To keep tabs on every Chicago bar and restaurant 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!
The bar has been set high for Giant, the new restaurant from Food & Wine best new chef and former Nightwood toque Jason Vincent, and if you ask anyone who’s had a chance to visit, they’ll tell you the small Logan Square eatery (it only seats 40) is living up to the hype. Vincent’s going for elevated Midwest grub with a side of whimsy — a decidedly strong and distinct culinary point of view that can seen in dishes like the pecan-smoked baby back ribs and jonah crab salad served up with waffle fries.
Fat Rice 2.0
Chicago’s celebrated Macanese restaurant went through a slew of changes this month, and for the better. In addition to adding new tasting menus, two new standalone concepts located just a few doors down from the namesake restaurant include a Chinese bakery, the Bakery at Fat Rice, and a sexy reservations-only cocktail den, the Ladies’ Room. At the bakery, you’ll find many sweet and savory delight, but don’t miss the Chicago-style Chinese hot dog. As for the Ladies’ Room — reservations are taken via phone by calling the restaurant.
Cafe by day, cocktail bar by night. That’s the deal at Estereo, the new all-day spot from the same team behind Pub Royale and Sportsman’s Club. The centerpiece at this corner joint is the triangular bar and the garage doors that open up wide. Coffee comes by way of Dark Matter. The cocktails lean Latin American, with an affection for spirits like pisco, cachaca, agricole and rum. Menu changes frequently, so expect repeat visits in the future.
We first became acquainted with C.J. Jacobson’s cooking when he was the opening chef at Intro, the fine dining restaurant with the revolving chef concept that was one of our favorites last year. Now the Top Chef alum has struck out on his own with Ēma, a Mediterranean eatery located in Hyatt Place. Go for sweet corn and bulgar risotto and don’t sleep on the kebabs.
When Charlie McKenna (Lillie’s Q) opens an upscale Southern restaurant, you go. Especially when it looks the part of a genteel Southern home. Cornmeal dumplings? You want that. Also Korean short ribs. Pro tip: check out 1952 ½, the 20-seat “liquorette" located near the rear of the restaurant. To enter the space, hit up the the side entrance (a custom in the South).
Pleasant House Pub
Pleasant House Pub is the follow-up to Pleasant House Bakery, the forever-popular Bridgeport pie joint that closed last month. Now they’ve set up shop in the old Nightwood space, and expect a lot more elbow room and an expanded menu, including beers and a Sunday brunch with a full English breakfast.
Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
This farm fresh eatery is the latest from Art Smith, who you may know as Oprah’s longtime chef. It’s his replacement for Table Fifty-Two, Smith’s acclaimed Southern restaurant that’s been serving hungry Gold Coasters for years. It’s lovely in here. Good for conversation. Start with the Vegetable Market Fritter before moving on to Smith’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken.