You could throw a rock and hit a decent restaurant on the North Shore. But at Make It Better, we like to be a little pickier. And we can be!
Among all the many wonderful restaurants in our community, these four have stood the test of time, making award-winning food, pouring great wines and providing impeccable service. This special food issue gives us an opportunity to salute them, and remind you about them in the process!
Thirty years ago, Carlos and Debbie Nieto opened Carlos’ Restaurant in Highland Park, and have helped to define North Shore palates ever since. They’ve hosted a “who’s who in the food world” parade of chefs, including Gabe Viti, Don Yamauchi, Jacky Pluton and Alan Wolf. Current Chef Ramiro Valasquez trained under all of them, mastering the “contemporary French cuisine” that is Carlos’ signature.
Known as much for its incredible service as its delicious and innovative food, Carlos’ is a North Shore gem. And the Nietos didn’t rest on their laurels: nearby Café Central and Northfield’s Happ Inn are more casual then the flagship, but still lavish attention on their guests.
Seminal Meal: Yukon Gold Potato Waffle with House-Smoked Salmon, Citrus Crème Fraiche and Baby Greens; Blood Orange-Glazed Muscovy Duck Breast, Duck Confit and Lingonberry Ravioli, Salsify Puree and Blood Orange Gastrique; and Chocolate Pave with Vanilla Ice Cream and Espresso Sauce.
Gabriel’s (Editor’s note: Gabriel’s closed 11/2012)
Before he opened his eponymous restaurant in 1993, Gabe Viti had taken the culinary tour. He’d done stints at Taillevent in Paris, San Domenico in Italy, Lettuce Entertain You and Carlos’. But he wanted to put his own stamp on things, so he opened Gabriel’s.
With 1,200 selections on the wine list, Riedel crystal on the tables, and Gabe’s updated and upscale take on Italian cuisine, the restaurant is consistently singled out for the fine dining experience it provides.
Gabe grew up in Highwood, but now lives in Highland Park, where he oversees his empire: along with Gabriel’s, he also owns the popular Miramar Bistro and Gabe’s Backstage Lounge.
Seminal Meal: Shrimp Kataifi with Tomato Horseradish Sauce; Crespelle filled with Spinach and Ricotta with Proscuitto and Parmigiano; Osso Buco with Saffron Risotto and Veal Sauce.
Founded by Christian Ziegler in 1972, Le Titi de Paris is still going strong. Current chef-proprietor Michael Maddox worked under previous Chef Pierre Polin; Michael and his wife Susan took over the restaurant in 2004, putting there own stamp on this long-time favorite. Michael was a 2009 James Beard Award Nominee for Best Chef—Great Lakes.
Known for their informative and enjoyable cooking classes, twice monthly live jazz and monthly wine dinners as well as producing seasonally based haute French cuisine, the Maddoxes have brought Le Titi smoothly into the 21st Century.
Seminal Meal: “Braesola-Scented” Beef Carpaccio with Sweet Tomato Chutney, White Truffle-Potato and Scallion Salad; Pan-Roasted Grouper w/ Yukon Gold Potato Galette, Grilled Green Asparagus and Crayfish Emulsion; Spring Apricot, Honey and Almond Tart.
When this pescatarian heaven first opened in 1989, chef-owner Mark Grosz and his GM/wife Renée André were new to Evanston. Opening a fine dining restaurant in South Evanston was a gamble, but after training under the great Jean Banchet at Le Francais, Grosz was up to the challenge. And for the last 22 years, they’ve been bringing it in style.
Their son, Philip André, is all grown up and serves as Wine Director for Oceanique, which is truly a family affair. The intimate dining room charms, the lighting is soft and flattering—perfect for a special occasion or a romantic tete a tete. And the food continues to delight. The seafood-heavy menu is influenced by the French tradition, but with a “modern American twist.”
Seminal Meal: Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Pea Tips, Pineapple-Apple Chutney, Caramelized Pineapple and Asparagus; Bouillabaisse Oceanique with Parsley Aioli; Warm Three-Nut Tarte with Bay Leaf Ice Cream.