We always come to Chicago with a full schedule of restaurant plans, combining explorations of places opened since our previous visits with returns to some of our old favorites. Our 2019 trip was no exception.
This trip combined an exploration of new restaurants (new, at least to us, from the three years since our last visit) and returns to a couple of our old favorites.
Top Three Chicago Restaurants
Although we had some nice dishes many Chicago restaurants, our most memorable meals came from three places which will merit future visits.
- Roister is a very popular, one-star Michelin a la carte restaurant from Grant Achatz, the maestro behind the three Michelin-starred Alinea. We began our limited exploration of the compact menu with an intriguing and rewarding appetizer, clam chowder dip with Applewood smoked bacon and celery with Lavash crackers. The star of our dinner and apparently, of the entire restaurant was the signature Chicken & Chamomile (with sunchokes). We could choose a half or whole chamomile-brined chicken whose breast is cooked sous vide and then grilled, with the rest of the bird being fried in a delicate and delicious batter. The dish, which our server estimated is ordered by 60 percent of patrons, appeared on virtually every table the evening of our visit. While served with two sauces, we became rapidly addicted to the sinfully rich chicken broth butter sauce that perfectly complemented the delicate meat. Our only, albeit very minor disappointment was the roasted maitake mushroom with gruyere cheese, cipolline confit and brioche. The acidity of the nice, but still very young, 2017 Brooks Willamette Valley pinot noir complemented the rich chicken and sauce.
- Pacific Standard Time is a wonderful, airy River North restaurant that focuses on fresh local produce and California seafood. We thoroughly enjoyed each of our four dishes: braised octopus with hummus and very puffy, very buttery pita, Ahi crudo with mushrooms, avocado and dashi, tempura-fried softshell crab lettuce wrap with tomato aioli and dill pickle vinaigrette. Our meal ended on an equally high note with toasted almond brittle. We were also very pleased with the wine list and the pricing of one of our favorite Willamette Valley pinots—2015 Shea Cellars’ She Vineyard—and with the service.
- Momotaro is an upscale, small-plate Asian West Loop restaurant at which we shared several dishes and a bottle of Drunken Snapper Junmai sake. Among our favorite dishes were tuna crudo with garlic shoyu, turnip and crispy buckwheat, purple sea urchin sushi, chicken liver pate with soba toast, grilled quail with quail egg, and Ochazuke: miso-marinated tuna with fukamushi, furikake and wasabi.
New Restaurant Finds
Although they didn’t make our top three list, we did find some additional interesting restaurants, with a few caveats.
- Imperial Lamian, for dim-sum at one of the best Chinese restaurants north of South Chicago Archer and Wentworth Streets. We were very pleased with selection, soup and taste of soup dumplings (where we greatly enjoyed the crab dumpling, but less so that with gruyere cheese) and shrimp and edamame. Interesting in concept and pretty, but somewhat less impressive in execution was the roast duck and butternut squash pumpkin puff.
- mfk Restaurant is a tiny, North Lincoln Park Spanish restaurant where we had mixed experiences. We enjoyed the Iberico ham, ham croquette and smoked trout toast preparations, but less so the hen of the woods mushroom and pork and veal meatball dishes. Wine was a middling 2017 Rioja;
- Lula Café, in Logan Square, where we generally enjoyed the sausage-stiffed quail, crab and fava beans but were less impressed with the octopus and especially, the excruciatingly slow service,
- Enso Sushi & Bar in Wicker Park. We enjoyed a nice, fast lunch of mixed sashimi plate and poke bowl;
- GT Oyster and Fish, for a brunch of sinfully-rich brioche French toast with vanilla cream anglaise maple syrup and lobster benedict, which after an overcooked misfile, was also rich and quite good.
- Terzo Piano, at the Art Institute. We had a quick, salad-based meal. Although we greatly enjoyed the morel mushroom salad with green goddess dressing, we were were less impressed by the low-protein crab and shrimp salad with vinaigrette.
Return to a Favorite Chicago Restaurant
Every time we go to Chicago, we always make a stop at one of our favorite places: Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder. We are always pleased with its incomparable and huge Mediterranean flatbreads and the iconic Pizza Pot Pies. This is one place where we are happy to join the continual waiting line. If you go, bring cash as they don’t take credit cards at this Lincoln Park favorite.