The main reason you’re heading to Chicago in May is for the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. But everyone knows Chicago is a hot dining destination, and you’d be crazy to miss the chance to check out the newest spots from some of the country’s best chefs and operators. Here’s a preview, and a chance to grab some hard-to-get reservations.
Michael Jordan’s Steak House
505 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan occasionally pops in at his newest restaurant in the InterContinental Chicago Hotel, where reportedly he has a hand in approving menu items. About half of the menu is devoted to non-steak dishes, including oysters on the half shell, crab cakes, lamb chops, free-range chicken, seafood and seasonal produce. Expect large portions. If His Airness isn’t present, other athletes and local celebrities sometimes can be spotted there.
The Pump Room
Public Chicago Hotel
1301 N. State Pkwy.
Enjoying a reincarnation, the new Pump Room looks nothing like its legendary predecessor, which hosted visiting movie and music stars back in the day. Some of the black-and-white portraits shot at the restaurant decades ago are still displayed, and a few of the old signatures remain in updated versions, including chicken liver toast and a salad of wiener schnitzel, tomato and arugula. Simply prepared, straightforward American fare reigns here in a two-level dining room that’s still a prime spot to see and be seen.
110 E. Pearson St.
Chef Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and Levy Restaurants have changed the nationality of the former Bistro 110 from French to Italian with Bar Toma, a wine bar, pizzeria, mozzarella bar, gelateria, bakery, espresso bar and more. Open all day, the sprawling casual restaurant was designed to be a regular stop for neighborhood locals. Light and airy pizza from the wood-burning oven is a signature, along with a variety of small plates. Pizza toppings range from lamb sausage, tomatoes, olives and Manchego cheese to Manila clams with garlic, oregano, chiles and Pecorino Romano.
53 W. Illinois St.
A modern approach to Italian cuisine is the mantra of this, the fifth restaurant from the children of restaurant impresario Richard Melman in the redesigned space that was Ben Pao. “This is not a red sauce Italian place,” says partner R.J. Melman. Chef Doug Psaltis heads the kitchen, which features a dozen fresh pastas, prime steaks, slow-roasted meats, wood-grilled branzino and a host of other handcrafted items. Dinner and late-night are RPM’s forte. Bill and Giuliana Rancic of the Style Network are partners.
Publican Quality Meats
825 W. Fulton Mkt.
Award-winning chef Paul Kahan’s latest project is a butcher shop next to his Publican gastropub and not far from Blackbird, his fine-dining flagship. Sourcing from local family farms, the shop serves lunch, with special sandwiches such as shredded pork belly with yogurt-cucumber sauce and an eggplant slaw on sourdough flatbread. Other sandwiches may be lamb meatball, blood sausage or chorizo. The meats supply The Publican full-service restaurant, which is open for dinner.
BLT American Brasserie
500 W. Superior St.
Renowned executive chef Laurent Tourondel’s new brasserie (not affiliated with the BLT restaurant group in New York and elsewhere where Tourondel formerly worked) has made a splash here. Menu descriptions are deceptively simpler than the dishes, which include sandwiches, sushi, steaks and desserts such as the passion fruit crepe souffle. Chicago-based designer Jordan Mozer redesigned the former Brasserie Ruhlmann space and made it much more inviting.
116 W. Hubbard St.
Takashi Yagihasi of the refined Takashi restaurant goes casual at his new Tokyo-style tapas and noodle bar. Wide-ranging noodles dishes include rice noodles with napa cabbage, black tiger shrimp and cilantro, as well as whole wheat egg noodles with miso, ground pork and spicy homemade sausage. This thoroughly modern and lively spot also features sashimi, steamed dumplings, many grilled items from the bincho grill, French and Asian desserts and, of course, sakes, straight or in cocktails, and a full bar.
Cyrano's Farm Kitchen
546 N. Wells St.
Chef/co-owner Didier Durand has remade his 16-year-old Cyrano’s Bistrot into a rustic French-accented farm-themed eatery, complete with weathered barn wood shutters and vintage farm tool accents. “I wanted to recreate my grandparents’ farm,” Durand says. He will supply some of the vegetables and herbs from his own small farm. The wine list, though, retains its urban sophistication, as do desserts, including house-made chocolate truffles.
1421 W. Taylor St.
Partners Michael Shrader (former chef at Epic and N9NE Steakhouse) and Jason Chan bring a non-Italian contemporary small plates restaurant to Little Italy. Menu sections include a raw bar, seafood, pasta and dumplings, meat, vegetables and dessert. Many selections, ranging from sand dabs to baked apples, are roasted in the wood-burning oven. Some 50 wines by the glass complement the food in an industrial-look space with exposed brick and wood beams.
2956 W. Lawrence Ave.
This intimate 34-seat storefront 20 minutes from the city’s Gold Coast is chef-owner Chris Nugent’s personal statement on market-driven contemporary food. Formerly of the more luxurious Les Nomades, he offers two tasting menus, 8 or 12 courses, still classically inspired but often featuring unexpected combinations. He plans to keep it BYO so that guests can either bring favorite wines from home or buy some at nearby wine shops.
1639 S. Wabash Ave.
One of only a handful of fine-dining restaurants to hit the Chicago scene recently, Acadia offers everything from a signature Stonington lobster pie in the dining room to classic lobster rolls and burgers at the bar. Chef-owner Ryan McCaskey said the time and the location, in the regentrified South Loop not far from McCormick Place, are right as the economy continues to recover. He plans to expand his global wine list to fill his 2,600-bottle cellar in the near future.
2853 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chef Matthias Merges, a long-time sous chef at Charlie Trotter’s, presides over this totally different street foods-influenced concept in the regentrifying Logan Square neighborhood. He manages to incorporate complex flavors into tasting and shareable portions of grilled ingredients, from whole quail to peekytoe crab to sea urchin. Asian flavors are especially prevalent.