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 – Lackluster
Location – 205 N. Peoria (Peoria and Lake)
Food – So I’m going to be frank, I was really not impressed by Meze. The food was just adaquate. Let’s start with the best, which were the bacon wrapped dates. Obvi, you can’t really mess those up (unless they’re cold). And, ours were piping hot, so I was happy. The rest of the meal was just “eh.” We had the Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart, which felt like a Trader Joe’s frozen appetizer to me. Not impressed. Then we had the Grilled Baby Lambchops with Red Pepper Puree. I felt like it was defrosted and then served. Maybe it wasn’t, but it felt like it was and that’s what counts to me. Finally we had the Greek Pomme Frites. They are french fries. How do you mess them up? They were soggy and I didn’t think that the feta cheese enhanced the dish (I can’t believe I just said that).
Drink – I had the Pinot Noir, which I actually liked. I wish I had written the name down so I can get it on my next trip to Trader Joe’s (ha.).
Service – My favorite moment during the meal was when our server asked us if we needed more time to decide what we wanted to order and when we said yes, he responded with “Ok, I’ll come back in 3 minutes.” Even though he was precise at the beginning, it later became impossible to get his attention for the rest of the meal. I had to resort to waving my arms over my head to get his attention (which I’m not above doing).
Scene – When we came it was empty, like really empty. But, I blame that on going during the holidays when most seem to be out of town. If it were to be filled, I would imagine that this would be a place to dress to impress.
Occasion – You could come here with friends or on a date…that is if you were to come here at all (aw snap, GB).
Price – My portion of the meal was $53 with tax and tip. So not worth it.
If you like, try – Cafe Ba-ba-reeba, Cafe Iberico, Emilios, really any other tapas place
Thanks for noticing! Yes, there have been some changes made to the site, including a new layout. Gastronomic Bypass has started a philosophy of Toyota-style continuous improvement as the 5 year anniversary of the site approaches (November 26). You’ll see minor and major changes to the site, so tell me what you think of them. Everything is reversible if you don’t approve.
In one word – Suburgatory
Location – 215 N. Clinton (Clinton and Lake)
Food – I use a condescending term inspired by ABC’s definitely-soon-to-be-cancelled show “Suburgatory.” The thing about it though was that food was actually okay. I started with the honey glazed pumpkin, which was enjoyable AND seasonal. Then I went for the Mint Creek Farms Lamb Sausage served with polenta and autumnal vegetables. They make the sausage in-house, so I was intrigued. I was pleased with the dish, though not overly impressed. My eating partner started with the braised lamb, cucumber and mint – served in sort of an egg roll-type concoction. She was into it. Then she had parmesan crusted tilapia served over creamy spinach. I think she had a similar feeling as my reaction to my entree. Just a note – Halibut was on special, but I really couldn’t justify the price point ($40!), so I passed on it. No dessert, we were far too full.
Drink – We each had the Beckman Syrah, which was definitely a winner.
Service – I think our server was out of it. I had to ask for a knife on multiple occasions and overall he just seemed a little behind the ball. I hope there wasn’t trouble at home or something.
Scene – So this is where I got thrown off. I get that the restaurant is next to Ogilvy Station and as a result, many of our friends from the Northern suburbs might be visiting our fair city, BUT why were there children (and like lots of them) at this restaurant at 8:30 pm on a Saturday night? It was so unexpected, and not in a fun way. Don’t get me wrong, my life is very child-appropriate. But, those kids were loud.
Occasion – I’m not sure when I’d come back. Maybe when I feel homesick for my own Western suburban roots?
Price – Far too much for the experience. $66 for food, drink and tax and tip. Not into it.
If you like, try…Wildfire, Weber Grill
In one word – Unwelcome
Location – 3023 N. Broadway (Broadway and Wellington)
Food – Given that head chef and co-owner, Chuy Valencia, is on this season of Top Chef, my eating partners and I had to go check out what the hype was about. Note: They serve their food on small plates, so despite the extensive list of food that follows, we weren’t porkers during the meal. We started with the guacamole. There was nothing truly unusual about the execution, but they executed well. We then had the young green salad, which was served with jicama, oranges, avocado (they didn’t skimp!) and candied pepitas. Those pepitas were an awesome alternative to the candied pecans you usually see in a salad. Then we had the shitake mushroom empanadas. This was probably my least favorite item – I wanted it to be more substantial, but that was tough to do with just a veggie filling. After that, we had chicken flautas, which were served in this flavorful chipotle sauce. This was my favorite dish of the night – highly recommend. We finished dinner with the mahi mahi special of the day. It was a substantial piece of fish and was served with blue potatoes (love) and brussel sprouts (also love). Impressed with the dish, but liked the flautas more. Now time for dessert (no judgment please): We picked the chocolate mousse which had a spice goat cheese center and was served with marshmallow sauce. My eating partners exhibited restraint when eating this treat. But, not me! I pushed through despite the richness of the dish. No regrets!
Drink – It’s BYOB here, cost saver!
Service – This is where I have my beef. I made a reservation and happened to be 10 minutes late (LSD traffic is OOC these days!). Our server was giving my eating partners (who were on time) a hard time about it. He made it very clear that they need to turn over tables fast – not the way to make your guests feel welcome. On the menu, it advises you to “eat it and beat it” and dictates a 2 beer maximum…for a BYOB place. What is this? Ed Debevics? I get that they want manage their tables, but you can’t do it at the expense of the customer experience. Honestly I felt unwelcome during the entire meal. Not cool.
Scene – The restaurant itself is very vibrant and filled with energy. That being said, the vibe of the place is super casual.
Occasion – There were a few larger groups seated and the rest of the tables were filled with 2-4 people. The space itself is not that big, so it’s probably better to come with a small group. Because of their need to turn tables, I wouldn’t come here for a leisurely date. Come when you want to experience good food in the most efficient way.
Dress – Don’t bother with the fancy dress, keep it comfortable and casual.
Price – Cheap! All that food was $25 per person including tax and tip. #BYOBswinning
If you like, try…Anywhere in Pilsen, Adobo Grill, Salpicon
In one word – Overdelivered
Location – 2119 S. Halsted (21st and Halsted)
Food – OMG, I am so into Nightwood. I came upon several recommendations from friends around town and was not disappointed. My eating partner and I started with the roasted Japanese sweet potatoes served with breadcrumbs, parsley, capers and aioli. You know when you take a bite of something and then do a double take because there is a party in your mouth. Well, that happened for both of us. If you come here, I insist you have this as an appetizer. For entrees, my eating partner when for the spit-roasted half chicken served with mashed potates, rapini and gravy. The portion was huge and he was really happy with the execution. I went for the farfalle served with venison and mint. It was a small dish that was super filling – the venison was ground, so the sauce was more a slightly creamy ragu. I was closed to licking my plate clean. We were so full, so we skipped dessert. Next time, I will ensure I plan my meal better so I can indulge in sweetness.
Drink – We each started with a cocktail. I had the Wuthering Heights – Broker’s gin, earl grey tea, Cocchi Americano, egg white, rosemary and orange bitters. It felt like fall – felt like apple cider meets egg nog. Absolutely loved it. My eating partner had New Amsterdam – Buffalo Trace bourbon, Averna amaro, tawny port, brandied cherries and Nightwood bitters. He is a real bourbon lover and was raving about his drink.
Service – By now, you should know that I have a love for unpretentious, yet helpful service at a restaurant. Our server at Nightwood was perfect. She was this adorable hipster who didn’t push us through our meal and offered (really spot on) recommendations when we were ordering.
Occasion – I think you can come here for anything. Dinner with friends, a date, a birthday meal. I hear Nightwood has an excellent brunch, too.
Scene – So Pilsen is turning into the new Logan Square. The restaurant was hopping and was filled with those yuppie hipsters (you know what I’m talking about, they bathe but still wear plaid). The vibe of the restaurant is energetic. Awesome exposed brick, a beautiful bar, this AMAZING outdoor patio with a fireplace where you can wait for your table. I thought that that the tables were a bit close together. I had to suffer through listening to my neighbors say mean things about the University of Chicago (my alma mater) and could not interject my opinion.
Dress – Wear something that shows off your personality. There is no need to dress up. But, if you had an occasion to look nice, no one would look twice.
Price – I spent $46 and felt like it was a good value.
If you like, try…Lula (who also own Nightwood), Longman & Eagle, Publican
In one word – Potential
Location – 1800 W. Irving Park Road (Irving Park and Ravenswood)
Food – Come to Cafe 28 for Cuban and Mexican cuisine. Overall, I was satisfied with the food. We skipped the appetizer portion, mainly because I foolishly loaded up on the bread and the sweet chipotle butter. Our server was apologetic at the top of our meal because at 7:3o, they were already out of the day’s special. For my main, I went with the almond crusted halibut. It was a chunky size of halibut, I was expecting something much lighter. It was served with jalepeno mashed potatoes and veggies. I ended up much fuller than I wanted to be. Because I have an obsession with plantains, I ordered a side of sweet plantains, which were perfect. One of my eating partners went with the ropa vieja – again, another huge portion. She gave it top reviews but noted it was a bit salty. My other eating partner opted for the vegetarian comal – which is basically veggie fajitas. I will give them props for the amount of veggies they served her – it was like a farmers’ market on a plate. We skipped dessert, partially because they were out of half of the desserts by the time we had finished the meal – again our server was extremely apologetic about being out of those choices.
Drink – One of my eating partners and I both chose the cocktail special – which had muddled lemon, rum and cava. It was a tad sweet, but it definitely grew on me and was substantial enough to last the entirety of the meal.
Service – I wasn’t impressed with the front of the house staff. I really get bothered when I am skipped in line because I am small, so not always seen in a crowd. This hostess did exactly that to me – not cool. I had to be Manhattan assertive to let her know that I had arrived. Then we waited about 20 minutes to be seated despite having made a reservation. Our server at the table was apologetic about not having many of the dishes available, but beyond that, I found her a bit forgettable. Then when the dishes came out, the runner mixed up who each plate was supposed to go to. If the service aspect was up to par, I would have been much more satisfied. For now, I will say they are just not living up to their potential.
Scene – On the Saturday of Halloween weekend, there were a lot of older couples and 30-somethings looking to find a way to avoid a costume.
Occasion – This place is ideal for groups or just couples. It’s got a casual and festive vibe throughout the restaurant.
Price – So my halibut was listed as “market price” and I got stuck with a $27 entree, much more than what I was expecting. I walked out of there spending $54 including tax and tip. A bit overpriced if you ask me.
If you like, try…Coobah
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
In one word –Accomodating
Location – 837 W. Fulton (Fulton and Green)
Food – Among my eating partners, there was a gluten allergy and a shellfish allergy. Our server didn’t flinch and was knowledgeable about what was in bounds and out of bounds for us. I was impressed by the willingness to accommodate. And even with our restrictions, holy food coma. You go to the Publican for meat – and mission accomplished. We started with the Taste of 3 Hams, which was consisted of a platter of serrano, country ham and an american cut from Iowa. This dish is falsely named – it is actually just 3 Hams. There is so much pig on this plate, so order only if you are a big eater. We then partook in the Hamachi Crudo, which was a great lighter option. Then the Half Grilled Chicken with Summer Sausage and Frites appeared (how much did we order?). The chicken was succulent and the sausage was nicely charred (it wasn’t my favorite, but my eating partners loved it). I wasn’t impressed with the frites, but let’s be real, after eating 3 pigs on a plate, I didn’t need to eat french fries. What dazzled my palette was the Suckling Pig – it was sweet and simple. It’s just a bowl of confit-style pig. Moving to the sides (yes, my eating partners and I are fatties), I was most impressed by the Brussel Sprouts, that are served with both burrata cheese AND parmesan. I was really excited by the Squash Gratin, but let down in execution – I just thought the cheese was too overpowering (yes, I know what gratin is, but still). The Cauliflower was forgettable.
Drink – We drank cider – which was perfect. With the amount we ate, we couldn’t afford to get full on beer. Try both the Basa Jaun and the E.B. Poire.
Service – I mentioned how accommodating and knowledgeable our server was. Overall I found service to be very good.
Scene – We were seated at the communal table, so I found it a delicate balance of shouting to be heard and speaking softly enough so that my gossip didn’t become common knowledge for my stranger neighbors. Also, single ladies – there are a lot of men in this restaurant.
Occasion – This is a great place for groups. Some of the tables are singled off into pig pen type set-ups ideal for parties of 4. I think the occasions to come to the Publican are varied and broad – anything from a nice Friday out to a special birthday or anniversary.
Price – When you order the farm, you pay for it. I paid $63 for my share including tax and tip.
If you like, try…avec, Longman & Eagle
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