24 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603
You can call The Gage many things-a pub, a gourmet dining experience, an after-work hangout, a swanky wine bar-but don’t call it a gastropub.
Located in an historic building across from Millennium. Create a meal from the appetizer list-the fried chicken livers, braised rabbit salad and beef carpaccio with roasted mushrooms are all good ways to start-or choose one of the hearty entrées, including roasted Amish chicken, roast saddle of elk or Guinness-battered fish ‘n’ chips. The house burger made with ground Angus beef topped with local Camembert and onion marmalade is a standout.
Cotes Du Rhone
5424 N. Broadway St.
This Edgewater bistro is worthy of a visit, especially with its (possibly permanent) BYOB policy and personal and friendly service.
2056 W. Division St.
No matter where you stand on the whole organic debate, you have to give chef-owner Michael Altenberg credit for having the patience and determination to make Crust the first certified organic restaurant in the Midwest. Plus, his heart is in the right place: Altenberg has been committed to organic and local foods at his other restaurant, Bistro Campagne, since his son’s leukemia was linked to environmental causes years back. Then there’s the fact that the pizzas, or flatbreads as they like to call them, coming out of the beautiful wood-burning oven are darn tasty. Another find we’re fond of are the super-fresh salads. Watch the Wicker Park locals parade by on the sidewalk patio while sipping one of the house-infused cocktails organic vodka, natch, or escape the scene in the cozy back garden. Save room for (organic) desserts from neighboring Bleeding Heart Bakery.
43 E. Jefferson Ave.
Naperville, IL 60540
Stenciled walls give way to headily-scented African, Arab and Indian dishes like pan-seared tilapia cloaked in peanut-curry sauce with cassava leaves; cauliflower in tangy, curry-infused sauce; and char-broiled chicken spiked with masala. Not to be passed by is the gussied up take on samosas with cilantro-spiced ground turkey and fiery chutneys. Live Brazilian jazz livens up the already sultry scene.
Sura Thai Bistro
3124 N. Broadway St.
Chicago, IL 60657
With its white Jetsons-like atmosphere-think pod-like swinging chairs, red and silver columns, spaceship-style seating-and in-house DJ spinning hip-hop and house music, it would be easy to dismiss Sura Thai Bistro as yet another trendy wannabe. Don’t. While this modern Asian eatery does work the funky décor angle-the owners also claim NYC hotspots Peep, Sea and Spice-this Lakeview restaurant has the eats to back it up. The menu focuses mostly on Thai-inspired tapas with lots of playful touches.
710 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60610
The minute you open the menu at River North’s Xel-Ha, you quickly realize that this isn’t a typical Mexican restaurant. First off, there are the prices, which are slightly higher than the norm. Then there’s the fact that the eatery specializes in food from the Yucatan Peninsula, which is Mayan fare, with plenty of European influences. Xel-Ha makes a margarita that rivals Frontera Grill-no easy feat-and also offers a reasonably priced wine list. The elegant atmosphere (check out the wine wall in the back room) is befitting of the cuisine. Service is informative without being overbearing.
2647 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
Despite the small-plates invasion that threatens to make communal dining a-yawn-predictable experience, we have a soft spot for this jam-packed little gem, even if it’s not crazy-authentic. Slices of plantain with savory, garlic-infused beef are memorable, and it’s hard to go wrong with the prototypical (but well executed and super-crisp) patatas bravas, although we find the accompanying paprika sauce needs oomph. For dessert, snag the donuts with warm chocolate for dipping.
646 N. Franklin St.
Chicago, IL 60610
If Hop Haus didn’t refer to its burgers as gourmet, we’re sure we would like them better. They’re not bad burgers, mind you-there are even some out-of-the-ordinary ingredients to be found-it’s just that they don't live up to that moniker. Take for example the lamb burger. While the juicy patty is generously topped with feta, the bland accompanying string beans disappoint. So do the so-called delicious french fries, a sacrilege for a burger joint. The selection of 20 burgers do offer a variety of options-creative types can build their own from the list of 26 toppings, including 12 cheeses-and we appreciate the well-thought-out beer pairings listed with each.
3800 N. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL 60641
The scents emanating from the open kitchen immediately clue you in to the appeal of this saucy spot. The truth is, it’s hard to find a miss on the menu. The experience begins when you select ’cue from a big blackboard, order at the counter, wait to hear your number and, finally, zero in on one of few free wooden tables in the open dining room. Eating the fall-apart brisket sandwich (it’s smoked for 15 hours, and the full-on flavor permeates the meat) is a satisfying experience, but it’s rivaled by bites of crisp-skinned chicken and dry rub-slathered baby backs. The sides are homemade, and we like the tangy slaw and homey mac ‘n’ cheese. For a sweet treat, finish with the peach cobbler.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008