed up at Little Goat at odd hours in an attempt to miss the crowds, which a 5:30pm arrival just barely does (by 6:30pm, you’re probably in for a wait). Stephanie Izard draws crowds no matter what she does (I recently received a press release from a dental association claiming dentists voted Izard as the Chicago chef with the best smile, proving the woman need not do anything but flash her teeth to get attention), but the idea of a Stephanie Izard diner is particularly enticing. Because the sad truth nobody wants to admit about diners is diners are not very good. You can romanticize them all you want (and God knows chefs in this town love to point to Diner Grill as their favorite spot), but all that romance gets you are panc
“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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Plenty of new Mexican restaurants have set up shop in Chicago over the last couple of years, but Mi Tocaya in Logan Square is one to watch. Upon opening the menu at this buzzy, modern eatery, your eyes will go straight to the tacos (and you should order a few of those), but the antojos section is where you’ll find chef Diana Dávila’s best work, like the timeless fish con mole and the lobster-studded esquites. Start with an order of the house guacamole, which is showered in smoky chile ash and served with a generous helping of warm tortilla chips. The peanut butter y lengua appetizer—braised beef tongue with peanut butter salsa, pickled onions and grilled radish—is another crowd pleaser for first-timers and adventurous eaters alike. (Even if you're not a huge tongue fan, we recommend giving this dish a go.) A table of four hungry diners should be satisfied with three to four shareable antojos. Just know that you won't find typical Mexican-American cuisine on Dávila’s menu, save for a steak burrito and those aforementioned tacos. Instead, lean on your server to talk you into dishes inspired by the chef's childhood. The tuetano con sabores de caldo, for instance, includes roasted bone marrow that's studded with hunks of tender short rib and stewed vegetables. All that goodness is scraped onto a tender but hefty housemade tortilla. It's the kind of dish that truly allows you to taste how much love Dávila pours into her food. You can't go wrong with a round of Modelos for the t
Ninety minutes and two cocktails into our wait for an indoor table at Parson’s Chicken & Fish, I turned to my friend on the patio. “I almost can’t believe we’re going to get a bill at the end of the night,” I said, feeling as if we were at a casual backyard barbecue, albeit one thrown by that pal with a killer booze collection and an eclectic assortment of friends. Parson’s is the latest project from Land and Sea Dept. (the team behind Longman & Eagle), and the company knows how to make a space with personality. The patio held everyone from tattooed couples clutching cans of cheap beer to newborns and their moms and their moms. Everyone commingles on the sprawling outdoor lot, which sports light-wood picnic tables, striped umbrellas, strings of lights, spindly trees, and ping-pong tables. We ran into people we knew, but expected to run into more—the feeling on Parson’s patio is that everyone is just a friend of a friend you haven’t met yet. I expected to see a grill and someone calling for burger requests, but instead, servers walked by with baskets of chicken and shrimp toast. We ogled these dishes from the cabana-style bar, but there was one upside to the wait: more time for cocktails. There is a reason the Negroni slushy gained instant fame: This is a damn fine Negroni, frozen or otherwise. Bartender Charlie Schott swaps out the usual Campari in favor of Luxardo Bitter, which is less viscous and sweet, making for a balanced cocktail that goes down easy. For the margarita
Sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly what a restaurant is striving to do. While I know what I’m getting into when I go to, say, a steakhouse or a sushi restaurant, there’s a category of American restaurants that can be harder to classify. And then there are restaurants that can’t seem to classify themselves. The Dawson, the new restaurant from owners Billy Lawless (Henri and the Gage) and Branko Palikuca, opened in October with an all-star line-up: chef Rene De Leon, formerly of Next and Alinea; Clint Rogers, late of Henri, the general manager and leader of the beverage program; and Annemarie Sagoi, formerly of the Charleston, helming the cocktail program. And then De Leon left, less than a month after the restaurant opened. It never bodes well when the chef departs so swiftly, but sous chef Patrick Russ (who was most recently at Next) immediately took over as executive chef, then slowly started changing the menu, which once ranged from sausage pigs in a blanket and tofu spring rolls to Mughlai curry and wood-grilled whole fish. The changes have been subtle, as the pickled onion rings, pork tacos and curry remain. The burger got a little bit bigger and the toppings changed completely. The roast chicken was swapped for smoked chicken. There are a few more salads now. I’ve only eaten at the Dawson under Russ—I made my first visit, just for drinks, while De Leon was still there—and there were even more menu changes between my first and second dinners. But the changes have
Behold Acadia. No, really: Look at it. It’s quite stunning. The chef and owner, Ryan McCaskey, cites summers spent in Maine as his inspiration for the restaurant. But the decor is not one of fishing lures and seascapes. It’s a study in rich whites, a rare exercise in the restaurant as a space of tranquility and elegance. Stylistically, it’s not unlike L2O. But experientially, it’s quite unlike it: You can laugh here. Loudly. I like it here. And it seems the people working here do, too. The terrifically fun and keen hostess? Love her. The sweet and knowledgeable GM and sommelier, Jason Prah, who practically beams when you so much as glance in his direction, hinting that you might be interested in discussing the wine list? Love him, too. (All right, the interesting and reasonable wine list helps.) The enthusiasm carries over to the bartender, Michael Simon, who shakes cocktails as energetically as he conceives of them. The guy’s not exempt from human error: His Corn Flakes Flip, which tasted like a grain-alcohol milkshake, was a cute idea gone completely awry. But by and large Simon’s experiments pan out fantastically, whether in a pleasantly not-sweet rum smash with a big nose of fresh mint or in the heady herbal concoction called the Amnesiac, which I unfortunately liked so much I had to set it aside after a couple of sips for fear the combination of Bitter Truth EXR (an amaro), Yellow Chartreuse, Carpano Antica vermouth and absinthe ice cubes would, true to its name, leav
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
Weiners, wursts and kielbasa as far as the eye can see. Gene’s is the ultimate European-style market in the former Meyer Delicatessen spot, plus it's a grocer, baker, beer, wine and liquor seller, deli, butcher and importer of everything from Kinder chocolates to pflaumenmus (plum butter). All of that takes a backseat to the sausage though—more than 40 housemade varieties from Alpine (a kielbasa with extra garlic and smoke) toZywiecka (a smoked pork and beef Polish with a sharp, peppery kick). In warm weather, head for pitchers of Pils and grilled brats on the rooftop beer garden.
The Chicago restaurant scene is in the midst of an especially giddy moment: Like the flurry of critically acclaimed movies that descend on the box office just before awards season, a horde of exciting new eateries has cropped up in the last few months. The only downside, of course, is that each newcomer never seems to get its due before the next shiny opening thwarts our attention. Give yourself ample time to drink in the butter-bathed Provencal fare and compulsory charm of Roscoe Village newbie Le Sud. Executive chef Ryan Brosseau (Table, Donkey & Stick) livens up southern French classics with the same modern essentialist approach I love so much at TDS. Under the discerning eye of beverage director/sommelier/nice-ass guy Terry McNeese (De Quay), timeless cocktails get clever upgrades while wines from untapped regions lie in wait among the highlight reel of French bubbles and reds. Clearly the neighborhood was anticipating this opening just as eagerly as I, because the main-floor dining room and bar were already brimming when my husband and I arrived well before 6pm on a Saturday since we’d been unable to book a table. The tin-print ceiling, cheery yellow and red tones and antique French hutches lend lived-in warmth to the polished room. The hostess suggested we grab a seat in the still-vacant upstairs bar. As we ascended the stairs, I made a mental note to next time nab a seat in the intimate front dining room, with plush blue banquettes and marble tabletops set aglow by s
Even in the dead of winter, this beautiful rooftop bar at the Kimpton Gray Hotel feels like a tropical paradise. The menu here highlights South American flavors in drinks like the In the Morning, I'll Be Better, an addictive blend of plantain-infused Scotch, black walnut bitters, tiki bitters and smoke. Pair it with an order of the fan-favorite empanadas, which are stuffed with flank steak, red pepper and olives and served with chimichurri sauce.
Come 2019, Time Out Group is launching an expansive new food and cultural experience in the West Loop. Time Out Market Chicago will put down roots at 916 W Fulton Market and host the city’s top restaurants, bars and culture under one roof. We like to think of the 50,000-square-foot food hall as a living, breathing version of our Time Out magazine and website—a place where we can highlight the very best of the city. And we’re not skimping on anything; our editors will curate the vendor lineup to ensure a truly authentic Chicago experience. Keep an eye out for a lineup of chef-driven eats coming in 2019.
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
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.
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