Chicago Restaurant Week 2021: Brunch at Scratchboard Kitchen

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2021, held March 19–April 4. To browse past Restaurant Week coverage between 2013 and 2020, click here.

Chicken biscuit sandwich, Scratchboard Kitchen
Fried chicken biscuit sandwich with pimiento cheese and picked red onion on a ranch biscuit

Best Bite: I’m thrilled to finally post about Scratchboard Kitchen, which has quickly emerged as a favorite of mine in the year they’ve been open in downtown Arlington Heights (even amidst all the pandemic pivots). Their Restaurant Week brunch menu was a chance to enjoy both savory and sweet, plus a well-balanced Bloody Mary to start. The chicken biscuit sandwich, with pimento cheese and pickled onions, was cheffy comfort food at its finest.

Winter citrus toast, Scratchboard Kitchen
Citrus toast with mascarpone, citrus, fennel, pollen, and pistachio
Scratchboard Bloody Mary, Scratchboard Kitchen
Scratchboard Bloody Mary with scratch-made mix and premium vodka

Other notes: The strikingly pretty citrus toast was also a hit, dusted with fennel pollen and pistachios with a layer of creamy mascarpone underneath. The ever-rotating pastries here are always delicious, and these were no exception: a lovely apricot pop tart and banana-chocolate mini loaf with a layer of toasted coconut. The sun started shining onto our patio table shortly after they arrived, which ended the meal on an even higher note.

Banana chocolate mini loaf and apricot pop tart, Scratchboard Kitchen
Banana, chocolate, and coconut mini loaf and apricot pop tart with caramelized honey icing

The details: Scratchboard Kitchen, 5 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2021: Dinner at Gaijin

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2021, held March 19–April 4. To browse past Restaurant Week coverage between 2013 and 2020, click here.

Shrimp okonomiyaki, Gaijin
Osaka-style okonomiyaki with tempura fried shrimp, corn, creole butter, arare, and udon

Best Bite: Esteemed Chicago chef Paul Virant opened Gaijin in 2019 as Chicago’s first restaurant dedicated to okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake. I was excited to make my first visit during Restaurant Week, when five Osaka-style versions were available as part of the four-course menu. Our group of three chose shrimp, octopus, and pork to share, each topped with “dancing” bonito flakes and kept perfectly warm on the teppan griddle built into our table. I loved all three: the tempura shrimp and corn with caramelized udon noodles, the sweet-and-salty octopus with crispy rice, and the breakfast-leaning pork with bacon and a fried egg. The flavor combinations and textural contrasts, all anchored by the cabbage-studded pancake base, were ones I’d go back for again and again.

Octopus okonomiyaki, Gaijin
Osaka-style okonomiyaki with octopus, hot sauce, honey gastrique, bonito, and crispy rice
Veggie yakisoba, Gaijin
Veggie yakisoba with spinach, mushrooms, sweet corn, cabbage, scallions, carrots, sauce, and sesame

Other notes: The yakisoba in the second course was a delicious tangle of well-cooked vegetables and umami-coated noodles. And I loved the mochi donut, reminiscent of funnel cake but with chewiness from the rice flour, and topped with a coconut and pandan leaf glaze. This also happened to be the best Restaurant Week value I’ve seen in a long time: four generous courses at the lower-tier dinner price.

Pandan-coconut mochi donut, Gaijin
Pandan-coconut mochi donut

The details: Gaijin, 950 W. Lake St., Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2021: Dinner at Girl & the Goat

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2021, held March 19–April 4. To browse past Restaurant Week coverage between 2013 and 2020, click here.

Wood oven shrimp and Gotham Greens salad, Girl & the Goat
Wood oven shrimp & Gotham Greens salad with avocado, pomelo, pickled veggies, quinoa crunch, and limey-herby dressing, Girl & the Goat

Best Bite: This year, Girl & the Goat participated in Restaurant Week for the first time in its almost 11-year history. As I went through the revolving door and took in the restaurant’s trademark wood-burning scent, I felt a range of emotions as I considered what one of my very favorite restaurants, and so many others, had gone through in the past year.

Roasted oysters, Girl & the Goat
Roasted Bosu oysters with yuzu-harissa butter, shio kombu, and finger lime, Girl & the Goat

But on to the food itself: of the 7 shared dishes, the most unique were the roasted oysters, with yuzu punch and gentle heat from the harissa; the wood-oven shrimp with quinoa crunch that elevated a well-balanced salad; and the dessert, a crumb cake served with caramel whipped cream, citrus marmalade, and cheesy ice cream in Stephanie Izard’s characteristically savory dessert style.

Buttery cheesy cake, Girl & the Goat
Buttery cheesy cake with citrus marmalade, Montamore ice cream, and caramel whip, Girl & the Goat

Other notes: The menu also involved some of the classics, like the green beans (still my favorite green beans anywhere) and the goat liver mousse (this time with brioche instead of crumpets). I’d had the crispy short ribs last summer as carryout, but they were even better this time around, fork-tender with bright bursts of grapefruit mingling with creamy avocado, herbs, and chiles.

Crispy beef short ribs, Girl & the Goat
Crispy beef short ribs with avocado and ruby red grapefruit chermoula, Girl & the Goat

The details: Girl & the Goat,  809 W. Randolph St.Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2020: Brunch at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2020, held January 24–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse previous Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Cubano bocadillo, buttermilk waffle, and citrus French toast, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!
“Spanish Cubano” bocadillo with braised pork shoulder, mustard aioli, and housemade English muffin; buttermilk waffle with Marcona almond Nutella and bananas; and citrus French toast with goat cheese butter, honey, and berries

Best Bite: The best part of going to a tapas restaurant is getting to spread the meal across many dishes, and Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba’s Spanish brunch offering was no different. With four of us participating in Restaurant Week, we sampled six breakfast-y plates and three desserts. For my best bite, I’m torn between either the Marcona almond-flecked Nutella that came with the waffles, or the toasted Cubano-style breakfast sandwich with braised pork and mustard sauce.

Sausage fried paella rice and jamon serrano eggs benedict, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!
Sausage fried paella rice with poached egg; and jamón serrano eggs Benedict with hollandaise and housemade English muffin

Other notes: I was glad to see paella factor into the morning menu, made even better after mixing in the poached egg; same with the twist of using Spanish jamón in eggs Benedict. Included in the menu price was a glass of sangria, a mimosa, or a trip to the DIY Bloody Mary bar, all of which definitely bumped up the value. This was technically a Restaurant Week repeat for me – I first went for lunch way back in 2013, when I was apparently just as impressed with the value (and the use of Marcona almonds).

The details: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, 2024 N. Halsted St.Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2020: Dinner at The Loyalist

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2020, held January 24–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse previous Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

The Loyalist cheeseburger with onion 3 ways and fries, The Loyalist
The Loyalist cheeseburger with onion 3 ways and fries

Best Bite: I usually don’t pick a Restaurant Week destination because of a cheeseburger, but I’ve been intrigued by The Loyalist’s version ever since it dethroned Au Cheval’s legendary burger a couple of years ago, according to Bon Appetit. Nicknamed the “dirty burg,” it’s an appropriately indulgent affair: the patties are a blend of short rib, chuck, and bacon, and they’re smothered with caramelized onion, thin-sliced pickles, and cheese that oozes over the side of the bun. Considering the richness, two burgers were plenty to share between three of us. Accompanying the plentiful crispy fries were two great dipping options: extra-garlicky aioli and, our group’s surprise favorite, pickling liquid.

Butterscotch pot de creme, The Loyalist
Butterscotch pot de creme

Other notes: While I’m usually satisfied with any creamy butterscotch dessert, this pot de creme was particularly lovely with its salted streusel and dollop of sweet cream. We also made it time to take advantage of some happy hour cocktail specials from our cozy corner booth, and even peeked upstairs at The Loyalist’s upscale tasting menu counterpart, Smyth.

The details: The Loyalist, 177 N. Ada St.Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2020: Dinner at Galit

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2020, held January 24–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse previous Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Mezze of carrots with cuminy-orange glaze, Bulgarian feta, hazelnut duqqa; kale tabouli with pepitas, delicata squash, apples, garlicky-lemony (with nutritional yeast), Galit
Mezze of carrots with cuminy-orange glaze, Bulgarian feta, hazelnut duqqa; kale tabouli with pepitas, delicata squash, apples, garlicky-lemony (with nutritional yeast)

Best Bite: Galit has drawn crowds and received national attention for its modern take on Middle Eastern food, so I was thrilled to snag an elusive Saturday reservation, especially during Restaurant Week. Our dinner was all about texture, perhaps best demonstrated in the kale tabouli. Snappy apples and pepitas mingled with dressed kale and soft roasted squash, all showered with nutritional yeast (an ingredient that’s on the rise as part of the shift toward plant-based diets).

Salatim of labneh with hyssop, sumac, and sesame; cipollini onions a la Grecque with coriander and Bulgarian feta; ezme with Turkish tomatoes and peppers, walnuts, chives, and hot garlic; pumpkin terahi with urfa bieber, cumin, garlic, nigella, and cilantro; pickles (Yemeite, Bulgarian, Israeli); masabacha hummus with chickpeas, herby tehina, and aleppo; plus pita and crudités, Galit
Salatim of labneh with hyssop, sumac, and sesame; cipollini onions a la Grecque with coriander and Bulgarian feta; ezme with Turkish tomatoes and peppers, walnuts, chives, and hot garlic; pumpkin terahi with urfa bieber, cumin, garlic, nigella, and cilantro; pickles (Yemeite, Bulgarian, Israeli); masabacha hummus with chickpeas, herby tehina, and aleppo; plus pita and crudités

Other notes: I loved mixing and matching all the spreads, dips, and salads, collectively referred to as salatim in Israeli cuisine. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the sweet-and-smoky ezme with tomatoes and walnuts. Even the seemingly familiar dishes deserved every superlative: the hummus was outrageously smooth and luscious, crowned with olive oil and herb-tahini sauce, and the warm pita’s blistered outside and fluffy inside made it the perfect vehicle for dipping.

Altogether, the four colorful courses were a substantial amount of food for our party of three (even including seamless accommodation of my friend’s dietary restriction), so I’d consider it an especially good value for Restaurant Week.

The details: Galit, 2429 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2020: Lunch at Shaw’s Crab House

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2020, held January 24–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse previous Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Mini New England lobster rolls with french fries, Shaw's Crab House
Mini New England lobster rolls with french fries

Best Bite: I was instantly taken with this duo of pint-sized lobster rolls – large enough for the full toasted bun experience, but small enough for a high lobster-to-bun ratio. The piping hot fries paired with the cool, chive-studded lobster were almost enough to transport me to a seaside seafood shack.

Mini key lime and chocolate cake desserts

Other notes: The miniature theme continued into dessert, and my dainty portion of key lime pie was just the right citrusy finish to our rich lunch.

The details: Shaw’s Crab House, 1900 E. Higgins St., Schaumburg.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Split-Rail (Seinfeld and Friends)

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Rye Toast, Split-Rail
Rye Toast with beet-cured salmon, beet cream cheese, and dill (Seinfeld, “The Rye,” Season 7, Episode 11)

Best Bite: Chef Zoe Schor built a tradition of themed Restaurant Week menus in past years at her previous restaurant, Ada Street: female chefs in 2014 and famous last meals in 2015. So she continued the tradition at Split-Rail this year with two five-course menu options: one inspired by Seinfeld, the other inspired by Friends. We shared both sets of dishes, and most of my favorites were on the Seinfeld side – especially luscious beet-cured salmon atop rye toast (to commemorate the episode when Jerry stole a loaf of marbled rye from an elderly woman). On the Friends side, I really liked the winter squash tartlet, inspired by an episode where “tartlet” is repeated over and over by a chef under the influence during Monica’s job interview with him. It was almost like a mini pumpkin pie, but more savory with creme fraiche and pumpkin seeds.

Winter squash tartlet, Split-Rail
Winter Squash Tartlet with creme fraiche and toasted pepitas (Friends, “The One With the Stoned Guy,” Season 1, Episode 15

The Butter Shave, Split-Rail
The Butter Shave cocktail with dark rum, butterscotch, and baking spices (Seinfeld, “The Butter Shave”, Season 9, Episode 1)

Other notes: The theme extended all the way to the cocktails, with a spin on hot buttered rum to represent the Seinfeld episode where Kramer shaved his face with butter. And it’s not a Seinfeld dinner without a Soup Nazi reference, so we had to try the crab bisque, which had a pleasantly high proportion of crabmeat to broth. So there was, indeed, soup for us.

Crab bisque, Split-Rail
Crab bisque with oyster crackers (Seinfeld, “The Soup Nazi,” Season 7, Episode 6

The details: Split-Rail, 2500 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Boka

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Heirloom carrots, Boka
Heirloom carrots with sesame, buttermilk, and dates

Roasted chicken,  Boka
Roasted chicken with rutabaga, cabbage, and banyuls

Best Bite: I first visited Boka during Restaurant Week 2011 (before I even started this blog!), so a return visit was well overdue. I was excited to finally try the roasted chicken that’s been a mainstay of the menu ever since Chef Lee Wolen took the helm. It was possibly the most perfectly juicy slice of chicken I’ve ever eaten. The roasted carrots were also at just the right doneness, with a buttermilk dressing and lots of sesame.

Banana dessert, Boka
Banana dessert with chocolate, creme fraîche cake, and speculoos

Other notes: The banana dessert was anchored by speculoos (cookie butter), a combination that reminded me of this Stan’s donut – but elevated with a beautiful presentation of shaved dark chocolate, cubes of sponge cake, and banana ice cream. And the technical expertise required for the slow-poached egg nestled in dense cavatelli and parmesan was truly impressive.

Slow poached egg, Boka
Slow poached egg with cavatelli, butternut squash, and parmesan

The details: Boka, 1729 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Willow Room

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Squash soup, Willow Room
Squash soup with Dark Matter espresso-roasted squash, brown butter, and chipotle creme

Best Bite: The squash soup was the most innovative dish of our meal at this cozy Lincoln Park spot. The brown butter, espresso, and squash came together to create a silky soup, with extra warmth from the chipotle.

Beef tartare tartine, Willow Room
Beef tartare tartine with shallot, caper, yolk, herbs, and parmesan

Other notes: My other favorite dish was actually from the same course as the soup: the beef tartare on toast, which had tons of salty and sour notes from pickles, capers, and parmesan. It was also fun to see muddy buddies (aka puppy chow) used as the topping for a chocolate pudding dessert – but because we were celebrating a birthday, I was too focused on the candle-blowing to snap a photo!

The details: Willow Room, 1800 N. Halsted St., Chicago.