Three Meals, Three Neighborhoods: Restaurants I Loved This Winter

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Chicago restaurant review, and since I wasn’t cooking much in February (see previous post for explanation), I thought this would be the perfect time to share three new restaurants I tried and absolutely looooved this winter.

If you know me or follow me on Instagram, you probably know by now that one of my favorite activities is exploring new neighborhoods and trying new restaurants – whether they’re new to me, or new to the market. These past few months, I had the chance to check out a couple different new places, but my absolute favorites were: Bernie’s Lunch & Supper in River North, Big Jones in Andersonville, and the ultra-cool Dusek’s in Pilsen.

1. Bernie’s Lunch & Supper, River North 

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I picked this casual but trendy new River North spot for my husband’s birthday dinner in January based on a friend’s recommendation. I was seriously skeptical at first–Mediterranean small plates at a place called Bernie’s?–but walked out raving about the food. Along with everyone else in our dinner party. It’s rare that every single item brought out to a group of critical diners receives such a stunningly positive response, but that’s exactly what Bernie’s was for us. Everything was absolutely amazing. My personal favorites: the Komorebi cocktail (Japanese whiskey, ginger liquer, orange flower water, honey, and lemon, mmm!), the lamb hashwi, pork shoulder confit and belly (pictured above), beets and burrata, and veal meatballs. Dying to go back for the cheeseburger and paella.

2. Big Jones, Andersonville 

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Big Jones was another birthday excursion for my birthday boy. I organized a whiskey tour at KOVAL Distillery in the afternoon which is pretty far up north, so we thought it would be fun to hang out and brunch in Andersonville before, a neighborhood we don’t often get a chance to explore. We randomly walked by Big Jones and thought it looked cute from the outside–plus, my husband is obsessed with anything and everything New Orleans-themed. So glad we decided to wait for a table, because the food at Big Jones was fantastic. We shared the cornbread muffins (oozing with butter) and the Bayou Teche omelette, which was packed with crawfish, spicy smoked andouille and cream cheese, and topped with bearnaise sauce and scallions. So freaking delicious. Definitely worth a trip out to Andersonville for a brunch date here!

3. Dusek’s, Pilsen

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Dusek’s has been on my list for a while, and I finally snagged some reservations last Friday night. Longman & Eagle is quite possibly my favorite restaurant in Chicago (though it’s so hard to pick just one) and Dusek’s is headed by the same team, so expectations were high. It’s also always fun to check out a new neighborhood, and I’ve never really hung out in Pilsen. Dusek’s has a really really cool bohemian Moroccan vibe–it’s cozy, spacious, and the food was excellent. It doesn’t beat Longman & Eagle, but it’s still definitely worth checking out. The scallop appetizers were amazing and the desserts deserve special mention, so make sure you don’t stuff yourself too much during dinner. Make sure you order the Halawat Al Jibn: cardamom ice cream, blood orange curd, honey gel, golden raisin puree, honey bubbles olive oil, and honey toffee powder. Yup, pretty much heaven. After dinner, we headed downstairs to Punch House for some more strong cocktails and awesome old school hip hop music. Perfect night out!

So there you go – those were my faves this winter, but I’d love to hear what Chi-town restaurants you’ve checked out recently. I have a growing list of places to try, so send me your recs! 🙂

Autumn at Chicago Botanic Garden

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” 

I spent my Sunday taking a stroll through Chicago’s beautiful Botanic Garden, appreciating the stillness of nature, feeling immense gratitude for every single moment, and praying hard for those who haven’t been as lucky around the world. Here’s to restoring peace & beauty for all, and an end to the insanity that’s tearing it all apart.

The gardens, through an autumn-colored lens:

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Fancy Date Night: Les Nomades

Last night, my husband and I had the pleasure of trying the prix fixe menu at Les Nomades, one of Chicago’s most classic French restaurants. The dinner was a generous wedding gift from our family, so we were incredibly excited to get dressed up in our finest threads and celebrate our anniversary (yet again) with some fancy French cuisine, wine, and chocolate.

The entire dining experience was top notch from start to finish. The interiors are cozy and romantic, resembling an authentic French living room with beautiful artwork everywhere. I especially loved the fireplaces at the entrance and dining area, artfully decorated with fall knick-knacks. I opted for the four course meal (my husband did five, which was definitely more food than anyone needs) and our server made sure our glasses were full throughout the meal with different wine pairings. My favorite dishes were the langoustine ravioli with seared scallop, my husband’s slow-roasted veal and lamb loin, and the hazelnut souffle with hot chocolate sauce. The souffle might be the most amazing dessert I’ve ever had – so rich and decadent, I savored every last bite of that deliciousness. The whole experience was just lovely – self-indulgent, but lovely.

Enjoy some images from our meal!

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Langoustine ravioli and seared scallop, langoustine sauce. This was my absolute favorite dish. 

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Seared foie gras, strawberry balsamic reduction, caramel foam. Rich and flavorful, just like foie gras should be! 

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My warm lobster and shrimp salad with mango dressing 

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Dover sole with quinoa, saffron pomme macaire, citrus sauce

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Slow-roasted veal and lamb loin. I wish I had more room in my belly to try more of this! It was absolutely amazing. 

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I don’t think we got enough dessert. The hazelnut souffle with chocolate sauce, a surprise chocolate mousse cake for our anniversary, a plate of macarons and chocolate truffles, and a generous cheese plate. Happiness on a table right here. 

Why Ukrainian Village Is My New Chicago Food Haven

My first foray into Ukrainian Village’s culinary scene was an incredible meal at Trattoria Ultimo, my current favorite Italian BYOB in the city. I was straight up obsessed with everything in this hole-in-the-wall restaurant – the handwritten menus, fresh ingredients, the low-key European vibe, mouthwatering handmade pastas…I could go on and on, but I’ve already committed an entire blog post professing my love for this restaurant. I went back two times pretty soon after I wrote that initial blog post, and I’m thinking I’m long overdue for another visit. When I took my mom there during one of her Chicago visits, she complained about the long Uber ride, but it was all worth it when she had her first bit of pasta. Everything was forgiven.

Then this spring, my husband and I decided to check out Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill, which is down the street from Trattoria. I’m always craving sushi and have struggled to find a solid sushi spot that has a casual vibe and is also easy on the wallet. I LOVE Hatsu Hana in Lakeview, and still believe it’s the best place for simple and fresh sushi, but it’s pretty pricey for what you get. At Yuzu, you can treat yourself to enormous rolls with the perfect fish-to-rice ratio and a great selection of robata items. My favorite is the Pot River Roll, stuffed with all sorts of fresh fish–so flavorful and perfect for sharing! Yuzu’s presentation is super creative, but I love that the sometimes gimmicky presentation is backed up by taste! Additional bonus – 90s hip hop music all night long.

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Another favorite Italian BYOB spot in Ukrainian village is Briciola. They have a beautiful outdoor garden patio (RIP, summer) and really great pastas. The food is just as good as Trattoria Ultimo, but the ambience isn’t as charming and unique. I ordered the black fettuccine special with scallops and jumbo shrimps in a sweet saffron cream sauce, and it was honestly one of the most delicious and unique pastas I’ve ever had. I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my pasta (the simpler the better), but the saffron cream sauce was such a great addition to the dish. I’d love to go back this winter and sample some of their other pasta dishes!

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Finally, this past weekend, we tried the shared omakase (chef’s selection of fresh sushi and sashimi) at Kai Zan, which firmly cemented my belief that Ukrainian Village has the best food scene in all of Chicago. At least right now. I loved, loved, loved Kai Zan! We came here with my brother-in-law and his fiance and sat at one of their cozy, semi-private tables. We were going to order a la carte till our waiter suggested the shared omakase for two, at just $35 a person. It’s 10 courses, but each plate is half the portion of the regular omakase, so you don’t get as much food. We were plenty satisfied with the amount of food that was provided, but you can always get a side of yakisoba or teriyaki. This is the perfect option for someone who wants to sample omakase without investing in the full spread. Every item was like a piece of artwork and so mouthwateringly delicious. Our group’s collective favorite was the “Angry Crab” – spicy crab wrapped in tuna, topped with tempura crunch and generously drizzled with truffle oil. It was AHHHH-mazing. We all just stared at each other in disbelief after taking a bit of this roll!

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Anyways, my point isn’t to ramble on about specifics of these restaurants, but just to show my appreciation for Ukrainian Village as a food destination in Chicago. I love the distinct personality of Ukrainian Village restaurants – much more relaxed and laid-back than River North/West Loop, but the cuisine rivals some of the bigger, more well-known restaurants of Chicago.

Are there any other restaurants that you would add to this list? I’d love to check them out!

Brunching Out: North Pond

Brunch is easily one of my favorite meals of the day, and when it’s done at a Michelin-star rated restaurant, even better!

My husband and I had an amazing weekend recently celebrating 365 days of marriage (AHH!). We both love eating–foodventuring is obviously the best type of adventuring–so our anniversary weekend was pretty much centered around good meals. On Saturday, we packed a picnic with sandwiches, a cheese plate and vino, and drove up to Evanston for a picnic at Northwestern University’s beautiful lakefill area. We’re both alums, and it’s where he proposed, so the campus is a very special place for us both. Picnicking was followed by a light al fresco Spanish meal at Salero and drinks at Kaiser Tiger, a really cool brewery with an awesome outdoor patio (and the prettiest fairy lights ever) in the West Loop.

Our favorite part of the entire weekend though was our Sunday Brunch at North Pond, the most beautiful, charming little restaurant with the most glorious view of Chicago’s skyline. We live in the Lakeview neighborhood, steps away from the restaurant, and have always been dying to make reservations there. We figured our anniversary weekend would be the perfect excuse to check out North Pond’s three course brunch. The menu changes based on seasonal ingredients and every dish is truly a work of art. I love meals where you can actually see the ingredients and feel the different textures and flavors. We had an incredible experience from start to finish and can’t wait to go back ASAP with out-of-towners. Make sure to request a table by the window if it’s a special occasion – the view of the pond is stuuuunning.

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Personalized menu for our anniversary! +15 points (I’ll excuse the minor misspelling of my name) 

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Warm crab crumb tomato, gulf shrimp, green and wax beans, cherry tomatoes, peach, almond

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Great Lakes whitefish, herbed rice, nectarine preserves, broccoli, peanut sauce, carrots

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My husband’s entree: Sauteed soft shell crab, corn pudding, charred kernels, watermelon, chorizo, pepper-tomatillo, mole

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DESSERT! Fresh peaches, blackberries, lemon verbena panna cotta, hazelnut biscotti, peaches

Dining Out: Trattoria Ultimo

My dining experience this past Saturday night was truly a special one. Maybe it’s because SG and I were badly in need of a date night, or maybe it’s because we ventured outside our usual go-to neighborhoods and into Ukrainian Village. I just know that I’m going to remember my dinner at Trattoria Ultimo for a very, very long time. I’m already dying to go back and can’t wait to tell all my friends about the amazing service, cozy interiors and most importantly, the FOOD.

To start with, any Italian restaurant that’s BYOB is a win in my book. SG and I are currently on a major red wine kick, so we picked up one of the staff favorites from The Noble Grape and made our way to Trattoria Ultimo, a hole-in-the-wall BYOB Italian place between Damen & Winchester Avenue. The restaurant looks very unassuming from the outside, but as soon as you enter, you can feel its warmth and intimacy. There are only 6-7 tables in the restaurant, and the kitchen is in close quarters to the dining area. I seriously felt like I was in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and visiting an Italian grandmother’s kitchen in Sicily or Rome. While I love a trendy, ‘scene-y’ restaurant as much as any other 20-something, sometimes a simple, hole-in-the-wall dining experience can be even more special.

We were greeted by the owner of the restaurant, who treated us with impeccable service the entire night. The regular menu has limited options, but they have a long list of specials that the owner handed to us on a small chalkboard. I love little details like that – adds so much to the overall dining experience! While the entrees were on the pricey side (average of $20), it was all SO worth it – the ingredients were fresh and organic, and the pasta handmade. Everything was delicious, but the prosciutto and burrata appetizer deserves a special mention. Served with bread, a scrumptious olive fig, and delicately seasoned tomatoes, the appetizer was just perfect. So creamy and flavorful – I would have been happy eating just that all night.

Thank you Trattoria Ultimo, for your warm service and a truly memorable dinner.

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Our personal chalkboard of specials!

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The prosciutto and burrata appetizer – to DIE for.

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My scallop linquine in a white wine sauce and tomatoes – incredibly flavorful and surprisingly light!

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My husband’s rabbit pappardelle – rich & hearty…everything you need on a cold Chicago evening.

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The flourless chocolate cake. The owner called it “love on a plate” – couldn’t agree more!

County Barbeque: Cool Vibes & Good Grub

My husband and I have recently been hooked onto anything and everything Anthony Bourdain. We LOVE his show The Mind of a Chef, and ever since we saw the barbeque episode, we’ve had some hangry cravings for brisket. And I’m not even a huge fan of BBQ!

So tonight, we found ourselves wandering around Chicago’s Little Italy and ended up at County Barbeque, a super cute-slash-hipster joint on Taylor St. I don’t hang out in Little Italy or Greektown nearly enough – everything about the neighborhood is just so freaking charming. That’s what I love about Chicago – all the wonderful different neighorhoods with their own unique character. So much to experience in one city, you just never get bored.

Our meal was great – awesome drinks (get the Whisky Splash cocktail), amazing customer service, and decent food. The brisket sandwich (far right) wasn’t as tender as I had hoped, but all in all, a solid experience. I’d definitely come back with a crew for the ambience. Bonus points for the incredible blues music playing the entire time.

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Also, side note – how cute is the outdoor Patio at Three Aces?! Definitely need to check it out…when it’s warm again (ugh).

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