Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.






by Jennifer Olvera

Handcrafted cocktails aren’t exactly new to Chicago — look to The Violet Hour for proof of that. However, it’s safe to say Grant Achatz‘s soon-to-debut Aviary in the West Loop will ratchet things up further, what with its cocktail kitchen serving experimental, tincture-meets-classic cocktails, approachably hip, no-reservations vibe and potables that surprisingly top out at under $20. (Mind you, there’s no actual “bar” and labels can’t be “called.”) Future plans for Aviary include a haute, basement-level den that is said to be the antithesis of the main lounge. With room for only 20 guests, the exclusive space will serve luxuries like caviar by the ounce and a foie gras terrine.

Continue reading “Next Opening in Chicago” »



Sepia is one of dozens of restaurants with special Chicago Chef Week menus.

by Jennifer Olvera

Chicagoans: they love their food. Having just wrapped up Chicago Restaurant Week, Chicago Chef Week — slated for March 20-26 — is soon to follow. With it comes an endless array of $22 three-course lunches and $33 three-course dinners, plus beverages, taxes and gratuity, at many of the city’s hottest tables. Some restaurants serve a special menu only at lunch or dinner, and some Chicago restaurants will offer both.

At Sepia, both meals will be served, with offerings such as English pea soup with Parmigiano custard; grilled rainbow trout with citrus, fennel and black olives; and sweet cornmeal financier with basil-goat cheese ice cream and apricot-date chutney during lunch. Meanwhile, at Nightwood, expect a divine-sounding dinner of fried artichokes with lemons and aioli; chili-laced rigatoni with almonds, ricotta and mint and toffee-rum bread pudding with vanilla sauce. Other participating restaurants range from avec and Blackbird to Sola, Sable Kitchen & Bar, The Bristol and One sixtyblue. For a full list of hot-spots, visit

Continue reading “Chicago Chef Week Begins March 20” »

Ria's plush dining room will host a boutique wine dinner showcasing its new menu. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Parinejad.)

by Jennifer Olvera

You’ve got to love a place that’s been open mere months and closes for a mini-facelift, New York-based culinary research and menu revamp, all the while riding on rave reviews. But that’s Ria for you. Celebrate its reopening early on January 22 with a luxurious wine dinner highlighting six boutique California producers: Failla Wines, Anomaly Vineyards, Realm Cellars, D.R. Stevens, Chase Family Cellars and Fischer Vineyards.

The event kicks off at 4 p.m. in the Elysian hotel’s grand ballroom with passed hors d’oeuvres and an informal wine tasting. Come 6 p.m., the soirée moves into Ria’s dining room for a six-course meal comprised of dishes from the yet-to-be-unveiled winter menu and, naturally, more specialty sips. Producers will be seated among diners and will elaborate on pours between courses and stay to talk post-dessert with those so inclined.

Participants for the tasting only may reserve advance tickets for $50, while the entire evening costs $250 per person, in addition to tax and service. Ria, 11 E. Walton St., 3rd Fl., 312-880-4400.

Keep coming back to for the latest Chicago Restaurant News, Restaurant Reviews, Culinary Events and Chicago Wine Dinners.

Cibo Matto is one of many Chicago restaurants rolling out the red carpet for New Year's Eve. (Photo courtesy of theWit Hotel.)

by Jennifer Olvera

It’s official: the holidays are here. The year is coming to an end. And many people are hoping like nobody’s business for a festive break from the norm. Relief has arrived in the form of celebratory dinners and gatherings throughout Chicago.

Take avec, for example. Despite never taking reservations, it’s not only taking them for New Year’s Eve but also serving patrons in $50 fixed price fashion (with wine for $25 more). Call for menu details and to secure your table. Meanwhile, Cibo Matto is saying “sayonara” to 2010 from 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. with a modern Italian, four-course spread featuring the likes of saffron pappardelle; Sicilian escarole salad with eggplant-ricotta involtini, walnut pesto and apple saba; and goat cheese gnocchi with oxtail ragu, toasted pistachios and pomegranate syrup ($99 per person). Over at One sixtyblue, there’s a lavish, five-course tasting menu replacing its regular offerings — think house-made saffron linguine with Parmesan and shaved white Alba truffles or wood-grilled beef tenderloin with crispy potato noodles and Périgord black truffle sauce. This luxury will set you back $95, plus another $45 when paired with wine.

Continue reading “Chicago Ushers in 2011 With Festive Food” »

Eve is one of several dining rooms carving an atypical Thanksgiving meal. Photo courtesy of

by Jennifer Olvera

It wouldn’t really be Thanksgiving without the bird. However, there’s no need to settle for a staid approach — or do any of the heavy lifting yourself. This year, some Chicago restaurants are dishing up unique feasts, ones that require no fuss on your part but offer plenty of full-flavor surprises.

Big Jones, for example, will serve a festive, southern-style feast, complete with pimento cheese, okra and pickled green tomato starter; cornbread muffins and Sally Lunn bread with house-churned butter alongside house Concord grape and hot pepper jellies; a choice of appetizers, including butternut squash gnocchi with fried sage, roasted pears and mushroom jus; Vidalia onion and goat cheese pie with herb purée; a Waldorf salad with Redcort apples; and deep-fried Gunthorp Farms turkey with onion-thyme dressing. Needless to say, you can expect other comfort-driven, updated sides ($46 adults, $20 children under 12).

Continue reading “Bird is the Word: Thanksgiving, Chicago-Style” »

Get slurping: Shaw's Crab House hosts a week of oyster-themed events.

by Jennifer Olvera

When cold weather hits, Chicagoans hunker down, often preferring to stay indoors rather than endure the bitter, blustery cold. Fortunately, it’s still temperate enough — and there’s good reason to hit the town. This crop of local dining events will have you munching your way through the cold weather blues

Shaw’s Crab House hosts its annual Royster with the Oyster extravaganza starting tonight through Friday. 25-cent oysters on the half shell will be available in the Oyster Bar all week from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. A nightly slurp-off encourages patrons to down a dozen oysters, hands-free, to win a grand prize of $1,000 at the final showdown, an event taking place at its festive tent party on October 15 at 7 p.m. The tent party, which spills onto Hubbard Street from 3 p.m.-10 p.m., costs $10, with a portion of proceeds going to the Shedd Aquarium. Once inside, there will be oysters galore, fresh seafood and loads of beer and wine for purchase.

Continue reading “Chicago Dining Events Stave Off Post-Summer Doldrums” »



You don't have to be a gourmet to enjoy the food and wine at Chicago Gourmet
by Jennifer Olvera  

Chicago is gearing up for one of its biggest—and, arguably, tastiest—galas: Chicago Gourmet, courtesy of the Illinois Restaurant Association in conjunction with Bon Appetit magazine. The third-annual event will be held in Millennium Park on September 25 from noon until 6 p.m. and September 26 from noon until 5 p.m. and will feature hundreds of the city’s leading chefs, sommeliers, brewers, winemakers and distillers—as well as famed ones beyond Chicago city limits.

From beer tastings to chef demos, seminars to book signings, its attendees will have no shortage of edible opportunities throughout. Plus, Bon Appetit editor Barbara Fairchild and Executive Chef Cat Cora will be present (see them in the Marketplace Tent). Additionally, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) will feature the Specialty Food Pavillion, where over 60 food and beverage purveyors will be offering samples. Continue reading “Chicago Gourmet Ushers in Fall” »



A bevy of tomatoes at the market, ripe for the annual Locavore Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Green City Market.)

by Jennifer Olvera

Chicagoans quest to eat seasonally — and, perhaps, more importantly — locally continues with the next installment of the Green City Market Locavore Challenge. The event features a series of activities at Green City Market during the two-week period of September 8-September 22, all aimed at increasing awareness of locally produced and grown food, getting to know farmers and encouraging individuals and those in the food community to steer clear of food from afar.

On September 11 from 9 a.m.-noon, a Locavore Fair will feature demonstrations from organizations, such as Slow Food Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium’s Right Bite program and Purple Asparagus. Meanwhile, September 18 ushers in a cook-off with Kendall College, Le Cordon Bleu, Washburne Culinary Institute, during which students prepare a two-course menu in 45 minutes using a “mystery basket” of ingredients. Celebrity judges will decide who walks away with a $500 scholarship. Continue reading “Chicago Locavore Challenge is On” »

Mindy Segal (of HotChocolate, pictured here) will head Taste of the Nation in Chicago, along with Hub 51’s R.J. Melman.

by Jennifer Olvera

Summer ushers in a whole lot of good things for Chicagoans: balmy temperatures, a bevy of restaurant and lounge openings and must-attend gala events. Taste of the Nation is among the latter, and it will take place on August 12. General admission is from 7 p.m.-10 p.m., while VIPs can kick it until midnight.

This leg of the nationwide culinary food and wine benefit, aimed at ending childhood hunger in America, highlights 50 of the city’s top chefs and 25 of its best mixologists. Heading the fête in 2010: Mindy Segal of HotChocolate and R.J. Melman of Hub 51. Interestingly, this year’s festivities will not take place at a hot hotel, but rather at the Aragon Ballroom, the theme being street food and entertainment from Chicago artists, performers, dancers and DJs.
  Continue reading “Taste of the Nation Arrives in Chicago” »



On July 12, the frenzy that is Girl & the Goat begins

by Jennifer Olvera

It’s been long in coming—that’s for sure—but finally, Girl & the Goat is set to open on July 12. Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s West Loop restaurant will start taking reservations at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 12 (good luck getting one).

On the menu are 30 items, split evenly between vegetarian, meat and fish dishes. Sausages are made in-house daily, with four to choose from at any given time. Among the oft-changing offerings may be shaved kohlrabi and fennel salad with cherries, toasted almonds and evalon, a raw milk cheese; hiramasa crudo with crisp pork belly, aji aioli and caperberries; and pork liver mousseline, teamed with ham hock jus, cherry mustarda and crumpets.

Continue reading “Girl & the Goat—at Last” »

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