The Modern Grill is one of a vanishing breed of traditional diners, and it's definitely worth a visit for both historical reasons and the fantastic food.
The first thing you'll notice is the movie-set-like interior with the classic diner stools (there's also comfortable table seating). The interior dates to the 1940s, when the Grill was established. The most "recent" owners have had it since 1988. But the history goes back even further, and outside the door you'll find tile with the initials of the Irish immigrant who built the building in 1912 and ran a pub in this space.
But what about the food? In short, it's terrific. The menu is classic diner, with a full range of breakfast and lunch offerings, and a different soup every day. And the prices are impressively reasonable considering the prime location in Lakewood East.
There's no better way to judge a diner than by its burger, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better one. It's served on a grilled fresh roll with all the fixings I like: lettuce, tomato, onion (raw or grilled), pickles (I had them substitute mine for sweet relish), mustard, and mayo. Add cheese and a pile of crispy bacon and you're in heaven.
What's heaven without a side of halos.. er, I mean onion rings. These were super crispy, beer-battered, and served in a big pile. I wanted to leave some, but I didn't.
Chris, the owner, is incredibly friendly, and makes sure everything is perfect.
It had been eight years since I visited North Pond, so I thought it was time to check in and see if much had changed. It hasn't.
It is certainly an idyllic setting for a restaurant. When you can sit in the front room with all the walls opened up on a nice evening there is no more pleasant dining venue in Chicago.
The menu is a tasting menu of four courses, with three choices for each course. Courses are large, for a tasting menu. In my previous review I noted they contained many interesting and delicious ingredients that didn't necessarily combine into something greater than the individual parts. That is still true.
This time our two appetizers–a ceviche and a foie gras–were stellar. It was downhill from there though. The entrees–a sturdy wagu strip loin and mundane lamb dish–were particularly forgettable. The lobster–a $40 add-on–was nicely poached. Desserts again rose to a higher level, with a green tea ice cream and banana bread being the best.
There is a wine pairing available, but we chose to bring some high-end wines and pay the $50 per bottle corkage.
Our waiter and all of the bussing staff were terrific.
I will go back again eventually, for the ambiance, which is exceptional.
Counter order quick serve place with a fairly extensive menu. I wasn't a fan of the nachos, which used liquid cheese and didn't have a lot going on, but I loved my three taco plate. Lots of fillings and toppings, they needed none of the red and green sauce that accompanied them, as spice levels were perfect. My favorite was the pastor, but the carnitas was also excellent.
Esme is as much into the artistry of presenting food as the actual flavors. That is not to say that the food isn't great; it is. But each course is accompanied by a description of who made the very beautiful dishes it is served on. You probably don't care. We certainly didn't. But they were beautiful.
There are also descriptions of the artist who created the paintings currently on display, and the sculptures that accompany some courses. You probably don't care about those either. We didn't.
But it's fine. If that's their passion; props to them for sharing it. I'd be less forgiving if the food wasn't both breathtakingly lovely (all of it) and very tasty (most of it).
But then there is the wine. Problems with the wine abound, and threaten to ruin what would otherwise be a Michelin quality meal. The first problem began before we even arrived. The on-line winelist is missing the page for white wines. Since the current summer menu features mostly fish, this is a rather big problem. Fortunately, when we arrived we discovered the real wine list contains that missing page, and we ordered a nice white to accompany the meal.
The second problem was that it seemed as if they had never served a bottle of wine before. Not only was the wine not ready because it hadn't been chilled, once it was served, it was as if the glasses were invisible. No one ever refilled our glasses, and at one point one of them, when emptied, was actually cleared from the table. We finally resorted to putting the bottle on the table so we could serve ourselves. I realize that the emphasis here is on wines by the glass, and a pairing flight, but come on.
Speaking of the pairing flight, one of us had that, too. And not just the regular flight, but the "reserve" flight. I can't imagine what was reserve about it, other than the $250 price. Not only were the wines mostly pedestrian, they were, with two exceptions, laughably, colossally poorly matched to the food. The white bottle we ordered literally went better with every course.
So how can I give a restaurant five stars with such ludicrous wine service? Because the food is beautiful and delicious. Just order a bottle of wine you know, or pay the corkage fee to bring your own, and you will have a much better experience.
One final suggestion: at the end of the meal we received the obligatory menu describing our courses. At least we think we did. There was almost no relationship to the descriptions we'd heard through our servers' masks. Please stop making these trendy. And please just hand them out at the start. We know you want us to focus on the food, but with such complex dishes, and masked servers, it helps to have a reference to understand the ingredients of the dish as we're eating it. Plus, it would be the perfect place to list who made each dish, for those who care.
There. I’ve given Ever five Yelp stars. Now we need to examine that last star.
There are a thousand restaurants in Chicago that deserve five stars. I’ve given five stars to hot dog stands. But when you get into the stratosphere of restaurants — places like Oriole and Alinea — you need to take a closer look at what distinguishes them not just from the rest, but also from each other.
That’s where Michelin ratings come in. You can argue about the importance of some of Michelin’s fetishes such as synchronized seating, synchronized water pouring, synchronized plate delivery, and commemorative menus on departure. Give me a comfortable chair, keep my water glass topped up, and I don’t care if the menu is a QR code.
But Michelin stars do enforce certain food, wine, and service expectations.
Ever is the descendent of Grace, a former three star Michelin that imploded when Chef Curtis Duffy and business partner Michael Muser left. With Ever they set out to improve what was already highly acknowledged. Did they succeed? So far the answer is yes and no. (Full disclosure: I was not a big fan of Grace.) Ever has two stars. But it is obviously trying — really, really hard — for that third star. Maybe too hard.
The first thing you notice is the stunning curved stone walls, then the dining room, with its beautiful, minimalistic lines, and matte black tables isolated in individual pools of light.
The wine list and wine service are perhaps the highlight of the meal. The wine pairing features interesting, food friendly selections, nearly all from the Old World, and presented by the extremely personable Sommelier. The extensive bottle list avoids prestige areas and focuses on wines that people actually drink with food.
But the food is my point of contention. There are many, many ingredients in each dish of the nine-course tasting menu. But as the meal progressed, I began to wonder if less might be more.
The Hamachi course is a good example. The fish has been frozen into beautiful curls that look more like white chocolate. But attempting to eat it turns the plate into, well, a mess. The resulting taste just isn’t any better than a straightforward presentation would have been.
White asparagus is served two ways. The modern way results in something beautiful but uncut-able, while the traditional way, served with Bernaise sauce, is perhaps the best dish of the night. Sometimes tradition is best.
The meal progresses through proteins littered with heterogeneous components. I could not find two ingredients on the duck dish that seemed to work together: duck, fresh strawberry, peanuts?
A few other nits about the search for that third star:
Those beautiful curved walls reflect the sounds of the kitchen directly into the dining room. Either silence the kitchen or separate the spaces with a door.
There is no continuity of service throughout the meal. Dishes are delivered by the entire staff, so it is impossible to forge a relationship with a “host” during your dinner. That’s why the sommelier made such a wonderful impression. He provided the only feeling of being a guest.
Service staff should not wear cologne or perfume.
Stop rearranging the glassware! We had this happen at two other three star places. Every single server moved the glassware — even if we hadn’t touched it since the last move. After a dozen times it just became comical. At some point we could barely reach it! It’s not as if we were being served platters. Just leave it alone!
Okay, rant over. Would I go back to Ever? Probably not. Should you go? Probably so. If you are a foodie who wants to experience the top end of Chicago dining, it’s in a select group. It just might not be at the pinnacle of that group.
The upstairs of this charming little house houses an equally charming restaurant. Certainly deserving of its one Michelin star, the service here — with its synchronized pouring of water and delivery and removal of plates — is even at a three Michelin level. The food might not be quite at that level, but it is certainly remarkable. Stand out courses include the Bento box, and snails in the woods.
If there is a short coming, it is perhaps in the wine area. The very limited wine list focuses on food-friendly old world wines, most of them fairly obscure. These same wines show up in the wine pairings. The problem is that the reserve pairing, which is quite expensive, doesn't really contain any wines I would call truly reserve wines. And a couple of them are very questionable matches to the food. A Pinot Gris from Alsace, for instance, is shockingly tart, and didn't work at all.
That said, the prettiness of the food, and the caliber of some courses definitely justify a visit.