Parker House roll and sourdough

Fancy oysters

Fried oysters


Cacio e pepe

Charred shrimp cocktail

Foie gras donut

Chocolate, tobacco and black rice ice creams

**** (4 stars)

It’s always amazing to me when a restaurant that has only been open a few days is running smoothly, because it’s such a huge task to get the food, service, and ambiance right. But that was the case when we visited Portsmith during its first week.

The theme here is fish, and it is carried out in almost every course. Even the sourdough bread has bonito flakes in it. That bread was a bit chewy for my taste, but the flavor was good and the accompanying black garlic butter was delicious.

I preferred the Parker House Roll, which looked more like a pita and tasted like cheese bread.  Its companion old bay butter was also very tasty.

We tried both the fancy and the fried oysters. Fancy oysters include a bit of foie gras, but the primary flavors are yuzu and green apple. They were delicious, but pricey at $5 each. Fried oysters coated in squid ink panko and topped with trout roe looked more interesting, but were just okay.

The crispy octopus was indeed crispy, as it was completely coated in crunchy flakes. The accompanying citrus mayo and jam offset each other very nicely. One of the best octopus preparations in town.

The best thing we had was the Cacio e Pepe, a pasta dish traditionally combining cheese and pepper, but here it was Uni butter and pepper. The fettucini was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was rich and delicious (although it needed additional salt and pepper to bring out the flavor).

Charred shrimp cocktail was fairly conventional. The charring made the shrimp a bit too sturdy, but the cocktail sauce was excellent.

The least successful dish was the Foie gras and donut, which sounded really fun, but wasn’t. It was a generous serving of perfectly seared foie gras, crisp and caramelized on the surface, and runny on the inside. But the other ingredients on the plate didn’t really work. The donut was small, tough, and flavorless, and was no substitute for a more traditional brioche or even pear or apple slice. And the strawberry “jam” was really bits of marinated strawberry, too chunky to provide the needed sweetness in each bite. It was also nearly impossible to combine the disparate ingredients into a composed bite, something essential with foie gras.

The dessert list is very interesting, with each one accompanied by a different ice cream or sorbet. I opted instead for a sampling of those accompaniments. The chocolate sorbet was excellent, and the black rice ice cream exotic and intriguing. Tobacco ice cream was the most exciting idea, but just tasted like vanilla.

There is an interesting wine list, with a small selection of nicely varietal wines by the glass.

Service was almost too attentive. Three waiters, two bus boys and a manager kept clearing away every dish and glass, even when we wanted to hang onto them, and often while someone else was still eating. The restaurant wasn’t very busy yet, so perhaps they just needed something to do, but it became funny after a while. It’s commendable that they want to provide good service, but I think they need to relax just a tad!

About half the tables are round and half are rectangular, and they’re pretty small. This works okay for the rectangular ones, but the round ones don’t work well for sharing plates. They don’t take up any less space, and I think should be jettisoned in favor of the rectangular ones.

One pet peeve is that at the beginning of the meal we were told that “Chef wants you to order everything at once.” That’s simply not acceptable in a sharing plates restaurant. You don’t know everything you’re going to want at the start of the meal, or what order you’ll want it in. I’ve played this game before and ended up with a table full of food that the chef was supposedly going to course out for us. I’d rather do that myself.

660 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 202-6050




Tuna tartare

Scallop appetizer

Onion soup

House salad

Horseradish Filet

Beef Wellington

Wine flight

**** (4 stars)

This is another brilliant effort from Lettuce Entertain You. It’s much more old school than their other restaurants, and really does capture the look and feel of a 1940s steakhouse. Not only does it offer some of the best steaks in town, it also offers some of the best steakhouse prices in River North. Both the food and the wine list is priced substantially below those of other restaurants, including some of Lettuce’s other restaurants.

Highlights of our meal included the house salad (the smallest size is huge), the very traditional French Onion Soup, and the very creative tuna tartare. The bacon wrapped scallop appetizer was also quite good.

My horseradish crusted bacon-wrapped filet was just as good as it sounds. In fact, I think it was the best steak I’ve had in Chicago, and I’ve had a lot of them. Creamed spinach is a good side dish.

The wine tasting flights offer four interesting selections for $15 or less. Where else can you get that in River North?

Our server was friendly and attentive. And of course the Lettuce Entertain You Frequent Diner Club points make it an even better deal. Highly recommended.

159 W Erie St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 787-9000

Bridge House Tavern



Tots, blue cheese on the side


Shaved salad

**** (4 stars)

Bridge House Tavern offers the best outdoor dining space along the Chicago River, plus an indoor ambiance that is more pub than sports bar. But don’t expect a simple pub or sports bar menu. There are some really interesting offerings here, both healthy and otherwise.

We started with some tater tots, a very generous serving, and one of the most pub-ish offerings. The serving was huge, and they were nicely crisped. I was glad we got the blue cheese on the side, as I think it would have turned them into a sodden mess. They were great on their own, and the crispy Brussels sprouts added a nice zest.

Beef carpaccio was also good, and another generous serving.

The shaved salad was fantastic. It’s a huge mound of sliced zucchini, cauliflower, fennel, radish and Brussels sprouts, tossed in a tasty dressing that doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavors. Truly, this is one of my favorite salads in town.

There’s a good list of beers, a somewhat more limited list of wines, and also a daily drink special.

Service was good, even though the place was hopping, both indoors and out, on a nice summer day.

Bridge House Tavern
321 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 644-0283



Sushi bar and Chef Robert Juan

Amuse bouche


Sake with Fuji apple and osetra


Hamachi with garlic chive blossom

Sea breem with finger lime

Salmon with smoked trout roe

Hokkaido scallop

Flaming the prawn

Red Argentinian prawn

Otoro and big eye tuna

Big eye toro hand roll

***** (5 stars)

Chicago has some excellent sushi restaurants, although curiously even the best haven’t ever matched the top places in New York or Los Angeles. Katana, an LA transplant, aims to change that.

The restaurant is large yet very spacious, and gorgeously decorated. Both table and sushi bar seating is available, and food from the sushi bar and the robata grill is available everywhere.

But there is one special experience that is only available in the back corner. The omakase sushi dinner is served here, prepared by Executive Chef Robert Juan, who acts as both chef and host. And most special of all is the table attached to the sushi bar, where parties of three or four can enjoy a hybrid of conventional table seating and intimate interaction with the chef. It’s a winning concept.

The omakase is “chef’s choice” but is individually tailored to your preferences and the number of courses you’d like. We chose ten courses and put ourselves in chef’s hands for a very special experience.

Our favorite courses were salmon rolled around fuji apple and topped with osetra caviar; “smoked” salmon that was actually fresh salmon topped with smoked trout roe and bourbon smoked sesame seeds; and raw scallop nigiri topped with osetra caviar. These courses were definitely world class.

There’s a nice wine list with plenty of Champagnes that perfectly match sushi, plus an extensive list of sakes.

Our server was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive.

Katana is a great addition to Chicago’s Japanese dining offerings, particularly in the back corner.

339 N Dearborn St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 877-5544




Mixed board charcuterie

Heirloom tomato tart

Baby octopus

**** (4 stars)

This is a good choice for drinks and small plates in Boy’s Town. There’s a nice bar, cozy booths, some high tops, and outdoor seating.

We started with a charcuterie assortment. Charcuterie represents about a third of the menu, and the mixed plate offers a good way to sample quite a bit of it. The cheeses on our plate were all somewhat similar, semi-firm. The pate was close to a liverwurst. The best item was the salmon pastrami, which was like a seasoned smoked salmon.

The tomato tart was just so-so, but the heirloom tomatoes that came with it were very good.

Baby grilled octopus was also just okay, but the chorizo and corn mixture that came with it was excellent.

The best item we had was the chocolate trilfle, an excellent mix of hot and cold, crunchy and chewy, sweet and bitter. It went great with the Rare Wine Company Verdelho Madeira. They offer the full range of Rare Wine Company Madeiras if you want something sweeter.

Speaking of wine, there is an interesting range of selections, although only a limited number are offered by the glass. Some interesting cocktails are also available.

3335 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 935-9663

The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet





Burger and fries

**** (4 stars)

I’m sure this place can get really loud when it is full, because of all the hard surfaces and pulsing soundtrack, but late on a Sunday evening it was a good spot for dinner for two.

The focus is evenly divided between drinks and food, with a well-thought out menu of mostly shareable plates, and an iPad-based wine and spirits list. The wine selections are mostly eclectic, and there aren’t a huge number of by-the-glass choices, but there are plenty of spirits. Interestingly, some wines are served by the glass, 500ml or 750ml, and even when ordering the 750ml they are poured from carafes rather than bottles.

We started with the mussels, which were in a tasty broth that didn’t overwhelm the delicate shellfish. The accompanying grilled bread was nicely charred, a perfect vehicle for dipping.

Scallops were also good, with a nice sear, and accompanying peas and pea tendrils.

It takes some nerve to serve a burger when you’re across the street from one of the country’s most famous, but this one stood up to the competition, with nice crisp lettuce and cucumber pickles providing some crunch. I just would have liked for the bun to be grilled or toasted.

Service was friendly and the manager was attentive, and we didn’t feel rushed, even though we basically closed the place.

The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet
736 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 775-0069



Caviar and beef tartare

Mini lobster roll









Pork cheek

Peach melba


Hysop ice cream

** (2 stars)

I have struggled to figure out how to give Acadia three stars, which Yelp defines as “A-OK”, and I just can’t do it. It was not okay, and here’s why.

Acadia is trying to operate at the Alinea, Oriole, Grace level, and it’s not even close. At this level a meal needs to be an experience. The food needs to make you pause in wonder. We found ourselves doing a lot of wondering last night, but not in a good way.

The decor is fine. They’re definitely going for an Alinea vibe. And the service was fine, too, although we got the impression they’d sent someone over to Grace to take notes, and then imperfectly shared them with a less experienced staff. But the problem was the food.

Course after course we were presented with gorgeous dishes–some of the prettiest in town, no doubt–that went nowhere. Rather than ingredients coming together to create something greater than the individual parts, there were a series of disjointed, sometimes even flavorless creations that left us wondering if the chef had gone on vacation and left the restaurant on autopilot.

We knew we were in trouble when we started with not one but three amuse bouches, not one of which was special. They included a meat with caviar on it–not the last time this mistake would be made. Who does that, and why? The flavors aren’t complementary, and each ruined an otherwise fine ingredient. A two-bite mini lobster roll was just that, but not a particularly good lobster roll. And the “pizza” was a nice cracker with some cheese on it. This would probably have been the best choice as the amuse bouche course.

Bread service consisted of a bite-size pretzel roll with truffle butter. Honestly, you can get a better pretzel bite at Bar Louie, and I found myself yearning for their mustard.

The first true course of the night was good quality salmon. As with nearly every course, something was poured on it table-side. This was a delicious broth of osmanthus and charred pineapple, which did nothing to enhance the salmon, but was wonderful to sip from the bowl once the salmon was gone. The course is accompanied by a durable bialy.

A bowl of shaved ice appears, and vinegar is added. Hmmm.

Cuttlefish and cucumber is an attractive dish, but with very little flavor.

A scallop is not seared quite enough to make it interesting, although one of our party of three likes the weird dehydrated crispy/gummy orange segment served with it.

The pretzel roll reappears, this time without the truffle butter. Was the first one a mistake? This one is accompanied by a dry, too tough miniature biscuit. Seriously, I can make a better biscuit with Bisquick. This one looks like a huge amount of effort went into it with nothing interesting to show for it, a metaphor for the meal itself. The breads are accompanied by a dish of buckwheat groats soaked in a generous amount of butter, one of the most savory dishes, and one that required nothing to be poured onto it.

The lobster course is the most successful. Although the small lobster tail is a bit tough, the lobster bisque (poured over the plate, of course) is delicious, and really complements the other flavors on the plate, especially a half spoonful of corn nibblets. This is what all the courses should have been like.

The last savory course is a nicely cooked piece of pork cheek which has plenty of flavor without the dollop of osetra caviar ruined by being placed on top. (Again, who does that, and why?)

Three desserts follow, all along the same lines of a bowl with ice cream or chocolate pudding topped with random flowers and bits of this and that. They are all fine, and the fact that most ingredients don’t compliment each other would have been overlooked save for the preceding parade of mismatched items.

About halfway through the meal we lapsed into a sort of stunned silence. Having been to nearly every fine dining restaurant in Chicago, how could this possibly be? I suppose the tip-off should have been that we were able to purchase tickets the night before. And in fact the room was half empty, so word may be getting around. It’s certainly hard to imagine repeat visitors.

So let’s talk about the tickets. When I purchase a meal and wine pairing through tocktix, I don’t appreciate an attempt to upsell me as soon as I sit down. If you want to offer an optional wagu, add it as an option on tocktix.

Nor do I appreciate the effort to sell me additional wine or cocktails to “start” the meal. With a nine-course wine pairing for $125, it shouldn’t be 15 minutes before the first wine shows up. Every other restaurant in town brings out a sparkler with the amuse bouche. There’s a reason. And the high-acid, mineral-focused wines didn’t really match the food anyway. For the same $125 Oriole manages  a pairing of entirely old world gems, so it’s not impossible.

In short, this meal didn’t remotely justify its $1200 price tag.

1639 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 360-9500





Guacamole and spicy chips

Red snapper ceviche

Kanpachi Tiradito

Diver scallops

Custom skewers!

Queso fundido

**** (4 stars)

Barrio is an ambitious concept in elevated Mexican food that is an instant hit in River North, and deservedly so.

The food here bears little relationship to traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine, nor it is what you’de have in a modern Mexican fine dining restaurant in Mexico City. Rather, they are using Mexican (and Peruvian) foods for inspiration, and then doing their own thing.

True, there are some nods to conventional Tex-Mex, such as chips and guacamole. They’re very good, but it’s almost a shame to order this when there is so much more to explore.

We enjoyed that guacamole very much, particularly the seasoned, freshly made corn chips that came with it, but the red snapper ceviche was even better. The Kampachi Tiradito (essentially a crudo) was my least favorite thing we tried; it looked great, but had an odd flavor I couldn’t pin down.

Divers scallops were perfectly seared, and had a citrus/pesto topping that blended perfectly.

We finished with the queso fundido. Don’t be put off by the menu’s description of it including salt cod; it was perfectly blended in, and acted more as a seasoning than as a fishy or salty component.

There’s an interesting cocktail list, and a limited selection of beer and wine.

Service was very friendly, although they’d only been open for lunch a couple of days, so the servers were still learning their way around.

Barrio is an exciting addition to River North dining.

65 W Kinzie St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 940-9900

White Sox Grill

Bacon cheeseburger

Bahn mi


**** (4 stars)

We’ve eaten at this place dozens of times when it was Harry Caray’s and it was never better than mediocre. Our first visit to the new incarnation was much better.

In the changeover they brightened up the walls and lighting, so its not the dank hole it once was. Big improvement. The attitudes of the employees are much brighter, too.

The menu is more interesting, with items such as a banh mi sandwich. It was fairly authentic, except for the shredded pork, which is probably also used for a BBQ sandwich. But it was very good.

The bacon cheeseburger was also decent.

The kitchen is much faster than it used to be. During a busy lunch hour we were seated immediately and were in and out in under 30 minutes.

Our server, Jason, who I guess it’s normally a bartender, was fantastic.

White Sox Grill
5700 S Cicero Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
(877) 325-8777