Location – 6 E Chestnut St, on the corner of Chestnut and State
In one word – Bustle
Food – Having moved huge masses of people in and out of its doors over the years, Tempo is a Gold Coast/Chicago institution and a well-oiled brunch machine. It’s a good place to take big groups and out-of-town visitors, and while my high school girlfriends were visiting me this weekend Tempo did not disappoint.
Here’s how the production line works. First, you wait for a table. Reservations aren’t accepted for Saturday or Sunday, so unfortunately this prerequisite is part of the Tempo weekend brunch experience. Get there early (before 9:30) or late (after 12) and depending on the size of your party you’re more likely to be looking at a wait that’s 15-20 minutes or less.
Once you’re seated you’ll be faced with a more pleasant challenge: choosing what to order. Their menu is huge and has something for everyone. Try one of their legendary 3 egg omelets served with a thick slice of white or wheat toast, home-made marmalade and crispy, country-fried potatoes ($8-$14). A Tempo omelet is truly a thing of beauty. It is basically an open-faced frittata the size of a Frisbee (I dare you to finish an entire one on your own). Whether you order it with egg-whites-only or not, it is as light and fluffy as a Sarah Palin interview answer, and there’s a huge variety of ingredients to choose from. Between the eight of us, our group sampled the Artemis (artichoke, tomatoes and Swiss), the Veggie (spinach, zucchini, and broccoli), and the State Street (broccoli, ham, mushroom, tomato). If you ever try either the Jamaican omelet (banana, walnut, honey) or the Michigan omelet (apple, cheddar), let me know how it is–I’ve always wanted to try them but can never stray from my usual orders. Our group also tried the Banana-nut Buckwheat Waffle ($12), topped with a heap of banana slices, walnut confetti, and thick maple syrup, and the Eggs Benedict ($12), which had a smooth, tangy hollandaise that had it’s way with everyone (cholesterol schmolesterol). No matter what you order there’s a good chance that even after you stuff yourself, there will still be so much food left over that you’ll leave feeling slightly inadequate.
Drink – Order a smoothie ($4)—we tried the Casablanca, a combo of cantaloupe, strawberry, and fresh orange juice—or you can get just a freshly squeezed glass of juice ($4)—I recommend carrot-apple. Pop, coffee, and specialty coffee drinks are available, but coffee hounds be forewarned—there are no free refills.
Service – The staff here are seasoned pros and they do not mess around. The service is usually impersonal, but very efficient. You’re expected to order quickly, but you can expect your food to arrive just as quickly. Plan ahead, because if you’re going during Sat/Sun brunch rush-hour you will not be seated until your entire party has arrived. They only accept cash, so leave your credit or debit cards at home.
Scene – There’s not much to the decor; Tempo is basically a clean, bright, busy diner. If it’s nice out, try to stick out the wait so you can sit in their great outdoor patio area—you’ll be rewarded with some top-notch people watching. Their clientele runs the gamut—you’ll see tourists, locals, students, families, big groups, couples, Chicago’s finest and more.
Dress – There is no dress code. Tempo is open 24/7 so depending on what time you go, you could wear PJs to sweats to yoga-wear to jeans.
Cost – About $13-$15 per person before tip.
If you like, try… Ann Sathers, Yolk
Written by hungry yuppie
Location – 1131 N. State (State and Elm)
In one word – Balthazar-esque
Food – As yesterday was Bastille Day, it was only appropriate to indulge in French food. My eating partner and I started with the beet salad – greens with red and yellow beets. bleu cheese and this flavorful vinegrette. The plate was licked clean. Then I went for the onion tart, which is essentially caramelized onions and butter (i.e. deliciousness). The tart comes with a substantial salad (I wish I knew that ahead of time because then I wouldn’t have ordered my initial salad). My eating partner chose a special, the zuchinni pancakes with smoked salmon. I was envisioning stack of flapjacks being placed on the table. Instead, they gave her a plate of mini pancakes (read: REALLY small). Good thing she loaded up on bread at the beginning of the meal. Despite the small size, she seemed to like the zuchinni pancakes. We had to end the meal with dessert, after all it was a celebration, Vive La France! I sampled the creme brulee with Madagascan vanilla. Rich and sweet, everything you want from a creme brulee. My eating partner wiped out the chocolate crepe. I watched her head get dangerously close to licking the plate, so it seemed as though the dish was a hit.
Drink – I partook in the pinot blanc on the menu, which worked for me on that hot evening. My eating partner went for a champagne.
Service – I liked our server. He had a sense of humor and seemed quite honest with his recommendations.
Scene – Whenever I walk into Bistro Zinc, I think of two things 1) it looks like a junior Balthazar, the restaurant in NYC and 2) it feels very Parisian. Despite those two thoughts, I find that you can make the restaurant what you want. It can be a formal date location, good for a casual family brunch or perfect for a last minute dinner plan with a friend.
Dress – You could dress up (not to a suit level, but to a khaki pant level), but you’re also fine in jeans.
Cost – For all that food and wine, I paid $43. Yeah, not cheap, but we didn’t skimp on the meal. I think it’s possible to do a much more scaled back dinner at BZ if you choose.
If you like, try…Bistro Margot, Brasserie Jo
Location – 72o N. State (State and Superior)
In one word – Molten
Food – We decided to come to Roy’s for the Restaurant Week Dinner Menu ($31.95 for a three course prix fixe menu). Roy’s has Hawaiian cuisine, so come here for fish, steak and cake. The appetizer was a sampler of chicken spring rolls (flavorful, nice cream sauce accompanying it), pork ribs and coconut crusted shrimp. All in all, a nice way to start the meal. There were three main entree options. I chose the Tender Braised Honey Mustard Short Rib. I’m not big on red meat, but I enjoyed this very much. The meat was pretty succulent, and it was served with mashed potatoes and some random veggies. I only finished half of the entree because I wanted to save myself for dessert. My eating partners opted for the Blue Crab Dynamite Crusted Skate (but they were out of skate, so they offered a substitute fish which worked just fine) and a Shrimp/Gnocchi entree (that eating partner polished that off, so I have no wonder on what she thought). Then it came time for dessert. I’ve been to Roy’s before, and I decided to come back solely because of the molten chocolate cake. To say it’s divine is an understatement. You have to try it to believe it.
Drink – We ordered this great (cheap) bottle of pinot blanc from Alsace. Awesome pick!
Service – Our server knew what he was doing. He recited the menu highlights like a pro and made us feel confident with our selection. While a bit cocky, I liked him.
Scene – The lights were dim and the Wallflowers were humming softly in the background. Obviously this could be a place to take a date. I saw a lot of groups, like 6 or more people.
Dress – The place is a little formal, but I still got away with wearing jeans there on a Tuesday night. If you came on the weekend, I think you’d be expected to try a bit harder.
Cost – Because it was Restaurant Week, our three course meal was $31.95. Adding tax, tip and wine, our total was $56 each. It didn’t feel as cheap as Restaurant Week is supposed to be, but I’m over it. For reference, Roy’s has a $35 prix fixe menu throughout the year.
If you like, try…Vong’s Thai Kitchen
Location – 42 E. Superior (Superior between Wabash and Lake)
In one word – Sangria
Food – When Cafe Iberico is claiming a 2 hour wait, head over to 1492. You can get well executed tapas with no wait at all! We ordered the bacon covered dates, potato omelet, patatas bravas, grilled calamari and croquetas with chicken. I had no complaints whatsoever.
Drink – What I like about 1492 is the multiple flavors of sangria offered. We ended up just going for the basic sangria despite all the options.
Service – We were a decent sized group and they accommodated us with a last minute reservation on a Friday night. For that, I am appreciative.
Occasion – There were a lot of group dinners going on at 1492. Come here to indulge in tapas with a large group of friends and to pass around a couple pitchers of sangria.
Dress – It seems that people stop here before going out to a different nightspot. As a result, I saw a lot of folks in their weekend club wear. Obviously that attire is not mandatory.
Cost – Expect to pay $30 if you’re sharing tapas with a couple of friends.
If you like, try…Cafe Iberico
Location – 900 N. Michigan (Michigan and Delaware, Bloomingdale’s Mall)
In one word – Comprehensive
Food – I come to Oaktree for standard, quality brunch/breakfast cuisine. You need to have the Little Miss Muffin. I don’t even like muffins usually, but often I crave these. They’re moist and perfect. Other than that I stick to the healthier options on the menu like the fruit plate with cottage cheese (more like a giant fruit platter) and the egg white scrambler.
Drink – They have some fresh juices and smoothies. I stick to the orange juice.
Service – Never have had any issues here.
Occasion – It is a place to stop if you’re shopping in the Gold Coast area. Also, the restaurant is quite big, so if you find that you don’t want to wait an hour to eat the skillet at Tempo, come here.
Dress – Shoes? Shirt? You’ll be fine.
Cost – You’ll probably pay about $15-16 per person here for an entree and beverage.
If you like, try…Ann Sathers
Location – 875 N. Michigan (Hancock Building) or 30 E. Huron (Huron and Wabash)
In one word – Gelato
Food – A friend of mine reminded me of the delight of L’Appetito yesterday. Imagine that you are in a European cafe – most likely in Spain or Italy, perhaps France. Place it in the Gold Coast. Bam! You have L’Appetito. You can get paninis (imagine lots of cheeses and salamis), pizza (a little greasy, but still desireable) and gelato (my favorite in the city). Plus you can pick up some packaged foods that you saw when you were abroad in Europe and totally forgot about since then. Remember those hazelnut wafers with the cream in the middle? They have them.
Drink – I mean, you’re not going to come here for a huge night out, so focus on their great assortment of sparkling juices and waters. BTWs – My favorite is their almond or coconut flavored Italian sodas. Try it! I’m trying to make Italian soda the next big thing.
Service – You order at the counter and pay at a different counter. They have never messed that up for me.
Occasion – So you’re shopping in the Gold Coast and you need a pick-me-up to drown your sorrows given how you just pissed away your 15th-of-the-month paycheck at Bloomingdales. Oh, but those shoes were so worth it…
Dress – On weekdays, you’ll find more suits on their lunch break. On weekends, if you wear shoes and a shirt, you’ll get service.
Cost – If you buy a drink, a sandwich and dessert, expect to pay $10 – 11.
If you like, try… – Fox and Obel Cafe
Location – 105 E. Delaware Place
In one word – Confusing
Food – I don’t exactly get it, but I like it. This place is supposed to serve pan-Italian food with a bit of Asian influence mixed in. This means that you end up with a table of calamari, wood-oven pizza and beef noodles. To me, it’s not really fusion but a mostly Italian menu with one generic Asian food section. Despite this, the food works. I was on a health kick when I came here, so I indulged in the spinach salad. With the whipped goat cheese, it wasn’t exactly heart healthy, but I still dug it.
Drink – They have a decent enough wine list. I asked for the waiter’s recommendation and it satisfied me.
Service – It’s a hotel restaurant (part of the Whitehall Hotel), so the service is decent. Had a bit of trouble getting the check, but it was nothing to freak out about.
Occasion – This restaurant is in the Gold Coast, so the clientele is a bit older. If that doesn’t bother you, it’s totally fine for dinner with a friend or date. I’d keep the party size low because the lights are dark and people seem to speak at a lower volume than they would in another place.
Dress – If you came straight from work in business casual attire, you’d fit right in.
Cost – 1 glass of wine and 1 salad got me to about $25. A little more than it was worth, but I can still sleep at night.
If you liked…, try – Volare
Location – 25 E Delaware
In one word – Chatty
Food – Cru has recently reopened after a bit of remodeling. Now it’s connected to the Goddess and the Grocer. All you Dean and Deluca, Southport Grocery and Fox & Obel lovers, you now have refuge in the Gold Coast with Cru. But back to Cru and its food. I was lukewarm towards the cuisine. The Chip and Dip (pita with artichoke, walnut and roasted pepper and finally hummus dips) worked well, but the salads were only adequate. Nothing to get me really excited. But honestly, who goes to Cru for food?
Drink – This is Cru’s forte. Staff here know what they are talking about; I was really satisfied with our waitress’s recommendation (a red from Martinborough County in New Zealand).
Décor – I love the remodeling that was done here. They have kept the comfort level with their cushy couches and low lights. Now the space has been sectioned off into several rooms which keeps the noise level relatively low.
Service – I appreciate that they know what they’re talking about. Or if they don’t, they’re very convincing.
Occasion – A date would be good here. Maybe a second date because the lights are low, so you want to ensure you know what the person looks like before a trip to Cru…I mean, unless you’re desperate or one of those “I just look for a beautiful personality” people (and if that’s the case, we can’t be friends).
Scene – The crowd seems to be an upper 20s, 30s and 40s crowd…which means that I have to behave myself when I go.
Dress – The crowd is not that hip (although I was seated next to a group of Spanish women who looked/acted fabulous!), so choose classy over trendy.
Cost – A bit too expensive for my taste, my portion of the meal (consisting of wine, appetizer and salad) took me to $50 with tip.
If you like…, try – Vintage Wine Bar
Location – 1 W Maple St
In one word – Churros
Food – In comparison to the other Mexican restaurants (outside of the Pilsen neighborhood–those places are in a league of their own), BA really doesn’t hold up. Yet, I continue to frequent the place. It’s really because of those churros.
Drink – They have a house margarita, which is decent, in addition to fruit flavored margaritas. They also have a decent list of Mexican beers.
Service – The staff is friendly here, another reason why I keep coming back.
Scene – Because the restaurant is off of the Rush/Division strip, it is usually pretty packed with groups of friends.
Occasion – This place is a refuge from the bar scene on Division Street. It’s still lively, but the crowd isn’t as obnoxious as the bars two blocks north.
Cost – I usually spend about $20 at BA.
If you like…, try – Uncle Julio’s Hacienda, Zapatista’s, Lalo’s