worldeats

CHICAGO
by MATTHEW WEXLER
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here’s a reason why there are all those good-looking cornfed boys in Chicago: because they’ve got some of the best dining options west of the Mississippi to help them stay sturdy and strong during those frigid Lake Michigan winters. Deep-dish pizza and Chicagostyle hot dogs are the Windy City’s iconic gastronomic symbols, but Chicago’s restaurant scene is trending in a variety of directions, from barbecue and late-night eateries to once-in-a-lifetime Michelin-star epicurean experiences. Join us as we explore some of the great dining options that this exciting city has to offer.

BUB CITY
When an amuse-bouche arrives and it’s pimento cheese, sausage, and pickle on a Saltine cracker, you know you’re in for some down and dirty barbecue. Bub City is one of the latest creations from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago’s premiere restaurant group that was founded by Richard Melman in 1971. The next generation of Melmans (siblings RJ, Jerrod, and Molly), in conjunction with partners Chef Doug Psaltis and Mixologist Paul McGee, have created a lip-smacking destination for comfort food that also offers a platform for the city’s thriving live music scene. McGee also takes his cocktailing seriously, having traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee to hand-select barrels from his favorite distilleries. He spent months cultivating the whiskey collection, which now
Bub City

tops more than 125 selections from wellknown as well as small-batch distillers from across the country. Skip the margarita and try the frozen North to Alaska, comprising J.W. Dant bourbon, blackberries, lemon, and mint. Don’t be too disappointed if it’s not on the menu as the seasonally inspired offerings come and go like a brisk Chicago wind. The menu nods to the South but doesn’t discriminate on barbecue style, offering everything from 12-hour beef brisket and slow-smoked pork shoulder to Carolinastyle pulled pork and charred lamb ribs with harissa yogurt. If it seems disparate, just relax and order the Bub BBQ Combo,
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which includes hot links, pulled pork, brisket, and sides. The sides hold up to the hefty meats with some pleasant surprises, including spoonbread, tater tots with blue cheese, and sweet potato fluff. To help with digestion Bub City offers a rotating roster of musicians, and if you want to kick up your heels, check out their country karaoke with a live band on Tuesday nights. 435 N. Clark St. Tel: 312-610-4200. www.bubcitychicago.com

L2O
Let’s get the hoopla out of the way. L2O’s Executive Chef and Partner Matthew Kirkley has worked in some of the country’s most

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Photo: Anjali Pinto

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recognized fine dining kitchens, including NoMI and Joël Robuchon at the Mansion at MGM Grand. He began at L2O under Chef Frances Brennan in 2011 and took over the reigns earlier this year. Nominated for the Rising Star Chef award by the James Beard Foundation two years running, Kirkley hasn’t snagged the title (yet), but instead, received two Michelin stars—a highly coveted ranking currently held by only one other restaurant in the city—Graham Elliot. If you’re wondering if L2O lives up to the hype, the answer is a resounding, gastronomically spectacular yes: Be prepared for double-digit courses that lean heavily on seafood and shellfish and could easily appear on exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Kirkley’s menu changes almost as often as the tide, but whatever the preparation, you are sure to experience his team’s meticulous technique that pays homage to the sea while integrating both classical French as well as modern cooking methods. On a recent visit, the chef seemed to be favoring foie gras and black truffles—decadent ingredients one might expect to find in such a setting. But if you think Kirkley and Wine Director Richard Hanauer are elitists, you’ll appreciate the well-calculated lowbrow surprises. A third of the way through the meal (that would be course number five of 15), a refreshing snap could be heard as the crab chip with Old Bay seasoning landed at the table. It was the opening of none other than a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Course 12 featured a 23-flavor gastrique (made from Dr. Pepper) that accompanied a stuffed quail with sunchokes and smoked cherries. Traditional Old World wines comprise a majority of the wine list and their lighter, more delicate flavor profiles pair beautifully with a multi-course meal. Be prepared: L2O is a destination restaurant and you may need a seventh inning stretch to make it through the meal. Have no fear, though, you’ll fare far better than the Chicago Cubs just a few blocks to the north. 2300 N. Lincoln Park W. Tel: 773868-0002. www.l2orestaurant.com
Allium

ALLIUM
If your preconceived notions about hotel dining include stuffy waiters and an oldschool Continental menu that is as dry as the tumbleweeds blowing across the Great Plains, make a reservation at Allium at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and settle in for a farm-to-table feast that leaves the pretension at coat check and, instead,

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Photo: Jamco Creative

offers innovative, globally inspired fare using high-quality ingredients, Chef Kevin Hickey, a Chicago native, describes the menu as “great, unfussy dishes that use the finest farm-to-table ingredients to bring to the plate the fun and boldness of Chicago.” A veteran of the Four Seasons brand for more than 18 years, Hickey has traveled the world cultivating his culinary viewpoint but is also quick to point out that Chicagoans are loyal customers who appreciate locally sourced ingredients (including the chefs themselves). Standout dishes include bison tartare served with waffle chips, beer mustard, and a 62-degree egg that relies on an immersion bath for the perfect runny yolk. Forego the typical bread and butter and order the cheese lavosh, which arrives dangling vertically from an industrial hook and shatters into a million edible pieces. Main courses are sturdy offerings like Wisconsin Walley with beet porridge and double-cut lamb chops, but if you want to experience Hickey at his best, order the Chicago-style hot dog with “homemade everything,” which he describes as “the perfect democratization of food.” The hot dog is made inhouse and offers a more delicate flavor and texture than your average storebought frank. Expect Chicago-style accompaniments of relish, hot peppers, onions, tomato, and pickle, along with balsamic ketchup and beer mustard. To

wash it all down, Allium’s Local FEW-sion combines Few bourbon, Burton’s maple syrup, and marinated Michigan cherries—one of the few “imported” menu items but well worth it. 120 East Delaware Place, 7th Fl. Tel: 312-7994900. www.alliumchicago.com

NELLCÔTE
Name a restaurant after the French mansion where the Rolling Stones set up shop when they left the UK to evade taxes in 1972 and you’re bound to kick up some
Nellcote

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Au Cheval

pork-belly confit, and grilled beef short ribs all competing for your protein attention. To counteract these heavy hitters, the chef sneaks in brightly flavored salads such as roasted and pickled cauliflower with Parmigiano-Reggiano and crushed pistachios, as well as house-made pastas like the must-have chilled squid ink strozzapreti with Maine lobster, fresco chilies, scallions, and pine nut pesto. With a humorous nod, dessert marries bachelor’s jam (a combination of fruit, booze, and sugar) with crème Chantilly (a fancy name for whipped cream) served over a Baba au Rhum cake. Or you can enjoy a simple house-spun seasonal gelato. But ask yourself, what would Mick Jagger eat? 833 W. Randolph St. Tel: 312-432-0500. www.nellcoterestaurant.com.

AU CHEVAL
Au Cheval

dust for a seriously good time. Chef Jared Van Camp has crafted a menu with Spanish, French, and Italian influences, but those inspirations seamlessly fuse with an array of local and house-made ingredients that make Nellcôte stand out amid its neighbors in the über-trendy West Loop neighborhood. Self-described as “rock ‘n roll Bohemian chic,” Nellcôte’s luxurious interior features crystal chandeliers, white Italian marble, and Parisian herringbone wood floors, but rest easy, there’s no velvet rope. Skipping the kitschy names, the cocktail menu honors its core ingredients, but once

you start sipping, you’ll appreciate the masterful mixology. “Bourbon” features Woodford Reserve, clement creole shrub, ‘quince and apple’ Wisconsin cherry grenadine, and mole and orange bitters. “Gin” is a simpler preparation of herbaceous Hendrick’s, Marasca cherry shrub, thyme, and lime. Nellcôte embodies the history and evolution of Chicago’s food scene, leaving behind deep-dish pizza and hot dogs in favor of fork-and-knife pizza made from houseground flour, and entrées like rabbit loin, served with sausage, bacon, spring vegetable ragout, and rhubarb mostarda. You’ll also find fennel sausage, venison tartare,

Griddled bratwurst with roasted garlic gravy at 11 A.M.? How about chilaquiles only after midnight? Either the whole world has gone mad or you’ve stumbled into Au Cheval, an unapologetic bar and diner in Chicago’s West Loop. The long bar with plenty of stools, dark wood, and hazy lighting is just the place to hang your head after a night of revelry. Whether that means imbibing in a specialty draft beer (Prips Carnegie Porter anyone?) or a heaping scoop of chopped liver, well, that’s up to you. Bon Appétit put Au Cheval’s burger on the top of its list in 2012, and you can make it a double if you dare. Locals will skip the burger all together and, instead, go for the fried house-made bologna sandwich. Inexplicable but equally delicious ethnic influences weave their way into Au Cheval’s culinary tapestry. General Jane’s honeyfried chicken with chili, sesame seeds, and cilantro can be found making an appearance at most tables, while roasted marrow bones with beef cheek marmalade appeal to the more adventurous diner. The “Strong Drinks” are annotated as if you’re going to the library, where you might choose to check out a Hemmingway Daiquiri (Earnest Hemingway, 1920), comprising of Flor de Caña rum, maraschino, grapefruit, and lime. Boisterous and dimly lit, Au Cheval (which translates to “the horse” in French) is the perfect spot to arrive blurry eyed and hungry. Expect more than a bale of hay and a carrot, this is one stable you won’t want to leave. 800 W. Randolph St. Tel: 312-9294580. www.auchevalchicago.com.

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