Bar Ramone


Citrus-Cured Hirame

Bigeye Tuna Tartare

Parmesan & Manchego Marshmallows

Bloody Mary Shrimp

Duck Confit Poutine*


Japanese Ice Fish*

Galician Octopus*

Lamb Meatballs*

Basque Cheesecake

Crema Catalana

***** (5 stars)

This is definitely another win for Lettuce Entertain You, much better than Bottlefork, which it replaced. The space is largely unchanged, narrow and deep, with a bar along one side. It’s not just a small plates restaurant, but actually closer to a true tapas bar, with many traditional Spanish dishes, and a few twists or completely new creations.

Our favorites were the tuna tartare, which was particularly savory as a result of being mixed with black rice and garlic aioli, and the Japanese ice fish, tiny little fish served in an udon-like broth.

We also liked the duck confit poutine, with its crispy potatoes and rich sauce; I thought it would have been just as good without the duck!

Octopus, lamb meatballs, bloody mary shrimp, and caulini (a cauliflower broccolini cross) were all good. Parmesan & manchego marshmallows were interesting, a jiggly cube of cheese-flavored goo. The only dish that left us cold was the rather flavorless hirame crudo.

Desserts were also standouts. We couldn’t pick a favorite between the creme Catalana with its bitter orange flavor and the Basque cheesecake, which was infused with amaretto.

Although it’s a wine bar, you won’t find very many familiar choices on the list. Wine by the glass are on the back of the one-page menu, but there is a more extensive bottle list. I’d say the emphasis on both is fairly obscure.

Service was good, especially considering we were there opening night and the place was packed. This is definitely a welcome addition to the River North dining scene, and especially to the local Spanish tapas selections.

Bar Ramone
441 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 985-6909

Chicago Chop House


Cold seafood sampler for one

10 oz Wagyu NY Strip

Creamed spinach

**** (4 stars)

In a city seemingly overflowing with steakhouses, Chicago Chop House has a few unique things to offer.

First off is the ambiance. Located in a 120-year-old townhouse, it’s definitely cozier and more historical than the competition. And if you’re into Chicago history, the walls are covered with more than a thousand old photos, stock certificates and other ephemera, many with labels denoting their significance.

The third floor, called the “skybox,” is the quietest place to sit. It’s divided into small spaces that work well for intimate conversation. The ground floor bar is by far the liveliest space.

The menu offers the fairly unique option of ordering nearly identical steaks handled differently. There is a section of wet-aged meat (usually my preference), dry-aged, and also American Wagyu.

I tried the Wagyu New York Strip, and it was just okay. It was thinner than the other steaks, and wasn’t as tender or fatty as I would expect from Wagyu. Perhaps that was the result of it being cooked closer to medium well than the medium rare I ordered.

Far better was my wife’s dry-aged New York Strip, which was very tender, juicy, and perfectly cooked.

We started with a cold seafood assortment for one, which was actually enough for the two of use to have a bit of tuna and crab, and to split the oyster and shrimp according to our preference. Then we also shared a Ceasar salad, which was more than enough for two.

Sides are also large. We shared creamed spinach, which was a bit more to the cream side than I prefer, but tasty.

There’s a nice wine list, with a few older gems that are reasonably priced for Chicago.

Service was friendly and attentive, and we enjoyed our very relaxing and intimate meal.

Chicago Chop House
60 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60654
(888) 592-8471

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

Leña Brava



Cured salmon laminados

Lena ceviche (albacore)

Hiramasa laminados

Chesapeake wild striped bass aguachiles



Short rib



Blueberry tart

*** (3 stars)

This is an interesting new concept from Rick Bayless that is different from his other restaurants, and anything else in town, too.

The menu is almost entirely plates intended for sharing, divided up somewhat arbitrarily into groups such as ceviches, aguachiles (which were a lot like the ceviches), cockteles (which were a lot like the ceviches), laminados (more like sashimi), etc. All four of those categories are mainly raw fish prepared with different sauces. We tried four of them and found the sauces interesting but the fish inferior in quality to what you would expect in a good sashimi bar. The salmon, in particular, was largely inedible, with a third of each piece so tough and stringy it could neither be cut nor chewed. Sure, we could have sent it back, but it should never have been served in the first place, as it was visibly flawed.

More successful were the two wood-fired dishes. The duck had a nicely lacquered coating and excellent flavors. Short ribs were less interesting, as the sauce and the accompanying mashed cauliflower were quite bland.

The Huarache was one of the best dishes. It was a sort of corn flatbread with what can best be described (but wasn’t so described on the menu) as a vegetable mole.

Two sides were pretty good: the artichoke hearts were nicely cooked al dente, and the plantains were nicely caramelized.

Both the corn crisps and the tortillas that accompanied several courses were quite good.

Perhaps the best thing we had was the blueberry tart, a large, hand folded pastry with a nicely charred crust, served with ice cream.

The wine list offers a very eclectic selection of wines by the bottle and glass. It’s eclectic enough that I’ll wager you’ve never heard of 90% of the producers.

The restaurant is divided into a number of smaller rooms, with the outdoor seating and upstairs the quietest areas. Service was efficient.

Leña Brava
900-902 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-1975




Egg ramp garlic peas

Foie gras, melon gaspacho, tea

Crab, apple, avocado

Corn soup

Mushroom tortellini



Yuzu, cherry and peach tonic


Rose lime kiwi / strawberry white coconut (below)

Goosefoot Chocolate

***** (5 stars)

If you assume that fine dining is an inherently serious business you need to check out Goosefoot. Chris and Nina welcome you into their “home” and cast aside the pretensions and stuffiness, providing a fun experience of discovery and camaraderie.

The multi-course tasting menu features twelve dishes of stunning beauty and complexity, each served in a unique and playful way. It’s remarkable that two people (and an unnamed helper in the kitchen) can provide this level of culinary and service perfection.

Each dish is accompanied by a story, delivered individually, often by Chef Chris, who interacts with guests table by table and course by course more than I’ve ever encountered. How he finds time to cook and arrange each delicate offering is beyond me.

The restaurant seats no more than twenty people, in a single, synchronized seating.

On the service side, it would be easy to assume that with only one person–Nina–providing all the service for the restaurant, details such as place settings and napkins replacement, ice bucket refreshing and so on would be impossible. You’d be wrong. Service was consistently at Michelin level.

You might also assume that a BYOB restaurant would have minimal glassware, but again you’d be wrong. A full set of Riedel sizes was available and provided, matched to each wine guests brought.

in the end, the two things I will remember most about Goosefoot are the beauty of the food, and the ebullience of our hosts.

Goosefoot is one of the best fine dining values in Chicago, and it’s certainly the most lighthearted one.

2656 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 942-7547


Chocolate tartufo

Beet salad

Skate wing


*** (3 stars)

The highlights of our dinner at Naha were the service, which was outstanding, and the breads, which are varied and interesting, particularly the ones with fennel, cumin and other unique ingredients.

The beet salad was just okay. The individual ingredients didn’t really come together to create something more.

I enjoyed the skate wing, which had a crispy sear on it, and went well with the sunchoke sauce.

The duck breast had a very flavorful lacquer seared onto the outside, but don’t order this unless you like your duck blood rare. Again, individual ingredients didn’t really complement the duck.

Plating was an issue throughout the meal. The duck, in particular, did not look like a dish served by a Michelin starred restaurant.

The most attractive dish was dessert. The chocolate tartufo was served with a delicious porter beer ice cream and espresso foam, and some of the ingredients worked together.

Naha is an adequate restaurant, but seems very overpriced for the quality. The Michelin star is puzzling.

500 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 321-6242

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



Beef tartare






Strawberries and hazlenut

**** (4 stars)

This is a very fine restaurant that is doing most everything right. The chef’s eight-course tasting menu, which is available on request, is the way to go here. It’s assembled to match your tastes, and is a great way to experience the menu’s highlights.

Each course was beautifully presented. The only truly amazing one was the vichyssoise, but everything else was quite good, and the price was reasonable for the quality.

Service was informative and attentive, and the secondary service staff were particularly efficient at delivering and clearing.

Brindille has one of the better wine lists in town, at a reasonable markup of about twice retail. It’s heavy on quality French wines, and bears a bit of research before your visit to be truly rewarded.

534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1616

il Porcellino

**** (4 stars)

I was a big fan of Paris Club, which occupied this space, but I must admit that Il Porcellino is a much better restaurant–and business plan. It was packed the night I visited. But even though it was full, I liked the fact that I could still hear the background music (an odd blend of 20th century pop and cliche Italian restaurant music) and conversation was easy.

The space is unrecognizable and gorgeous. Hundreds of light bulbs hang over the dining room, creating a romantic aura, and the large bar out front and various room dividers are also cleverly lit to show off the bottles and other stuff on the shelves.

Service is extremely polished, with constant attention from the servers, and independent delivery of the food straight from the kitchen via runners.

I was unimpressed by the complementary risotto ball amuse bouche, but after that everything was excellent.

The garlic loaf is a great way to start. It’s a mini boule, crisped on the outside and sliced into six pie wedges. Grated parmesan is stuffed into the cracks and then, tableside, garlic butter is poured in. It was delicious, and even managed to maintain its crispness throughout dinner.

Fried Brussels sprouts were also good, not too oily and not too buried in cheese.

I’m not too big on pasta, so I opted for the brick chicken specialty. Good move. It was a giant slab of boneless breast meat with a unique, super-crispy crust. But the thing that made the dish was the mixture of cauliflower, garden vegetables and butter on which it sat.

If you’re into hot fudge sundaes you’ll like the semi-fredo, but I wished I’d selected a different dessert.

Drink-wise, I started with a negroni. There are three choices, and I liked the Fernet-based one I picked because it was particularly bitter. The house Chianti I segued into wasn’t particularly good. But I finished with a Nonino, my favorite Amaro.

If I have any complaint about Il Porcelino it’s simply that there are no healthful options on the menu. Everything is either friend, drenched in butter or swimming in carbs. Even the salads look pretty heavy. It’s all delicious, but I couldn’t eat there very often without some lighter choices.

il Porcellino
59 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-0800