People say that "spring has sprung" in March, when the seasons actually shift. But let's be honest, spring doesn't do any springing until mid-May at best, when the weather has had time to stop dicking around and warm up. This is when fresh, vivid ingredients spring forth and onto menus. This is when patios are open for diners to enjoy them. These are some of the all-important dishes and drinks to partake in this season, aka right now, in Chicago.
Fiddlehead ferns, carrots, and asparagus, oh my! Spring ingredients abound throughout the menu at Logan Square's Osteria Langhe. This envelope-pushing Italian eatery is currently serving up chicken thighs with wild mushroom puff rolls, burnt leek and tomato confit, and Barola vinegar glace; a fritto misto of octopus and calamari with fiddleheads, olives, onions, and Meyer lemon buttermilk dressing; snail confit with Arneis, leeks, carrots, herbs, garlic, and grilled bread; and a crespella of peas, asparagus, goat cheese, wild mushrooms, spicy leek fondue, and whole-grain granola.
In the West Loop, meanwhile, Salero approaches spring cookery with a Spanish accent. Try white asparagus a la plancha with poached shrimp, pea tendrils, fennel emulsion, and white asparagus soup; or crispy soft-shell crab with charred dandelion greens, lemon aioli, and spicy Calabrian chili-ramp salsa.
From Italian to Spanish to French, Mon Ami Gabi in Lincoln Park embraces the farm-fresh bounty with pan-seared halibut, spring onion puree, charred onion and barley salad, and spring onion blossoms. For dessert, there's Strawberries Briand, a dish of slices strawberries marinated with vanilla and Grand Marnier, served with sour cream ice cream and some brown sugar. See also the almond meringue cookies with rhubarb compote. Not to be missed.
Taking farm-to-table sourcing to a whole new level, chef Daniel Marquis at Epic actually owns Mill Road Farms, where he sources much of his ingredients for his seasonal menus. Some recent menu additions include a watermelon salad with shaved fennel, spring onion, peppermint, marinated feta; and a pork fried walnut tart with smoked bacon, honey-roasted peaces, rosemary, and wild black raspberry mascarpone.
Speaking of berries, let's skip right to dessert at Blackwood BBQ. The Loop barbecue bastion has a seasonal cobbler brimming with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, topped off with a brown sugar-oat crumble crust.
Lots of fresh new things to eat and sip at Bread & Wine. Courtesy of chef Caleb Trahan, new dishes include rhubarb-marinated bay scallop ceviche with radish and turnip in a rhubarb vinaigrette. Wash that goodness down with the Cool Under Heat, a gin and beer cocktail infused with lemonade and strawberry juice; or the Red Angel Dragnet with rum, strawberry-rhubarb juice, Cointreau, brown sugar simple syrup, and a graham cracker rim.
One of the most reliable, consistent players in the seasonal cookery game is North Pond. Situated smack dab in the center of Lincoln Park proper, you can't find a more apt destination for spring dining in Chicago. One show-stopper of a dish is North Pond's current sheep's milk ricotta raviolo with roasted carrot puree, English peas, radishes, salata, mint, and tendrils.
At Sable Kitchen & Bar, you can eat your spring provisions and drink them too. Start with the spring nettle risotto flecked with forest mushrooms and lemony housemade ricotta, then pair it with The Cuff Link, a bracing glass of double rye, Yellow Chartreuse, and strawberry-black peppercorn-bay leaf shrub. Or skew a little sweeter with the Living the Dream, a cocktail that lives up to its dreamy moniker with Citadelle, Aperol, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, muddled strawberry, basil, and Prosecco.
Nothing captures the essence of spring quite like a lush salad. And salads don't come any lusher than the ones being served at Bistronomic. The contemporary French restaurant has the end all-be all of spring salads on their menu, the farm market salad, made with asparagus, a poached farm egg, spring kale, and ravigote sauce.
Just down the street, another mod French restaurant is putting its own spin on spring. At Cafe des Architectes, executive chef Greg Biggers is cooking up ramp-ricotta gnocchi with spring vegetables, Chestnut Provisions (aka housemade) ricotta, and morel mushrooms. Pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky, meanwhile, follows that up with a sourdough-cheddar waffle with green almonds, strawberries, and sweet cream.
Greens, mushrooms, and ramps are all over the menu at Trenchermen. Here, chef Pat Sheerin is getting crafty with an asparagus salad of both roasted and shaved stalks, white anchovy, deviled egg puree, and preserved lemon. His roast chicken plate contains ramp gnudi and buttermilk-sake broth. And his toasted oats with mapo tofu comes with lentils, morel mushrooms, asparagus, and almond.
In other important asparagus news, this springtime requisite is most classically paired with a poached egg. It's fresh simplicity at is finest, and its richest. The new asparagus con uovo at Filini Bar & Restaurant should tide your spring cravings, a plateful of grilled green asparagus with an organic poached egg and creamy herb sauce.
Last but certainly not least, it's time to talk about Blackbird. The pioneering West Loop restaurant is still at the forefront of seasonal prowess, proven time and again with each menu turn. The latest iteration does not disappoint, with rhubarb popsicles served with hibiscus lassi, bitter almond meringue, Japanese knotweed, vermouth, and black lime; strawberry bubblegum ice cream outfitted with marshmallow parfait, bubblegum mochi, strawberries, and lemon; and creme fraiche bread pudding complete with warm rhubarb compote, fresh strawberries, orange sherbet, and hibiscus yogurt.
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