Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What the critics said in 2008 . . .

MANA food bar (Photo: Grant Kessler)

. . . about:

Big Jones. "My dining partner ordered the sweet potato biscuits smothered with spicy gravy and hash and topped with Andouille sausage. Big Jones uses organic and farm-raised meats from Niman Ranch pork to Tall Grass beef. Everything was delicious and I’m sure extremely bad for you. Our server brought over a bowl of fruit, which was a welcomed addition to our high-fat, high-cholesterol meal. We had a really good first impression and great first meal. Once we work off the 5 pounds we gained from breakfast we will certainly be back for dinner to try one of their fabulous sounding desserts."—Chicago Foodies (read entire review here)

Bristol. "The Bristol doesn't serve bread, but you can order the 'monkey bread' listed under 'snacks.' It costs $4 and is really good. The cute little loaf comes in a cast-iron baking pan, served nicely hot. And as it goes with monkey bread, you pull pieces off the loaf, dipping each piece, if you care to, in the dill butter that is served on the side. You also can spend a lot at the Bristol. The grilled prawns were excellent—four very large prawns, heads still on, were swaddled in a tasty anchovy butter. They tasted as good as they looked and the aroma was enticing. Good eating? Yes. For sixteen bucks? I can deal with it."—Pat Bruno (Chicago Sun-Times) (read entire review here)

C-House. "(Executive Chef Seth) Siegel-Gardner will throw a meaty surprise out there now and again—the nicely charcoaled skirt steak was delicious, and the fork-tender suckling pig with peach chutney and lacquered skin was a revelation—but large plates are mostly finny and very good, particularly seared tuna with black olive couscous and sea urchin foam."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune) (read entire review here)

Duchamp. "There's nothing surreal about the food at the Bucktown spot, though chef/partner Michael Taus manages a few twists on the menu, such as the 'fish and chips' that involves skate wing, garlic-romano fries and no bread. Everything is familiar and accessible. And even a starving artist could afford to eat here; main courses top out at $19, and the gussied-up sandwiches, including a picture-perfect burger with havarti cheese and tomato remoulade, go for $11 or $12."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune) (read entire review here)

graham elliot. "What sets (Graham) Bowles’ cooking apart is his original approach to familiar items. A roasted beet salad ($9), a standard on any American contemporary menu, is elevated here by the application of gossamer puffs of whipped goat cheese. Other appetizers, like the spicy buffalo chicken ($13), which comes with something called "Budweiser bubbles," seemed like they were going to be too gimmicky. Cute, I found myself thinking, without expecting much. But trust us: You haven’t tasted a buffalo wing (actually, it’s a crispy chicken thigh) this good before. And, yes, that beer taste really comes through."—Metromix (read entire review here)

MANA Food Bar. "The Mana Chili ($6) blew us away—a substantial southwestern style chili made with black beans, corn, chickpeas and manchego cheese. The spicy Bi Bim Bop, filled with vegetables and brown rice and covered with spicy hot pepper miso, came topped with a perfectly fried egg. Save room for Baja Corn, an ear of corn grilled, split in half and coated with a lime-chili powder. At only $2, it’s a fine-dining bargain you won’t find anywhere else."—Chicagoist (read entire review here)

Mercat a la Planxa. "Chef de cuisine Michael Fiorello throws plenty onto that grill, from prawns and turbot to rack of lamb and morcillo sausage, though what he cooks off it is just as delicious—bonbon-like Serrano-ham croquettes, chile-spiked chicken-chorizo-rock-shrimp soup, and the bocadillos—sandwiches that come with smoked paprika fries. The big, two-level dining room has been as big a hit at lunch, when tapas, charcuterie, and cheeses are a great way to eat light, as at night, when the Latin music rises up and the sangria goes down easy."—Esquire (read entire review here)

Park 52. "Executive Chef Chris Barron spins a locally sourced menu of salads, soups, steaks, fish, chicken and pork, with many ingredients plucked from Hyde Park's weekly Farmer's Market. A lack of fancy eats in this community fuels traffic from families, foodies and University of Chicago students."—Citysearch (read entire review here)

Province. "I look forward to the Very Slow Tasmanian Salmon in red wine mojo ($18), and I look forward to paying $18. The rest—Spanish influenced (Spanish blue cheese fondue, to cite one obvious, if enticing, example), a penchant for just enough on your plate, a long, involved selection—reminds us a smart restaurant leaves you with a hint of what you’re missing. One final note: The bread plate—a white rectangular plate, and not a basket—includes a cornbread nugget, with a lilting bite of ancho chile, is among the best things I’ve taste all year."—The Stew (read entire review here)

The Whistler. "The cocktail menu changes seasonally. When I visited we sampled the Rosemary Gin & Tonic, Hibiscus Sour, and Sazerac. All were delicious and offered at the very reasonable price of $8. The bottled beer menu includes selections from craft breweries like Bell's and Great Lakes and—perhaps best of all—they also stock $2 Pabst cans."—Gapers Block (read entire review here)

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