An interesting counterpoint to the surge in whole-animal cookery and burly snout-to-tail creations is the recent deluge of cute cuisine. It sounds frivolous, but esteemed chefs and mixologists are whipping up creations in Chicago that are at once unique and so adorable you don’t know whether to eat it or snuggle with it.
Who would have ever thought that a fattened liver could be cute? If there’s any chef to accomplish such a feat, it’s Iliana Regan. The adroit chef has long been known for hyper-local cooking that breaks the mold at her tasting menu restaurant Elizabeth, where she dabbled in tasteful cuteness with items like bear “rice crispy treats.” Now she’s at it again with her owl-shaped foie gras at Bunny, the Micro Bakery, a dish that has swept Instagram and elicited “awws” across the city. The molded foie can be ordered as an accent to buttery toast and jam at her equally adorable Lakeview bakery.
It’s not very often a cocktail tugs on your heartstrings. Then again, it’s not very often a cocktail comes with tiny toy penguins. At Lincoln Square’s new craft cocktail bar, The Sixth, there’s a drink called Spaceman Spiff that arrives atop a mini terrarium filled with trinkets that would look right at home in a Pixar movie. A cocktail glass rests over the bowl, which is filled with cedar smoke. Once you lift the mezcal and grilled pineapple drink off the base, the smoke will waft out (and also afford you an opportunity to wave at the precious animals).
Long before owl-shaped foie gras and penguin-adjacent cocktails, Alliance Bakery was pioneering the movement of lovable creations. The famed Wicker Park bakery, now with a River North patisserie, is known and adored for its quirky, captivating cakes. Not only are they stunningly beautiful in design, but oftentimes they’re painfully cute too, which can create a bit of a conundrum. As in, it’s rather difficult bringing yourself to slice into a cake shaped like R2-D2 or Eeyore. Actually, especially Eeyore. He’s been through enough. But then again, Alliance also makes cakes in any and all shapes and sizes, and it’s far easier to cut apart a demon octopus attacking a submarine.
What better way to cap off a meal at The Purple Pig than with smiley pig-shaped gummies? Served as an end-of-dinner treat, the kitchen makes the most precious mignardises with a blend of grape, cranberry and pineapple juice with lemon. They’re chef/partner Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s ode to the restaurant’s namesake wine-drinking purple pig, and they’re the cutest pigs since Babe.
Usually, when the check arrives, swooning isn’t the typical reaction. Unless of course you’re wrapping up dinner at Logan Square’s nautical Sink|Swim, in which case the check is folded into the shape of a ship and adorned with salt water taffy. If there’s a surefire way to soften the blow of financial damage, this is it.
The granddaddy of the cute food trend sweeping Chicago is unquestionably the banana dolphin at Three Dots and a Dash. The subterranean tiki haunt made quite the splash when it debuted this delightful daiquiri, accented with half a banana cut and decorated to resemble the most lovable dolphin since Flipper. The beak is the top of the banana, which is cut and holding a cherry in its open “mouth.” A couple of cloves are pierced into the banana skin to represent the eyes, and even though they’re just cloves, it still feels very much alive in a totally non-creepy way.
The team behind Scofflaw cocktail bar expand their portfolio with their first ever restaurant-focused concept. Sink|Swim is a seafood-oriented spot on the border of Logan Square and Humboldt Park, featuring...