Best Bite: I’d only been to Celeste for drinks in their rooftop garden, but hadn’t yet tried the food. The “Shake & Fries” dessert was probably the most intriguing and bizarre item on any of my destinations’ menus this year, described as a French fry panna cotta with Nutella mousse and fry crumbles. But, surprise! The sweet and salty worked very well, just like dipping fries into a chocolate Frosty. The parfait was a little precarious to eat at first, given the mountain of fry pieces on top, but it was worth it once you were able to dig down for a bite of all three components together.
Other notes: My other favorite dish was the eggplant involtini, mostly because of the garlicky marinara and the three kinds of cheese inside the rolled eggplant slices.The bulgogi lamb chops were also a nice starter, with lots of glazed veggies on the side.
Best Bite: This was my first time back at ZED451 since Restaurant Week 2014. The all-you-can-eat strategy for salads and meats still made it Restaurant Week’s best value, but interestingly, dessert is what stole the show for me on this latest visit. A housemade marshmallow disc was bruléed on top of the butterscotch bread pudding in the most exceptional way, fully melted inside but still holding its crisp exterior.
Other notes: Just as before, the harvest table was overwhelming. I especially enjoyed the veggie salads, from beets to carrots to brussels sprouts, and also the array of cheeses with fig and apricot accompaniments. All three meats served tableside – sirloin steak, glazed salmon, and Moroccan-spiced chicken – were even better than I remembered. My next visit may have to be during brunch, which is also unlimited and around the same Restaurant Week price point.
Best Bite: Gene & Georgetti proudly boasts the title of Chicago’s oldest steakhouse. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t seem to have changed very much from when it opened in 1941. Not surprisingly, the steak was the star of the meal. The filet had the right amount of well-seasoned crust, and the garlicky spinach on the side kept with the no-frills theme.
Other notes: The crab cake was classically prepared, with zesty remoulade and old-school garnishes. And as our group wrapped up the meal with tiramisu and coffee, you could almost hear the decades of Chicago business conversations echoing off the dark wood paneling.
Best Bite: Appellation is the full-service restaurant attached to Pastoral’s relatively new Andersonville location, and was among those offering brunch this year. I’m usually more of a savory brunch person, so the duck confit hash with delicata squash, carrots, and poached eggs was just what I wanted. The cheesy grits at the bottom of the bowl were also a welcome switch from the typical potato base. However, the dish that left the very best impression on me was actually the pancakes. I’m not sure whether it was the dense texture of the cakes or the orange butter on top, but they were excellent.
Other notes: The baked eggs in squash cream were another creative take on a classic savory dish, especially because you could load up each slice of baguette with a pile of prosciutto, arugula, and the creamy eggs. I was so full at the end of the meal that I didn’t even browse the cheese and artisanal food selection for which Pastoral is most known – that will have to merit its own separate visit.
Best Bite: De Quay’s combination of Dutch and Indonesian cuisines has intrigued me ever since they opened, so Restaurant Week felt like the right time to try it out. Both entrée options had a lot going on – the marinated, lightly charred chicken skewers came with spicy rice, mild pickles, and two sauces; the pan-seared shrimp were joined by mushroom dumplings, green bean-pickled pepper salad, and a rich panang beurre blanc. They both showcased a broad range of influences, but still came together well.
Other notes: The brabant roll was the first-course winner, a decadent appetizer that brought together flaky pastry, smoky pork, dried fruit, and mustard sauce. And while I was jolted at first by the neon green buttercream atop the cocoa cake, it worked nicely with the curried pineapple. We also had the warm housemade stroopwafel with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream on the side, and while humble in appearance, we agreed it was far superior to any stroopwafel we’d ever had.
The details:de Quay, 2470 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Best Bite: Table, Donkey & Stick specializes in alpine cuisine, which seems especially appropriate for winter. The main course was a beautifully cooked duck breast in a bowl full of comforting accompaniments: buttered cabbage, squash, and nutty rice. And how pretty is that ring of sticky-sweet glaze?
Other notes: The green lentils were on point in both seasoning and texture, with major umami from the smoked mushrooms, and the decision to present the latkes as wedges to be dunked in aioli was a seriously genius one. I also swooned over the silky duck liver mousse with chili powder and sweet preserves, spread onto piping-hot baguette for the ultimate appetizer bite. I was very impressed by the whole experience, including attentive service throughout the meal. I’m a little ashamed that it took me so long to visit a restaurant of this caliber in my own neighborhood, but I’ll just chalk it up as another Restaurant Week success story.
Best Bite: It’s hard to outdo the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates: they’re not only Avec’s most popular menu item, but are also among the most iconic dishes in all of Chicago. The sweet-spicy-smoky combination of dates, bacon, chorizo, and tomato sauce is just as unstoppable now as when I wrote about it in this blog’s very first week.
Other notes: The Restaurant Week menu only had one option per course, but because it was a “greatest hits” approach, we weren’t complaining. The second course was an outstandingly balanced salad of shredded brussels sprouts, chiles, salty cheese, and raisins; the third a full pan of paella with head-on shrimp, chicken thigh, and tangerine aioli. Avec’s desserts tend to harness simplicity for maximum impact – these nutter butter squares, for example – and this evening’s creamy chocolate mousse with espresso crumble was no exception.
Best Bite: Bar Siena is the sister restaurant to Siena Tavern, one of my go-to recommendations, so booking their Restaurant Week brunch was a no-brainer. We were originally disappointed that the caramelized waffle was no longer available as a first course, but the remaining option turned out to be the greatest revelation of the day. Cherry almond granola suddenly became much more exciting when layered with chia seed-flecked yogurt and topped with a scoop of cherry gelato. The parfait was a bright and creative start to the meal.
Other notes: The main course had everything you need in a classic breakfast sandwich: fluffy eggs, smoky bacon, spicy sausage, and a melted slice of American cheese, all on a soft bun. And I loved looking up at the tangle of white-lit branches that stretched across the ceiling from the living tree in the middle of the restaurant.
The details:Bar Siena, 832 W. Randolph St., Chicago.
Best Bite: This was my first time dining at Ema, featuring Top Chef alum CJ Jacobson’s Californian take on Mediterranean cuisine. I enjoyed every course, but the standout bite came at dessert. A humble slice of not-too-sweet honey pie came alive with blistered grilled grapes, sesame seeds, and thick whipped cream. I’ll definitely be saving room for a full slice on my next visit.
Other notes: My second-course grain salad won the prize for texture, with crunchy pistachios, cucumbers, and fried shallots swirled into lentils and rice. The menu itself was an excellent value: two generous mezzes (the garlicky spread studded with green olives and toasted almonds was my favorite) plus three smaller course was well worth the four-course price.
I wasn’t able to participate in Chicago Restaurant Week last year (I was still living in Dublin), so I wasn’t sure how involved I’d be in 2017 after a year off. But I looked through the menus, started to plan a few meals – using my trusted spreadsheet, as always – and before I knew it, I was up to nine reservations. Oops. So much for taking it easy!
But, as I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s really about the people. Sharing food with the people I love is one of the greatest joys of my life, so I’m grateful for an annual excuse to do a lot of that in a short amount of time.
Looking forward to sharing highlights from this year’s meals!