Best reviewed Chicago restaurants | 2011 in review
Many restaurants opened in Chicago this year, but these were among those that earned four or five stars from our Eat Out staff. Translation: They're really damn good.
953 W Fulton Mkt (nextrestaurant.com). Bus: 8, 20. Dinner. Tasting menu: $65–$165.
To dine at Next is not to experience a meal that reaches some objective standard of “greatness.” But it is a rare—and rarefied—opportunity to submit oneself (and this is what you do at Next, where you do not order a dish, select a wine or otherwise make anything that resembles a choice) to a very specific vision—Grant Achatz’s vision—of what great dining might look like.
401 N Franklin St (twitter.com/doughnutvault). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart. Bus: 65, 125, 156. Shop opens at 8:30am Tue–Fri and 9:30am Sat, and closes when doughnuts are sold out. Average doughnut: $3.
Doughnut Vault: the minuscule, chandeliered vestibule (capacity: approximately four) from which doughnuts appear Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30am, only to disappear just as ephemerally approximately 12 tweets and 90 minutes later. Currently, 750 are made each day, 900 on the weekend. There is no question the rounds of fried dough that emerge from this shoebox—the creation of the restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar)—are as good as any doughnut being made in Chicago. The problem is they’re better.
GT Fish & Oyster
531 N Wells St (312-929-3501). El: Red to Grand; Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart. Bus: 11, 33, 65, 125. Dinner. Average share plate: $14.
I loved the cocktails, which was no surprise given these expert Dark & Stormys were designed by Benjamin Schiller. And I loved the room, which ever since the Boka Group (those guys behind Girl & the Goat and Perennial, among others) announced would become GT Fish I’ve mistakenly referred to, in conversation and in print, as a “fish shack.” Clearly, I did not know of what I spoke. Fish Bar in Lincoln Park—that’s a fish shack. GT Fish is a restaurant. And in contrast to Fish Bar, here the nautical details lend the room a sleekness. The aura is cool, salty. Not unlike the wind in Cape Cod.
6727 W Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn (708-775-8122, autremondecafe.com). El: Blue to Oak Park. Dinner (closed Mon). Average shared plate: $12.
Nearly everything I ordered at Autre Monde showed off a kitchen at ease with itself, skilled hands that truly prize the ingredients they handle. But even with that said, the pasta is floating on a higher plane. In addition to that flawless tagliatelle, there are these little treasure bags called tortellaci filled with goat cheese, each topped with a small crown of black truffle. They’re as elegant as the best handmade pastas in the city. Yet the fact that they’re at a humble neighborhood trattoria in Berwyn makes them taste even better.
2601 N Milwaukee Ave (773-292-9463, telegraphwinebar.com). El: Blue to Logan Square. Bus: 52, 74, 76, 82. Average small plate: $11.
The food here is so good it instantly turns what could easily (and pleasantly) have been just a wine bar into a serious restaurant. It’s food that is effortless to enjoy, thanks to the kind and experienced servers, to the warm and low-key setting, and to the—let’s be real here—allure of wine, which has never felt less grim.
1523 N Kingsbury St, Lincoln Park (312-280-1718, kingsburystreetcafe.com). El: Red to North/Clybourn. Average main course: $9
I cannot, I will not, let Kingsbury get overrun with trendsters. Not yet. It’s too new, it’s too lovely, and that kuchen, that melon juice, those pancakes are too special to be picked at by a snooty foodinista who will only go on Yelp to complain about how she wished they had been sweeter. Sweeter! Get a grip, lady. In the pantheon of this city’s breakfast spots, there is nothing sweeter than Kingsbury Street Cafe. To eat here is not only to swim in a pool of sunlight, but to grab some of that sunlight and take a bite.