Table Stakes: August
7 can’t-miss eating and drinking spots that opened in August
To keep tabs on every Chicago restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Let’s eat.
Splashy L.A. import Katana fills the sceney void left by Japonais’ 2015 departure with sushi and robata-grilled fare in the former Bin 36 space. With local sushi legend Jason Chan at the helm, expect super-fresh, rotating sashimi and sushi, from monkfish livers to seared yellowtail with mango. Smoke-kissed binchotan skewers span crowd-pleasing (wagyu beef with lobster and uni butter) to more authentic (chicken hearts). The sprawling space is warmed by natural touches like wood beams and zen trees breaking up seating areas. Your correspondent’s currently parked in the lively bar to glitterati-watch while sipping Only Lovers Left Alive, a whisky and dry apricot soda concoction from barman Michael Simon’s inventive drink menu.
A mile or so west of Katana, another swanky spot is bringing Sunset Boulevard-caliber decadence to the sceney Fulton Market — this time from local owners Kara and Frank Callero and Steve Zaleski. Mid-century Hollywood glam oozes across two levels of curvaceous bars; plush alcoves beneath cylindrical fringe chandeliers; silver-hued champagne rooms; and dark, sexy lounge areas to disappear into (the second floor can be rented for private events). Fitting for the three-martini lunch era, cocktails are potent and bold, like the spicy, rye whiskey-based Mr. Sandeman, with Sandeman port and Bolivian cola bitters. Foodwise, nosh on exec chef Johnny Besch’s revived throwback bites like tartare toast and shrimp cocktail, indulge in a refined diner faves like a black pepper aioli-slathered patty melt, or spend like a Mad Man on seafood towers and caviar service.
The first U.S. outpost of Gabriele Bonci’s namesake pizza shop brings its beloved Roman-style pies by the slice to the West Loop. The neighborhood might be feeling more like an amusement park these days, but this pizza is the opposite of gimmicky. Foccacia-esque, 48-hour crust gets loaded with toppings like potato, rosemary and mozz, or meatballs, tomatoes and Parmesan; scissor-cut to your specs; and priced by weight. So if indecision strikes as you stare down the 20 daily offerings in the case, remember that you could — theoreticall y— order eight different two-inch squares. Or simply return again and again, saving room at least once for Bonci’s other genius Roman import: the fried, cheese-stuffed risotto and spaghetti balls known as suppli.
Sometimes the stars align. Case in point: Good Fortune, the seafood pop-up from two Honey’s vets that’s taken up residence in the defunct Sink/Swim site till year’s end. While chef Charles Welch and Andrew Miller search for a permanent home for their first solo venture, and Team Scofflaw mulls next moves for the space, we’ll revel in a la carte fishies. Meaning achiote-marinated scallops with charred corn; orange marlin with braised pork; and roving dim sum carts bearing crudos and inventive seafood salads. If you like your martinis dirty, order one with house olive caviar from an also-roaming cocktail cart. Keep an eye on Good Fortune’s socials (here and here), where the collab-loving owners will share forthcoming Sunday supper and bartender team-ups. Also known as pop-ups within the pop-up.
Portsmith and Leviathan
Following the spring opening of Apogee, the Dana Hotel’s sexy rooftop lounge with mad-scientist cocktails, we were keen to see what Fifty/50 Group had in store for the two of the hotel’s remaining empty spaces. Things get nautical at the sleek, ground-floor restaurant (Portsmith), as well as in the moodier mezzanine cocktail bar (Leviathan). Expect familiar dishes with playful, oceanic bents on Portsmith chef/partner Nate Henssler’s all-day menu, as in fried fish and waffles with Dark Matter coffee maple syrup, and cacio e pepe with uni butter and caviar. Upstairs at Leviathan, Apogee barman Ben Schiller created a dozen-ish drinks inspired by mythical creatures from the ocean’s murky depths. We’re digging the Kraken, with three kinds of rum, grapefruit and lime juices and warm spices, garnished with a squid ink tuile.
Great Central Brewing Company
Near West Side
Like the one-stop brewery tour of our dreams, craft-dedicated contract brewer Great Central Brewing Co. is now pouring onsite-made craft beers from the region’s finest and beyond. Inside this 200-seat, wood and subway tile tasting room, 24 taps gush with fresh-as-hell brews from Begyle, Maplewood, Kinslahger and Three Floyds offshoot WarPigs, plus four of Great Central’s own German-style offerings (summer’s dog days have us craving crisp helles lager). Word to the wise: there’s no flights or tasters here; only pints and half-pints. So if you wanna sample a lot, don’t drive. And save for the occasional food truck, there’s no food here, either.
As you begin the rounds soaking up every last drop of Chicago summer, might we suggest brunching at Shore Club, North Avenue Beach’s new restaurant/bar/breezy hangout in one? The deliciously country clubby brunch menu launching after Labor Day weekend will impress parentals and significant others alike. Think crispy lobster taquitos with tropical slaw and grilled stone fruit salad with salty almonds herbed goat cheese. Whether eaten in the minimalist, glass-walled Restaurant, on the more casual, first-come first-served Patio or in a rezzies-only Oasis cabana, unobstructed lakefront views are the main draw here. So get ‘em while you can — till the end of October to be exact.