Friday, December 11, 2009

Rise of Small Plates, Big Bars and Hotel Restaurants

Elate is located in the new Felix Hotel in River North. (Photo: Fearman Photos)

The Wall Street Journal's lifestyle section explores the latest trend in dining:

"A tapas-style menu, a hotel location and a major focus on the bar scene are hallmarks of restaurants around the country that are best surviving the economic turmoil of the past year.

"These components are also likely to be the defining traits of the next generation of high-end restaurants, say many leading restaurateurs, and are already being deployed in cities across the country."

That appears to be the case with a number of new restaurants in Chicago, such as Balsan, which just opened this week.

Located on the third floor of the brand-new Elysian Hotel, its design is high style, but at the same time offers a refreshingly affordable menu of items like house-made charcuterie, wood-roasted pizzas and Saddle Rock oysters.

Same goes for Elate, the thumping little spot inside the new Felix Hotel. The tinier tables and clubby seating are hints that this place is meant to be small-plates style. Octopus pastrami, crispy pork pizzas and charcuterie of country pâté are sure-fire hits.

At the newly restored Blackstone Hotel, the Spanish-focused Mercat a la Planxa of course features a number of tapas in its energetic atmosphere. The Catalan sausage and meatballs are set in a spicy tomato sauce; and a traditional Spanish omelet is filled with spinach, potatoes and saffron aioli.

And we cannot rave enough about the food over at State and Lake on the lobby level of theWit, a contemporary gastropub that's in sharp contrast to its more fancier upstairs Italian sister, cibo matto. Bites include mussels swimming in Metropolitan ale; Deviled eggs filled with truffles and short rib; and salt cod fritters and fried potatoes in a caper aioli.

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