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10 Restaurants

From Andrew Harper:

Hunkered down at the southwestern edge of oceanic Lake Michigan, Illinois’ largest city (and the nation’s third-largest metropolis) has endured devastating fires, icy winds, Al Capone’s corruption and beleaguered baseball teams. Yet its hearty Midwestern character not only endures but flourishes, with dazzling architecture, gritty blues, innovative theater and comedy, rich cuisine and a welcoming heartland disposition. Most visitors stay within the downtown “Loop” (the central business district circumscribed by the elevated metro tracks) and there are ample attractions here, from the nation’s tallest skyscraper, Sears Tower; to the art deco masterpiece, The Chicago Board of Trade Building; to the resplendent civic green space of Grant Park. The postmodern public art of Millennium Park and the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago can constitute an afternoon alone. But for a truer taste of the city, venture out into the neighborhoods, like the North Side’s theaters, bars and clubs (and vintage baseball stadium, Wrigley Field) or the bohemian havens of the West Side, where, in Wicker Park, an independent arts scene thrives and Polish and Ukrainian cultural attractions offer a taste of the city’s Slavic roots. Enjoy a beer and sausage to bridge the Old World with the New.

- Andrew Harper

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This stylish restaurant comes with leather chairs, fine linens and soft lighting. Chef Curtis Duffy previously worked at Charlie Trotter’s and The Peninsula’s Avenues, where he earned two Michelin stars. Each night, he creates two prix-fixe menus, one vegetarian. Look for dishes such as asparagus with brioche, lemon and tarragon; cod with osetra caviar, lychees and chives; lamb with artichokes, smoked paprika and frisée; and Miyazaki beef with romaine, peanuts and Vietnamese herbs. Partner/sommelier Michael Muser’s fascinating wine list emphasizes the Loire and the Rhône. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

652 West Randolph Street Chicago $205

As a new formal French restaurant, Brindille swims directly against the currents of culinary fashion. Inside the tranquil storefront, tables of well-dressed couples engage in hushed conversation beneath backlit photos of leafless trees. The food tends to be unfussy but beautifully presented, and the menu encourages the traditional appetizer-main-dessert progression. My perfectly cooked sweetbreads came with a flavorful combination of baby beets and horseradish, while the Dover sole meunière was delicate and buttery. A list of superb wines by the glass includes unusual selections such as an ethereal Trousseau Gris from the Jura. Everything is very expensive, but the quality is uniformly high. 

534 North Clark Street Chicago $100

Mellow brick walls, soaring windows and a vaulted wood ceiling create a handsome setting for the impeccably prepared food of chef Michael Kornick. A starter of two tartares comprises yellowfin tuna tartare with a celery root remoulade, and salmon tartare with a citrus crème fraîche and salmon pearls. Among the main courses, you could find salmon grilled over hardwood charcoal and served with bok choy glazed with Chinese mustard, or a similarly grilled prime New York sirloin with roasted fingerling potatoes, baby leeks and a red wine sauce.

868 North Franklin Street Chicago $70. Six-course tasting menu, $90

This tiny BYOB restaurant hidden in an unpromising northside neighborhood was once easy to reserve. But that has changed with the acquisition of two Michelin stars. Tickets purchased through the website include the tasting menu, tax and tip, as well as seats at either a 10-person communal table or a counter facing the open kitchen (our preference). The restaurant started “underground” in chef Jake Bickelhaupt’s apartment, and it still feels like a dinner party, with Bickelhaupt’s wife acting as hostess and master of ceremonies. Almost all 13 courses on the menu dazzled. A wildly creative dish of asparagus gelato, salt-cured tuna, sea buckthorn cream, wood sorrel and apricot kernels created fireworks of flavor, as did courses such as sous-vide egg yolk with ramps, amaranth and chanterelles, and triple-seared Miyazaki wagyu beef with baby bok choy, Japanese pickled plums and rich crumbs of dehydrated beef tendon and marrow. This restaurant is well worth the taxi ride. Reserve far in advance. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

4662 North Broadway Street Chicago $250

Chicago has no shortage of fine steakhouses, but the candlelit atmosphere of Bavette’s makes it far more appropriate for couples than for businessmen. We had a wonderfully decadent dinner of cognac-infused foie gras with a tart blackberry compote, rich and garlicky shrimp de Jonghe, tender lamb T-bone with rosemary and garlic, and flawless filet mignon with savory roasted tomatoes and spicy watercress. Our side dishes of creamy elote-inspired corn and flavorful roasted butternut squash with sage proved equally delicious. Other Chicago steakhouses serve comparable or perhaps even better beef, but none is as romantic as Bavette’s

218 West Kinzie Street Chicago $85

This 1912 structure once served as a warming shelter for ice skaters. The redone interior is a fine example of the Arts and Crafts style, with wood accents, ochre brick walls, period posters and a feel of rustic elegance. Chef Bruce Sherman’s creative menu is keyed to seasonal ingredients. Recent starters included a butter-basted sturgeon with horseradish-lemon new potatoes, onions, almonds, a mint purée and lovage. Look for main courses such as steamed turbot with shrimp mousseline, fennel jam, orange and smoked caviar; or browned lamb chop with fennel-spiced lamb shoulder, grilled romaine lettuce, golden raisin purée and cauliflower. The wine list has 14 selections by the glass. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

2610 North Cannon Drive Chicago $65

This is one of the prettiest restaurants in the city, set in a turn-of-the-century brownstone. The menu is contemporary French. Look for the rich assortment of house-made pâtés served with cornichons and toasted brioche. Main courses might include Arctic char with maitake mushrooms, forbidden rice and tapenade in a yellow tomato-lemongrass sauce; or braised beef short rib with root vegetables and trumpet royale mushrooms in a shallot sauce. The extensive wine list has 17 selections by the glass. Closed Sundays.

222 East Ontario Street Chicago Four-course menu, $115; five courses, $130

No one can argue about one attribute of this restaurant: The view is magnificent, as Everest is perched on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. The interior is low-key, with pale colors and discreet lighting. The food, however, will certainly grab your full attention. Chef Jean Joho hails from Alsace, and he combines that heritage with top American ingredients, as in a starter of crusted Berkshire pork cheeks with a choucroute salad. Among the main courses, you could find fillet of sole meunière with mousseline potatoes and petite capers, or rack of lamb with slow-cooked fava beans, fingerling potatoes and mint pistou. The wine list contains more than 1,600 selections. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

440 South LaSalle Street 40th Floor Chicago $95

The city’s finest Italian restaurant overlooks Oak Street Beach and showcases the talents of chef Tony Mantuano. The main dining room has been redesigned for its 30th anniversary. The seasonal menu changes, but look for pastas such as ravioli with foie gras, hazelnuts, rhubarb and 18-year-old balsamic vinegar; or potato gnocchi with ricotta sauce and black truffles. Main courses might include Atlantic hake with Petrossian caviar, oyster cream and onion confit; or a free-range veal chop with asparagus, wax beans and baby arugula.

980 North Michigan Avenue Chicago $95. Six-course tasting menu, $165

Located just off the most touristy stretch of Michigan Avenue, this new Central European restaurant has no business being so warm, stylish and well-priced. Downtown offers no better place to ward off the winter chill. Pierogi came filled with delectable shredded beef, and a salad of orange and purple cauliflower achieved remarkable complexity with a poached egg, watermelon radish slices and crunchy chicken skin. Mrs. Harper’s pork schnitzel was simple but satisfying, and my crisp “Czech Roast Duck” confit was accompanied by brandied prunes and delicately bitter turnips. A caramelly Praga Dark beer paired perfectly with this hearty but balanced cuisine. 

11 West Illinois Street Chicago $55

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