In one word – Comforting
Location – 218 W Kinzie (Kinzie and Wells)
Food – I had no idea what to expect from Bavette’s (you know, other than bar and beef) and ended up being pleasantly surprised. The cuisine is ideal for the onset of winter – rich comfort food. I ended up having the burger, which was the perfect size for this hungry gal. I added a side of pomme frite because I was on a calorie binge. Did I stop there? Of course not. I topped off the meal with creamed spinach that had bleu cheese and caramelized onions. Did I have indigestion after that decadent meal? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I come back? In an instant.
Drink –The place feels like a 20’s speakeasy. The drink list fit the environment perfectly. I ended up going for the French 75, which was large, tasty and lasted me through the entire meal.
Service – Our server was chatty, and she provided good recommendations on the food and drink front.
Scene – This is where the restaurant really flourishes. When I sat down in our round booth, I actually felt like I was taken to another time period. The restaurant is decorated like a 20’s speakeasy. Everything in the restaurant aligns with that theme, from the seats to the bartender’s outfits. It’s a really fun experience.
Occasion – The occasion set for Bavette’s is vast. I could see this as a fun date spot or a good place with the girls or the guys. I’m considering having my next birthday party here.
Price – I spent $48 with tax and tip. The cost per calorie made this a bargain.
If you like, try…Gilt (same owner)
In one word – Thorough
Location – 1400 W. Randolph (Randolph and Loomis)
Food – Remember that one sixtyblue existed? Yeah, I forgot too until we stumbled upon it as a Plan B option when avec gave us a 2 hour wait time. We were celebrating one of my eating partner’s 30th birthday, so we decided to go all in for the night. I started with the Heart of Palm and Mango salad, it was served with a macadamia nut dressing. I thought it was light and fresh, so overall I was pleased. My eating partners had the Ceasar salad (they were eh about it) and the tomato and oyster soup (#winning). For mains, I went with the Porcini and Ricotta Ravioli. Perfect portion size for me – the dish was pretty decadent. The raviolis were filled with spaghetti squash, swiss chard and bechamel. Two eating partners shared the Burgandy Truffle Pasta. I thought it was rich, but uber satisfying. My other eating partner had the Hanger Steak which was served with brussel sprouts, squash, coffee sauce and hot chocolate foam. He was nervous about all the toppings to his steak, but in the end, he was satisfied. I also got an order of corn bread (which they make gluten free), for the table. Sweet and soft – I could probably live off of that stuff. For dessert (we had to, there was a birthday!), we had the chocolate chip banana cake. I thought I was full until I had a bite. When you add nutella ice cream, pralines and chocolate-coffee ganache to cake, I managed to muster more space in my full stomach to indulge.
Drink – They really shined here. We started with a round of cocktails. I had the Quennville’s Cup, which is a take on Pimm’s Cup – uber light and refreshing, highly recommend. The rest of the table sampled the Falling for Apples (apple cider and cognac, a bit sweet for me), Cinnamon Soho (rye-based, I believe) and the Matador Lopez (wine-inspired drink with gin, blackberry/gooseberry juice and balsamic reduction, super interesting!). For the meal, we went with the recommended Leroy Bourgogne Rouge. It was a great bottle, and I’m now on a quest to find this in the store (let me know if you have seen it!). As a complimentary present, the sommelier brought us a sparkling drink – I totally missed what it was – but it tasted like fresh strawberries and effervescence.
Service – You know when you are on a bad date and you think: “There’s nothing wrong with you. I just don’t think we get each other.” That was our relationship with our server. He made excellent recommendations, but we just didn’t love his vibe. I’m sure he will find another table one day though who will like him for who he is.
Scene – Not going to lie, it’s a little senior citizen central in here, but it worked for us. After being at super loud restaurants this week, this was a welcome change. If you need more activity, you can sit and eat in the bar area.
Occasion – We dropped a pretty penny here, so I would come here for an occasion like a 30th birthday or something of the like.
Price – If we had divided the meal across the 4 of us, it would have been $95 including tax and tip.
If you like, try…Morton’s, Gibson’s, or any of those Chicago steak institutions
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 – The Art Institute (111 S. Michigan)
In one word – Serene
Food – Given that the chef of TP comes from Spiaggia, it should not be surprising that I will only rave about the food. My eating partner and I started with the flatbread with burrata (cheese), spaghetti squash, olives and brown butter. This was my favorite part of the meal – I would order this again in an instant. Then I took on the Mizuna salad, which included avocado, chicken, lime and cashew. This did not blow me out of the water, but I could tell that all the ingredients were super fresh. My eating partner chose the steak salad, which she seemed to enjoy. Then we went crazy with dessert. You must try the chocolate semi-freddo with peanut nougat and salted caramel. Just do it, you can thank me later. We also sampled the holiday cookie assortment. If you have to choose, go with the semi-freddo.
Drink – My eating partner and I were celebrating, so I had a glass of the Gruner Vetliner and she had the Bourdeaux. We were both satisfied with our selections.
Service – We had attentive, but slow, service. Given we were not in a rush, this was not a deal breaker. I was thoroughly amused by the busser who commented after each course on how much or how little we ate. We had a little snafu with the bill at the end of the meal. However, as soon as we mentioned it, things were corrected.
Scene – The restaurant is in the new Modern wing of the Art Institute. Like the rest of the wing, the atmosphere is bright, clean and spacious. Being inside an art museum, the clientèle is…wise, sophisticated…some might say senior. This makes this an ideal location for a ladies lunch or a date.
Dress – The space is nice, but I wouldn’t sweat it on the attire front. During lunch, we were fine in our “Chicago Snow Day” sweater, leggings, boots combo. In the evening, you probably should make a bit more of an effort, but not over the top.
Cost – For wine, shared appetizer, entrée sized salad and dessert, we paid $60 including tax and tip. Pricey yes, but not crazy given the amount of food we ordered.
If you like, try…Cafe Spiaggia, Naturally Peninsula (at the Peninsula Hotel)
Location – 500 S. Dearborn (Dearborn and Congress)
In one word – Occasion
Food – Custom House is the meat-centric restaurant in Shawn McClain’s foodie-mecca-trio that also includes Spring (fish-centric) and Green Zebra (vegetarian-centric). All three restaurants can certainly boast the same high levels of creativity and quality showcased in their seasonal menu, however, the personalized service and stylish ambiance at CH, makes it my go-to “Special Occasion” restaurant in Chicago. Recently my Trusty Sidekick and I ate at CH again for Valentine’s Day.
For Valentine’s CH offered a prix fix menu—four courses for $80/person, not including wine. Each course had several choices. I chose the tuna tartar with blood orange, the king crab salad, and seared scallops for my main course. The tuna tartar was my favorite course—the tuna was dressed with blood orange juice and a little olive oil and the small juicy pieces of blood orange had a hint of raspberry flavor that complimented the sweet taste of the tuna. My Trusty Sidekick also chose the tuna tartar, then had the roasted beet salad with mascarpone and for his main course he ordered the dry-aged New York strip steak. He loved the tuna tartar too, but his favorite was the steak, which was juicy and flavorful. Our meal also included two sides: sautéed green beans and CH’s creamy mashed potatoes. These mashed potatoes are impossible. You just can’t figure out how they could ever exist in a form that’s this silky, smooth, and light. They boggle the mind. For dessert I tried the chocolate banana bread pudding, which had great banana flavor but wasn’t anything memorable. My Trusty Sidekick chose the cheese plate, which included five or six different types of cheeses, including a really strong delicious bleu cheese.
On a side note, I was so disappointed that the prix fix menu didn’t include one of Custom House’s thick, silky, fresh vegetable soups, which, besides their mashed potatoes, are what I look forward to the most on their menu. When you go, try the mashed potatoes and try the soup!
Drink – We noticed Sea Smoke on the menu, told our server that we liked the style of this wine, and asked for a few recommendations. From his suggestions we went with a bottle of Spanish red for $45 that we enjoyed. Definitely more than we usually pay, but it was ok because “definitely more than we usually pay” is the subtitle of the “Special Occasion” dinner.
Service – The service is detail-oriented without being overly fussy; they will fold your napkin if you get up to go to the washroom, but they won’t hover by your table to awkwardly pull out your chair for you when you return. The service is also very personalized. After we sat down our server asked if I didn’t eat meat. Since I hadn’t said anything when making the reservation I looked at my Trusty Sidekick, wondering if he had called to mention this, but he hadn’t. Our server informed me that CH had filed this information after a previous dining experience I had there. He then informed me what options on the menu could and couldn’t be prepared without meat. The fact that CH keeps these kinds of dining preferences in their records is something that I haven’t experienced at any other restaurant.
Scene – The space is modern, but elegant. A good deal of the restaurant is enclosed by glass-walls, which makes the space feel very open and comfortable. A rich ebony wood dominates the color palate, which is accented by the colorful abstract paintings on the walls. One focal point of the restaurant is a limestone wall that separates the dining room and the kitchen, and allows you to peak in on the chefs. In the dining room, the tables are well spaced, and I find them to be a bit smaller in length than the typical table. These two things help create a more private, intimate dining experience whether you’re going on a date or celebrating with a close group of old friends. You’ll see lots of 20 and 30 somethings; I’ve never seen children here.
Dress – Dress up. I wore my nice (i.e. ridiculously expensive) pair of dark jeans, a lace blouse and a suit jacket. Go for a look that’s sophisticated and urban, not “formal.” Jackets are not required for men.
Cost – For food, drink, tax and tip, our bill was about $250, or $125/person: $80/per person for four courses plus $45 for wine and $40 for tip. Of course this is why you need a special occasion to go to Custom House!
written by hungry yuppie
Location – 130 E. Randolph (Randolph and Michigan)
In one word – Attentive
Food – I’d dub the menu as “upscale bar cuisine.” You have your fish and chips (made with tilapia) and the chopped steak cheeseburger. Upon a raving recommendation by a frequent diner, I decided to partake in TATP’s equivalent of sliders – “Tavern Teasers, ” where you can choose from Carolina pork, sirloin and/or prime rib. These sliders are served with shoe string fries. Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough, but I didn’t think it was worth all the hype. The bun was soggy with the Carolina pork and my sirloin was a bit too rare for my taste. I barely made a dent in the dish. My eating partner chose the special, a steak with bleu cheese. He polished that off, but didn’t seem so wowed by the dish.
Drink – I had a glass of the pinot grigio, which was affordable and tasty.
Service – When I walked in, I made a joke to the host at the front of the restaurant. And he laughed at my joke. Automatic points when you laugh at my humor. My only qualm was that at the table, my water glass had lipstick on it. Once I told our server, he was quick to replace it and apologized profusely. The service, otherwise, was uber attentive. Over the course of the meal, I was asked twice by the manager how the meal was. And the server continually came over to check on us.
Scene – It’s a little stuffy here. I think it’s a frequent haunt for those who work in the Aon building, so you feel very corporate here. I think it’s a good place to bring a client for lunch. They have a private dining area if you have a larger group to entertain.
Dress – Because of the corporate vibe, you kind of should look the part. I wouldn’t come here in jeans. Dress in business casual at a minimum.
Cost – We split the bill and paid $34.50 each for food, drink, tax and tip. Given that I barely ate my meal, it wasn’t worth the cost for me. Given that my eating partner had a steak, the place was a bargain.
If you like, try…Harry Caray’s
Location – 2100 N. Halsted
In one word – Criminal
Food – My fellow food-lovers on a budget, welcome to The (French) Holy Land. With great food at great prices this hidden gem is more than a steal; it’s criminal.
Red Rooster is the cheap but equally classy sister of Café Bernard, a Lincoln Park favorite that’s built a well-deserved reputation during it’s 30+ years in operation. The two restaurants are in fact located right next door to one another and actually share a kitchen, a chef (owner Bernard LeCoq), and some of the exact same menu items; but at Red Rooster you can get them at a lower price. If you want to get a great deal on a good deal, I recommend going to Red Rooster on a Sunday-Thursday night so you can take advantage of their three course Prix Fixe menu for $20. You get your choice of soup or salad, your choice of entrée, and your choice of dessert. I recently returned to Red Rooster last Thursday with a large group from Trusty’s office and their Prix Fixe was fantastic.
As always, I had their Signature Grilled Salmon with Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce, normally $19.95 if you don’t go for Prix Fixe. This is one of my favorite meals in the city. The salmon is grilled well and is a very large portion—this is one big, burly salmon—so you can either bring your appetite or plan to leave with lunch for the next day. It comes with hearty roasted root vegetables—baby red-skinned potatoes, fennel, carrots, and red cabbage. The super-star of the dish is the rich cabernet sauvignon sauce. If you’re a sauce lover this sauce is your soul mate. I’ve asked Chef Bernard if it can be bottled for purchasing, but alas, he tells me that because it’s rather finicky and can easily separate, there’s just no way.
Others in our group tried their Duck Confit and Braised Lamb Shank for the Prix Fixe entrée; both were very moist and flavorful. For dessert the Flourless Chocolate Cake, as dense a flourless chocolate cake as you will ever meet, was enjoyed by many. The Strawberry Rhubarb Compote, which was tart but sweet, was another popular choice.
Drink – The wine menu is extremely affordable by the glass or by the bottle.
Service – The staff is very gracious but unobtrusive. Even after paying the bill, our party lingered at the table without feeling any rush to leave.
Scene –Beautiful, whimsical hand-painted walls and romantic lighting adds to the cozy and charming ambiance. As you can imagine, this is the perfect place for a date. But, you’ll also see lots of big groups.
Dress – 2nd date dress-wear is perfect: dressy, but comfortable.
Cost – 20 bucks for 3 whole courses. With wine, tax, tip: 30.
If you like, try – Brasserie Jo, Bistro Zinc
Written by hungry yuppie
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 – 21 E. Hubbard (Hubbard and Rush)
In one word – Premium
Food – We came here for a work lunch, so I wasn’t the one shelling out dough for the bill. Right now I’m on a kick to eat healthy. Perhaps you’ll see that reflected in my menu choiced. I started with the chopped salad. I was expecting something bland and was pleasantly surprised. The salad, with cherry tomatoes, bacon, croutons, a light vinegrette and a little bleu cheese, felt really fresh. My eating partners opted for the cold appetizer combo, it was a tower of crab, shrimp and oysters. It came with a frozen sauce they really seemed to like. For my main, I chose the Grilled Gulf Yellowfin Tuna. It was covered in this soy ginger dressing and served with crispy rice noodles and peanuts. This dish packed a whole lot of flavor. We sampled the desserts. I LOVED the peppermint ice cream. There are chunks of the candy cane in the ice cream, and it’s served with chocolate sauce.
Drink – I had a glass of their pinot grigio. It went down really smooth.
Service – It’s Shaw’s, so there’s old school service. I liked our server, though he wasn’t really willing to give us definite opinions when we asked for recommendations.
Scene – When we were there, a lot of groups from work were dining. A Chicago faux-lebrity sat behind our table, Corey McFerrin, the sports anchor from Fox Chicago. I always get giddy when I see even the smallest celebrity and almost texted my father at the table to let him know about the siting.
Dress – You could wear a suit here, but I don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary. Definitely no jeans.
Cost – I already noted that I didn’t pay. My guess is that my meal was about $45.
If you like, try…Joe’s Stone Crab, Ditka’s
Location – 33 W. Kinzie (Dearborn and Kinzie)
In one word – Surprising
Food – I am ashamed to admit that as a life-long Chicagoan, this was my first visit to Harry Caray’s. I always assumed it was a tourist trap and therefore avoided it. However, I brought some clients here for lunch and had a good experience! We were confined to an hour lunch, so we didn’t multi-course our meal. Craving protein, I had the Holy Cow Burger. It’s totally messy, but so worth it. They do a nice job of sauteeing the mushrooms and onions, which helps the burger feel more gourmet than most. Here’s a tip, avoid the regular french fries and opt for the sweet potato fries. They are not as good as the ones at Rockit, but they’re definitely contenders. My eating partners all stuck to traditional lunch fare, pulled pork sandwiches, club sandwiches, etc.
Drink – Since it was lunch and we were short on time, we didn’t indulge in cocktails. They have an 18-page wine list, which is pretty impressive.
Service – The caliber of service was much higher than I expected. I told our server that my party of 7 all had to finish our meal in 45 minutes, and he told me no problem. There were a couple of glitches, like they brought me a second Diet Coke when I hadn’t put a dent into my first. But, I’d rather be overserved than under in a heartbeat.
Scene – In my world, this was a perfect location for a lunch with clients. I don’t think I would plan to come here for a dinner with friends. The clientele seems a little on the tourist/senior citizen side. Maybe come if your family from out of town wants to do something distinctly Chicago. The feel of the place is kind of cool, Chicago paraphanalia on the brick walls.
Dress – If you come at lunch, expect to see suits.
Cost – My burger and Diet Coke brought me to about $20 including tax and tip.
If you like, try…Rockit