Signature Lounge

View from the ladies room

Lime, bramble, Pimm’s cup

*** (3 stars)

This is a place you go to for the view, of course. It’s a bit tired, and very crowded and noisy, but you can get a table, have a drink, and hope for a better table. Don’t go when it’s the least bit hazy, as visibility is worse than it seems at street level.

It’s certainly a better deal than the observation deck, since it’s free. On the other hand, you won’t get a 360 degree view. Since the space is divided into rooms you have to pick the direction you want to see. On the other, other hand you can get a drink while you enjoy the view. On the other, other, other hand it’s going to cost you about $16 a drink. So go on a clear day.

Signature Lounge
875 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 787-9596

GT Prime


Main dining room


Looking down at the kitchen

Kale Caesar

Carnivore: tenderloin, rib eye, wagyu, venison

Corn and shishito peppers

S’mores ice cream cake

Coffee & stout donuts

**** (4 stars)

This new GT restaurant is very different from its sister restaurant GT Fish & Oyster. In some ways it is more like the related Boka.

The space is mostly dark woods and stainless steel kitchen, although the underlying theme is intended to be a fanciful journey into the woods. We sat in a small upstairs space which was pleasantly isolated from the general hubub, and was quite nice, with interesting forest-themed woodwork and a dazzling light fixture. Given the size of the place, overall noise levels were reasonable, and the soundtrack is eclectic and interesting.

The idea here is to not be just another steakhouse, and they are succeeding with that. Although the emphasis is on red meat, portions are small, typically 4 ounces per person, and the side dishes are plentiful. There were some hits and misses, foodwise.

We started with the Kale Caesar, which had some nice croutons and incongruous cherry tomatoes. The kale was minced so finely that it was en route to tabbouleh, not really the consistency I was looking for. The Caesar dressing that was mixed into it was tasty, though.

Tuna Crudo was one of the standouts–delicate slices of tuna topped with red pepper and cilantro, and lightly sauced, perched atop shaved radish. This dish seemed like it came straight from a sashimi bar.

We shared the “Carnivore,” a sampler of tenderloin, rib eye, Wagyu and venison. The rib eye was the stand out here, and the Wagyu surprisingly came in last. This platter has four, 4-ounce servings of each, and is billed for four people, although two hungry people could no doubt polish it off.

The Brussels sprouts side was nicely caramelized, and probably didn’t need the prosciutto-like topping.

The better side was the Shishito peppers and corn, an unusual combination of lightly blistered peppers and delicious corn kernels creamed with Parmesan cheese.

S’mores Ice Cream Cake was well done, and tasted just like its name, but the real standout for dessert (and perhaps the whole meal) was the Coffee & Stout Donuts. These were served hot from the fryer, with a thick coffee dipping sauce and a wonderful crumb streusel to dip them into. Wow!

I probably wouldn’t go here for a steak, but I’d try some of the other mains, and focus on the appetizers, sides and desserts.

The wine list isn’t extensive, but there are some nice choices, although no bargains.

For a newly-opened restaurant, served was seamless and pleasant.

GT Prime
707 North Wells St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 600-6305


Smyth: carrots cooked in beef fat with beef fat donut

Smyth: Tomato dessert

Smyth: Duck tongue cooked two ways

Smyth: Squab

Interior of Smyth

**** (4 stars)

Smyth is in the same class as Next, Oriole and Alinea. That’s some tough competition. The space is gorgeous, with a quiet but open kitchen along the back, and a large open dining room. The soundtrack is great, and at just the right level. So I’d rate it above the cramped Next, rustic, Oriole and stuffy Alinea.

Service was terrific. Each course was presented by a different chef, and the wine pairings were presented by a very personable sommelier. Front desk staff was also very welcoming, making the whole experience quite pleasant.

It’s the food that doesn’t quite live up to those competitors. True, you never know what you’re going to get at Next, but at Oriole and Alinea you can rely upon every component of every dish blending together in eye opening perfection. That was not the case here.

This is definitely a menu for adventurous eaters, with courses such as duck tongue presented two ways.

There were certainly some excellent individual components in the various courses (of which there were more than a dozen, counting the amuse bouches). But no single course every quite came together seamlessly. The Squab was delicious, but not improved by its accompaniments, the puree on which the lamb sat was exquisite, but the very vinegary black garlic sauce clashed, and an egg yolk and cream dessert would have been just as good without the egg.

The first few wines (of nine) in the pairing were a bit out there, but the latter wines were better than the pairings at the above mentioned restaurants, and an amaro went particularly well with one of the desserts.

For a restaurant open only a few weeks I was very impressed by Smyth. At over $500 for two people with the wine pairings, tax and gratuity I think it’s fair to expect a bit more, and I imagine that given a bit of time they will deliver on that promise.

177 North Ada St
Chicago, IL 60607
(773) 913-3773

Public House

Pulled chicken salad

Smoked wings


*** (3 stars)

Public House is a cut above the average sports bar, with a more diverse menu that still includes all the basics. It has a good ambiance, and the background music is just the right volume.

The smoked wings were nice in that they weren’t breaded or particularly greasy, but they could have used more smoke flavor, and I’d have preferred a Buffalo sauce to the BBQ and white sauce they were served with.

The Pulled Chicken salad was an excellent mix of greens, apple, walnuts, dates,
avocado, fennel, cornbread croutons, goat cheese, honey-cilantro vinaigrette. Although they could have done a better job of separating the pulled chicken from the gristle, the combination of ingredients came through in a sum that was great than the individual parts.

Service (sitting at the bar) was fast and friendly.

Public House
400 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 265-1240

Hearth Restaurant



Cavatelli Carbonara

***** (5 stars)

I love the ambiance at Hearth, with its feeling of old Southern charm. It’s similar to when it was Quince (and the receipt even says Quince) but the food is even better now, and the prices very reasonable.

The menu features interesting small plates, and also lets you select a half portion of the larger plates, so it’s a great place to graze. Everything is house-made, including the various delicate varieties of pasta. The menu changes seasonally, with a few favorites always retained.

We began with vichyssoise, which was significantly over-salted, but contained some wonderfully sweet morsels of lobster.

Burrata was a good starter, served with nicely grilled toast. I was uncertain what to do with the accompanying lentils.

The scallops served with passion fruit and cauliflower puree were a standout. The chef really wanted us to try this dish, and I’m glad we did. The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the puree was divine. We also loved the baby sweet carrots.

Svickova was an interesting dish, a bit like a stroganoff. It consisted of beautifully cooked beef tenderloin, house made garlic spaetzle, and wild mushrooms in a sour cream dill sauce. We loved the crispy bits of browned spaetzle.

Cavatelli Carbonara was also scrumptious. The obviously house-made pasta was suffused with a rich mixture of bacon and caramelized onions, and topped with a truffle arugula salad. A half order was plenty for two!

There’s a nice wine list with an emphasis on France, and extensive selections by the glass.

Service was extremely friendly, and the chef makes an effort to visit with each table, something that never happened at Quince.

On nice evenings it’s delightful to dine on the front porch.

Hearth Restaurant
1625 Hinman Ave
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 570-8400

Patisserie Coralie


Large moccha


***** (5 stars)

This delightful french patisserie is owned by the same people at long time favorites Bistro Bordeaux and Creperie Saint Germain.

The pastries are as authentic as you’d expect, and the coffee is top-notch.

What a difference the change in decor from Cafe Mozart days! The formerly dark space is now light and airy, and a delightful place to sit and have a pastry and coffee.

The most pleasant thing about my visit was the cheerful server; she made the experience a very welcoming one.

Patisserie Coralie
600 Davis St
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 905-0491

Whiskey Thief Tavern



Mirrored wall

Barrel booths


Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Bourbon

**** (4 stars)

This is a great addition to Evanston’s bar scene. The place has a superb atmosphere, with its funky barrel booths, mirrored wall, and rough-hewn tables. It manages to be eclectic, tavern-like, and a sports bar, all at once, depending on where you sit.

The menu includes sports bar staples, but also interesting items such as bacon wrapped dates and a delicious roasted broccoli.

Service was extremely friendly. I was early, and the bartender was waiting on all the tables, too, and she did a great job. The front desk staff also seemed really happy to great each customer.

In fact, the only reason I haven’t rated it five stars is that, ironically, I wasn’t that impressed with their whiskey selection. It’s almost all mass marketed products, whether blended or single malt. I was hoping for a larger selection of obscure and eclectic offerings, including some higher end brands. I did enjoy the Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Year Bourbon I had. The generous pour in a good whiskey tasting glass was well worth the $21 price.

Whiskey Thief Tavern
616 Davis St
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 859-2342

Hannah’s Bretzel

Prep area


Club baguette with almonds

*** (3 stars)

This is a pleasant counter service restaurant that specializes in sandwiches made on pretzel bread, hence the name. The bread is fairly small and it’s not that cheap, so don’t expect a Subway experience.

The focus is on fairly healthy combinations such as a turkey club. The health aspects are somewhat offset by the hundreds of chocolate bars lining the queue–dieters beware!

Service is well organized and there is a pleasant outside dining area.

Hannah’s Bretzel
400 N La Salle St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 621-1111

Heaven on Seven Wabash

BBQ Shrimp po’boy

Gumbo and jalapeno corn muffin



Hot sauce wall (only half of it!)


One table’s hot sauce

***** (5 stars)

This is a very good Cajun restaurant. No, it’s not as good as many in New Orleans, but it’s good. And what makes it special is the vibe, with its thousands of different hot sauces lining the walls (no, there are no repeats) and its perpetual Christmas-garlanded ceilings.

I started with a cup of the gumbo, which was excellent, with its generous helping of tender, flavorful Andouille sausage.

A jalapeno corn muffin wasn’t all that impressive compared to others I’ve had.

My main was a Cajun barbecued shrimp po’boy. The shrimp was very hot, with a slight saffron flavor, and the bread was nicely grilled. The whole mess (and I use the term intentionally) was covered in a flavorful Cajun gravy with just the right amount of spice. At first, as I picked at it with my fork, I thought it was just okay, but once I’d eaten enough shrimp to be able to pick the whole thing up and get a bite of everything, I really liked it.

Service was friendly and efficient. A lot of regulars came in and sat at the small, U-shaped lunch counter while I was there. I could tell it’s a place many people have been coming to for decades, and I can see why.

Heaven on Seven Wabash
111 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 263-6443

The Franklin Room

***** (5 stars)

Great vibe, with shelves full of whiskey all around, nice lighting, and a chill soundtrack.

The whiskey flights are interesting, and there is an extensive list of well-made cocktails. Wines by the glass are limited, but are stored at the right temperatures.

We grazed on small plates and liked everything we had.

The smoked fish board included three kinds of fish, but the standout was the trout pate, which can also be ordered separately.

Cauliflower “tots” were actually cauliflower florets tempura fried. They were nice and light. The accompanying blue cheese dip was very mild; horseradish would have worked even better.

The highlight of the meal was the mussels (which I forgot to photograph). They were served in a spicy miso broth that was great for dipping the accompanying toast. Best mussels I’ve had anywhere!

We split a Smokehouse burger, which was good, but the “bacon” was a delicious chunk of smoked pork belly that was far too thick to eat in the burger.

Service was friendly and knowledgable, with real enthusiasm for the  whiskey list.

The Franklin Room
675 North Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 445-4686