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 – Indulgent
Location – 644 N. Orleans (Orleans & Erie)
Food – True to its name, you can get any and all brunch options at Brunch. I had a hard time making a decision, but ended up getting an appetizer of seared blueberry muffin tops to start (because every brunch requires an appetizer course) and then went on to the Tower of Power. Yes, I fell for the allure of the name and the description (two scrambled eggs with vanilla bean, maple glazed bacon, zucchini with white cheddar and tarragon pesto aioli served with Brunch potatoes). I made it through about a third of the dish. It’s so filling – not sure I would choose it again. Next time, I’m going to follow my heart and get the red velvet pancakes.
Drink – Intelligensia coffee. I was happy.
Service – I asked a lot of questions of our server, and he was super patient with me and made sure all my requests were accommodated.
Scene – Overall, it’s pretty low key in here. My only issue was that the 2 top tables were far too close to each other. I noticed that the girl at the table next to me had to plug one of her ears in order to hear her eating companion speak (because obviously I wasn’t going to make it easier for her by lowering my voice). Spreading out the tables a bit would make a world of difference.
Occasion – Come here for your normal brunch occasion. It’s super casual in here, but since the tables are close, do us a favor and shower first.
Price – $20.72 for my entree, coffee and a small orange juice. That worked for me.
If you like, try – Orange, Yolk
In one word – Patience
Location – 401 1/2 N. Franklin (Franklin and Kinzie)
Food – I had read so much hype about the Doughnut Vault, I had to try it myself. To obtain a doughnut from the Doughnut Vault, you stand in a long line that weaves from Franklin onto Kinzie for minimum 45 minutes (my wait on a Saturday was 65 minutes). And when you finally are able to enter the vault, which can fit 5 people max, you can order a selection of doughnuts. When I finally got in the special birthday cake doughnut was sold out (mega FAIL), so I tried the chestnut and the chocolate glazed doughnuts. Beware, these doughnuts are giant. I truly believe that a normal sized human being should/can only have half a doughnut (unless feeling sick from overindulging in sugar is your thing). The doughnuts were special. Whether it was worth the wait is debatable, but I think everyone should have the Doughnut Vault at least once.
Drink – You can get Metropolis Coffee here, which tasted great to me after my long uncaffeinated wait.
Service – You really only interact with the cashier for about a minute. But, she was fast, so I was appreciative. It’s cash only, so leave the plastic at home.
Scene – So much of the experience is the wait. When you stand in line for that long, you are forced to become friendly with your neighboring fellow patrons (whether you want to or not). So, it became a very social, community experience. We learned about where our neighbors were from, what they liked and didn’t like about living in the city and which doughnuts they were going to buy. Misanthropes, you’ve been warn.
Occasion – I dragged my friend with me to stand in line for over an hour. She was not pleased. Find a patient person to go with.
Price – $10 for 3 doughnuts and a coffee.
If you like, try – Krispy Kreme?
In one word – Gourmet
Location – 615 N. State (State and Ontario)
Food – I am always open to gourmet chefs opening affordable spots for us less-fancy folks (see – Rick Bayless and all his jazz at Macy’s and Xoco). Graham Elliot did the same with this little sandwich spot on State. I opted for the vegetarian option on the menu, the Portobello Gyro, which had these great marinated portobello mushrooms with tomatoes, cucumber, tzatiki and feta cheese. All of it was served on a great pita. It was the most messy sandwich I’ve eaten in a while, but I thought it was totally worth it. My eating partner had the same and came to the same satisfied conclusion. I was full, but not too full after lunch. They also had popcorn and soft serve ice cream, which I plan to indulge in at some point.
Drink – I didn’t try them, but they make their own sodas here and have exotic-sounding flavors like vanilla kola.
Service – There is no table service. You order at a register and the cashier puts your order into a fancy iPad (how modern of them!). It took them about 5 minutes to make our sandwich. Works for me.
Scene – When I came, there were many families of tourists. The eating experience is fast, so they shouldn’t bother you too much. Worst comes to worst, take your food to go.
Occasion – When your parents come to the city and you need a lunch break as you are shopping on Michigan and State, come here.
Price – With tax, my sandwich was $8.88.
If you like, try – Xoco, Hannah’s Bretzel
In one word – Cavernous
Location – 230 W. Kinzie (Kinzie and Franklin)
Food – Last night was cold, windy and rainy, so I took the opportunity to dive into autumnal comfort food. My eating partner and I went halfsies on the meal and started with the beet salad, which was served with hazelnuts, whipped goat cheese and preserved lemon. I thought the cheese was overabundant on the plate, but beyond that it was quite satisfying. Then we moved to the salmon. Because they pan roast it, it was perfectly crispy on the outside. It’s then served with brown butter, capers and lemon. It was a far better version of what I would cook at home for myself. Points for execution but not for creativity. Then we had the butternut squash ricotta gnocchi which ROCKED MY WORLD. Team, be real, you put pancetta, sage, squash and pasta in a bowl and I am happy. Note that it’s really sweet for a pasta dish, so if you have an aversion to sweetness (which I clearly do not), beware. My eating partner was in it to win it and wanted dessert, so he got the warm milk chocolate chunk brownie (which is actually 3 brownies). I had a bite (or three) – super rich and perfect for those who enjoy decadent chocolate.
Drink – They have a pretty decent cocktail list. My eating partner had the Sazerac, which is one of those rye drinks that all the hipsters are drinking. I had a Grenache/Syrah blend, which the recommendation of our server and was perfect for me.
Service – Good things to say here, I found our server to be attentive and offer good recommendations. And, as long time readers know, I love it when someone from the restaurant says I made a good choice for my order. He did that.
Scene – It was cold, rainy, windy and a Wednesday, yet Gilt was bumpin’. You definitely need a reservation unless you want to go to their lounge or bar. The restaurant is pretty dark and with all its unfinished wood accents and candles, it felt pretty cavernous to me.
Occasion – I found the restaurant to be pretty loud, so this is a place that I would recommend taking a group to. They seemed to have more 4 tops and communal tables than most places, so they probably are pretty accommodating.
Price – I didn’t think it was cheap. We split the meal (but my glass of wine was far too expensive), so I was putting down $60 with tax and tip. More than I would pay on a Wednesday normally, but appropriate for a Friday or Saturday.
If you like, try…Publican, avec, Longman & Eagle
In one word – Thoughtful
Location – 505 N. State Street (State and Illinois)
Food – I had heard good things about Sable but wanted to evaluate it myself. It’s all about sharing small plates – so we devoured the following: Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, bacon jam, tuna tartar tostadas and the buttermilk chicken & waffles. I was less into the tuna and chicken & waffles – they just didn’t stand out. The bacon jam, however, was reason enough for me to come back.
Drink – My eating partner and I each grabbed a glass of wine upon recommendation of our server. I have heard that the cocktails are worth trying here, I just didn’t have it in me to go for it.
Service – Here is where Sable really stands out. First, our server was nice and informative. He stopped us from ordering a flatbread because he said we’d be getting too much food then (oink, oink). What I was most impressed with was this: My eating partner and I were celebrating a birthday, and they gave her adorably packaged cake mix from Sable and a card signed by the staff to recognize that day – and this was at the table when we sat down. While I do love a mariachi band serenading a table with “Feliz Cumpleanos,” I did really appreciate the thoughtful and distinctive manner that Sable celebrates an occasion.
Scene – We ate on the early side, so things weren’t hopping yet (seems to be a trend in my life lately). However, when the night gets going, the bar is a good place to be seen.
Occasion – Come on a date or a dinner with the gal pals. You need to come soon because the chef there is going to be on Top Chef come November 2. After that airs, I assume Sable will suffer from “Girl & the Goat” syndrome – you will only be able to get a reservation at 4:15 pm three months from now. The restaurant is right where all the tourist roll, so we will be really screwed to get in.
Dress – Because of the scene, put some effort into it. Squeeze into your skinny jeans or something.
Price – It’s a nice night out. We skimped and still spent $47 per person.
If you like, try…Girl & the Goat, Publican, avec
In one word – Empty
Location – 314 W. Erie (Erie & Orleans)
Food – Truth be told, I didn’t eat all that much at Patron’s Hacienda because I used this week’s Gilt City deal which just included appetizers. I went for the Elotitos (corn coated with deliciousness like chili powder and butter). It’s hard to mess it up, and luckily they did not. My eating partner went rogue and chose a non-Mexican food option – the exotic chicken fingers and fries. They seemed to be able to deliver on her expectations. We managed to finagle some free guacamole as well – it was no Adobo Grill, but I still devoured it.
Drink – I picked the Cadillac Margarita made with Tres Generaciones Reposado Tequila. I thought it was fine – I don’t have the best palate to discern the differences between different margaritas beyond “it’s too sweet.” My eating partner grabbed the Mango Margarita, which she did think was too sweet.
Service – No complaints here, we sat at the bar and were always attended to.
Scene – Despite the very authentic Mexican decor, you can still tell this place used to be Chicago’s Coyote Ugly. During primetime eating hours, it was dead. Perhaps because they still haven’t had their grand opening? Maybe it’s hopping during bar hours? If you come here and there are more than 20 people in the space, let me know.
Occasion – I could see this being a stop on a River North bar crawl – just between Citizen and any of the Franklin Street clubs.
Dress – I came from work and fit in just fine. I imagine the later you are there, the more clubby you need to look.
Price – The margaritas are $8-12 a piece. Appetizers tend to be around $8. Legit food like steaks are over $20 (feels cheap for steak, right? not necessarily a good thing).
If you like, try…Uncle Julio’s Hacienda, Moe’s Cantina
In one word – Comforting
Location – 228 W. Chicago (Chicago and Franklin)
Food – Farmhouse boasts a robust menu of Midwestern comfort food. They claim to make their own burgers, sausages, condiments and sodas from scratch. According to my taste buds, this is no lie. My eating partner and I started out by sharing the fried cheese curds. The experience was better than being at a county fair in Wisconsin. I was embarrassed by how aggressively I attacked the appetizer, but I really wanted to get more than my fair share of the dish. As the main, we cut the calories and shared the veggie burger (my eating partner doesn’t do the meat). I will say with confidence that this veggie burger (mushroom-based) was the most satisfying one I have ever had. It didn’t hurt that it was topped with gouda, roasted garlic mayo, not to mention the home-made fries on the side.
Drink – If the Midwestern food doesn’t win you over, perhaps the Midwestern drink will. I have never seen such an extensive list of Midwest craft beers in a restaurant. Because I’m so sophisticated, I picked an “import” – the Ommegang Hennepin from Cooperstown, NY. Very pleased with the choice.
Service – I found our server to be very amicable and very knowledgeable when answering our beer questions. She also affirmed our food decisions, which I always appreciate when dining at a place for the first time.
Scene – The restaurant is not that big, so there are a lot of people crammed into a relative small space. As a result, it’s loud and feels filled with energy. Beyond that, everyone there is really casual – It’s kind of weird to get dolled up for Midwest comfort food and craft beer.
Occasion – My impression is that it’s better to go with a smaller party just because of the size of the tables and restaurants. However, I may not go for a first date just because it’s loud. Go once your relationship is really stable and you’d rather focus on cheese curds than each other.
Dress – Save the fancy dress for Hubbard Street. Come as you are in jeans.
Price – #Winning! $20 to share cheese curds, a burger and a craft beer (I didn’t share the beer, obvi). If you are a bigger eater than my dieting self, then you’ll probably spend $25-30.
If you like, try…Hopleaf
Location – 51 W. Hubbard (Dearborn and Hubbard)
In one word – Manic
Food – By going at lunch, I ensured that I could focus on the food and that there was not a wait. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to approach the menu: They have sushi and tacos and sandwiches. It was a bit manic for my taste. After interrogating our server about her favorite dishes, I settled on the Crispy Baja Fish Sandwich. Fish sandwiches are always risky; you run the chance of the overfried or old fillet. I was pleasantly surprised, the fish with its cornmeal crush was crispy but not oily. The jicama adds a cooling aspect to the meal. My eating partner chose the Sonoma salad (spinach, grapefruit, avocado, walnuts, sunflower seeds and cranberries) – it’s huge, totally shareable.
Drink – So this place can turn into a scene, but not at noon on a Tuesday. We kept it clean and ordered diet Cokes all around.
Service – The server indulged in my Q&A session when I felt overwhelmed by the menu. Points for that. She did seem to forget our table when we wanted to take care of the check. Not ideal when you have lunch hour clientele trying to get back for a 1 pm meeting…
Scene – With that Rockit vibe, you feel hip without the place being inaccessible to the average person.
Dress – You ought to show some effort when you come here. Jeans are fine, but spray a little extra Febreeze on them this time.
Cost – With an entree, soft drink, tax and tip, you can have a $22 lunch. No cheap, but you’ll be full when you leave.
If you like, try…Rockit, Sushi Samba Rio
Location – 535 North Wells Street
In one word – Eh.
Food – On paper, Crofton on Wells sounds great, especially to a pesco-vegetarian like me: the food is New American with a French/Southwestern flare, the menu shifts seasonally and, most importantly, the chef always features several vegetarian and vegan options. Did you know that Crofton has been open for over 10 years? Given this unusually long tenure in a city where restaurants come and go, you may be surprised that you’ve never heard of it. Well, there’s a reason it’s not on your radar. Unfortunately, it was only so-so and expensive. Not a great combo.
My Trusty Sidekick and I went here for a little weeknight datey-date and we were seated immediately. Crofton’s first moves were good ones: hot and crusty rolls, shining with brushed butter, followed by a cute little foodie “bite” from the chef. Yes, and yes.
To start, Trusty ordered the wild mushroom starter with bacon, pepper, and brioche ($13). But the mushrooms were over-salted and the bacon was the only discernable flavor. He should have followed my lead, which I recommend you do. You know the scene in When Harry Met Sally when Sally fakes an orgasm and a lady in the diner orders “what she’s having” for dinner? Try the Signature Crab Cakes ($16.75) and this will happen to you. But you won’t be faking it. So dense and packed with crab, there’s no end or beginning to the lumps of meat—cutting into it with your fork is like cutting into a thick, plump piece of fish. Plus it comes drizzled in a warm, sweet corn or yellow pepper reduction that has a little bit of a bite—like a hint of sweet, mild Chinese mustard. If I go back to Crofton’s again, it will only be to eat three courses of their Signature Crab Cakes.
For the main course, I tried the vegetarian Buckwheat Soba Crepes with Beets and African Blue Cheese foam ($20). The plate arrived with three fist-sized crepes topped with a dollop of foam and a spray of micro-greens. Pro: the foam was wonderfully weird in taste and texture (imagine a pungent, blue cheese meringue). Con: the crepes were impossible to eat—the portion of dice-sized cubes of beets was fairly meager and because the beets had no binder (with the typical binder of cheese being on the outside in the form of foam), the result was that when you cut into the crepe it would unwrap and all the teeny tiny beet cubes would spill out. When you’re forced to regroup each bite several times before it makes it into your mouth, it’s difficult to eat and enjoy a meal. Crofton, don’t tease me like that.
Trusty had big thumbs down for his main course, which was a piece of Florida Snapper on a bed of barley ($32). To make a long story short: it was salty and salty. And Trusty thought it was too heavy, as though it had also been marinated in melted butter.
We were too overwhelmed for dessert, although the unusual fruit sorbets our waitress pitched sounded tempting.
Drink – Pretty good wine list. The half bottles are on the super-duper pricier side (most were in the $35-$62 range), so you have a great excuse to order by the bottle (many were in the same range as the half-bottles). The price of wine by the glass is more reasonable ($8-$12).
Service – Our waitress was friendly and recommended a wine for Trusty that he enjoyed.
Scene – The ambiance is very low-key in a mainstream kind of way. Low lights and low music—exactly what you would hear in a Borders. So, the restaurant doesn’t have a lot of character and doesn’t attract any characters, but if you aren’t looking for a unique dining experience, it’s pleasant and you can easily have a conversation. If your parents are the type who won’t be susceptible to sticker-shock when the bill arrives, this would be a great place to take them.
Dress – I went in jeans and a blouse and felt very comfortable for their week night crowd. Trusty was in business casual. Because the scene is so low-key, no need to primp.
Cost – I walked away feeling like it was not a great value. Without drinks, tax or tip, price was $40-$45 per person. With drinks, tax and tip, it was about $65-$70.
If you like, try… Green Zebra, Spring, Sola
Written by hungry yuppie