In one word – Whelmed
Location – 1434 W. Chicago (Chicago and Bishop)
Food – Remember that pivotal question in 10 Things I Hate About You? – “I know you can be overwhelmed. And you can be underwhelmed. But can you ever just be…whelmed?” The correct response is that you can in Europe and also at Flo. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible – it just was. I opted for the Baja Tilapia Fish Tacos thinking it would be lighter fare. False – a little too much fried and panko for my liking. I did appreciate that they top their fish tacos with Asiago cheese, mainly because I respect the indiscriminate use of Asiago cheese on anything and everything. I will say that I was impressed by the side salad – something that normally I would not notice. It was huge and had beets on it! My eating partner went for the special of the day – shrimp cakes. I suspect that Flo’s forte is brunch and not dinner because we had the same whelmed response.
Drink – They had lots of margaritas on special for cheap. On Wednesday’s their Original Margarita is only $4. Originally I ordered a beer, but they were out of what I wanted. So, I went for a glass of their house Sauv Blanc – surprisingly nice!
Service – I found it strange when the GM of the restaurant came to our table to ask how the service was – this isn’t a hoighty toighty spot where service is critical. I sensed some back room drama, and I didn’t really want to be privy to it. I did find our server to be super endearing. He didn’t have to do much for us, but the little he did was done well.
Scene – I have been here for brunch where it’s hopping. Dinner on a weekday, not so much.
Occasion – Come for brunch with friends. It is good if you are looking to catch up with a friend in a quiet spot at dinner time.
Dress – It’s West Town, no one cares what you wear.
Price – I spent $24 including tax and tip for fish tacos and a glass of wine. Not cheap, but not a total rip off.
If you like, try…Anywhere in Pilsen
Location– 501 North Ogden (Ogden and Grand)
In one word– Filling
Food– I won’t lie; I’m a big fan of their brunch menu. I’ll challenge anyone to find a better fried egg sandwich, though I do prefer to order french fries instead of the home fries with it. They have a great selection of sandwiches if you’re headed here for lunch or dinner; I’ve not been disappointed with any selection that I’ve made to date. The ‘fat boy’ burger is huge, and endlessly customizable. One thing to note is that I’ve never left here hungry, but I’ve been disappointed with their appetizers a few times. I’d stick to drinks and sandwiches or come for brunch.
Drink– One of the biggest selections of whiskeys, scotches, and tequilas I’ve seen. If you like a particular brand of brown liquor, chances are they’ll have it. They also have a solid mixed drink menu, including a variety of Bloody Marys as well as a $125 Manhattan (haven’t tried it). The beer list is nothing to sniff at either; I think they have 12 drafts and dozens of bottled options.
Service– First and foremost, the Twisted Spoke styles itself a biker bar. You’re not here for the service. I’ve never had any serious complaints about the wait-staff; the biggest problem is that they don’t come by to refill your drinks quickly enough.
Scene– You do get an actual biker bar crowd in here sometimes, most of the time though it’s people watching a game or some yuppies taking a walk on the wild side. They do have a nice rooftop seating area, but the surroundings aren’t much to look at.
Dress– Anything you want, I’d actually be careful of wearing anything too nice as you’re likely to spill something from sandwich on to it.
Occasion– A casual night out drinking good beer while having a great selection of drinks and tasty food available, or an alternative to the crowds found further north and west for brunch.
Cost– Sandwiches $10, drinks about the same, though prepare for that drink bill to be high.
If you like, try… Kuma’s Corner, Hop Leaf
written by ieatthis
Location -1655 W. Cortland Street (between Marshfield Ave. & Paulina Street)
In one word – Simple
Food – My Trusty Sidekick’s family was in town for the weekend, so with Mom, Dad, and Brother Sidekick, as well as our friend, we headed to Jane’s, located in Bucktown, for a Saturday night dinner. Trusty’s mom is a very conscious eater, so on top of my pesco-vegetarian restrictions it was important to go to a restaurant whose menu would offer healthy choices. With lots of vegetarian options, fresh seasonal ingredients, and simple, but well-prepared food, it definitely fit the bill.
Trusty’s mom ordered a mixed-greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese “croutons” (Melba toast with goat cheese spread) ($7) and the beans and brown rice dish with vegetables ($16), and she was very happy with her choices. Trusty’s dad ordered the soup of the day, which was potato leek ($7) and had the black Grouper with a sake-ginger sauce and Asian vegetables ($22). After everyone at the table tried a bite of the Grouper we were hooked—it was cooked and seasoned perfectly.
Try the corn chowder ($6), which Trusty ordered to start. It has lots of crunchy chunks of garden vegetables (not just corn), and tasted fresh, not heavy. For his main meal, Trusty went with a spinach salad with grilled vegetables and julienne carrots ($14), which he thought was good, but in a chlorophorillicious way (healthy but unmemorable). None of the appetizers caught my eye while I was ordering, but along with Trusty’s brother I ordered the vegetable risotto with artichoke hearts, broccolini, asparagus, and red peppers ($16) for my main meal and it was far more than enough food (I ended up taking half my meal home). We both thought it was very rich and satisfying, especially for a vegetarian dish. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, the nutty flavor of the artichoke hearts came through, and the risotto was perfectly cooked with a little toothiness.
Everyone agreed that the portions were very generous across the board and the only one to finish his meal was our friend, who ordered the seafood risotto with lots of calamari, mussels, and shrimp ($22), a dish which our waitress revealed had just been added to their menu. In addition to the Grouper, the seafood risotto was the other super-star at the table. We all agreed that when coming back in the future, we would order one of these two choices.
I must point out that you needn’t be a health nut to enjoy Jane’s. If you are a meat and potato eater, there is a black pepper crusted New York Strip, with scallion garlic mashed potatoes and port reduction ($25) on the menu. There are also very tempting dessert choices, which unfortunately we were too full to try, including rotating gelato flavors ($7) as well as a chocolate and caramel turtle brownie. Next time.
Drink – The wine menu was short but had some good selections, like Au Bon Climate, that you would see at trendier restaurants. Most choices were California wines, but there were some international options also. The waitress also recommended three seasonal beers they were offering, including an apricot wheat beer that Trusty’s Dad really enjoyed.
Service – We made reservations (which I would recommend) and were seated immediately, even though half our party hadn’t arrived yet. Extra gold stars for that. Our waitress was very nice and the cooking staff accommodated Trusty’s Mom’s special requests, but I felt like we were a little rushed. At two different points, someone tried to clear our friend’s plate before he had finished. There was an automatic 20% surcharge for our group of six, which is a little steeper than the standard 18% usually applied to a larger group.
Scene – Overall, Jane’s feels like a casual, intimate neighborhood restaurant that would be a perfect “I-discovered-it!”-candidate for the popular local show, “Check Please.” Architecturally, it is a long, narrow room with a barn-like roof. While the peaked-ceiling is unique and a homey feature to a Chicago restaurant, the narrowness of the space makes it difficult to completely escape the feeling of being a little crowded. However, despite our lack of elbow room, we had a very pleasant conversation and I was able to hear everyone even at our large table for six. Jazz music played throughout the evening, but not too loudly. Be forewarned that the restaurant is very dark with candlelight only. As in, if you were going to Jane’s for a date it’s a little past romantic mood lighting–you may be squinting across the table at your sweetheart.
Dress – I was surprised that the crowd at Jane’s was extremely casual, especially for Bucktown. We all dressed in jeans, even the ‘Rents, and this was perfectly fine. A bachelorette or birthday party came into the restaurant during our meal and they were a little dressier, but still fit in with the crowd. So, if you’re going out after dinner and want to be a little more polished or stylish for the evening, as long as you’re leaning towards a stylish Anthropologie-esque look, versus a smokin’ hot look, you won’t be overdressed.
Cost – Without drinks, tax or tip, the total per person was about $25-$30 dollars. The most expensive item on the menu is $24, but with the double-sized portions, it’s a great value for what you’re paying.
If you like, try… Feast, Karen’s Cooked
Written by hungry yuppie
Location – 1529 W Chicago Ave (between Armour & Ashland)
In one word – Haricots verts (GB Note: BYOBoy, this is TWO words…just saying)
Food – Concept : Mexican with an emphasis on French influence. Sounds great, but it didn’t quite come together on a plate. The brunch options were limited, but the place smelled great nonetheless. Fresh.
Any restaurant that calls itself French should make a good quiche, so I tried it here. *Sigh* It was a bit soggy and I think it had deli ham in it? I was confused, and not really into my meal. My date had the stuffed crepes, which were saved by the poblano sauce. Her green beans were amazing though. Score one for the French.
I think my hesitation with this place is that I’m not so sure what they’re trying to do with the whole Mex/French thing. It’s not fusion. It’s more like a highlighting of French influences in Mexican cuisine resulting from the occupation (circa 1860). Muy muy Meta. It has great potential, so I will be coming back for dinner, or for the mussels (when I have baller status).
Drink – I had a Bloody Mary (with cucumber!), my date, a Mimosa. Both delicious. I was surprised to hear there was no espresso. Minus French points.
Service – No line, no wait. There were maybe four other groups there on a Sunday. We were seated promptly. Our orders were taken quickly. I think my quiche delayed our meals a bit, but aside from that, I was impressed with how speedy they were. I am a klutz and spilled my drink and our server brought me a new one and said, “It was the glass’s fault.” Cute.
Scene – Super casual. The décor is great. The space is small, but they use it well. I personally take all things French very seriously, but I also don’t need an occasion to dress up. Another party had a girl with a women’s lacrosse hoodie from my alma mater, and I was close to saying “Put a real shirt on girl, you’re making me look bad!” Don’t wear school/sports/hoodies to brunch.
Occasion – This could be a nice dinner date. Or a brunch for four?
Cost – Solid $15, $20 with drink.
If you like…, try – Bom Bon Americano, Mundial, Maize.
Written by BYOBoy
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 – 1136 W. Chicago and 543 W. Diversey
In one word – Substantial
Food – I decided to check out the new Lincoln Park Sushi X outpost and was very impressed. I’m a sucker for tempura flakes, so I had the Honey Roll (with Albacore). It was exactly what I was looking for, crunchy, slightly sweet and filing. Then I moved on to a few Avocado Rolls. My eating partner and I marvelled over the fact that the avocado pieces in each roll were really substantial. Lots of avocado means that I’m a happy patron. My eating partner had the Unagi Roll and the Godzilla Roll. The Godzilla Roll seems to be the must-have at Sushi X.
Drink – It’s BYOB right now, which is an ideal cost saver.
Service – The service wasn’t bad, but our server definitely was more of a Lincoln Park trixie than a sushi afficianado. With time though, I think she could become an expert on the cuisine. I liked that we walked in at 8 pm on a Saturday night with no reservations and didn’t have to wait for a table.
Scene – So the Lincoln Park Sushi X is much less intimidating than the one on Chicago Avenue. It still has that dark, techno vibe, but it’s much bigger and brighter.
Dress – There was a mix of outfits. Some ladies were dressed to the nines, perhaps starting here before tearing up…Lincoln Park. Everyone else was more casual. The vibe at the Lincoln Park restaurant is much less trendy than its Ukranian Village sister.
Cost – With tax and tip, I paid $20. For filling sushi, that’s cheap!
If you like, try…Butterfly
Location – 1156 W. Grand (Grand and Racine)
In one word – Cheap!
Food – Because of a raving recommendation from a GB reader, I had kind of high expectations for Butterfly. I was not disappointed! The menu is filled with both Japanese and Thai options. One eating partner went the Thai route ordering the Chicken Pad Thai. She seemed to be really happy with it. Our only comment was that it would have been helpful to have red pepper at the table to amp up the spice. My other eating partner and I shared a few rolls, the avocado roll and crunchy spicy tuna roll. We also shared the Rama Noodles (peanut noodles) with both tofu and chicken. This was such comfort food, I loved it! An order of salmon nigiri was also ordered at the table, which looked really fresh. After our meal, our server brought out dessert on the house. It was piece of cheesecake, which likely was straight out of the Sara Lee box. But, who am I to complain? It was free!
Drink – The place is BYOB with no corkage fee. This helps keep the cost cheap!
Service – I was nervous about the service from the reviews I had read on Yelp prior to going. The service wasn’t amazing, but it don’t have any genuine complaints. When I walked in, they didn’t have our reservation written down, but they were still able to seat me immediately. When you give me free cheesecake for no reason, any possible issues are forgiven.
Scene – For such a bargain eat, the feel of the place is pretty trendy. There’s low lights (a party sitting down the way from us pulled out a flashlight to read the menu) and orange accents. My only issue with the decor was this one random silver squid-looking piece hanging from the ceiling. My eating partners and I thought it was kind of distracting. Come here with some girl friends or on a date. I saw a group here for a birthday dinner too.
Dress – My gut is that on the weekends, the patrons look pretty cute, particularly if they’re there on dates. I wore jeans and Pumas and still felt okay, but again I would feel comfortable in a sweatsuit at Trotter’s…
Cost – This was the best part. For the rolls and entrees, I had to pay$11 (we split the tab in thirds). I feel like this is the best bang for my buck in West Town.
If you like, try…Oysy, Mirai, Bistro Pacifico
Location – 1460 W. Chicago (Chicago and Greenview)
In one word – Salty
Food – This is Shawn McClain’s vegetarian restaurant (same person who runs Custom House and Spring). I had a great food experience. Green Zebra seems to be a strong advocate for the slow foods movement. All the ingredients are seasonal and fresh. Here are all the things that came to our table: Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Roasted Mushroom Broth, Cauliflower Soup, Chickpea Pancakes, Celery Root Beignet, Truffle Risotto, Mushroom Tagliatele and Doughnuts with Parsnip Ice Cream. Everything was fresh and flavorful, I just felt that each dish had a touch too much salt. I chose to the do the chef’s 5 course tasting menu ($55). The menu was a bit overwhelming for me, so choosing the tasting menu was the smartest option.
Drink – We chose a bottle of the Reisling. It was crisp and went very well with the food.
Service – My eating partners thought our server was nervous, but I took it as enthusiastic. She made sure to come by before every course to give us a refresher about each entree. Overall I was pleased.
Occasion – This place is not cheap, so come for an occasion. The clientele here is a mix of older folks and hip vegetarian 30-somethings. I like the look of Green Zebra. The color scheme is a mix of sage and greys. It feels clean, natural and still sleek.
Cost – For a full five course dinner plus wine, we paid $82/person.
If you like, try…Aigre Doux
Location – 2148 W. Chicago (Chicago and Leavitt)
In one word – Perfection
Food – I loved loved loved my experience at a tavola. They specialize in Northern Italian cuisine, but to me the cuisine could just be titled “delicious.” As our starter, we shared the gnocchi with brown sage butter and paremesan. I’m ready to make that an official food group in my diet, I loved it so much. It was fresh, light and so well flavored. Then for our entrees we took the roasted chicken with parmesan polenta and garlic spinach. I don’t typically enjoy chicken entrees, but I was cleaning the bone. I found that they managed to roast the bird in a way that still preserved its juiciness. My eating partner had the fish of the day, the escarole, with new potatoes and broccoli. She kept talking about how buttery it was (in a good way). We splurged and went for dessert afterwards. The panna cotta literally made me melt. I have never had a dessert that delicately fabulous…ever. We also had their honey and apple tart, nothing in comparison to the panna cotta, but still great.
Drink – They have an extensive wine list, but we decided to pass.
Service – The restaurant is small, so we didn’t have one specific waiter. The three sort of bounced around to all tables. I liked all of them, particularly because they had a sense of humor in such a potentially formal place.
Occasion – You could come here on a date, or when an aunt is in town. The atmosphere is intimate and quiet, so don’t come here with the frat brothers. The crowd is a bit older and there were a couple families, so act on your reasonably best behaviour.
Dress – It’s formal but not overly formal. You can get away with any outfit that shows you’re at least trying to make an effort.
Cost – For the shared pasta, an entree and a dessert plus sparkling water, I paid $47. For me it was an occasion, my best friend was in town. We thought that price was totally worth the experience.
If you like, try…Volare, West Town Tavern
Location: 1329 W. Chicago Ave.
In one word – Gourmet
Food: On a friend’s recommendation, I decided to try West Town Tavern. My friend proved her good taste as I was so impressed by the place. The cuisine is gourmet American. We started with the flatbread topped with mushrooms, leeks, truffle oil and mozzerella. I would have been fulfilled with just that. Next up was the main course, I had the BBQ lamb shoulder. The lamb came shredded atop a bed of mashed potatoes and corn bread. Is there anything better? No, it was fantastic. My eating partner partook in the pork tenderloin with polenta. It was good, although I think I had him beat with my lamb entree. We skipped dessert, but the style of options reminded me of what they serve at Hot Chocolate. I’m sure I would have loved it all, had I had room in my tummy for it.
Drink – I just had a glass of the pinot gris. Light, refreshing, just what I needed.
Service – Really great service, the staff is pleasant without being too in your face.
Occasion – It’s not cheap, but the atmosphere isn’t too formal. We were definitely among the younger people dining there, but I still didn’t feel out of place. Think of it as an upscale comfort food joint. I wouldn’t come here with a big group. The largest groups were about 4.
Dress – Again, the atmosphere isn’t so formal that you have to bring out the bow tie. I wore jeans and a blazer and felt perfectly in-line with the other patrons.
Cost – We split the bill, with tip I paid about $42. I actually thought the food and service was worth it.
If you like, try…Hot Chocolate, May Street Market