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Year Round Rooftop Bars for Winter Warmth

Year Round Rooftop Bars: These soaring spots keep things hot all year round

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Year Round Rooftop Bars (Boleo)

Year Round Rooftop Bars (Boleo)

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Does winter have you feeling blue? In dire need of a dose of Vitamin D and the illusion of warmer weather? Fortunately for you, Chicago has filled up nicely in recent years with a handful of rooftop terraces, bars and restaurants that are open year round. Of course, they are now enclosed so that you don’t freeze to death while sipping your cocktail, but with the views and the natural light still accounted for, it’s a breath of fresh winter air. Here’s where to dine and drink on rooftops this winter in Chicago.

Year Round Rooftop Bars

Raised: This massive low-flying rooftop bar and restaurant opened late last spring and has been red hot ever since. Including right now, when you could use that heat the most. It’s got a massive indoor space overlooking the Chicago River and the River North skyline, and it’s also not too high up, which is a nice option for those afraid of heights. Raised also raises the bar on food, which elevates American bar fare thanks to chef Daniel Perez. Items include deviled eggs with n’duja, kabocha squash fritters and crispy Brussels sprouts with apple-bourbon reduction.

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Up & Up: The newest addition to Chicago’s rooftop bar scene is Up & Up, perched atop Wicker Park’s brand new (and stunningly cool) Robey Hotel. Far enough from the downtown core, the 13th story cocktail nook sports glorious views regardless of whether or not the outdoor terrace is open. The indoor area for now is cozy and warm, outfitted with snug lounge chairs and sofas; great perches for sipping inventive and boozy libations like newfangled riffs on Old Fashioneds.

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The J. Parker: A perpetual crowd-pleaser in the warmer months, Lincoln Park’s J. Parker is now equally hip all year round thanks to the recent addition of a retractable glass roof. Wrapping around the expansive patio like an igloo dome, guests can still drink in the views of the park, the lake and the downtown skyline, all while drinking in their Kentucky’s Orchard, a warm winter tipple made with Old Forester, ginger, clove, cinnamon, apple cider and lemon. Round it out with snacks like pinto bean hummus, fried kale chips and grilled cheese sandwiches with smoked pear butter and Gouda,

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Cindy’s: No matter the time of day or year, the stunning atrium-like terrace atop the Chicago Athletic Association radiates warm vibes and chic ambience. That might explain why it’s always crazy packed. If the temperature isn’t too frigid, guests can take their cocktails out onto the open air terrace and sit by a roaring fireplace (the bar provides blankets, too!). Or just cozy up inside with a boozy hot chocolate and a shellfish platter and call it a night.

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Boleo: As if the glass roof-enclosed rooftop restaurant at the new Kimpton Gray Hotel wasn’t beautiful enough, the Latin American cuisine and inventive cocktails are sure to bolster that sense of exoticism and warmth. No matter the forecast, Boleo feels sunny and tropical, thanks to an abundance of green plants and lounge-like chairs, tables and banquettes. The menu is refreshing, too. Be sure and share some bracing ceviches, some tuna tataki anticuchos and some lobster tempura rolls. Don’t worry about sharing the cocktails, though. Those you’ll want to keep all for yourself.

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Drumbar: Hidden away atop Streeterville’s quaint Rafaello Hotel, Drumbar is the rare bar that feels equally as cozy in the winter as it does refreshing in the summer. That’s thanks to its combo of sprawling outdoor terrace and expansive indoor area decorated with fireplaces, library shelves and dark woods that altogether make the bar feel like a chic lodge or mansion. The cocktail program is seriously legit too, featuring an ever-rotating lineup of themed originals, like the Orange is the New Black with Rhine Hall Mango Brandy, lemon, salted sweet potato, Grand Marnier and Thai bitters; or the Stranger Things with Absolut Vodka, Amontillado sherry, Concord grape, lemon, fennel and ylang ylang flower.

7 Restaurants For Breaking New Year’s Resolutions in Chicago

From steak to fried chicken, here’s where to indulge in comfort food this month.

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Breaking New Year's Resolutions @ Prime & Provisions

Breaking New Year’s Resolutions @ Prime & Provisions

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Breaking New Year’s Resolutions: Rules are made to be broken. Especially rules that double as New Year’s resolutions. Since we all know those pesky resolutions only last a few days anyway, it makes sense to treat yourself to some comfort food during the frigid time of year when you need it most. From butter-slathered fried chicken to gigantic sandwiches, here are some of the best places in town to break your New Year’s resolutions.

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Considering how warming and summery s’mores are, there’s no better time than January to feast on one of the signature desserts at Prime & Provisions. Their version of s’mores is a novel one, taking each component of the classic all-American confection and turning it on its head. Finished table side, the dessert arrives as a chocolate dome on a bed of graham cracker. The dome is then doused with melted warm fudge, which dissolves the dome and releases a plume of aromatic campfire smoke.

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When you can’t pick between a sweet or savory craving, Cookies & Carnitas is the answer for breaking your new year’s resolution. The Green City Market vendor-turned-Edgewater cafe features pork throughout its varied menu, from tacos and pizza to some of the most succulent carnitas sandwiches in town. For something sweet, cookies are the obvious choice. These tire-sized treats feature an addictively chewy, soft interior with a crispy, caramelized exterior. The bacon-flecked chocolate chip cookies are the ultimate indulgence.

A mountain of meat stacked between two thick rolls is as good as it gets when it comes to shattering that New Year’s resolution. Treat yourself at Cemitas Puebla, which serves their signature cemitas sandwiches and more in the West Loop, Logan Square and Hyde Park. The namesake cemitas are torta-like, but substantially bigger and layered with Oaxacan cheese, avocado, chipotle sauce and meats like ham and breaded pork loin. They’ve also got great tacos, chalupas and quesadillas.

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Few things can top a burger when it comes to belt-busting indulgence. It’s an apt time to seek out one of the best, beefiest versions in town at Owen & Engine. The Logan Square restaurant features a deceptively simple version that’s pure succulent beef, served on house-baked potato bap with nothing but a few caramelized onions for a pinch of sweetness. The spotlight is clearly on the thick patty, which is so tender and juicy that it’s practically tartare.

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One definitive way to raise the stakes on fried chicken is by slathering it with butter. The aptly dubbed Honey Butter Fried Chicken does just that, breaking resolutions with a menu full of fried chicken, corn muffins, pimento mac & cheese, sandwiches and chocolate-toffee-cocoa nib cookies. It’s a veritable wonderland of excess, and there’s no better way to begin 2017.

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Another surefire way to boost fried chicken’s innate decadence? Pair it with doughnuts. You can do so by visiting the Streeterville outpost of Do-Rite Donuts. Here, they take those crowd-pleasing doughnuts to the next level by outfitting their menu with fried chicken sandwiches. If you’re really feeling saucy, you can even get a fried chicken sandwich served on a sliced glazed doughnut.

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Breaking New Year’s Resolutions One could be more hearty and comforting than a good steakhouse? How about a steakhouse that serves beignets? And how about one where those beignets are studded with beef? Savory short rib beignets are a standout starter at Boeufhaus, one of the more innovative and interesting steakhouses in Chicago. The savory little fried pillows are served with natural jus for dipping.

Keep Warm With Chicago’s Best Soups

January is an apt time to cozy up to some of Chicago’s finest soups.

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Chicago's Best Soups (XOCO)

Chicago’s Best Soups (XOCO)

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With the holidays in the past, it’s time to focus on healthful choices while simultaneously seeking out warming comfort foods to combat the January temperatures. Fortunately, that’s what soup is for. With January also being National Soup Month, it’s prime time to get your slurp on in Chicago.

Chicago’s Best Soups

When it comes to that perfect bowl of soup, it’s hard to top the almighty matzoh ball. At once enriching and comforting, this Jewish deli classic is perfected at Eleven City Diner. This modern, slick ode to Jewish diners of Americana yore does matzoh ball soup, swimming in aromatic chicken broth, better than pretty much anyone, especially considering the recipe has been handed down through the owner’s family, and his mother has even been known to get in the kitchen and roll matzoh herself.

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OK, so creamy clam chowder may not be exactly healthy like other brothy soups, but it still qualifies for National Soup Month, regardless of how indulgent it is. Be sure and try the version at New England Seafood Company. The Roscoe Village fish market and eatery does classic New England seafood right, especially apparent in their masterful clam chowder. Other stellar soup options here include lobster bisque and cioppino.

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For those who resolved to keep things healthy, at least for the time being, Heartland Cafe has something that is equal parts hearty, comforting, and healthy: buffalo chili. The restaurant prides itself on responsibly sourced, healthier alternatives to gluttonous comfort foods, offering more nutritious renditions of things like chili, burgers, and chips. By eschewing beef for buffalo, the restaurant automatically reduces fat without sacrificing flavor. Each bowl of buffalo chili is positively brimming with beefy flavor, minus any of the innate, binge-y side effects that come with beef. There’s also a bean-filled vegetarian chili for those who’d like to take it a step further.

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The caldos at XOCO, Rick Bayless’ casual homage to Mexican street food, are more like elaborate deconstructed meals than your standard bill of bowl fare. You can’t go wrong with any of the bracing options here, especially the short rib-red chile version or the succulent carnitas with potato-masa dumplings.

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7 Restaurants For Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

7 Restaurants For Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions in Chicago

Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions in Chicago @ Bad Hunter

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions in Chicago @ Bad Hunter

New Year’s Resolutions in Chicago

It’s that time of year again, when resolutions mean people start flocking to gyms and replace their eggnog with salad. But resolving to eat healthier doesn’t automatically mean bland flavor and depressing food. Chicago’s dynamic dining scene is filled with delicious restaurants and cafes that just so happen to offer healthy alternatives aplenty. Here’s where to eat and drink with resolutions in mind:

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http://www.diningchicago.com/articles/2016/12/31/7-restaurants-for-keeping-your-new-years-resolutions-in-chicago

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One of the hottest openings of 2016 is also one of the best places to keep vegetables at the center of your plate as you cling to your New Year’s resolutions. I’m talking about Bad Hunter, the West Loop newcomer with a mission to put produce front-and-center. It’s not meat-free, by any means, but rather uses meat as an accent on occasion, preferring to keep fruits and vegetables as the focal point in innovative new ways. Considering how unique and exciting the menus are here, it’ll be all too easy to maintain your resolution with dishes like roasted turnips with shoyu butter, maitake mushrooms a la plancha and sturgeon skewers with grilled little gem lettuce. Even the desserts put vegetables first, like a red curry squash tart with coconut cream and a sunchoke cake with poached pears and hazelnut anglaise.

Owen + Alchemy is the ultimate place for maintaining resolutions deliciously. The juice bar and vegetarian haven in Logan Square features an alluring variety of fresh juices, smoothies, salads and vibrant bowls bursting with fruit, cashew milk, seeds and more. The handiwork of Anne Owen, O+A will have you forgetting all about pie with their cayenne-spiced apple juice and their luscious blueberry juice with basil.

With a name like Little Beet Table, one can safely expect that vegetables take the spotlight at this Gold Coast newcomer. And indeed they do, in delicious ways. Like sweet pea guacamole, cauliflower hummus and charred broccoli with spicy carrot remoulade and carrot chips. There are beef and chicken dishes among the entrees, but they’re sourced responsibly and prepared in as wholesome a manner as possible, like a grass-fed beef burger or an herb-roasted chicken with honey-glazed carrots and yogurt ranch.

A restaurant modeled after southern California clearly has healthier tendencies. At Lincoln Park’s Summer House Santa Monica, the beachy restaurant feels like an authentic West Coast vacation, complete with pristine, fresh food that the Golden State is known for, from ahi tuna tostadas and hamachi tartare to fresh Burrata, slow-poached scallops, grilled Atlantic salmon, vegetable tacos and much more.

Another place offering a neoteric take on wholesome dining is Beatrix. All day long, the River North restaurant offers a cornucopia of internationally inspired dishes and drinks, ranging from over-the-top indulgent to mercifully nutritious, so there’s something for everyone (and every resolution). Fresh juices are a great option for kickstarting your menu, along with ten-grain oatmeal and shakshouka, a Middle Eastern dish consisting of spicy tomato sauce, poached eggs, kale, feta and warm naan. Lunch offers some of the best salads in town, turkey-sweet potato-greens “neatloaf” and a mushroom and quinoa burger. For dinner, cleaner options include the chili- and chocolate-glazed salmon or the wild mushroom braise, a plate of four different kinds of hearty mushrooms with cauliflower mash.

Chicago’s first batch of Lyfe Kitchens are alive and kicking, all rife with nutritious fare. Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are huge here throughout the day, and each item comes with calorie and sodium information, so customers know exactly what they’re getting into. Start your day with the morning tofu wrap or the farmers’ market egg white frittata, and later in the day move on to edamame hummus, kale Caesar salad, veggie burgers and quinoa crunch wraps. To drink, Lyfe Kitchen has a bevy of refreshing waters in flavors such as hibiscus-beet, ginger-mint-chia and cucumber-mint.

Rogers Park’s legendary Heartland Cafe has long been a Mecca of wholesome food on the far north side, renowned for its vegetarian dishes and cleaner substitutes for comfort foods such as burgers, sandwiches, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. All the comfort is there, just better for you. Heartland Cafe’s dishes include fritters smothered in vegan gravy, vegan buckwheat pancakes, pumpkin seed- and sunflower seed-flecked porridge, buffalo chili, vegan seitan French dip, turkey meatloaf, maple-glazed tofu and lots more. And even the mashed potatoes are healthier, made with mashed root vegetables instead of straight-up spuds.

New Year’s Eve Dining and Drinking Guide 2016

Where to get your bubbly on in Chicago for New Year’s Eve.

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New Year’s Eve is not only one of the craziest holidays of the year, right up there with St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, but it’s one of the most popular nights for dining and drinking, usually with reckless abandon. Celebrators are out in full-force this year, looking to end 2016 on a high note and beckon the new year in the best way possible. Here’s where to make that happen in Chicago this year:

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New Year's Eve Dining @ The Kitchen

New Year’s Eve Dining @ The Kitchen

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The Kitchen Bistro: Dishes are impressively fresh and elegant at The Kitchen Bistro, which is cooking up a four-course prix fixe for the occasion. Guests can to choose items for each course, including smoked sturgeon, roasted hazelnut salad, scallops, housemade chittara, roasted squash risotto, snapper or beef tenderloin. Chocolate mousse and honey chiffon cake are the dessert selections. Reservations are available between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. for $65 or between 7:15 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. for $75. Wine pairings are an additional $45.

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tesori: It’s nice to have a New Year’s Eve celebration downtown that won’t completely break the bank. Hence, tesori. The venerable Italian restaurant is featuring an affordable prix fixe by chef Carlos Ysaguirre for $65 per person. It all starts with a glass of Prosecco for guests upon arrival, followed by dishes like salumi and frittata, roast suckling pig with herb gnocchi, choice between chestnut Parmigiano polenta and pancetta-braised winter greens and for dessert, chocolate-chestnut cake. A wine package is available for another $35 per person.

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Bernie’s Lunch & Supper: This River North spot is keeping things refreshingly concise and low-cost for New Year’s Eve, with a 12-item a la carte menu by chef Ryan Sand. Options include lobster lasagna, foraged mushroom risotto with Parmesan-truffle mousse, double-cut wood-roasted pork chop and 36-hour short ribs with crispy sweet potatoes and five-spice bordelaise.

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New Year's Eve Dining @ Honey's

New Year’s Eve Dining @ Honey’s

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New Year’s Eve Dining

Ema: New Year’s Eve in Chicago adopts a Mediterranean accent at Ema, where acclaimed chef CJ Jacobson is featuring a four-course tasting for the holiday. Items include winter squash risotto with spicy hummus, veal short ribs with chickpea and pumpkin tagine, diver scallops and stracciatella with charred Spanish chorizo. The cost is $85 per person, which includes a Champagne toast at midnight and party favors for the celebration. Reservations are recommended

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Acadia: One of the funnest themes for the holiday this year can be found at Acadia, where the five-year old South Loop restaurant is featuring an event inspired by Cirque de Soleil’s “Earth and Ocean.” Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the dinner portion of the party consists of a six-courser for $175 or an eight-courser at 9:00 p.m. for $275. The real revelry begins at 11:30 p.m., when the doors to the after-party open and feature lavish additions like a 20-piece marching bands, a three-tiered stage and contortionists. Attendees to the party will have access to cocktails, Champagne, beer and a food buffet, all for just $50 per person ($25 for members of the restaurant industry).

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Honey’s: This West Loop newcomer is celebrating its first New Year’s in style, with a six-course tasting menu by executive chef/partner Charles Welch. Considering Honey’s was one of the most acclaimed restaurants to open this year, it’s certain to be a fitting and delicious finale for 2016. Dishes in the main dining room include lobster terrine, foie gras torchon, cotechino tortellini, turbot a la blanquette, seared and braised lamb and smoked black tea cake with ganache, black sesame tuile and coconut. The menu costs $125 per person, plus $85 for optional wine pairings. From 10:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m., the bar area will feature a $100/person beverage package of two cocktails, Champagne, beers and a well open bar New Year’s Eve Dining

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312 Chicago: With vegetable, fish and meat options for each of the four courses on New Year’s Eve, 312 Chicago is the ultimate crowd-pleaser for just about everyone. Chef Luca Corazzina is featuring his “Menu di Capo D’Anno,” a prix fixe that includes options like spinach souffle, jumbo lump crab meat ravioli,  and roasted herb-crusted rack of lamb. The cost is $75 per person, plus $35 for optional wine pairings.

Where to Eat on New Year’s Day in Chicago

Nothing like a pajama brunch to cure a Champagne hangover.

New Year’s Day in Chicago

New Year's Day in Chicago @ Bar Pastoral

New Year’s Day in Chicago @ Bar Pastoral

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Bar Pastoral: Few things are better than a good hash when it comes to, umm, hashing out your hangover. At Bar Pastoral, they’ve got just the ticket with their “Disco Brunch” on New Year’s Day. The star of the show is their customizable hash, wherein guests get to build-their-own hash, which comes with scones and coffee. And since this is disco brunch, expect funky tunes all morning long too.

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New Year’s Day in Chicago at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!: For the 11th time, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! is featuring its famed pajama brunch, encouraging patrons to attend in their comfiest attire. From 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., the Spanish classic features a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar along with a myriad of sweet and savory brunch tapas. For those who dine in pajamas, they’ll receive a gift certificate equal to the price of their meal for a future visit.

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Frontier: Nothing satisfies a New Year’s hangover quite like a boozy brunch. Frontier understands this perfectly, and the West Town restaurant and bar is celebrating appropriately with drink specials like Champagne Jell-O shots, bellinis and flavored mimosas. Brunch will be served from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. and reservations can be made by calling the restaurant. At noon, the Four Star Brass Band will kick in with entertainment.

Appellation: Fried chicken and Champagne go together like peanut butter and jelly, especially on the morning of New Year’s Day. Appellation knows this, and they’re hosting an aptly themed brunch to mark the occasion. For $22 per person, guests get to indulge in a family-style feast of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread, of course with an abundance of Champagne to wash it all down.

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Stella Barra Pizzeria: Here’s another pajama brunch to add to your radar. The casual, comfort food affair runs from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. and includes endless warm brioche cinnamon rolls, egg enchiladas, and more. Again, for those who dine in pajamas, they’ll receive a gift certificate equal to the value of their meal.

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Cantina Laredo: Huevos rancheros and Mexican brandy butter sound like great ways to kick off 2017. You can do so at Cantina Laredo, which is celebrating New Year’s Day with a Mexican brunch from 11:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., featuring dishes like chicken fajita omelettes, French toast with that brandy butter, chilaquiles, asada y huevos (steak and eggs) and more. All entrees come with a complimentary mimosa, Bloody Maria or non-alcoholic drink.

Best Restaurant Openings of 2016

Best Restaurant Openings of 2016: A Month-by-Month Guide

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Best Restaurant Openings of 2016 (Naoki)

Best Restaurant Openings of 2016 (Naoki)

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January: In regards to rolled foods, 2016 started off on a high note thanks to the month’s biggest openings. Half Acre Taproom added to its portfolio of crowd-pleasing beers by bringing on chef Nick LaCasse to spearhead a burrito-centric kitchen menu (formerly, Half Acre was BYOFood). Far from your typical burritos, these are some novel creations too, like a chicken noodle burrito for example.

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Towards the end of the month, Chicago welcomed one of the best new sushi restaurants in years. Naoki debuted behind Intro in Lincoln Park, hidden away through the kitchen. It’s a fun, clandestine dining experience, and eating here feels like being part of a secret sushi club or something. It’s worth seeking out, because this is some of the freshest fish you’ll find in town, diligently prepared, sliced and beautifully presented as nigiri, sashimi and maki. They’ve also got some interesting menu originals, like edamame guacamole and a miso Old Fashioned cocktail.

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February: Right before 2016 amped up with an onslaught of huge openings, we eased in with a couple comforting new entries in February. 3 Greens Market marked the latest from powerhouse restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff, bringing together a hit list of favorite dishes from some of his other concepts, plus a killer salad bar setup during the day. The space itself is comfortable, relaxing and stylish, a great environment in which to enjoy Doughnut Vault donuts, Small Cheval burgers or pastrami sandwiches from his bygone and beloved Dillman’s

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After ravishing diners and drinkers in 2015, GreenRiver decided to expand their repertoire with a new cocktail bar tucked away on the same floor of their Streeterville high rise. Called Annex, it’s a much more concise and cozy space than the sprawling GreenRiver on the other side of the floor. Here, the focus is on a seasonally changing cocktail list, featuring drinks printed on cards arranged in boxes instead of typical menus. The cocktails are extremely intricate and impressive too.

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March: This is the month where everything exploded. Some of the year’s most anticipated openings took place in March, including Stephanie Izard’s hotly anticipated Chinese restaurant, Duck Duck Goat. It’s still one of the hottest tickets in town, all these months later, with diners lining up and filling reservation lines for the chef’s innovative, playful take on traditional Chinese fare.

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Elsewhere in the West Loop, Oriole opened and would go on to become one of the year’s best and most well-received new restaurants. The fine dining endeavor from Noah and Cara Sandoval and Genie Kwon adopts a comfortable approach to the form, beckoning guests in through an unmarked door on a quiet street, then through an elevator shaft into a homey, lofty dining room. The wide open kitchen reveals chefs dutifully plating and perfecting technique, churning out dish after show-stopping dish.

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This was also the month that MONEYGUN opened abruptly, incidentally in the same building as Oriole. The bar took a refreshing approach, focused on a bevy of classic cocktails without any pretense. The space is fun, dark and lively, and the lineup of cocktails are all executed perfectly.

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Elsewhere in Chicago, il Porcellino brought a fresh, dynamic take on Italian cuisine to River North, featuring an impressive cocktail program, a roving dessert cart, addictive stuffed mushrooms and garlic bread, and a fun ambience reminiscent of the Rat Pack-era.

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Then there’s The Northman, the looooooong anticipated cider pub in North Center. When it finally opened, it became Chicago’s first cider bar, complete with a hugely extensive drink list and cider-friendly food that bounced all over the map from ploughman’s platters and patty melts to escargots.

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Roister

Roister

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April: Roister was such a big opening that it dominated the month of April all by itself. The latest venture from the Alinea Group marked their most casual effort to date, offering a fun, lighthearted dining space with unabashedly loud music to counter the precision coming out of the open kitchen. “Casual” by Roister standards isn’t probably the casual most people are used to, though. Here, that means hearth-baked lasagne with tomato gravy, maple-poached salmon and a dessert of foie gras with black walnuts, pretzel and marshmallow. The dishes Roister quickly became best known for were their chicken offerings, which at dinner means a platter of whole chicken served braised, poached, fried and accented with chamomile. At lunch, that means a fried chicken sandwich with sunchoke hot sauce and chamomile mayo.

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In Bridgeport, longstanding staple Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar converted its adjoining space into a new restaurant; one that would turn out to be one of the more unique additions to Chicago’s dining scene this year. Kimski is a fusion of Polish and Korean flavors, represented through sausages, dumplings, poutine and more. The dining room is super cool too, accessed through Maria’s. It feels like a sprawling, artsy garage space, outfitted with a long bar and modular booths and tables.

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May: The biggest arrivals of the month, though, came from Rick Bayless. The acclaimed chef doubled down with two additions to Restaurant Row, Cruz Blanca and Leña Brava. The former is a nano-brewery focused on Mexican-style beers, complete with a small bar for margaritas and the like, and a taqueria kitchen for customizable taco platters. Right next door is Leña Brava, the more upscale of the two. Here, the focus is on Baja-style seafood, and lots of it. From whole fish to “Mexican-style sushi,” the menu is impressive, complimented by a mezcal-heavy beverage program.

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June: This was a huge month for the Loop. Gone are the days when the downtown neighborhood was regarded as a ghost town after work hours, thanks to an onslaught of hot new additions this year. This includes the glorious LondonHouse hotel, likely the biggest hotel opening of the year, outfitted with the hottest rooftop bar of the year. Dubbed LH, the rooftop area on the 23rd floor features some incredible views of the skyline and the Chicago River, easily earning the prize as the most Instagrammed destination of the summer. The bar program is quite impressive too, featuring drinks like a bottled cocktail containing Scotch, white wine and edible charcoal.

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Elsewhere in the Loop, The Dearborn became an instant crowd-pleasing hit. Situated centrally in the Block 37 building and right in the heart of the Theatre District and shopping districts, the restaurant smartly features a mix of Midwestern classics and contemporary twists. Guests can get a perfect plate of fish & chips, or they can opt for something more distinct, like beef tongue carpaccio.

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AceBounce was another fun Loop addition. Courtesy of a company called Bounce from London, the subterranean space is part ping pong club, part bar and part restaurant, with talented chef Rick Gresh manning the menus. The space is super cool and stylish, especially when the lights go down to reveal a colorful cornucopia of graffiti-style neon art all over the ceilings and walls.

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London House

London House

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July: Inevitably, Logan Square was due for its own month to explode with big arrivals. July was that month, starting with one of the biggest openings of the year: Giant. The modestly sized restaurant is from Jason Vincent of Nightwood fame, featuring a new take on modern Midwestern cuisine. It’s refreshingly simple and deeply delicious, with dishes that don’t take themselves too seriously but still exhibit a serious commitment to craft and technique (for instance, gourmet “waffle fries” with crab salad).

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In bar news, one of the biggest bar groups in Chicago expanded in the neighborhood with Estereo. Courtesy of Heisler Hospitality, the lush corner bar features Latin-style drinks in a cool, tropical space.

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Another big addition for Logan Square this month came courtesy of the folks behind Fat Rice, easily one of the neighborhood’s most popular restaurants. They essentially took over their entire block by expanding down the street with a bakery and a clandestine cocktail bar. The former, aptly dubbed The Bakery at Fat Rice, features playful Chinese- and Portuguese-style pastries and buns, like a Mai Tai bun flavored like the cocktail, and a Chicago-style hot dog bun. Just past the bakery, available via reservation-only, is The Ladies’ Room, a hidden cocktail lounge with only a few seats and some of the most creative cocktails currently being served in Chicago. Everything from housemade Malort to housemade “Dr. Pepper” lend themselves to libations here, in a crimson-hued space that feels like being transported to a secret Chinese drinking den.

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Best Restaurant Openings of 2016

August: In August, attention shifted back to the Loop, with some big openings happening a couple blocks apart from one another in the Financial District. There’s Revival Food Hall, which would quickly go on to become the best food hall this city has ever seen, stocked with a who’s-who of local restaurateurs and vendors like Antique Taco, Furious Spoon, Black Dog Gelato and Smoque BBQ, to name a few. It’s rightfully packed to the gills during the week especially, as Loop lunch-goers fill out the space and line up for food and drinks.

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Just around the corner, the Kimpton hotels brand expanded their local footprint with the Gray hotel. Housed in a historic building, the gorgeous, elegant property features a lavish rooftop restaurant called Boleo and a chic lobby bar called Vol. 39. Upstairs, the focus is on Latin American cuisine, with dishes as flavorful as they are colorful. It’s also got a stellar beverage program, with plenty of options both contemporary and classic. Downstairs on the second floor is Vol. 39, a space that resembles a library parlor from the board game Clue. It’s a dream lobby bar, with a deep drink list of martinis, Old Fashioneds, and lots more, plus caviar, deviled eggs, and dessert carts.

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September: Things got meaty in September, with the opening of one of the hottest restaurants of the year and the expansion of one of Chicago’s most beloved bar/restaurants. GT Prime was met with deserved fanfare for its novel approach to steakhouse cuisine, offering portions of beef by the ounce to encourage sharing and sampling of different styles. The rest of the menu is true to form for Giuseppe Tentori, one of the most inventive and talented chefs in town. Whether it’s duck or gnocchi or tartare, he manages to infuse any dish—classic or otherwise—with his own distinct style. The River North restaurant also happens to be strikingly gorgeous, shrouded in dark hues and a fairy tale forest vibe.

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Then there’s Bangers & Lace, which expanded its local presence to Roscoe Village for their latest (and most ambitious) location to date. The location feels like a cozy woodland lodge, outfitted with the brand’s signature taxidermy touches and lots of wood accents. There’s craft beer aplenty of course, along with some tasty cocktails. The food program is really special too. Along with several sausages and sausage-infused dishes, the Roscoe Village outpost features a full-fledged baking and pastry program, so expect to see (and taste) lots of unique buns, breads and baked sweets.

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October: This was a month of opposites, as two of the biggest openings focused on vegetables and steak. First was Bad Hunter, the latest beautiful addition to Restaurant Row from the minds at Heisler Hospitality. The vegetable-driven restaurant puts produce front-and-center, using meat as an accent (if at all). The result is a wholly unique dining experience with some of the prettiest food to hit Chicago all year.

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Best Restaurant Openings of 2016

Up in Lincoln Square, however, things were notably meatier. Knife became the latest steakhouse to open in Chicago, from the folks behind nearby Fork restaurant. They adopted a casual, neighborhood-oriented approach to the steakhouse template, outfitting their restaurant with comfortable, welcoming fixtures and filling their menu with contemporary versions of classic items like shrimp de Jonghe and wedge salads.

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Baptiste & Bottle

Baptiste & Bottle

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November: Revered restaurateurs added to their portfolios this month in two very different ways. First came The Barn, a meat-focused homage in Evanston from Amy Morton of the Morton’s The Steakhouse family. While her other Evanston restaurant, Found, features shareable plates and a more eclectic approach, The Barn is unabashedly beefy, tucked away in a clandestine locale that once housed an actual barn. Nicole Pederson does double duty as chef at both restaurants.

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December: In downtown Chicago, world-renowned chef Richard Sandoval expanded his footprint locally with his crown jewel restaurant in the brand new Conrad Chicago Hotel off Michigan Avenue. Dubbed Baptiste & Bottle, the restaurant on the 20th floor of the hotel is an ode to all things whiskey and bourbon, decked out like a glamorous modern saloon. There’s fancy table side cocktails and even whiskey lockers for guests who would like to purchase full bottles and store them on-site for return visits. The food is designed to match the beverage program, featuring a diverse contemporary menu of seasonal ingredients and stylings.

Eat and Drink Gingerbread in Chicago

Eat and Drink Gingerbread

One of the most iconic Christmastime flavors, gingerbread, is in abundance all over Chicago this year.

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Eat and Drink Gingerbread @ Belly Up

Eat and Drink Gingerbread @ Belly Up

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Belly Up Smokehouse & Saloon: Another spot where you can drink your gingerbread, Belly Up Smokehouse & Saloon gives the festive dessert the martini treatment by blending Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur with Baileys and butterscotch schnapps. It’s all poured over caramel and the glass is lined with cinnamon.

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Baker & Nosh: It’s raining gingerbread at this beloved Uptown bakery and cafe. Mini gingerbread cakes make for a great holiday gift to take to parties, as they come wrapped and tied with a bow. And don’t forget the gingerbread cookies, sold three for $2.

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Eat and Drink Gingerbread @ Foodlife

Eat and Drink Gingerbread @ Foodlife

Foodlife: Even though you’re not allowed to eat this one, it’s certainly worth mentioning that Foodlife has put together an entire Santa’s Gingerbread Village for the season, made entirely of gingerbread and frosting. Smaller gingerbread houses are available for purchase, or you can just gawk at the display at Foodlife. There’s also another gingerbread version of the Chicago skyline in the Foodease Market, too.

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Public House: Earlier this year, we raved and swooned over the new cake shakes at Public House. Well, they just outdid themselves with their latest holiday-inspired innovation, the gingerbread cake shake. The drink/dessert is made with ginger beer, vanilla ice cream and topped with a whole slice of gingerbread cake. The outside of the glass is adorned with whipped cream and gingersnap crumbles too. And in case that wasn’t ample enough, each shake comes with two gingerbread cookie men.

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North Pond: A far cry from your average gingerbread fare, North Pond has an elevated version that pairs the spice cake with squash and coffee. The dessert consists of a Japanese squash chibouste and kabocha squash brulee, along with ginger spice cake, coffee ice cream, delicata squash pepita brittle and lime.

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Eat and Drink Gingerbread @ Vanille

Eat and Drink Gingerbread @ Vanille

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Gingerbread is one of the utmost harbingers of the holiday season, permeating menus in everything from cocktails and pancakes, to (of course) desserts. In honor of the merry season, here’s your gingerbread dining and drinking guide for Chicago restaurants, bars and bakeries.

Christmas Dining Guide 2016

Christmas Dining Guide 2016

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Christmas Dining Guide @ Slippery Slope

Christmas Dining Guide @ Slippery Slope

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It’s that time of year again; time to make Christmas dining reservations so you don’t burn dinner and/or have a stress-induced meltdown at home! Fortunately, restaurants all over Chicago are offering unique, delicious Christmas (and Christmas Eve!) specials and menus to keep you well-fed on the holiday.

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Honey Butter Fried Chicken: One of our favorite things about Christmas is the omnipresence of Chinese food as an alternative to the usual spread of roast poultry and pies. What began as a holiday escape in Jewish culture has become a casual, comforting option for anyone looking for something different on Christmas. This year, Honey Butter Fried Chicken answers the call with an American-Chinese Christmas takeover running the month of December. This means specials like orange chicken sandwiches, Sichuan wings, sesame lo mein noodles, General Jason’s spicy pickles and five-spice cherry dump cake with wonton crumble are all on deck.

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Slippery Slope: Another fun Chinese food option can be had at Slippery Slope, which is hosting its “Misfits Christmas” on December 25 with a Chinese takeout buffet, drinks aplenty and festive decorations throughout the whole space. Be there anytime between 7:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.

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Christmas Dining Guide 2016, Roka Akor: ’Twas the night before Christmas and Roka Akor was serving a four-course tasting menu that’s sure to get you in the merry spirit. On Christmas Eve, the River North steakhouse puts a Japanese twist on holiday traditions with dishes like robata-grilled braised short ribs with heirloom carrots and pumpkin cheesecake with coffee gelee. The special menu will be available from 5:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m. and costs $85 per person. Wine pairings are available for an additional $55. Reservations can be made by calling the restaurant or visiting their website.

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Travelle Kitchen + Bar: Instead of filling up on stocking candy for breakfast on Christmas morning, head to Travelle Kitchen + Bar for a hearty and wholesome holiday brunch buffet. The River North restaurant will be featuring a spread of holiday-inspired dishes, like eggnog brioche French toast, omelettes, a carving station, eggs Benedict and lots more. It’s available from 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and costs $145 per person.

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Tortoise Club: Nothing captures the Christmas tradition quite like a classic prime rib dinner. Tortoise Club achieves those comfort food dreams with a prime rib special on Christmas Eve, served with rosemary frites, horseradish cream and rosemary jus. The supper club-style restaurant will also be featuring some seafood specials as well.

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Cochon Volant: Cozy up to this Loop brasserie on Christmas day for a multi-course family-style feast for dinner. The special menu skews hearty and indulgent, with all-American staples like creamed spinach, shrimp cocktail, mashed potatoes, baked Brussels sprouts, aged rib-eye prime rib and a selection of desserts. The cost is $85 per person and $35 for kids 12 and younger. Reservations are available between 5:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. and can be made by calling Cochon Volant.

The Dark Horse Tap & Grill opens at 3 p.m. on Saturday, December 24 and offers a lineup of seasonal drafts such as Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Bell’s Winter White Ale and New Belgium Accumulation White IPA ($6-$7 each). The full American menu will be available from 3-11 p.m., and Christmas specials include a Paulina Meat Market Holiday Sausage (turkey, cranberries, cornbread stuffing, Cajun spices) served on a brioche roll with turkey gravy, savory stuffing and cranberry sauce ($12).

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Delightful Pastries
Let Delightful Pastries (Jefferson Park, Chicago French Market) accent your holiday meal! Known for their outstanding baked goods and sweets, Delightful Pastries will offer an array of seasonal catering options such as Buche de Noel, a French yule log made out of genoise, filled with chocolate ganache and decorated with marzipan mushrooms and holly berries ($40); Traditional German Stollen, with candied orange peel, raisins, almonds and filled with marzipan ($20); Royal Gingerbread, filled with hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, raisins and candied orange peel and dipped in chocolate ($15); and Butter Cookie Christmas Tree, butter cookies filled with apricot preserves and decorated with royal icing and holiday sugar ornaments ($35).Savory dishes are an excellent accompaniment to the main course or served as an appetizer. Some of Delightful Pastries’ stand-out dishes include Red Borscht ($8/quart) & Mushroom Turnovers, filled with sautéed mushrooms in a puff pastry ($14/dozen); and Meat Pie, filled with pork and ham and wrapped in bacon ($40).
Additional items include the vegan Holiday Bread ($10), loaded with pecans, cherries, raisins, cranberries, candied orange peel and currants and the vegan Pecan Cranberry Sourdough ($6), a hearty option made with cranberries and chopped pecans. Rum Eggnog ($15.99) is sure to be a hit and small or large trays of mini pastries, brownies or assorted cookies are available as well.

To order, call one of the Delightful Pastries locations by Tuesday, December 20 (Chicago French Market, 312.234.9644 or Jefferson Park, 773.545.7215).

Harvest at Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
Located directly on the Magnificent Mile, Harvest at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile (540 N Michigan Ave.) will offer a festive and delicious feast. The all-you-can-eat buffet will feature a carving station of Slow-Roasted Prime Rib and House-Smoked Ham with au jus and smoked apple butter. A cold buffet will include a Kale Caesar Salad, assorted Local Cheeses and Housemade Charcuterie and Shrimp Cocktail. The hot buffet will feature dishes such as Celery Root and Apple Soup, Housemade Sausage and Sage Cornbread Stuffing, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Michigan Apples and Bacon and Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes. The dessert table will include an assortment of Pecan Tarts, Eggnog Mousse Cups, Red Velvet Cake and more.

The menu will be offered on Christmas from noon to 10 p.m. Cost is $40 per adult and $20 per child under 10 years of age (exclusive of tax and gratuity). Reservations are recommended and may be made by calling 312.836.6334.

Smoke Daddy Will Smoke Your Bird
Smoke Daddy (1804 W Division St.) in Wicker Park will offer a delicious Christmas catering menu. The BBQ restaurant will offer House-Smoked Whole Turkey (11 lb., $65; 20 lb., $90), Pulled Whole Turkey (1 lb., $16) and Glazed Ham, a partial bone-in, smoked ham with a sweet mojo glaze (9 lb., $69). Sides such as Cornbread Stuffing with sausage and spices ($10 per quart); Brussels Sprouts, oven-roasted with a lemon butter sauce ($10 per quart); and Garlic Mashed Potatoes ($10 per quart) and desserts like Sweet Potato Pie ($22) and Pecan Pie ($24) round out the menu. In addition, guests may pick-up bottles of wine ($12-$15) and the fixings for a Bloody Mary Bar ($140 for 20 beverages) and/or Mimosa Bar ($100 for 12 beverages).

Pick-up and delivery orders must be made by noon on Monday, December 19. Items will be picked-up cold with re-heating instructions on Thursday, December 22 and Friday, December 23. Guests may place their order online at www.thesmokedaddy.com.
 

Weekly Planner: Crepes Sunday Supper, Cider Class, Late Night Munchies

Crepes Sunday Supper, Cider Class, Late Night Munchies and More

Crepes Sunday Supper

Crepes Sunday Supper

Crepes Sunday Supper

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Crepes Sunday Supper at Floriole Cafe & Bakery

Sunday supper is back at Floriole Cafe & Bakery, and this time it’s got a delicious crepe theme. Featured in both savory and sweet varieties, crepes take the stage on December 18 at 6:30 p.m. The casual two-course affair is inspired by chef/owner Sandra Holl’s recent trip to Paris, featuring a main course of house-milled buckwheat galette filled with caramelized onions, raclette cheese and Smoking Goose ham. For dessert, it’s a sweet crepe filled with quince butter, honey ice cream and almonds. The cost is $25 per person, which also includes hard cider.

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Aperitivo Hour at Animale

The latest happy hour option in town comes by way of Bucktown’s new Italian novelty, Animale. The weekday Aperitivo Hour, which runs from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. and features complimentary snacks for imbibers. Drink options include wine, beer or classic Italian cocktails like Spritzes and Negronis, all accompanied by gratis items like puttanesca tuna salad, crayfish potato croquettes, meatballs and shots of daily soup.

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Krug & Oysters Specials at Brindille

If you’re feeling particularly lavish this holiday season, Brindille is the place for you. The River North gem is newly offering some Krug and oysters specials, pairing the ritziest bubbly with pristine shellfish. Go for a glass of “Special Cuvee” Brut and two oysters for $50, or go big with half a bottle and four oysters for $100. Oyster options include Caraquet oysters from New Brunswick Island with eggs Brouilles, leeks in cream, Pernod and caviar; and French Kiss oysters chilled with sea ice and Kölsch sorbet and served with smoked arctic char roe.

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Order Delivery from Aloha Poke Co.

With the weather beginning to get unbearable, there’s no better time to refine your restaurant delivery options. One brand new possibility is Aloha Poke Co., the hyper-popular restaurant that brought the poke trend to Chicago and quickly spawned spin-off locations in the Loop and Lakeview. With delivery now available through Cut Cats from the Lakeview location, North Siders are in for a delicious winter. Delivery is available Monday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. with boundaries being Lake Shore Drive to the east, Western Avenue to the west, Montrose Avenue to the north and Division Street to the south.

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