February brings another wave of delectable new dining openings to Chicago and the suburbs from big names like Chef Michael Lachowicz’s George Trois Group, Levy Restaurants and the DineAmic Hospitality Group, which has also brought us Bodega, Prime & Provisions and Bar Siena. Also new in town, a movie theater offering great bites and more than 30 brews on tap, a BnB for bunnies (yep, you read that right), an augmented-reality dining experience, and more. Here’s what’s new in town this month in Chicago and the suburbs.
Dining & Drinking
Brasserie by C&C
Brasserie by C&C was launched by the same people who for the last 12 years have been operating the very popular Cookies & Carnitas in Edgewater. A brasserie is a type of French gastropub, and the owners of Brasserie by C&C have said their restaurant “is inspired by the elegant tradition of the 19thcentury classic French establishment with the personal mission to invest in higher quality ingredients, careful preparation and neighborhood relationships that will make our food taste better and your dining experience feel more welcoming with every visit.”
With a “locally inspired” French menu, Brasserie by C&C serves up some classic brasserie dishes with American nuance. For instance, the steak frites — about as classic a French brasserie dish as you’ll find — is served with chimichurri sauce, an unlikely combo in France. There’s a lot of beer to drink, as well as wine, with many available by the glass.
5938-5940 N. Broadway Street, Chicago
Fonda in Evanston is the hotly anticipated restaurant from Chef Michael Lachowicz’s George Trois Group; Lachowicz made a name for himself as one of the area’s premier French-forward chefs at his Winnetka restaurants George Trois and Aboyer. In the Fonda kitchen are Carlos Cahue and Miguel Escobar, who have developed recipes for dishes including various stuffed chili peppers and the ingredient-heavy moles that have helped propel the food of Mexico to the ranks of world-class cuisine. Unlike George Trois and more like Aboyer, Fonda will be a casual restaurant serving classics executed with all the precision and attention to detail that you’d expect at Lachowicz’s fine-dining restaurant.
“We have two experiences to take you from our past to the present,” Fonda’s website explains. “Fonda, which is a more traditional approach to dining, and the Cantina, which celebrates our cocktail program and allows guests to enjoy a meal a little more quickly. Both distinctly rooted in our goal: to provide authentic and thought-provoking cuisine.”
1735 Benson Avenue, Evanston
Violi in Oak Brook Center is the sister restaurant to LÝRA in downtown Chicago, and both are brought to us by DineAmic Hospitality Group, which is also behind Bodega, Prime & Provisions and Bar Siena. Both Violi and LÝRA specialize in the food of Mykonos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea known for wild parties and good times. DineAmic partner Lucas Stoioff has said, “This is our home. Anybody who comes inside is a guest in our home the same way as if it was a dinner party. We train our staff on that — it’s about warmth in terms of personality, how people are greeted, and how they’re served.”
So, what does the food of Mykonos look like when transplanted to Oak Brook? There are some familiar Greek dishes, but also some that we’ve not seen before. Rock Shrimp and Feta features two foods we’ve enjoyed but rarely seen united in one dish — this one with ouzo and oregano; pork shoulder souvlaki sounds fantastic, with tzatziki and pickled red onion.
260 Oak Brook Center, Oak Brook
Forte is a “new bar and restaurant experience” in Chicago Symphony Center. Levy Restaurants, in concert — get it? — with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, has worked to make this new dining and drinking destination a reality. At the corner of Adams and Wabash, Forte is designed, we’re told, “for audience members but also locals and visitors who aren’t attending a performance.”
Before a symphony, it’s probably best to eat light, and so Forte is focusing on perennially popular Mediterranean cuisine, with a lot of vegetables and fish, but also some heartier dishes. Hummus with olives, whipped feta and eggplant caponata — with maybe a glass of wine — is a good way to start, and there are many fish and seafood items, like roasted chicken, pan-fried ahi tuna and cod. Meatier menu options include hangar steak, winter cassoulet and braised lamb. If you prefer just coffee and dessert before a concert, Forte has a strong selection of sweets, including locally sourced gelato, affogato and olive oil cake.
65 E. Adams Street, Chicago
Pink’s Shrimp & Oysters
Pink’s Shrimp & Oysters is opening in Palatine, and owners Greg and Kristina Gaardbo have vowed to offer “the finest meats, seafood and produce and seasonal ingredients.” “My idea is to get you out of Palatine,” Greg told the Daily Herald. “Not that there is anything wrong with Palatine. But I want to transport you into a different place when you come in, whether you’re in Key West or you’re in South or North Carolina or you’re in Spain.”
Such culinary escapism is made possible with outstanding cuisine, including fine seasonal oysters from both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and Canadian waters, and an abundance of raw and cooked fish and seafood. Sustainable aquaculture is important to Pink’s, as it is to many customers, and their investment in responsible fishing yields magnificent aquatic proteins while at the same time helping preserve our coastlines and seafood stocks.
773 N. Quentin Road, Palatine
Ralph’s Coffee has just opened inside the Ralph Lauren flagship store on Michigan Avenue, proving that Chicago is always ready for more shops offering sushi, cannabis and, of course, coffee. This is the newest Ralph’s Coffee location in North America, and the first in Chicago, serving on-site sips and snacks, as well as cups, t-shirts and other merch, along with a selection of Ralph’s coffees, including espresso and decaf, as well as RL’s special blend of breakfast tea. Ralph’s Coffee is at the perfect location for shoppers to pause, enjoy a stimulating drink and some baked deliciousness before heading back for more shopping.
Time Out Chicago reports that “the shop offers a series of specialty coffee blends and espresso drinks from La Colombe — which you can take to go and sip while browsing in the adjoining retail store — along with a selection of pastries, yogurts, overnight oats and other sweet treats, including a morning glory muffin that’s exclusive to the Chicago location.”
720 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Zentli is the creation of businessmen and foodies Marcos Rivera and Danny Howard, who together with artist Alfonso Peloto Nieves have said that they created Zentli “to remember and honor the creativity and hard work of the Mexican people … the wisdom of our ancestors … [and] our venerable Mother Earth.”
Mexican folk art is on the walls, and Mexican street food is a big part of what the folks at Zentli are offering. “Zentli” means corn in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec, and corn is present in most of the dishes on the menu. Esquites, Mexican street corn; tlacoyos, flat disks of cornmeal topped with vegetable and proteins, popular on the streets of Oaxaca; and tacos, lots of tacos. The ubiquitous filled and folded tortilla is perhaps the most popular street food in Mexico, and at Zentli, you can have the very popular tacos al pastor, meat cut from a vertical spit; carne asada; and chicken tinga. Reflecting contemporary dietary choices, there’s even a vegan version with oyster mushroom “tinga,” cashew crema, vegan cheese and shredded lettuce.
1813 Dempster Street, Evanston
Pink & Tan
Pink & Tan is an independently owned source for tableware, textiles and objets d’art. Owner Maggie Peng is an architect and a designer, and she has a keen sense for selecting the right home furnishings for you. After living in Shanghai for eight years, Peng and family moved to Evanston during the pandemic; inspired to remake her new home in the U.S., Peng took an “emotional inventory” of the objects in her life, gaining an increased sensitivity to the importance of everyday items.
In a recent interview with Jeune Otte, Peng said, “Pink & Tan is a design store where the conception and intention of living beautifully every day is the connective tissue of everything we do. We source and bring to our customers the best in unique home essentials, meaningful décor and limited-edition prints. At the same time, we curate artworks that are meant to be loved and lived with — not just as an investment.”
604 Dempster Street, Evanston
Alamo Drafthouse in Wrigleyville is a restaurant and theater combo that shows new releases, classic and cult films, and serves food and drinks designed to be way better than what we’ve come to expect at most movie theaters.
The menu features elevated snacks like vegan buffalo cauliflower, avocado toast and many pizzas. And as the name suggests, beer is big at Alamo Drafthouse, with 30 brews on tap, many from small craft breweries. Food is delivered directly to you in any one of 372 seats in the six-screen theater. Film quality is very high, with state-of-the-art Cinionic 4k laser projectors and immersive Dolby surround sound. “We’re so thankful for the continued strength and recovery of the theater industry thanks to a packed slate of titles in 2022,” says Alamo Drafthouse CEO Shelli Taylor. “And we’re very eager to bring the unique Alamo Drafthouse experience to Chicago, St. Louis, Birmingham and beyond.”
3519 N. Clark Street, Chicago
Le Petit Chef
Le Petit Chef is an immersive 3D experience, in which the tabletops of a dining room off the main lobby of the Fairmont Hotel become stages for presenting animated sequences that set up each course. For instance, during one of the inaugural dinners, we saw the table in front of us become the frame for a dramatized history lesson that illustrates how the tomato emigrated from the defeated Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan, Mexico to Europe. After this first animated sequence concludes, diners are served an apropos starter: a tomato-forward salad. Other courses were introduced with mesmerizing and moving Wassily Kandinsky-type graphics, dancing avocados and other playful illusions.
All the 3D action is narrated by Le Petit Chef. This “little chef” is the guide throughout dinner. The animated sequences, which do have a remarkable three-dimensional effect, are created by laser projectors camouflaged into the existing ceiling décor. To enjoy all the action, you don’t need special glasses or VR headgear, just imagination — it’s fun!
200 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago
Reopening & Relaunching
Hot Dog Box
Hot Dog Box caused a mini-sensation when not that long ago it opened in the Portage Park area with what seemed to be a winning and endearing concept: a small hot dog joint offering creative and premium sausages, served up by a daddy-daughter team of entrepreneurs. Starting in Bronzeville in a red shipping container, Hot Dog Box made the move to expand on the Northwest side. But this new location didn’t work out, and less than a year later, Hot Dog Box left the Six Corners area.
Hot Dog Box has now relocated to UrbanSpace in the Chicago Loop, and owners Bobby and Brooklyn Morelli are back to offering their Bronzeville Bourbon dogs with bourbon sauce, the 51st Street Jazzy Dog with crumbled bacon and cabbage, steak dogs and the spicy corn dog nuggets. Bobby Morelli told Chicago Eater, “As a creative and an artist, I feel like I can push the envelope a little bit more in this new spot. I can expand the horizon of how we enjoy hot dogs.”
15 West Washington Street, Chicago
Harebnb, as the name suggests — though you might not guess it — is a luxury hotel for bunnies. You read that right. Harebnb is a place in Rogers Park to board your bunny. Dogs and cats are also welcome, as Harebnb is operated in conjunction with Chicago’s Red Door Animal Shelter, the self-described “no-kill shelter for cats, rabbits and dogs.” Red Door is right around the corner from Harebnb. Monica Eng in Axios has noted that “the ASPCA estimates there are more than three million pet bunnies in U.S. homes,” so clearly, what America needs now is a bunny hotel.
What exactly can your rabbit pal expect to experience at Harebnb? Crisp salads twice every day, daily exercise in an individual pen — referred to as a bunny condo, with personal blanket and toy; “rabbit-perfect temperature” — we don’t know what that means, but it sounds good; medicine distributed twice daily as necessary; and grooming. There’s an additional add-on for the spa, and if that’s what your rabbit is into, you may want to splurge a little.
2410 W. Lunt Street, Chicago
More From Better:
- North Shore Restaurant Month 2023: Special Menus and Deals in February
- 12 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Chicago
- 28 of The Best Things To Do in Chicago and the Suburbs This February
David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded LTHForum.com, the 15,000 member food chat site; for several years he wrote weekly “Food Detective” columns in the Chicago Sun-Times; he writes weekly food columns for Wednesday Journal. He has written extensively about the culinary traditions of Mexico and Southeast Asia and contributed several chapters to “Street Food Around the World.”
David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca.