New Adventures in Chicago Food-Stuffs

Posted on April 20, 2011 by Comments Off

Is it just me, or is Chicago just killing it with their food & bar scene lately?  Perhaps I’ve just got a new eye for that city now that I’ve (finally) visited, but regardless, here’s what is wowing me.  All found thanks to the culinary curator genius that is Tasting Table.  (Have you signed up to receive their mails? Do it. Now. You’ll be impressed.)

The new bar experience :: Take the mahogany bar top, shelves of liquor, leather bar stools and throw ‘em out the window.  Meet Aviary, Chicago’s cocktail joint with a twist.  

 Indeed, the place abandons the trappings of a bar, in both ethos and design: In the absence of a physical bar, drinks are fashioned in an open kitchen and delivered to drinkers by waitstaff. This is fitting, since chefs–not bartenders–are behind the menu: Heading up the project is former Alinea cook Craig Schloetter. To learn the cocktail ropes, he swapped lessons with a bartender from cocktail bar The Violet Hour on his nights off from Alinea. “I’d teach him how to make roast chicken and he’d show me a proper Manhattan,” Schloetter says.  His menu features about five classics and a roster of expectedly off-the-wall Aviary creations.

 For the Two in One, a gin-based White Lady arrives with a small bottle of carbonated Negroni–adding the latter to the former results in a layered, juniper-rich wonder.

  • Hot chocolate comprises a velvety base spiked with tequila and Fernet-Branca; in lieu of whipped cream, tobacco-smoked foam imparts a smoky muster.

 Just don’t ask for an off-the-menu creation; such requests are only permitted in the invite-only basement area, known as “The Office,” which offers an entirely different menu of drinks inspired by pre-Prohibition stylings and early medicinal cocktails–and yes, it has an actual bar.


 Brilliant place for the clients who have been there, done that and spent many a night in hotel bars.  I’m adding this to my list of must-visit places next time I’m in town.  In the meantime, want a peek at what this place really looks like? Check out this video.

Playground to table – the new ‘farm to table’ ::  A new brunch experience has come to Lincoln Park eatery, SproutIn the form of “kitschy humor”:

 After a bite of [the] peanut-lingonberry French toast ($8), an unabashedly rich peanut butter and jelly sandwich masquerading as breakfast, we say mission accomplished. The French toast is as fun as it is sophisticated, soaked in a batter laced with five-spice powder and studded with candied peanuts. The same intricacy characterizes Sprout’s steel-cut oatmeal ($8), in which carrots, bananas, black pepper-honey-maple syrup and Lillet-spiked marmalade mingle. Cooked risotto-style with water, sugar and more five-spice, the texture is a pleasant midpoint between the familiar oaty mush and a chewy granola bar.

 The flavors will change as fruit begins to hit Green City Market shelves, but the savory slant will remain.  For pure savory, there’s an elegantly arranged plate of sturgeon, smoked each morning and accompanied by a riot of flavor that includes pickled golden beets and watermelon radishes, deconstructed egg salad, potatoes with green beans and dill, and wedges of pumpernickel.


 And one of the neat little things: Sprout’s brunch menu items are listed in quotes – the oatmeal and waffle won’t be what you expect!  Hear a little more from chef Dale Levitski, including his focus on seasonal fare (warning: it will impact his menus, so what you see there now might be gone soon) here.

A pub crawl focused on beer ::  Enter the Chicago Beer Experience – a tour that kicked off this month with a half-mile of stumbling to different breweries in the Lakeview neib.  16 local brews from the likes of Delilah’s and Paddy Long’s and some education: ever wanted to know the beer-making process? 

Side note: if you are not a beer drinker, but want some local beer knowledge, you can still take the tour.  $30 for the tour, sans beer.  Sign up or read more here.


What’s Next – literally :: In the same family as Aviary (above), meet Next.  Here’s the scoop from Zagat:

 This highly anticipated follow-up to Alinea from über-chef Grant Achatz, is built around a daring concept, offering themed tasting menus that change quarterly to reflect a different global cuisine and time frame – and equally unusual is the booking system, with diners buying ‘tickets’ priced on a sliding scale according to day and time; the high-style West Loop setting, done up with upholstered booths, pedestal chandeliers and rich drapery, includes a chef’s table and a secluded VIP ‘speakeasy,’ while the adjacent Aviary bar serves crafty cocktails and edgy bar bites. 

 Achatz is seriously making waves and mixing up the traditional and expected dining experience.  Cannot wait to see more.

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