Six restaurants with great bread programs
Charlie Trotter's Trotter remains one of the best chefs in the country, proving nightly that not only did he train the younger talent in town, but he can still school them. À la carte doesn’t exist here, so go full throttle with the contemporary eight-course tasting menu and tack on wine pairings—his team of sommeliers always hits it out of the park. Trotter changes the menu every other week or so, but you can always depend on an unmatched wine list, a terrific bread program, a vegetarian tasting menu and his now-famous nonalcoholic beverage pairings. 816 W Armitage Ave (773-248-6228). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Armitage. Bus: 8, 73. Dinner (Tue–Sat). Average degustation: $140.
Epic Chef Stephen Wambach, a veteran of Laurent Tourondel’s BLT restaurants, is a master of meat, a man who can turn out a filet or NY strip as perfectly seared, beautifully seasoned and evenly cooked as any you could find in this city. As for his seafood dishes and veggie sides...well, let’s just say we’re sticking to the beef. Wambach smartly brought on local talent Christine McCabe to lend a whimsical, homespun touch to the bread and dessert programs—a saving grace at a factory-scale restaurant that seems best suited for those with expense accounts. 112 W Hubbard St (312-222-4940). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart; Red to Grand. Bus: 22, 36, 62, 65. Dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $35.
L2O Laurent Gras doesn’t let a single detail get away from him at this homage to all things ocean—from the first feel of the velvety menu to that last, ethereal bite of macaroon, the bicoastal chef is in complete control. To wit, à la carte exists only in the lounge; the restaurant offers a four-course and a 12-course menu of inspired and sublime options like salted cod puree with ribbons of smoked gelatin and sliced geoduck with a touch of fresh wasabi. But don’t fill up on fish: L20 has the best bread in the city, and you’ll want to eat as much anchovy-stuffed brioche as you can. 2300 N Lincoln Park West (773-868-0002). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 22, 36, 151, 156. Dinner (closed Tue). Average degustation: $110.
Isabella Bakery Do whatever it takes to snag one of the three tables in this tiny Guatemalan café—you don’t have enough hands to take away everything you’ll want to try. Croissant sandwiches are fine, but don’t miss the chile relleno sandwich, a delicious spread of peppers and onions on soft, housemade bread. Tamales are served in the banana leaves they’re steamed in and hold a tender chunk of bone-in pork. Desserts are a must—take sips of the especially smooth cappuccino in between bites of strawberry empanada and tall, moist chocolate layer cake. 1659 W Foster Ave (773-275-5237). El: Red to Argyle. Bus: 22, 50, 92. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $3.
Taxim The cozy, cushy, Byzantine-style dining room, the simple (and often simply delicious) seasonal Mediterranean food—that’s all thanks to David Schneider, the chef-owner of this dim Greek den. Minimal ingredients are needed for a pouf of housemade phyllo filled with leeks and flanked by goat feta or a whole loup de mar with crackly-crisp skin alongside dandelion salad, but solid execution yields maximum flavors. Nice prices and a share-everything platform means more dough for sampling through the superb Greek wine list. 1558 N Milwaukee Ave (773-252-1558). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Lunch (Sat, Sun), dinner (closed Tue). Average main course: $22.
Turkish Cuisine and Bakery Typically we try not to fill up on bread at the beginning of a meal, but at this comfortable Middle Eastern joint, that’s practically impossible. When the basket of fluffy, housemade bread arrives, we go through it in hyperspeed, slathering slices with excellent cold meze such as the smooth, rich baba ghanoush and cool, creamy, yogurt-based cacik. From there it’s on to the massive savory pies stuffed with cheese and eggs. We might take a break from the carbs with the infinitely juicy chicken-thigh kebabs, but soon enough it’s back to the baked goods as we inhale housemade baklava for an ideal ending. 5605 N Clark St (773-878-8930). El: Red to Bryn Mawr. Bus: 22, 50. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.