Category Archives: new restaurants

On the table: Kingsbury Street Cafe

6 glasses, 6 napkin rolls, plant, salt, pepper. 1523 N. Kingsbury (Across from the mega-Whole Foods)

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On the table: Rustic House

4 glasses, 4 forks, 4 knives, 4 napkins, 4 menus, salt pepper, specials. Rustic House, 1967 N. Halsted.

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Speaking of Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse…

A tour and tasting there this week had me salivating over shrimp and grits, crispy chicken and waffles, juicy bone-in rib-eye and a shrimp “garbage” salad with 23 ingredients, but my favorite bite by far was the crispy, golden, buttery and extra garlic-y garlic bread doused with a melty Wisconsin blue cheese fondue. Besides the fact that MJ’s is a pretty stunning restaurant with a contemporary bridge that brings you up and close and personal with the InterContinental’s historic lobby ceiling, and separates the dining rooms, it may be the best reason to make a reservation. Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, 505 N. Michigan Ave., 312.655.2300

Garlic bread with Ader Käse Reserve Blue Cheese fondue

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On the table: Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse

3 wine glasses, 3 water glasses, 3 napkins, 3 plates, 3 knives, 6 forks, salt, pepper, votive. Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, 505 N. Michigan Avenue (began dinner service tonight, Aug 23, of course).

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Next restaurant: Thailand

The next menu at Next...a taste of Thailand

Just as with the stunning Paris 1906 menu at Next restaurant, I didn’t know what to expect from the next three-month incarnation—a taste of Thailand. Would they stick to the Thailand of the future (2036) plan I had originally heard about, and would that just be a Thai-style Alinea? Would the rather minimalist room (save the industrial tracks that snake along the ceiling) be decked with hot pink and gold silk fabrics? Would the spices have me soaking my entire face with water? Who knew? With a very lucky ticket in hand I went in to see for myself. I quickly found out the answer to each of my anticipatory questions was no. The decor is the same, the spices were vibrant, palate buzzing and complex but not too spicy, and the menu, it was more street and modern Thai than anything remotely futuristic. A good move, I thought, to focus on the flavors, ingredients and spices of Thailand, rather than try to pipe a tom kha gai foam over dehydrated pad Thai powder. The journey was real, and began with an explosion of color, flavor, oh, and Thai newspaper table coverings…

The décor doesn't change, but the tabletops do—from Thai newspapers to silk runners


Our first drink pairing was guava, mango and papaya juice spiked with Indonesian sugarcane rum, and sparkling wine. The booze brought the sweetness down and intensified the fruity, refreshing and intense flavors of the fruit. Dangerously addictive, they refilled our glass a tew fimes…

Spiked guava, mango, papaya juice


From there the street food component was presented on a banana leaf lined wooden tray. We didn’t know what to pick up first from the roasted sweet bananas topped with chilies to the crunchy prawn cakes, steamed buns and sweet shrimp bites. My favorite of the bunch were the rice-stuffed fermented sausage, almost too pretty to eat.

Street food spread


Up next was a hot and sour broth soup that was down right medicinal. And by medicinal I mean I believe it might offer some sort of healing power with its deep, umami-esque deliciousness. Our spoons were lucky to pick up thick, soup-soaked hunks of tender pork belly, and the tomato and ginger added more flavor pop and color. The newspapers were also replaced by silk green runners, adding to the gorgeous presentation. Please Next, get a street truck out there, ok, fine, maybe just a take-out window in the alley stocked only with this soup. Please?

Hot and sour soup with pork belly


Ah, how good is Thai sticky rice on its own? Now picture about 10 various dipping sauces to ladle over it. We didn’t know where to go first, with sauce choices like salted duck egg, green mango, white radish banana pepper, cucumber, chili and dried anchovy tamarind. We just dug into them all, each sparking every flavor sensation, from sweet to salty, pungent to fish oil and tamarind-infused sweetness.

An array or rice sauces


Our taste buds were still abuzz with flavor, so the next course was a mild, more streamlined fit, a sweet and tangy caramel sauce catfish with celery and coriander root presented beautifully family-style.

Catfish with caramel sauce


After the beautiful fish course, came an even more stunning beef course. Beef cheeks in a peanut, nutmeg and kaffir lime curry to be exact. The curry sauce was purely drinkable on its own, and the beef cheeks, fall-apart tender and a standout dish paired with a light and amber-y Half Acre beer brewed for the restaurant.

Beef cheek curry


So by this time we really didn’t miss any sort of “futuristic” presentations because the flavors and ingredients put on enough of a show. But of course, it wouldn’t be Next without a little surprise, and audience participation. This is what came to the table…

Coconuts


And this is what happened when we opened our pre-cracked shell. A cool, refreshing coconut sorbet somehow rested on one half, the other was filled with a coconut tapioca with corn, egg and licorice. I’m not the biggest coconut fan, but this dessert was salty, sweet, and I’ve officially decided that you can’t go wrong when corn meets dessert.

Put the dessert in the coconut...


I wanted to LOVE the last dessert. I really did. I mean, they even delivered a fragrant pink rose to the table along with it. A halved hot pink dragonfruit was almost so lovely, we didn’t want to dig into the sweet black seed-dotted custard. And by sweet, I mean almost too perfume-y for me, but truly marvel-worthy.

Dragonfruit and rose


At this point I was craving dark chocolate (this is nothing new), but the final dessert, although sans chocolate, did the trick..a cool take on Thai iced coffee in a twisty-tie baggie brought to the table on a bamboo skewer.

Thai iced coffee in a bag


We left full, happy and still dreaming about the hot and sour soup and beef cheek curry. In typical Chicago summer fashion, of course it was crazy stormy and still sweltering out when dinner wrapped up around midnight on a Wednesday..the perfect closure to nine-course adventure of color, heat, spice, texture and Thai spirit. Next restaurant, 953 W. Fulton Street.

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On the table: Porkchop

4 napkin rolls, salt, pepper. Porkchop, 941 W. Randolph St.

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Next restaurant

Next Restaurant, Paris 1906

It was exactly a week ago when I was lucky enough to experience Next restaurant for their Escoffier at the Ritz menu, Paris, circa 1906. It was the kind of meal that more than met every expectation I had formed from the hype, and bits and pieces of the tasting menu continued to pop into my head all week long. Was that blue foot chicken we ate? How did they fill a perfect circle-center of toasted bread with foie gras? Did they really use an antique duck press to make gravy? Will I ever get to try truffle-topped egg custard foam that again, ever? It was sinking in. The eight-course meal was fantastic, and while my photos, of course, don’t do the experience justice, I’ve posted the lot below. People asked me if the servers dressed in clothes from the era (no), if the restaurant design went back in time too (uh, no). If it was super-formal (surprisingly no). The space is chic, low-key, modern and beautifully lit. Servers wore modern garb, explained everything in fascinating detail and were refreshingly funny and light-hearted. A kitchen tour punctuated the evening (no shots there, sorry!) and a failed attempt at getting into the connecting Aviary bar, but what came before was pure brilliance. Rumors of Asian Street food circa the 2050s have swirled for the next menu, but the kitchen staff was pretty tight-lipped. They are beginning to toy with spices and flavors of the future, but for now (or the next two months)..it’s all about classic escoffier dishes…
We started with the gougères, the original “cheese puff” said our waiter, and they were just that, warm and crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside.

Gougerès


Next came the stunning hor’s d’oeuvres tray. Presented as a homage to buffet and tray-style dining of the time, it was filled with tiny bites of quail eggs with anchovy, brioche with foie gras and apricot jam, crackers topped with pork rillettes, and that egg I mentioned before. A hallowed out egg was filled with a warm, rich and wonderful egg custard topped with truffle. We wanted to lick the shell..and have seconds. And the combination of sweet apricot jam smothered over foie gras stuffed brioche pretty much put us over the edge.

Hors d'oeuvres tray


Next came a lovely turtle soup, a dish I hadn’t had before that was a like a light but meaty and flavorful consommé.

Turtle soup


The following course celebrated the sea, and crayfish, with a crayfish-stuffed mushroom, delicate perfect piece of sole, sole roe and a sole-stuffed crayfish all resting in a rich, briney sauce normande we quickly sopped up with housemade bread served on the side.

Filet de Sole Daumont


The suprêmes de poussin was next, a beautiful, juicy triangle of blue foot chicken with an almost poached cucumber maki stuffed with chicken mousse. I truly love a good piece of chicken, and this course took poultry to a whole new juicy level, so much so it almost overpowered the cucumber bites.

Supremes de poussin


After a lovely piece of chicken, we were ready for the a stunning piece of duck, or leg and sliced, fanned-out breast for which the duck sauce was churned from the whole duck (bones and all) out of an antique duck press. Each juicy, intense slice melted in our mouths, and the fall-of-the-bone leg meat was divine, and a fragrant bunch of thyme sprigs tied everything together.

Caneton rouennais à la presse


Along with the duck came the most luscious combination of cheese and a pile of thinly sliced potatoes I’ve ever experienced. Gruyère cheese was the star of the ultra-rich dish topped with a layer of perfect golden crunch conducive to a cold Chicago spring.

Gratin de pommes de Terra a la Dauphinoise


Chicken, foie gras, duck, potatoes and cheese..no one said classic French cuisine was light. A palate-cleansing Salade Irma came next with asparagus, greens and a nasturtium blossom.

Salad Irma


It was the perfect segueway into dessert, a light, refreshing bombe ceylan with a cocoa shell, and frosty hint of mint and coffee, cookie bottom and rum-soaked cherries. It was fresh, light, slightly unexpected, and had all the right textures.

Bombe Ceylan


The meal ended with mignardise, our favorite being the salted caramels and beet jellies served on an elegant silver tray..the perfect way to end a legendary meal I will never forget. Now to see what year, city and flavor adventure the team has planned next…Next, 953 W. Fulton Market

Mignardise

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GT Fish & Oyster Bar

Ah Tizi Melloul. I remember your weird genie-in-a-bottle room, your modern Middle Eastern fare, your dim lighting and stark white tables. I remember the place, but don’t particularly miss it, especially now that GT Fish & Oyster Bar has taken over that coveted River North corner.

GT Fish & Oyster Bar


I loved chef Giuseppe Tentori’s dishes when I first had them at Boka, everything so beautifully presented, immaculate oysters and seafood, brilliant combinations..so I knew GT was going to rock it when it opened. A visit there this week blew my mind, as expected, with a balanced and seafood-heavy menu of small plates, and a refreshing, cool vibe that was a lot East Coast beach house, a little nautical-chic (think the Maritime in NYC) and very summer clam-bake cool. It’s pretty much always packed, naturally, but my companion and I sat quite comfortably one of the (full) white wood oval communal dining tables with a cluster of drift wood, candles and old ball jars as a lovely centerpiece—the best On the Table yet.

Awesome design touch in the center of the communal table


From there it was all about the menu, fresh oysters—from Blue Point to Fire River—served with house cocktail sauce, cold dishes like ceviches, smoked salmon, tuna poke, and hot dishes like a lobster roll, crab cakes, clam chowder, fish and chips and stuffed squid. Dishes are medium-sized, easily sharable and you’ll want one of each. But first we settled on the Baja shrimp bruschetta with silky smooth avocado mousse topped with pink grapefuit wedges, jalapeño, toasted pistachios, cilantro and shrimp. It flaunted the full array of textures from crunchy bruschetta to ultra-whipped mousse, yet still melted in our mouths with every bite.

Baja Shrimp Bruschetta


From there we went to the barbecue eel with wasabi, potato and octopus salad. I tasted more creamy diced potato than octopus in the salad, but the eel was delicate and delicious with a sweet barbecue glaze. An interesting combo of hot and cold..salty and sweet.
Barbecue Eel
From the hot side of the menu we dug into the grilled mahi tacos with achiote, smoked crema and perfectly grilled, juicy fish on a soft flour tortilla. A perfect summer snack (now if the weather would just…grrrr.)

Grilled Mahi Tacos


But the winner of the night was crab agnolotti, a stunning dish of yellow curry agnolotti pillows stuffed with Dungeness crab and resting in a light coconut broth with boy choy, sliced maitake mushrooms and topped with black tobiko. An elizabite-of-the-week worthy dish, it was colorful, inspired and fantastic.

Crab Agnolotti


On to dessert, the peanut butter chocolate situation on the menu was a no-brainer, and this tempting combo crunchy praline with soft peanut butter mousse topped with salted peanuts and chocolate soil didn’t disappoint. The praline section was a bit tough to cut through, even with the strategically placed knife, but with a little maneuvering, we managed to dig right in.

Peanut Butter Crunch


My Pavlovian ordering reaction kicks in when I see “peanut butter-chocolate,” and, OK, well also “Key lime pie,” and GT’s version was an awesome layering of custardy lime pie, graham cracker crumbs and brûléed marshmallow fluff. The jar presentation is a bit overdone these days, but this dessert was lovely, and once we got the nerve to bust right on through that perfect swirl of golden brown fluff, it was on.

Another jar? This one's worth it for the Key lime pie


Oy, the lobster roll! The oysters! The mussels! There was so much more I wanted to try, but alas, another visit will happen soon, and as we move into summer, I can’t wait to see what else is on tap at GT. GT Fish & Oyster Bar, 531 N. Wells.

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