I spent a lot of nights out during February as many Chicago restaurants opened their doors to patrons they’ve never seen and created a prix fixe menu to showcase some of their best work. Chicago Restaurant Week offered lunches and dinners from over 250 restaurants throughout the city at a fixed price serving 3-4 courses per person: appetizers, entree, and dessert. The fourth course at some places was either another appetizer, salad, or a bonus fixed dish.
I hadn’t eaten out that much in my own city. Because I eat out when I travel, going out when I am home is usually the last thing that I want to do. However this year, I wanted to try some of the restaurants I had heard so much about in Chicago. A friend of mine, Alex likes to eat just like I do so we made reservations at four locations. I then had three more reservations; one with a client, my mom, and brother. Ha. I did Chicago proud these last few weeks. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by many. There was one that stood out above the rest, becoming my new favorite in Chicago. More on that later. This week I am giving you a review of my four least favorite restaurants starting with my least favorite first. And next week, I’ll give you the review for my three most favorite.
I really wanted to like this place. I knew the reviews weren’t too hot going in, but a lot of the menu items looked great, and while the name suggested gastronomic flare, I would never suggest it to be. We ordered the Charcuterie board to start which was good. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad either. It was a good size which was impressive. Secondly, we had the crispy duck l’orange. I was really disappointed. It wasn’t very crispy and the duck was dry and didn’t have much flavor. I always order duck if a restaurant is serving it, but it was a mistake this time. For an entree we had the thyme crusted lamb shank. While the lamb was cooked perfectly, I didn’t get the thyme flavor at all and the vegetables that it came on were just weird. I don’t know how else to describe it. I didn’t even finish the vegetables because I didn’t understand what the flavors were. It ruined the dish for me. Thirdly, we got a few desserts (a third friend joined us for this one) and shared the three of them. The chocolate profiteroles, the lemon tart, and the cherry financier. My favorites were the profiteroles and the lemon tart. Profiteroles were like cream puffs to me with hardened chocolate drizzled on top. The lemon tart was good – it had a big meringue layered on top of the lemon custard with a fantastic crust. The financier was not my favorite. There was too much going on – pistachio ice cream, a cherry almond cake, and baked cherries. It would have been better to me if it was vanilla ice cream. Bringing in the pistachio was bringing in an entirely different flavor and I just don’t think it worked together.
Bistronomic: 840 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
I knew going into BellyQ that it wasn’t going to blow my mind as it was a little cheaper of a restaurant. So I feel bad marking this at my number 6. It’s in a great location, it’s a beautiful restaurant, and I think is a great place for a group of friends to go on a Friday or Saturday night. I started off with a ginger vodka cocktail and it was fantastic. I would have one of those every night if I drank that much. One of my top favorite cocktails of all time. I then had the Curry Squash soup which I actually really enjoyed. They had rice puffs and fresh herbs on top which were actually perfect. It was an interesting combination but the herbs balanced it out and made it a little more refreshing. The rice puffs were the perfect amount of crunch that I really like in a soup. Second we had the Smoked Beef Tri-Tip with a kimchi potato salad and cucumber pickle. The Beef was cooked perfectly and had good flavor but it didn’t blow me away. The potato salad had radishes in it that was interesting to me but created an great combination. I wasn’t a fan of the cucumber pickles though – I think there were too many mustard seeds in it – too strong on the mustard and weak on the dill. Lastly, for dessert, we had the red bean donuts and green tea powder. I don’t quite understand why they called it that. The donuts were good.. But I didn’t taste any of the red bean and the green tea powder was so lightly brushed on there that you could barely taste it. When you would get enough green tea powder on a bite, it was pretty amazing. But that only happened on one bite for me – so in general, the donuts just didn’t have all that much flavor. Overall, I think it’s a great place to go with a bunch of friends. Reasonable prices, great atmosphere, good cocktails, and decent food.
BellyQ: 1400 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607
- Le Colonial
While this place brought back family memories of going to our family’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Glen Ellyn, Mykha’s (which is heartbreakingly no longer there), I wasn’t blown away. To start I had the fried spring rolls which were our favorite at Mykha’s. These were okay. The sauce was great, and they were authentically served with butter lettuce, shredded carrots, jicama, mint and watercress. But the rice paper that they were wrapped in was just so thick that it overcrowded the flavor in the rolls. It was filled with pork, shrimp, and mushrooms, but I really didn’t taste much of that which was disappointing. Secondly, I had the sauteed diced filet which was cooked with 40 different spices, served with rice and a side of vegetables. This was a massive dish. It was good too. While I couldn’t begin to tell you all the spices they used, it was very traditional and the beef was cooked perfectly. It was a great cut of meat; very tender and had a lot of flavor. The veggies on the side were fantastic too – perfectly sauteed in a garlic oyster sauce with still a crunch to them – there was bok choy and fennel in it and the fennel was very strong in flavor and perfect for the dish. Lastly, I had the flourless chocolate cake for dessert. That was a mistake. I wasn’t blown away and felt like I was having a flourless chocolate cake from just about anywhere. Alex got the caramelized lemon tart which was very good. I should have ordered that.
Le Colonial: 937 North Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611
I hate that this is number 4 on my list. I was most excited about Naha. A Michelin star restaurant that I was expecting and hoping to be blown away by. Oh it makes me so sad that I wasn’t. They did have some great wine specials, so we started off with a $30 bottle of French Pinot Noir (which is the only red I have been into lately): Bouchard Aine & Fils. I let the waitress choose my meal for me. I figured she would bring me either her favorites, or the restaurants favorites. I think that’s where I went wrong. She brought me the Lamb “Boreg” with dried fruits, Greek yogurt, pomegranate, fried almonds, and torn herbs. The boreg itself was underwhelming, there was so much phylo dough that I got a minimal amount of lamb flavor. I wish they would have cut it differently, like taking the corners off the boreg and only serve the heartier portions of it. The rest of the dish was great. The almonds, pomegranate, and Greek yogurt were perfectly proportioned. However, the torn herbs had so much parsley in it that was too strong for the dish and overpowered the rest of the herbs. Secondly, I had the Veal breast Roulade. I want to say I liked this. But I was so disappointed. If I am going to have veal, it needs to be pretty darn good veal. And if I am going to have a roulade, it needs to be tender, almost creamy, melt in your mouth good. This was not. The veal was dry. Oh I was so sad. It was on top of grits with big chunks of bacon shards. Those two pieces were very good – the bacon shards were nice and thick and the grits were resting in au jus from the veal. Unfortunately they were not complimented by a very tender veal roulade. Alex had the Berkshire Pork Belly with risotto and that was very good – tender, creamy, buttery. I should have ordered that. Lastly for dessert, Alex ordered the cheese plate and I was given the Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta. I wasn’t blown away but I also wasn’t disappointed with this one. It tasted like a deconstructed ferrero rocher to me and the textures were perfect. It had cracked hazelnuts which I could have eaten a whole bowl of, and orange confit as a garnish. I think if there was more of the orange, it would have made the dish. I don’t even like chocolate and orange together but it was such a great compliment that I was wanting more. Then, before we paid our bill, they brought over one final little compliment; two chocolate coconut macaroons and two homemade marshmallows. These were perfect to finish of the dinner with.
Naha: 500 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
Well, there you have it. My four least favorite restaurants from CRW 2015. As I mentioned in many of them above. I enjoyed many of my meals, I just wasn’t blown away as I was hoping to be. Have you had different experiences at these restaurants? What should I have ordered instead?
Next week, look out for my review on my top three favorites!