Chicago Restaurant Week 2014. That time of year that breaks the most dedicated of food-related New Year's resolutions and sends gourmands in the city and suburbs into a frenzy of booking tables at old favorites and the latest buzzy hotspots.
Last year, Restaurant Week ran for 10 days. This year, for the first time, Restaurant Week has been extended to two weeks. At this rate, next year we'll just have Restaurant Month for all of January to compensate for an otherwise slow time of year for restaurateurs. Participating restaurants are offering special prix fixe menus from January 24th through February 6th for lunch and dinner (some choose to participate in just one meal) at prices of $22, $33, or $44.
For 2013's event, I highlighted seven places worth booking for lunch. This year, I'm expanding my picks to include some dinner spots, using the same criteria as before. My choices are based on how much the menu made me salivate, the regular price of a meal at the restaurant compared to the deal, and the generosity of the menu based on estimated ingredient costs. Some restaurants seem to just go through the motions of Restaurant Week, while others put significant thought and effort behind the menu. I want to note that NAHA and Blackbird did not make my list because they regularly offer three-course lunch prix fixes for $22. Don't bother visiting during the two-week Restaurant Week time frame. You can get the same deals any time of year at these Michelin-starred restaurants with less of a crowd. Topolobampo recently launched a new lunch prix fixe as well, for $25. With this option you get selections with each course, whereas for Restaurant Week, you don't. Again, I'd recommend going another time of year.
Disclaimer: Many great restaurants did not have their Restaurant Week menus available at the time of this posting, so not all 280 restaurants were able to be considered.
Normally, a lunch entree can easily run you $22, so getting three courses for that price is a steal. Start with a soup du jour or blood orange salad, followed by chestnut gnocchi or duck terrine satisfy your sweet tooth with a chocolate mousse verrine. Executive Chef Chris Gawronski has really made the menu his own, and presents a light and satisfying lunch menu that won't leave you lethargic.
Henri, 18 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603 (map); 312-578-0763
NoMI makes our lunch list again this year for good reason. You'll be paying about half what these items would normally cost, and I'm confident that the service and food will be as elegant as ever. Celeriac soup with spiced pistachios, truffled bucatini and red wine braised short rib are all mouthwatering winter menu additions.
NoMI Kitchen, Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 312-239-4030
Both lunch and dinner deals are offered at this jazzy clubhouse, and both are good deals compared with their regular menu. There are a few more options at dinner (wild pheasant pie with foie gras sauce, anyone?), but for those working in the Loop, this is a very conveniently located lunch pick too, and impressive enough to bring clients.
Tortoise Club, 350 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (map); 312-755-1700
Located in the elegant new Langham hotel, this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant helmed by Chef Tim Graham normally has a lunch prix-fixe for $29. In honor of Restaurant Week, they knock $7 off that price. I've dined here several times and highly recommend the arctic char with spinach, burnt onion and tangerine vinaigrette. It's easily Chef Tim Graham's best entree.
Travelle, 330 North Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 312-923-7705
Normally Ada St. has a fun shared plates dinner menu, so I was surprised to see them shake things up this year. The $33 three-course menu celebrates the women of the restaurant industry, with individual courses inspired by Alice Waters, April Bloomfield, Barbara Lynch, Julia Child, and more. These dishes will only be available during Restaurant Week, so if anything looks tempting, be sure you book a table quickly.
Ada Street, 1664 North Ada Street, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 773-697-7069
Executive Chef Tim Havidic is cooking up some thoughtfully kooky and delicious food with his current Salvador Dali-inspired tasting menu. Normally, a 10-course dinner runs $105 with abbreviated six and three-course tasting menus available for $85 and $50 respectively. So getting an extra course and $6 off is a no-brainer, particularly when this is what some of the courses look like.
iNG, 951 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 855-834-6464
Michael Jordan's Steakhouse
If you want steak, a petit filet mignon specifically, that alone is worth the cost of admission here. For dinner, they're offering four courses for $44, and forget about skipping the bread. Everyone starts out with their signature garlic bread and blue cheese fondue. Just enjoy it. During the rest of the year, MJ's offers a $49.95 three course prix fixe on Sundays only. Here, you get an extra course, an extra option for each course, and for $6 less.
Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, 505 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 312-321-8823
I haven't actually been here, but it's the restaurant I'm most looking forward to trying after perusing their menu. I wasn't able to make a price assessment, since their prices aren't listed on their online menu. However, I want to try every single dish from appetizer through dessert. Pulled pork tostones or avocado fries? Chili rubbed pork tenderloin with squash purée or pepita crusted trout with wild mushrooms, leeks and tomatillo sabayon? Pistachio rum cake or a chocolate sformato? It's kind of embarrassing that I'm having so much trouble choosing when my options have already been significantly narrowed.
Nana, 3267 S Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60608 (map); 312-929-2486
My top suburban pick is for Evanston's Quince. On price point alone, this is a great bargain and this intimate and romantic restaurant can hold its own with the best in Chicago. The choices for Restaurant Week, including goat cheese pierogi, pork with persimmon, cabbage, mustard and rye spaetzle and a coconut sticky rice dessert highlight the creativity and bright flavors Executive Chef Andy Motto is known for.
Quince at the Homestead, 1625 Hinman Avenue #102, Evanston, IL 60201 (map); 847-570-8400
This new West Town eatery is only open for dinner and their three-course menu actually has a bonus course of roasted wild mushrooms in a creamy-herb polenta, along with vegetarian options for each course. You won't be disappointed by the chestnut risotto, signature duck egg fettuccine or chocolate bourbon pudding.
TWO, 1132 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 312-624-8363