Friday, December 28, 2007

Fat Cat wins top honors for 'Favorite New Hot Spot of 2007' in Nightlife Poll

(Photo: Fat Cat)

And with that, this is the end of my postings on 312 Dining Diva for the year. Fans of Uptown's Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway, 773-506-3100) were relentless in voting this retro-style lounge Favorite New Hot Spot of 2007 in the first-ever 312 Dining Diva Nightlife Poll.

Also, I just want to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of you for your support since 312 Dining Diva launched on Nov. 4. It's been an exciting experience, and I cannot wait to do it again next year as I cover Chicago's hottest nightlife and dining destinations (blogging six days a week, updating several times a day). And yes, expect more nightlife and dining exclusives often (!!!). So tell your friends, sign up for my semi-weekly newsletter (twice a week!) and keep coming back.

Have a safe, prosperous and fabulous New Year, and remember this:

It is ON in '08!

What the critics said in 2007 . . .

Wicker Park's The Violet Hour was called "the country's most exciting bar" by Food & Wine magazine in 2007. (Photo: The Violet Hour)

. . . about:

The Gage (24 S. Michigan Ave., 312-372-4243). "If you’re in it for the long haul and are doing dinner, expect to fill up—everything is rich and aggressively flavorful. Smoky haddock is formed into a cake and crisped, its smokiness balanced with lemony crème fraîche. The 'salad of crisp potato' is the Gage’s answer to those national chain fried-chicken salads: Crispy panko-coated potato pieces and chunks of tallegio cheese are tossed with a handful of arugula for a dieter’s nightmare (but a glutton’s dream)."—Heather Shouse (Time Out Chicago)

Martini Park (151 W. Erie St., 312-640-0577). "Occupying roughly a quarter of a downtown city block requires disparate areas but coherent design. CEO Chris Barish unites two bars—one curved and looming, the other underlit and backed by a stage. The massive space opens to dozens of tables and plenty of outdoors by limiting decor to metallic fabrics, flagstones, wood, slate and technology in the form of plasmas and illuminated panels. The effect: Vegas in Chicago, including the tanned and expensively dressed patrons."—Fred Schlatter (Chicago CitySearch)

Manor (642 N. Clark St., 312-475-1390). "It’s one thing to be a club that the glitterrati are clamoring to get into. It’s another if they want to come back. Flash in the pans are de rigeur for the River North club scene, and if Manor wants to live up to the solidity of its name, it has to do better than its current you-owe-me staff."—Theresa Carter (The Local Tourist)

Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St. 312-943-3000). "Appropriately, a trio of patés leads off the menu, including a creamy slab of 'chicken' liver that might have rejiggered my opinion of the bird’s potential had a server not hinted it was made from the outlawed organ of another species. Duck consomme with a single truffle ravioli was a paradigm of clear, dark amber purity, and escargots were broiled in a tomato confit, funky with Roquefort, that begged for the bread basket."—Mike Sula (Chicago Reader)

Sepia (123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920). "Relatively obscure cuts such as veal breast and lamb sirloin get star treatment in Kendal Duque's kitchen, while razor-sharp service (overseen by owner Emmanuel Nony) keeps the dining room humming. The restaurant draws a dress-to-impress crowd, so snag a corner table and enjoy the eye candy. Recommended: Roasted rabbit, flatbread pizzas, veal with minted noodles, lemon-sage bread pudding."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune)

The Violet Hour (1520 N. Damen Ave., 773-252-1500). "The country's most exciting bar right at this moment is the The Violet Hour which just opened in Chicago's Wicker Park. Toby Maloney, the mixologist, is a veteran of Manhattan's Milk & Honey, Pegu Club and Freeman's and, according to some experts, he's as good a bartender as there is anywhere. On a recent eGullet post, Maloney outlined his cocktail menu, which includes a Manhattan mixed with housemade peach bitters and a rinse of Laphroaig (he's reportedly adding eye-droppers of the single malt whisky to a few of his drinks). As if that weren't enough, The Violet Hour's bar-food menu was designed by Justin Large, who cooks at Avec, one of Chicago's best places to eat; I've heard stories about his insanely good deep-fried pickles and croquettes stuffed with chorizo. I wasn't necessarily looking for a new place to drink, but I do hear that Manhattan calling my name."—Kate Krader (Food & Wine Magazine)

NYE: Day After

Wouldn’t you just love a stack of these gooey bread pudding pancakes, from Southport Café, to cure that New Year’s Eve hangover? (Photo: Southport Cafe)

Don’t overdo it on New Year’s Eve, so you can have some more fun on New Year’s Day. There’s plenty to do, whether you want to do something active like a 5K run or check out a favorite brunch spot. Or, if you’d rather stay in, whip up brunch yourself and invite friends over.

Check my recs:


August (1500 W. Division St., 773-252-9560). If you seriously enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, this is your spot. This corner gourmet market has a cooking focus and you’ll find a rotating lineup of meats, fish, veggies and groceries that you won’t find anywhere else. Also, owner/chef George Djurvic creates daily recipes (and he’s sampling them, too!) so you can surprise and thrill your guests. Oh, and if you don’t want to cook, there’s also heat-and-go entrees.

Goddess and Grocer. Get in touch with the Bucktown or Gold Coast location for specialty gourmet platters. Order a basket of assorted breakfast pastries (muffins, scones, Danish, bagels, etc.) or frittatas (Spanish, Mexican or Italian); trays of assorted mini wraps and rolls, petite sandwiches, Spanish tapas or beef tenderloin rolls; or skewers (chicken teriyaki, sesame-honey shrimp, tomato and basil). 25 E. Delaware Pl., 312-896-2600 or 1646 N. Damen Ave., 773-342-3200.

Southport Café and Grocery (3552 N. Southport Ave., 773-665-0100). Many items from this popular Lakeview café’s menu can be made at home. Treat your guests to their gooey good bread pudding pancakes, which comes with cinnamon-sugar butter and vanilla custard sauce. They’re certain to cure any hangover.


Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! (2024 N. Halsted St., 773-935-5000). Guests who dine in their jammies on New Year’s Day receive a gift certificate valued for the dollar amount of their meals, so brunch is essentially free. Indulge in options like crepes filled with goat cheese and quince or Spanish-style French toast, and belly up to the build-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar, with seven top-shelf vodkas, stuffed olives and all the spicy trimmings.

Rail Bar & Grill (4709 N. Damen Ave., 773-878-9400). Get an unlimited bloody mary bar, one plate and one side order off the breakfast menu for $20 at this cozy neighborhood hang. Also, single bloody marys $3.50; single menu items $5. 10am-2pm.

Winston’s Market (3440 N. Southport Ave., 773-327-6400). The up-and-coming brunch joint in Lakeview serves sandwiches, build-your-own salad options, house-pressed burgers, grilled skirt steak and stews. Also a family-friendly atmosphere.


23rd Annual New Year's Day 5K Fun Run and Walk. Benefiting the Lakeview Citizen’s Council, this event’s route travels north along the lakefront to Diversey Harbor before looping back to the finish. A post-race party at Gamekeepers Tavern & Grill (1971 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-549-0400) includes an awards ceremony, raffle and drinks for runners. 11am. $25 in advance; $30 day of event. Call 773-868-3010 for more info.

Exhale Spa (945 N. State St., 312-753-6500). Only two classes are offered on New Year’s Day: a 75-minute level 2 yoga class at 10:30am and Core Fusion (a combination of yoga, Pilates and strength training) at 12:05pm. $24 drop-in fee.

Moksha Yoga. The River West and Lakeview locations offer classes for the hardcore yogis. Check out the River West location (700 N. Carpenter St., 312-942-9642) for vinyasa or Lakeview (3334 N. Clark St., 773-975-9642) for full-primary Astanga. Both at 10am. $16 drop-in fee.