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)

Ho, Ho Holidays!


Christmas is here! And whether you're doing it up with family or friends (or both!), don't make a move this weekend until you read this list:


It's so effing cold outside, so if you're one of those last-minute shoppers along the Mag Mile, make sure you stumble into Bistro 110 for Bistro & Bubbles. Happening through Dec. 30, the dealio is two Moët & Chandon champagne and food pairings. Choose from a glass of Moët White Star paired with truffle oil Parmesan french fries ($11) or a glass of Moët Rosé Impérial paired with smoked salmon pizza ($15). 5-7pm.

Make your way to the West Loop for a complimentary wine tasting event at the Just Grapes wine shop, where you'll get to sample a number of wines that'll pair well with your holiday dinner. You'll also get to indulge in various dessert vino. Noon-6pm.

Young Jewish professionals should turn out strong for the second-annual Juju Ball, happening at Martini Park. Get there early for the open bar (8:30-9:30pm), then dance to live music and flirt it up with a crowd expecting to surpass 700 guests. 8:30pm-2am. $25 at door.

If you're in the mood for a more neighborhood vibe, head to Wrigleyville for the Wednesday night specials at Risque Café. Get ready to load up on the bottomless bowl of mac 'n' cheese ($6) and $2 PBR tall boys as you nod your head to music from local bands. 8pm-2am. No cover.


Butch McGuire's is the ultimate holiday bar destination and tonight's a biggie for those needing to get away from those nagging relatives. After 11pm, expect this long-time singles scene to be jam-packed with all types of folks blowing off steam. Closes at 4am. No cover.

No dinner plans?! No problem. New Café des Architectes Executive Chef Martial Noguier has whipped up a four-course menu filled with hearty dishes like homemade potato gnocchi, beef tenderloin, and Bûche de Noël (white chocolate rum ice cream, Amarena cherry parfait, bittersweet chocolate cake) for dessert. That's $72 per person. 3-11pm.

Farmerie 58, the hot new market-fresh restaurant on two levels, offers a more budget-conscious, four-course meal for $45 a person. The mustard-brined stuffed pork chop, wild mushroom-and-roasted chestnut soup, and pecan-crusted pumpkin pie with bourbon whip are just some of the highlights.

House music legend Lil Louis ("French Kiss") brings The Love Tour to Crobar, cranking out sexy body and soul sounds. You'll also get a copy of his book and double CD, Two Sides to Every Story. 10pm-4am. $25.

Grammy nominated R&B artist Chrisette Michelle celebrates her birthday at Flirty Fitness on Friday.


She's up for a Grammy in February, plus she's celebrating her birthday. Sultry R&B songstress Chrisette Michelle will be in the house for a holiday bash certain to be the talk of the town. No discounted drinks, but if you email RSVP@SLDMarketingGroup.net, they'll knock off a few $$ on your admission. Hopefully she'll perform! Flirty Girl Fitness (1325 W. Randolph St.) 9pm-2am.


Another celeb appearance is on tap when T-Pain hits Bon V after his concert. The hip-hop star is spinning, with opening sets by DJ Pullano and Skylar. All you have to do to gain free admission is say "VibeIsRight" before 11pm. After party happens at Rednofive. 9pm-2am.


And get an early start on your New Year's Eve festivities at Taste Food & Wine, which is hosting a Champagne & Bubbly Tasting. You'll get to pair them with Debbie's homemade chocolates. Mmmm-hmmm. 3-6pm. $20 in advance; $25 at door.