Son of a chef, I've been actively surveying the Chicago dining scene for the past 6 years. I typically try about one new restaurant a week (sometimes four). My palette is wide-ranging and my appetite is quite aggressive. If its any testament to my tasting credentials, my computer once crashed while trying to view my opentable history... weird.
To give some background, I actually hated this restaurant before ever seeing it. I was completely offended by the difficulty in obtaining tickets. I was unable to get a log-in on the website for weeks... only to find that tickets were NEVER available and after finally logging in, I realized that the site was utterly worthless and nothing more than a tease for me to refresh all day to no avail... That said, I managed to score a 4-person table after incessantly harassing Next's email and social networking channels. The experience was like nothing else I've ever been a part of... service was spectacular, in fact entertaining; it was surprisingly unpretentious, and the wine pairings (standard) were unique and truly enjoyable to complete the experience. A personal note on the cost. The meal cost $100pp, plus $48pp for wine pairings. Period. Done and done. Our servers would not take tip, which is apparently built into the overall price, along with the tax. Therefore, we did not receive a bill. The ticket, as promised, enabled the complete experience. Want coffee or tea? Also part of the experience... (I still grumble at the ticket process, but after sitting through this heavenly gastronomic experience, admittedly, it's a small price to pay...)
There's no point in recommending dishes, because the meal is fixed and you should try EVERYTHING... but, my personal favorites were the quail egg topped with anchovy, the Louisiana snapping turtle based soup, and without question, the best dish was the duck!
Restaurant: De Cero
While relatively simple, serving classic Mexican food, De Cero is a personal favorite of mine. With over a dozen types of tacos from which to choose, served a la carte, how can you possibly go wrong? To be fair, I'll admit that I've never ordered anything aside from guacamole, salsa, chips, and tacos (of which I've tasted every single one). The margaritas are very nice. The key with De Cero is fresh ingredients in a comfortable atmosphere. It's great for groups. It can get noisy, but the atmosphere is lively and fun...
Duck confit, big-eye tuna (hot), skirt steak and tilapia tacos are all a must-try. Guava and hibiscus margaritas
After numerous visits, I find it difficult to imagine a negative experience at Blackbird. The food is impeccable, service is excellent, and the environment is very classy.
Wood-grilled sturgeon is unquestionably the best dish, simply outstanding... also, elk strip loin, mussel soup, diver scallops.
Restaurant: Girl & The Goat
It sounds cliche to say that I loved Girl & the Goat, but I did, and I think that it's worth pointing out why... Each and every dish on this menu is a unique and perfectly matched combination of flavors that you will NEVER find somewhere else. It's very reasonably priced and the environment is very warm, energetic, with an unbelievable staff. I cannot review without mentioning the complementary quality of cocktails and hand-selected beers and wines to match. Overall, a great experience, highly recommended...
ALL are recommended, standouts include the wood oven-roasted pig face (mandatory that you try this), raw oysters, baby octopus, seared scallops, and pork ribs.
Restaurant: Chilam Balam
Everything I tried was delicious. You can taste a variety of dishes, so it's great for small groups. The emphasis here is on fresh, local ingredients, which I really appreciate. I think the atmosphere was fantastic... it's brightly colored and well-decorated, the staff was exceptionally warm and inviting... the scene is very energetic.
Blue marlin ceviche, shiitake mushroom empanadas, jicama salad, smoked pork loin...
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