Location – 1749 N. Damen (St. Paul and Damen)
In one word – Earnest
Food – Bluebird has jumped on two trendy Chicago bandwagons: 1) Small plates 2) Flatbread. While I enjoyed both trends at Bluebird, they didn’t set any sort of new culinary standard in my mind. However, I do think it’s worth trying this place. It’s quality casual place to dine. My eating partner spotted frites at a neighboring table as soon as we walked in. Ordering those was a good choice. They are served with a garlic alioli sauce and curry ketchup. This is one of those sides that you continue to eat even after your mind and stomach tell you that you are clearly full. In addition to the frites, we sampled the roasted baby beet salad. I did dig this, but I wanted there to be less frisee and more beets and cheese. Finally we shared a flatbread (which is the size of a medium pizza). The one we ordered had roasted mushrooms, fresh chevre, grilled greek sausage, shallots, garlic and watercress. The best part of it was the actual flatbread, which was described to us as a kind of Lebanese cracker bread. After eating all of that, I was full-dizzle.
Drink – Someone I know mentioned a month back that I should try Ska Beer out of Durango, CO. Crazy enough, this happened to be on special. I really did enjoy the recommendation, it was smooth, but had a nice bitterness to it. Bluebird has a ton of wines and local beers to choose from. I think this will be a good place to sample less common beverages.
Service – I thought that the service was very earnest. Our server was really sincere and invested in insuring that we enjoyed our experience at Bluebird. He talked to us about his favorite dishes and why he liked each of them. Since I wasn’t in a hurry and this was my first time dining at Bluebird, his thoughts were welcome. He also made me feel confident of my food choices. There is nothing worse than a server who judges what you order at a restaurant.
Scene – The place kind of reminded me of a less sceney avec. Same sort of bare, yet warm atmosphere. The restaurant is located at an odd cross-section of the city. It’s Wicker Park, so you have remnants of the indie hipster scene. But, it’s on that strip of Damen that looks like the Gold Coast (you know with Marc by Marc Jacobs, BCBG, etc.). As a result, you get a mix of people dining here.
Dress – Our server had jeans and a polo on. Take your cues from him. It’s a casual place, no need to breakout the fancy wear.
Cost – For my beer, shared frites, salad and flatbread, I paid $21. It was actually a lot of food for that amount. I wouldn’t scream “Bargain,” but it’s not overpriced.
If you like, try…avec
Location – 900 N. Michigan (Bloomingdale’s Mall)
In one word – Sufficient
Food – Lettuce Entertain You closed Tucci Bennuch…only to open another Italian restaurant in its stead. In Frankie’s Pizzeria, you can have pizza, antipasta, salads and a few pasta entrees. We shared a margharita pizza. For what it was, a pizza on Michigan Avenue, it wasn’t bad. However, I wouldn’t flock far and wide to get it. If you’re in the area and need a rest stop while shopping, this will suffice. At first I was a little turned off with the thick crust, but then I bit into it and was impressed by how soft it was. We also shared the arugula and fennel salad. It was fine, uneventful.
Drink – They have a wine list if you feel the need to inebriate yourself before walking into yet another Banana Republic along the Mag Mile. As it was just noon, I partook in a diet Coke.
Service – It’s fine, again nothing to report about.
Scene – This is a rest stop, not a destination. You really can come as you are (clothes-wise), no one will care. I always forget that the Mag Mile is filled with spoiled children carrying their overpriced American Girl dolls, so be prepared for that. We came at noon on a Saturday and it was relatively empty. When we were leaving around 1:30, the place was hopping.
Cost – For a pizza, a salad, a glass of wine (for my eating partner) and a diet Coke, we were charged $30. I had my handy Lettuce Entertain You gift certificate, knocking the price down to $15 not including the tip.
If you like, try…Foodlife, Wow Bao
Location – 620 N. State (State and Ontario)
In one word – Suprising
Food – Given its touristy location, my hopes weren’t high for this place. But, I was pleasantly surprised. You get traditional Italian fare with excellent service, what more could you ask for? All in all, I was satisfied with the food. I started with the baby argula salad. I thought it was a bit too salty, but luckily they kept the water flowing at my table. Then I moved to the butternut squash ravioli. I enjoyed it, but I was hoping the roasted sage on top would be slightly crispier (but that’s just my preference). My eating partner started with their speciality cheese. That went down fast, so I guess she liked it. Her entree was the penne pasta dish, which she dug. We ended the evening with the poached pear dessert. This was a relatively light dessert served with a shortbread cookie and a scoop of gelato. A couple of notes – At the front of the restaurant is Pizzeria via Stato, which is the pizzeria part of the place. It’s a more casual and cheaper option if you want it. Also, Osteria has a filling prix fixe menu. For $40, you get all the food you could ask for. If you’re a big eater, you might want to go this route.
Drink – Like its neighbor across the street, Osteria serves wine in quartinos (glasses and bottles are available too), which is both responsible and economical. Since it was a Wednesday, we chose this more mature option. We told our server that my eating partner loved reislings, so he brought out a comparable wine which we enjoyed very much.
Service – I really appreciate good service and tha,t is what we got at Osteria. And, I love it when a server’s recommendations are actually good (a rarity from my experience). He won on his recommendations for wine, cheese and dessert. That equals excellent tip. He was cute, too!
Scene – The inside of the place is covered with brick and wood, making the place feel relatively homey. We went on a Wednesday, so the restaurant was quiet and intimate. I think the vibe would be completely different on a weekend.
Dress – I wore jeans because that’s what I do. We were surrounded by other groups who chose to dress up slightly more, I think they were coming from work. I think jeans, khakis and dresses all work for this place. You’re trying too hard if you come here in a suit.
Cost – The total cost was about $85 for two. This included salad, cheese, two entrees, dessert and wine. All in all not bad. Here’s where we got our price saver, I joined the Lettuce Entertain You Frequent Diner program and have accrued more than my fair share of points (which is very easy to do in Chicago). So we used my $25 gift certificate, knocking our total meal to $60 for two. Not bad, eh?
If you like, try…Quartino, La Madia, A Mano
Location – 59 W. Grand (Grand and Dearborn)
In one word – Dominos
Food – Pizza and wine? Of course I was excited about coming to La Madia! Unfortunately it is another Spacca Napoli wannabe. We started with the toasted bruschetta, which was a highlight of the meal for me. For pizzas, we went with the classic margarita and the La Madia sausage, onion, pepper pizza. La Madia’s version of the margarita pizza was like a thin crust cheese pizza from Dominos. Sure I ate it, but I wasn’t impressed. I was much happier with the sausage pizza. We supplemented our meal with the organic mixed green salad. It was nothing to write home about. For dessert, my eating partners picked the chocolate tortino. I was too stuffed to try it, but they seemed satisfied with it.
Drink – We ordered a cheap bottle of pinot noir, Parker Station. It didn’t have much flavor. I would suggest another selection if you head over to La Madia.
Service – Because they’re a new restaurant, the manager came over twice to check that everything was going well with our meal (which it was). Our server didn’t seem to like us that much, but all in all it was fine.
Occasion – With the dark lights and the mod furniture, the place feels slick. I would say come here for a date or with a group of your girl friends. It did seem a little loud, so choose an eating partner who can project.
Cost – We paid about $30 each for the meal. I thought for the amount of food we ordered, that was appropriate.
If you like, try…Spacca Napoli, Quartino, A Mano
Location – 335 N. Dearborn (Dearborn and Kinzie)
In one word – Quartino-y
Food – To sum it up, this place is Quartino Jr. The concept is the same as Quartino. The menu is similar to Quartino. Perhaps the atmosphere is a bit more sophisticated than Quartino, but for now my preference is…Quartino. My eating partner and I decided to really sample the menu, so here’s the run-down: Mole Salame (actually one of my favorites of the night, the mole flavor really shines through), Roasted Peppers with Honey Goat Cheese (good but nothing new),Fatto a Mano Fennel Sausage Pizza (this was thin, but messy. I still prefer the Spacca Napoli pizza to this), Pappardelle with Braised Boar and Raisins (this was another highlight for me) and Rabiolo and Ricotta Cheesecake (we didn’t really dig this, very heavy). Overall it’s good and worth trying. Will it blow your culinary mind away? Not by a long shot.
Drink – I was happy with our selection. We both had the Cortaccia Pinot Nero and the Dolcetto. Red, bright and complimented our food.
Service – Off the bat, I was worried. When we walked in there were three hostesses, I was hoping that at least one of them would be civil towards us. But I understand that is a lot to ask. Luckily the restaurant redeemed itself. Our server was perfect. He knew the answers to our questions. Offered us samples of wines when we asked for recommendations and didn’t charge us for theunfulfilling dessert (because he recommended it to us). That experience gave me an overall positive experience of the place.
Dress – We went on a Friday night. The crowd was a bit older. A lot of 40, 50, 60-something couples. Also, a few groups of 30-something women, perhaps a “Girls Night Out?” I would advise not dressing super casual if you’re coming at night. Perhaps a simple dress or your best jeans with heels would work better.
Cost – For our meal (minus the dessert, plus a good tip), we each paid $40.07. Yes, it was pricey, but we indulged in a lot of food.
If you like, try…Do I even need to repeat it? Quartino
So recently I came to Frasca for brunch. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of wait time and the actual cuisine. I ordered the oatmeal pancakes, which totally hit the spot! Bottomless mimosas are available (which sound great in theory, but I would assume bad in practice). Nevertheless, a nice new addition to the brunch rotation!
Location – 3358 N. Paulina (Paulina, Roscoe, Lincoln)
In one word – Leisurely
Food – Come for Italian small plates. We ordered a small plate of olives with oranges. It was pretty good, though my eating partner and I agreed that the olives at avec are better. We then shared the caponata pizza, with eggplant, artichokes, goat cheese and red peppers. It was enjoyable but a little too messy for my liking.
Drink – It was warm out, so we ate al fresco and drank white wine. Perfection! I had the pinot bianco. The wine list is impressive.
Service – Our server did not really know about white wine, but other than that, everything was fine. She recommended a chardonnay when we asked for a light white wine. Even I know that’s wrong. The manager came by to check on us during the meal, which I always appreciate. Without a reservation, we only had to wait 20 minutes to sit outside on a Friday night.
Occasion – You’ll see a mix of overly adorable West Lakeview families, dates and girls commiserating over not having dates.
Dress – Look cute, you could sport a dress. However, if you show up in jeans, you wouldn’t stand out.
Cost – For our shared appetizer, pizza and beverages, we each paid $30.
If you like, try…avec, Quartino
Location – 1406 W. Belmont (Belmont and Southport)
In one word – Cute
Food – If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love Neapolitan pizza. As a result, I was super excited about coming here. My eating partner and I shared one of the pizzas on special – it was abianca pizza with Italian sausage, carmelized onions, roasted red peppers and mozzerella. Delicioso! I truly enjoyed it and devoured my half of the pie. Then we decided to indulge in the gelato. I got mint chip and my eating partner got the chocolate hazelnut. It had been a while since I had good gelato , so I was worried I’d be disappointed. No worries people, it was fantastic. My eating partner lived in Rome for a while, so when she gave the thumbs up on it, I knew it was quality. The big question: Was it better than Spacca Napoli in Lincoln Square? The answer: No, however the food is still well worth trying.
Drink – BYOB so you’ll save on cost. There is a $5 corkage fee.
Service – I’m a fan of places where the owner and/or chef interacts with the clientele. Here, the owner is running around taking orders, busing tables, basically making sure your experience is excellent. At no point did I feel neglected by the staff during our meal. And we weren’t rushed to leave either.
Occasion – I saw a lot of families and twosomes (either dates or friend get-togethers). I wouldn’t come here with a big group because the space of the restaurant is small.
Dress – It’s a local Lakeview establishment, so you have a wide range of clothing options that you can get away with. I came straight from work and was fine. You also have children in their end of summer shorts. No one looked twice.
Cost – We paid $15 each for a shared pizza and two gelati. The BYOB aspect helps you save on cost.
If you like, try…Frasca, Spacca Napoli
Location – 226 W. Chicago (Chicago and Franklin; other locations in Bucktown, Hyde Park, South Loop, Wrigleyville and Taylor Street)
In one word – Adequate
Food – Bar Louie positions itself as a distinct neighborhood bar, except for the fact that it’s in pretty much every neighborhood. They have a substantial menu of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and salads. We went the salad route. I had the pear salad with balsamic viniagrette and almonds. The dressing was a bit strong, but other than that I was satisfied. My friend had the chopped chicken salad. Her big beef was that there was only one small chunk of avocado in the salad. I take restaurants naming avocado in an entree on the menu seriously. If it’s listed, there ought to be at least a moderate amount of the ingredient to chomp on, right?
Drink – We both ordered one of Bar Louie’s draft beers. They have a decent number of options.
Service – Luckily we weren’t in a hurry. It took them about 25 minutes to get us our salads. Normally I wouldn’t have noticed, but we were the only ones in the restaurant. I’m not sure what the hold up was. Also my friend ordered her salad without bleu cheese or bacon. As it so happened, it first came out with those ingredients. The waitress did notice the mistake right away, so it was corrected relatively quickly.
Occasion – It’s a pretty casual environment. You could come here to catch up with a friend or on a really low key date.
Dress – Honestly you can wear anything. Dress for the occasion.
Cost – I paid $19 for a beer and a salad. To me, that was a bit excessive.
If you like, try…Green Door Tavern
Location – 2144 W. Division (Division and Leavitt)
In one word – Natural
Food – The premise of this place is natural foods, so no hydrogenated oils, no preservatives, basically no artificial anything. I really enjoy Letizia’s and see it as healthy comfort food. This time around I had a tuna melt panini, which is served on their special foccacia. It’s good, but beware, it’s big. Lots of tuna, lots of bread, whole lot of surface area. I really come to Letizia’s for the desserts (pies, cakes, pastries). Because it’s all natural, the desserts are good for you. Right?
Drinks – You can get juices and coffees from Caffe Umbria. It’s a good place to meet someone for coffee.
Service – You order from the counter and then they bring you your food. Nothing too intense. I do like the people who work at Letizia’s, they all have that cool, indi-hipster feel to them.
Occasion – Come here if you need something really casual. Grabbing coffee with a friend, a quick lunch, that sort of thing.
Price – For my sandwich, I paid about $6.50. I took the other half of the giant panini home, so I think that’s a good value.
If you like, try…Sarah’s, Intelligensia
Location – 2056 W. Division (Division and Damen)
In one word – APPALLING
Food – So this was the good part of the experience, the only good part. You can get pizzas here, but they will be pretentious and call them “flatbread.” Our table shared two – the “Shroom” (mushroom) and one of their specials (flatbread with broccoli and corn). Both were tasty, however the crusts were a bit overcooked.
Drinks – So they have a lot on their menu, lots of beers like Three Floyds and many martinis.
Service – If a restaurant can’t nail service, it might as well go out of business. Here’s the play by play of our night at Crust.
8:30 – Put in our name at the front and encouraged to go through the crowd to the tiny bar
8:35 – We made it to the tiny bar. Waited a five more minutes.
8:40 – Sole bartender at tiny packed bar took our order, “WHAT DO YOU WANT???” Very polite.
8:43 – We received our drinks and got word that our table was ready. We politely asked the frenetic bartender if we could pay at the table. Response, “YOU HAVE TO CLOSE OUT HERE!” So we close out, scared for our lives.
8:45 – Arrive at table. Busboy places waters on table. Fourth water – glass has not landed on table before the bottom falls out of it and water spills all over the table, us and my friend’s favorite leather bag.
8:46 – We help the busboy try to dry off our area.
8:50 – The manager came by to ask if anyone was cut by the glass. This basically made us feel petty for being angry that my friend’s bag was ruined. He gave her his card, so she could call him when the damages were determined. Because in a week, they’re going to be so eager to remedy this situation.
8:52 – Server came by, said she would have cried if this had happened to her. Nice.
8:55 – Another manager came by and said we should call her…later regarding the bag damages.
8:56 – Busboy comes by the table to see if we finished our drinks. Proceeds to pick up her bottle by the top (how unsanitary!) and realizes it’s full. Places it back down. He also gives us new napkins. Proceeds to sneeze on one before giving it to us.
9:00 – Food arrives
9:20 – Server comes by with the bill. It looks like there’s no bill there. And then…BAM! She flips it over, full bill for all the food. She speeds away from the table.
9:30 – We were finally able to get the manager’s attention and talked to him about the night. Reluctantly he offered to take the bill from us. Really? That’s the least you can do. Learn some customer service, son.
Occasion – There were dates and small groups at this place. The scene is busy, but casual.
Dress – People ran the gamut with the clothing. We were wearing jeans and fit in just fine.
Cost – We didn’t pay it, but we saw the bill. $55 for 4 beers and two pizzas (without tip, obvi!).
If you like, try – Well if you don’t like, try Spacca Napoli. If you really did like, eat there while you can, this place won’t be around for long.