Summer’s over, school’s begun, and you’re back in town. The question of the hour, obviously, is where to eat? While you were at the lake/camp/family reunion or generally off having fun elsewhere, your must-try list of new restaurants has grown. Allow me to break it down for you.
441 N. Clark St., Chicago
It’s been a long time since Lettuce Entertain You opened a tapas bar (33 years and going strong for Café Ba Ba Reeba!), but this River North newbie is really more of a deluxe wine bar with a pintxo menu created by LEYE chefs Doug Psaltis and Hisanobu Osaka as a mashup of Spanish and Japanese flavors. Heavy-hitting sommeliers Richard Hanauer and Ryan Arnold have curated the wine list, and it’s a stunner. As for décor, natural woods, dark brick, and lots of warm lighting in various forms give this space an intimate feel. Stop by after work for the Spicy Clam Ceviche, Pan Con Tomate, and a glass of bright vedura from Conde de Valdemar.
4662 N. Broadway, Chicago
Uptown welcomed Michelin-starred chef Matt Kerney (Longman & Eagle) and his fine-dining team to the neighborhood this summer. It joins the ranks of Chicago’s intimate tasting menu experiences, and in fact occupies the space of the much ballyhooed 42 Grams, which closed last year after garnering two Michelin stars. The Brass Heart menu will change seasonally, of course, but how lovely to know there is always a vegan option, and that they are also willing to accommodate those with gluten-free diets. The restaurant seats 20 people, and the 14-course meal will set you back $175, with an optional beverage pairing priced at $110. They are obviously shooting for the (Michelin) stars here as well.
1840 W. North Ave., Chicago
Turns out Maple & Ash’s executive chef, Danny Grant, has a side gig in Bucktown. He and the Maple & Ash team opened Etta on North Avenue this past spring after building the restaurant from the ground up. Like their glitzy steakhouse, much of the cooking is open-hearth driven, but at this new sibling restaurant you’ll find the prices and the surroundings much more down to earth. At street level, you’ll find the bar and dining room; upstairs, there’s both covered bar seating and an outdoor space. Look for the Fire-Baked Focaccia with ricotta-honey and truffle; wood-fired pizzas like the Summer Squash & Blossoms with ricotta, pesto, and mint; and Hearth-Glazed Lamb with tomatoes, cucumbers, and yogurt.
Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods
1415 N. Wood St., Chicago
Chef Brian Jupiter and his partners at the Pioneer Tavern Group (Frontier, Lottie’s) have opened what may be Chicago’s definitive homage to New Orleans, from the weathered Dixie Beer logo on the brick wall to the ice shaving machine behind the bar. And the food? Lord, have mercy. All the NOLA favorites are present and accounted for, many with a distinct Jupiter twist: Po’ Boys with Crispy Nashville Hot Chicken with collard slaw and avocado providing textural counterpoint; Hushpuppies with Pimento Honey Butter; and two versions of gumbo — traditional ya-ya with okra and shrimp, and the “Vegetarian Z’Herbes.” And that ice machine gets a workout with more than 20 different flavors of Snoballs available. If you’re feeling extra feisty, add a shot of bourbon or gin to yours and toast the Crescent City.
5318 N. Clark St., Chicago
Pastry chef Bobby Schaffer has worked with some serious heavy hitters — including the Michelin-starred Curtis Duffy (Grace) and Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) — but now has struck out on his own at this charming and sun-lit Andersonville bakery. He’s milling flour from whole grains on site and turning them into glorious sourdough loaves of dense rye and hearty wheat berries, which you can buy whole, or enjoy on site as an open-faced sandwich topped with everything from pickled herring to shaved ham and Havarti cheese. You’ll also find delightful cardamom buns, beautifully flavored almond cakes with fruit, and gorgeous fruit tarts. The chocolate croissants are chocolate all the way through, and the best kind of indulgence. On top of all that, the coffee is fabulous. This place is a real find.
613 N. Wells St., Chicago
Located in the new FOUND Hotel in River North, Mason is a restaurant built on American supper-club classics. The menu was created by Chef Lord Maynard Llera, culinary director of L.A.’s h.wood Group (not a typo!), who have partnered with the hotel mini chain. The intimate space, designed by John Sofio of Built, Inc., has a dark and cozy speakeasy feel, all the better to enjoy your updated Clams Casino, Crab Cakes with lobster nage and crispy sweet potato strings, or Dover Sole with classic beurre blanc, fried capers, and parsley.
5420 N. Clark St., Chicago
This Korean-Italian mashup from chef-owner Jennifer Kim is exactly the cuisine you didn’t know you needed. The small but effective menu has a few raw fish dishes (the bay scallops with homemade XO sauce = heaven), some small plates, three noodle and rice dishes (the chewy rice cakes with rich lamb ragu are a stunner), and two larger, shareable plates, kalbi (glazed short ribs with kimchi) and cacciucco soondubu, an Italy-meets-Korea seafood stew. If you go with four people, you could run the table and order everything. You would not be sad.
1635 Chicago Ave., Evanston
This Evanston stalwart closed their original Sherman Avenue location to make way for a high-rise building; they’ve relocated to the old Dave’s Italian Kitchen space. They have an all-day menu that criss-crosses regional American cuisine, from Tex Mex tacos and nachos (here called “Kamoosh”) and Northwest salmon chowder, oysters, and cedar-plank salmon to NOLA’s po’ boy sandwiches and red beans and rice. You’ll also find a solid burger, teriyaki pork tenderloin, and crispy brick chicken. There is literally something for everyone at this NU favorite, including local craft beers on tap. Brunch service starts mid-September.
6755 N. Cicero Ave., Lincolnwood
It’s a family affair in Lincolnwood. The whole Stefani family — parents Karen and Phil and adult kids Gina and Anthony — got in on this sleekly designed restaurant, located not far from the Stefani homestead. The food is classic steakhouse (think seafood towers and prime cuts of beef), but being the Stefanis, you’ll also find Italian favorites like Veal Osso Buco and Parmigiana, Chicken Vesuvio, and Ziti and Sausage. A very welcome addition to the suburbs, as evidenced by the happy crowds.
2445 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Native Missourian chef Tim Graham (Tru, Travelle) and sommelier wife Rebekah have joined the ranks of Chicago food couples running their own restaurants with the opening of Twain in Logan Square. Graham’s thoughtful take on Midwestern food will be evident in dishes such as Ants on a Log (his celery is stuffed with a mousse of duck liver and, yes, peanut butter, and dotted with bourbon cherries rather than the raisins of his youth), Chicken and Dumplings (the dumplings benefit from the addition of chives, and it’s served with gremolata for brightness), or Red Miso Mashed Potato with sweet Asian gravy. Of course there will be Gooey Butter Cake (currently with rosemary-roasted peaches and yogurt mousse) and hand-cranked ice cream of the day (to go atop the sheet cake of the day, of course). Feel free to add to their collection of vintage spiral-bound woman’s club cookbooks. Mark Twain would be proud.
Walton St. Kitchen and Bar
912 N. State St., Chicago
Ryan and Anna O’Donnell, the photogenic couple behind Ballyhoo Hospitality (Gemini, Coda di Volpe) have opened their newest resto in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Gemini chef Jon Keeley takes the helm here, with pastry chef Ji Yoon (Henri, Acadia, GreenRiver) at his side. Look for seasonally driven, globally influenced menus with lush starters like Roasted King Crab with sambal cocktail glaze and citrus conserva, or Hamachi Crudo with green apple, walnut, and a lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette. Spit-roasted entrees include a juicy Berkshire Pork Chop with farro tabbouleh and fig barbecue sauce, or chateaubriand — carved tableside — to share. The perfect stop after a hard day of shopping.
Union Full Board
3475 N. Clark St., Chicago
As a native Detroiter, I can never get enough of Union Squared’s pizza; as a proud Evanstonian, I’ve been a fan of Union Pizza’s Italian small plates and wood-fired oven pizzas since it opened. Lakeview, get ready for the best of both worlds. Partners Steve Schwartz, Heather Behm, and Vince diBattista have just opened Union Full Board in the brand-new Wheelhouse Hotel, just a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field. The crispy-crusted Detroit-style pizza is out in full force, aided and abetted by seasonal salads, sandwiches, daily specials (Tuesday is Eggplant Parmesan; Thursday is their insane Mac & Cheese), and small plates. They source from local farmers and food artisans (Hewn, Frìo Gelato, Temperance Beer Co., Talking Farm, etc.) and make good use of the products. Get thee hence.
On the Horizon!
Be on the lookout for these new spots opening later this fall:
- Avli Taverna (1335 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago): The newest offering for Winnetka’s own Louie Alexakis, owner of the popular Avli and Avli Rotisserie. He gives traditional Greek food a little modern zhuzh, and he will make you see Greek wines in a whole different light — there is a world beyond retsina!
- Bibliophile (1658 E. 53rd St., Chicago): Hyde Park’s Fabiana’s Bakery has a new concept up their sleeve, and this Hyde Park flagship could be the start of something big. It will be a restaurant-bookstore-bar hybrid, and sure to be on every U of C student’s agenda.
- Kumiko (630 W. Lake St., Chicago): This posh West Loop cocktail bar is clearly destined for greatness, pairing Oriole’s Noah and Cara Sandoval with mixologist Julia Momose (GreenRiver), all critical darlings. This could be the next Aviary.
- Le Sud (2301 W. Roscoe St., Chicago): Le Sud finds another North Shore favorite, Sandy Chen of Evanston’s Koi, opening a restaurant inspired by the South of France. Expect full-flavored Provençal dishes. And rosé. Lots of rosé.
- Yūgen (Randolph Street, Chicago): Yūgen is the name chosen for the restaurant that will open in the now-shuttered Grace space. This Japanese fine dining spot will be overseen by chef Mari Katsumara (Acadia, Entente), daughter of the late, great Yoshi Katsumura.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.