The main restaurant at the Chicago Athletic Association, Cherry Circle Room was the original dining room for club members. Chef Peter Coenen and beverage director Paul McGee evoke that old-school feel while updating the food and drink offerings. Think shrimp cocktail with Bloody Mary-spiced cocktail sauce, escargot with burrata and lacquered duck with wheatberries. End with an ice cream drink served in a milk jar.
We spent one of the most delightful evenings of the year at de Quay, where chef David de Quay serves Dutch-Indonesian cuisine, with black pepper-Gouda dumplings to start, a grilled pork chop with rookworst for the main course, and stroopwafel, a warm house-pressed caramel waffle cookie served with vanilla ice cream, for dessert. General manager/wine director Terry McNeese provides spot-on wine recommendations and warm service, and Noel Catrambone contributes a list of terrific cocktails. Add in a cozy space, and there's no better place to be this winter.
Great lobster rolls are hard to come by in Chicago, but one of the city's best rolled into town this year. The Happy Lobster, a food truck that roves downtown and occasionally sets up shop at the Garage in the West Loop, serves an exceptional version. Get it "happy," with just mayo, butter and spices, or "angry," with spicy giardiniera. The meat is perfectly cooked and dressing is restrained, which lets the lobster shine through. Get them in whole or half sizes, but be sure to save space for whoopie pies for dessert.
When L2O closed at the end of 2014, it reconcepted into Intro, a restaurant with rotating themes, menus, decor—even chefs. The first year has brought stellar talent, including CJ Jacobson, an LA chef best known for two stints on Top Chef, and Erik Anderson, a Chicago native last at Nashville's Catbird Seat. Currently, Stephen Gillanders serves an a la carte menu that includes potato leek soup with decadent black truffle croquettes, scallops in a luxurious brown butter dashi and a play on beef and broccoli, with glazed planks of steak paired with broccoli five ways. There's much to look forward to next year as well—Jessica Largey (Manresa) will be the first new chef in 2016.
The Gold Coast steakhouse feels wonderfully tongue-in-cheek—a chef's choice option is called "I Don't Give a Fuck"—while still serving up classics like surf and turf, creamed spinach and martinis. The latter gets a whole section in Cristiana DeLucca's drink list, which features both classic martinis and updated versions. With sommelier Belinda Chang handling the wine program, expect well-selected wines and knowledgeable service—requesting a pairing for a steak resulted in sampling three different wines, all of which would have been perfect.
When we last saw Sarah Grueneberg, she was manning Spiaggia, and doing a darn good job with fancy Italian food. In November, she opened Monteverde, which offers a modern take on the cuisine. Pasta is made in-house behind the bar and it appears in dishes like a super peppery cacio e pepe, made with ricotta whey; winter-squash tortelloni and an egg-yolk filled ravioli. Start with 'nduja-filled arancini and artichoke-topped crostini, and you'll leave stuffed but happy.
The collaboration between Boka Group (Momotaro, etc.) and B. Hospitality (Formento’s, etc.) delivers a spin on a steakhouse. Expect a hot platter, with oysters in bonito butter; surf and turf with a cap steak and citrus-poached lobster; and a perfect grapefruit sorbet for dessert—it's the kind of forward-thinking steakhouse we want in 2015.