In one word – Reassuring
Location – 2723 N. Clark (Clark and Diversey)
Food – The Peasantry bills itself as “elevated street food” – everything you could get from a food truck, just much more gourmet. We started with the pigs in a blanket, which was actually chorizo wrapped in dough served on a bed of white beans and bacon. Excellent, but note that the spicy chorizo is an overpowering element. We then had the reconstructed poutine. I asked why it was reconstructed; we were told it was because the duck confit was separate from the gravy. Anyway, served on a bed of waffle fries, it was unhealthy and delicious. We then finished off with the pork belly gyro. Less like a gyro and more like pork belly on a crispy crepe (which is a compliment).
Drink – They have a craft beer and wine list, but I was fine with their house selection ($6.50 / glass, perfection).
Service – So nice to us! We had lots of questions and asked of all their recommendations. I trusted all the opinions of our servers. They were honest and genuinely wanted to ensure we were happy with the meal.
Scene – The vibe of the restaurant is laid back, though the patrons near us were stereotypical Lincoln Park. Not ideal, but reminded me that I am a smart woman and should feel grateful for that fact. No offense if you live in Lincoln Park.
Occasion – Come here to meet up with friends or for a first date.
Price – We split the meal in half and it came to $37. For the amount we had to eat plus wine, I was impressed with the value.
If you like, try…the Gage
Location – 500 N. Michigan (Illinois and Michigan)
In one word – avec-ish
Food – When I read the “Cheese, Wine and Swine” sign at the entrance to the restaurant, I knew I was dealing with a winner. You get what the sign describes in small plates, so come with people you like to share with so you can order everything. I came famished and ordered accordingly: Salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinegrette (good portions of beets, which I love, but nothing out of this world), the endive salad (not memorable), the grilled cheese of the day (where the chef just puts whatever cheese he feels like – the roulette of grilled cheeses, recommend this), milk braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes (quite possibly the most decadent dish I have had in a while. Get it, but you must share to avoid the heart attack).
Drink -I was pleasantly surprised by the vastness of the wine list (though they barely had any American options. U-S-A! U-S-A!). No matter your drinking habit, this place can accommodate you.You can order a glass, quartino (1/3 of a bottle), half bottle or whole bottle.
Service – I really liked our server. She was focused on us without being too intrusive. She also provided us with her honest recommendations on food. I hate when a) the server says “it’s all great!” or b) when the server has not sampled the entire menu. She knew her stuff and had an opinion. Automatic respect in my book.
Scene – This place is similar to avec and Eno, but the vibe is slightly (just slightly) older and more French countryside. I think this is an excellent place for a work lunch, a dinner date or a night with your win-o girl friends. It feels pretty versatile. They also have a patio right on the Chicago River for some excellent vistas.
Dress – We came at lunchtime, so there was a mix of lunch break professionals and seniors enjoying the Chicago sun. As a result, I saw a gamut of clothing choices. I think casual chic is very safe here.
Cost -As I am currently unemployed, my lovely eating partner picked up the check (thank you!). However, you should expect to pay a minimum of $30/person and more if you choose to eat.
If you like – avec, Eno
Location – 1576 N. Milwaukee (Milwaukee, Damen, North intersection)
In one word – Reliable
Food – If you are looking for reliable Italian cuisine, you’ll find solace at FF. I came with my eating partner for lunch and after much debate, decided to go with the gnudi. FF’s gnudi is similar to gnocchi. The pasta is made with ricotta and spinach served in a light tomato sauce. I started eating, I started enjoying, and all of a sudden, my bowl was empty! It was the perfect portion for lunch, filling me up without making me feel too stuffed. My eating partner decided to go with the insalata con uova (salad with asparagus, fried egg, parmesan and white truffle oil). She finished it off almost as quickly as I finished the gnudi. All in all, very satisfied at Francesca’s Forno.
Drink – We stuck with water. But, on Mondays right now, there is a half priced wine bottle promotion.
Service – We came at lunch on a Monday, so the place was uncharacteristically empty. No line, no wait. We were allowed to sit and chat for as long as we wanted. Beware though, this is not the norm. If you come here for brunch or dinner on the weekends, get a reservation and be prepared to wait even with that reservation. Our server was attentive and was helpful with our questions, couldn’t ask for more.
Scene – The place has a casual, rustic feel to it. It fits in with the overall vibe of that part of Wicker Park. Being near the El, this restaurant attracts shoppers from around the city as well as Wicker Park locals.
Dress – You’ll be fine in the usual Wicker Park attire – quirky t-shirt and jeans. However, you won’t be out of place if you decide to dress it up a bit.
Cost – So I paid $12 for food, tax and tip. Pretty decent in my book.
If you like, try…La Luce
Location – 464 N. Halsted (Grand and Halsted)
In one word – Underdelivers
Food -This place was hyped up a lot. They were getting press all over the place, so I was expecting to be blown away by the food. I was not. Don’t get me wrong, the food was good, it just wasn’t outstanding. The upside to the place is that they get their produce locally at the Green City Market, so things are fresh. Our table shared the Bianca con Rucula pizza (a white pizza with parmesan, olive oil and argula). It’s a nice dish to share. I think I would have been overwhelmed by the olive oil had I chosen this as my main. Then we moved on to salads. I chose the Insalata di Pesche (pronounced “PESK-A,” as our server told us…twice), which was peaches with goat cheese. I would order this again. My eating partners dove into the Panzanella, veggies and bread in an olive oil marinade (worth getting!) and the caprese salad (pretty standard). Then we moved on to the main. The good thing about the pasta is that you can order an appetizer size, which proved to be the perfect portion for me. Our table ordered the meat lasagna, the spinach and ricotte gnocchi, the string cut spaghetti and paglia with a veal ragu. Nothing was notable, everything was just average. Our entire table had to uncharacteristically salt each dish because the sauces were bland. When the gnocchi came out, it was cold. That’s a mistake from Restaurant 101, we were not impressed.
Drink – I had the Soave white wine, which as the name says, was smooth.
Service – I am always a little bit accommodating towards a new restaurant, kinks have to be worked out. But our server stretched my accommodation threshold, he was straight up spastic. He said he didn’t know anything about the restaurant’s wine selection and requested that we order all our courses at once because “we are a new restaurant and are still figuring everything out.” When we were telling him the wine we were considering (and being very obvious about the price range we needed to stay in), he told us to get a bottle which was $20 more than what we wanted to spend. When we were ordering our food, he corrected our pronunciation of the Italian not once, but twice. And he did it in a really aggressive way. I’m all for correct pronunciation, but be tactful. And later in the meal, it comes out that he’s not actually Italian. His credibility was shot at that point. Overall, he was pushy and stood too close to us.
Scene – This is the old Thyme/Timo spot. Go when the weather is nice and request to sit on the patio, you really feel like you’re eating in a garden. Because the restaurant received so much press, it’s pretty busy. I was surprised to see it full on a Wednesday night.
Dress – While I did see an unfortunate soul wearing Crocks, most people seemed semi-stylish. Jeans are appropriate, but you need to look like you put a little effort into your look.
Cost – We each paid $45. For the amount of food, it’s seemed reasonable. For the caliber of food, it felt overpriced.
If you like, try…Anteprima
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 – 59 W. Hubbard (Hubbard between Dearborn and Clark)
In one word – Polished
Food – I had to plan a dinner for a couple clients and we came to Brasserie Jo. With a medium sized group, I planned a semi fixed menu for the group. We all started with the Baked Brie, Apricot, Almonds, Haricot Verts. This was a part of the meal getting rave reviews from the whole table. We also ordered the Bibb salad. This was another dish getting compliments. You don’t expect that about a salad! After that, I chose the Atlantic salmon with braised French lentils. This was filling and delicious. I loved the addition of horseradish. For dessert, we indulged in the chocolate mousse. It brought a smile to my face. Other times I have come to Brasserie Jo, I’ve ordered the Tarte Flambee, it’s basically French pizza and it’s comforting.
Drink – Before dinner, we sampled some of the different French wines offered. I ended up with the A to Z pinot noir, which worked well for me.
Service – They accommodated me when I needed a private room for 14 in less than 24 hours. I found that the service was fantastic here.
Occasion – I use Brasserie Jo as a comfortable formal location. It worked well for this client dinner as well as dinner with my mother.
Dress – You don’t have to wear a party dress, but you should dress up to a certain extent. I wore slacks and a blazer.
Cost – Well, I wasn’t on my own budget here for this work dinner. However, I usually pay $50 – 60 when I come here on my own.
If you like, try…Kiki’s Bistro, Brasserie Ruhlman
Location – 339 N. Dearborn (Dearborn between Kinzie and Wacker)
In one word – Freebies
Food – Because it’s close to work, I sometimes come here for a special occasion lunch with colleagues. The menu doesn’t really follow a cuisine in particular. I don’t really have any strong opinions about the lunch menu. I like it, but it doesn’t make my heart sing. One entree that consistently gets good reviews amongst my eating partners is the towering lobster club. So if I’m not head over heels about the menu, why do I come back? A couple reasons. Reason 1 – When they have Persian Feta on the cheese plate, happy days are here again. That is my favorite kind of cheese ever. Reason 2 – After lunch, you can help yourself to a free chocolate chip cookie and coffee. I love walking back to the office with the cookie and coffee and savoring them for the rest of the afternoon.
Drink – Bin knows wines. This place has a decent happy hour because of its immense wine selection. I love that in the menu, they recommend the wine to accompany the entree. It makes deciding the beverage very easy.
Service – I have always found the staff at Bin to be very hospitable and knowledgeable. That’s all I can ask for.
Occasion – The clientele is a bit older here, so don’t plan a raucous frat party here. Instead, come here with your girl friends for wine and cheese or a date. You’ll be fine in jeans here, but try to act like you’ve put a bit of effort into your look.
Cost – For an entree and a glass of wine, expect to pay $25 – 30.
If you like, try…Midtown Kitchen + Cafe
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 – 1559 N. Milwaukee Ave., http://www.binwinecafe.com
In one word – Cheese
Food – My friend and I went to Bin one afternoon while shopping in Wicker Park. It was mid afternoon, the sun was out, we felt like a glass of wine in a pseudo alfresco setting and Bin provided the trés Euro experience we were craving. Come here if you like cheese. And if that’s the case, please indulge in the Persian Feta. I could write an epic poem about my love of Persian Feta, so I’ll cut myself off now…just try it. You can really do any of their cheese flights, see how you feel after housing the “Fat City” cheese plate. Additionally you can win with any of the salads or pizzas offered there. I like this place because the food is served small plate-style. This means you can share and sample lots of things on the menu. Ooh, and don’t forget to try the tempura green beans.
Drink – As the little sibling of Bin 36, you know you’ll be treated to a great selection of wines. Plus you can test out some flights. When I went on my own sommelier skills, I was disappointed so perhaps ask your server for help. On Mondays and Tuesday, you can get $10 wine flights. I’m in!
Service – Ahh, something to complain about! Each time I’ve been to Bin, I have had attrocious service. At least feign interest in my experience at your restaurant! However, I’ve found that the Persian Feta cheese blocks out all negativity streaming from the server. So indulge.
Occasion – This place is really low-key, so you can get away with coming here for any occasion. Perhaps a date (even a first one), dinner with a friend or with parents.
Dress – It’s Wicker Park, so you’ll run into all the wannabe hipsters on the street. They’ll be in their skinny jeans and oversized sunglasses. You, on the other hand, might be better off in pants with a little more give (you know how cheese makes you feel).
Cost – For a light fare and a glass of wine, you’d probably shell out $25. Not the cheapest thing in the world, but there’s no buyers remorse.
If you liked…try – Avec, Cru Wine Cafe