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“After Hours” at The Barn, Mezcal Dinner, Chicago Athletic Association’s Latest Pop-up and More

“After Hours” at The Barn

“After Hours” at The Barn

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“After Hours” at The Barn

Considering its location tucked down an Evanston alley in a former actual barn, The Barn makes for a fitting setting for a speakeasy-style experience. And now the restaurant is embracing that mentality with its new “After Hours” on Saturday nights from 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., wherein The Barn slings late-night snacks and cocktails along with games like cards, backgammon and dice. Apothecary-style drinks created exclusively for After Hours include The Barn Raiser, a blend of bourbon, lime and mint, served in a vintage jar. The restaurant also features its lauded wine list, which makes for snazzy late-night sipping.

The Backroom Pop-up Bar at the Chicago Athletic Association

After amassing acclaim and fanfare for their Cherry Circle Yacht Club pop-up bar last year, the Chicago Athletic Association is at it again, this time bringing on The Field Museum and Johalla Projects art gallery to collaborate with Land and Sea Dept. for a boozy new venture in the hotel’s Tank event space on the ground floor. Called The Backroom, the bar is open Friday and Saturday nights from 5:00 p.m. until midnight through March 25. The theme for the pop-up is “Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life,” hinged on The Field Museum’s upcoming special exhibit. In addition to drinks, the pop-up will feature items from the museum’s collection, for the first time displayed in a location outside museum grounds. Other aspects to look forward to: late-night incentives like DJs, trivia and karaoke, plus on-site museum professionals available to chat about zoology, geology, history and more.

The Barn

 

Mezcal Dinner at Dove’s Luncheonette

Mezcal takes the stage at Dove’s Luncheonette for an upcoming dinner/drinks event on March 14. The smoky agave spirit will be featured in drinks throughout a five-course meal prepared by chefs Dennis Bernard and Eric Weiss, with Eden Laurin manning the cocktails. It’s all in partnership with El Jolgorio, which will also be doling out tastes of its unique mezcals made from different species of wild and semi-wild harvested agave in Oaxaca. The dinner runs from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. and costs $65 per person. For reservations, email kimmy@doveschicago.com.

Brunch at Tesori

There’s a new brunch menu in town, and it’s courtesy of the Loop’s venerable Tesori. Already a beloved spot for pre-theater dining downtown, now the Italian restaurant provides customers with more to love, and more reasons to visit. The handiwork of executive chef Carlos Ysaguirre, the menu fuses Italian classics with contemporary innovations. Dishes to savor include chicken milanese with fontina fonduta and arugula; lemon ricotta crespelle with apples, walnuts and zabaglione; and pane al telefoni with cheesy baked bread, garlic, stracchino and marinara. Brunch is now served Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

 

Celebrate National Noodle Month at These Chicago Steakhouse

Steakhouse: Celebrate National Noodle Month at These Chicago Steakhouse

Steakhouse: March being National Noodle Month, you might think the best means of celebration is with dinner at an Asian restaurant or an Italian red sauce joint. Well, you’d be wrong. While steakhouses are mostly known for their cuts of beef, many of them actually serve up some incredible pasta creations as well. Here’s where to dine around town to satisfy your Noodle Month cravings:

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Steakhouse, Tavern On Rush

Steakhouse, Tavern On Rush

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Tavern on Rush: Steaks, seafood, burgers, and brick-oven pizzas may get top billing at this Gold Coast favorite steakhouse, but don’t overlook the pastas. Available in appetizer or entree portions, the pasta dishes offer a little bit of something for everyone. A proper veal-pork-beef bolognese is served with pappardella, while a stellar seafood medley of mussels, calamari, shrimp, and anchovy-tomato sauce gets tossed with linguini. There’s also cavatappi with buffalo mozzarella and tomato cream vodka sauce, and rigatoni flecked with spicy Italian sausage.

Erie Cafe: This River North standby keeps things simple, classic, and deeply comforting with its concise selection of pasta dishes. To start, there’s an appetizer option of fried ravioli with blue cheese, and a decadent lasagna is available as a weekend special. For entrees, options range from spaghetti with meatballs and linguini in white clam sauce to cheese ravioli with cream vodka sauce and basil-flecked spaghetti with fresh tomatoes.

Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse: The name pretty much says it all Steakhouse! This is the rare restaurant that simultaneously prioritizes and proclaims its penchant for both steaks and pastas. One of the best and most iconic Italian destinations downtown, long before most of this newbie Italian spots started popping up like Whack-a-Moles, Harry Caray’s boasts an enviable and enduring selection of pasta creations. These include rigatoni alla vodka with mascarpone and Parmigiano-Reggiano, fettuccine Alfredo with grilled chicken, bucatini pomodoro with crushed plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, red onions, and basil, seafood fettuccine, and cavatelli with crab and fresh artichoke hearts.

III Forks Prime Steakhouse: It’s a matter of quality over quantity at III Forks Prime Steakhouse, where the abbreviated selection of pasta speaks for itself. An exquisite plate of shrimp and pasta contains a white wine-garlic herb butter, spinach, and bacon lardons, while a simple and fresh plate of vegetable ravioli features roasted mushrooms, fontina, Parmesan, marinara, and walnut pesto. Then there’s the indulgent lobster mac & cheese, one of the most important side dishes on the menu.

Chop Shop: This multi-tiered restaurant, bar, butcher shop, and venue in Bucktown has it all, including a discernible Italian accent that plays into its pivotal pasta creations. There are only a few pasta dishes, but there need not be many when the selections are this strong. Think potato gnocchi with Brussels sprouts, grape tomatoes, garlic cream sauce and pecorino; beef cheek sugo; and pasta with lobster cognac cream sauce.

Petterino’s: This Theatre District destination steakhouse is known as much for its gnocchi as it is for its steaks. The spinach gnocchi with chicken sausage and wild mushrooms is a standout, along with other pasta plates like pappardelle bolognese, baked rigatoni with ricotta and Italian sausage, shrimp diablo, and spaghetti with housemade veal and pork meatballs.

The Southport Corridor is Chicago’s Newest Restaurant Row

Southport Corridor is Chicago’s Newest Restaurant Row. One of the most surprising developments of the past year has been the explosion of activity along the Southport Corridor in West Lakeview. The cute street has long been a Mecca for families and haute shops and cafes, with a few bars thrown in for its proximity to Wrigleyville, but it hasn’t quite been regarded as a prime dining destination until now. Nowadays, Southport Avenue is turning into one of the preeminent “restaurant rows” in Chicago, and here’s why:

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Southport Corridor Brewery

Southport Corridor Brewery

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The biggest piece of the puzzle is pizza. Within the past couple years alone, Southport’s pizza scene has grown exponentially, now featuring a collection of restaurants that offer some of the best pizzas in town. First came Corridor Brewery & Provisions. For their follow-up venture, the folks behind DryHop Brewers ventured deep into a pizza-centric menu with deliciously offbeat thin-crust pies like Spanish chorizo and dates; white clams and bacon; and chorizo and Brussels sprouts. Along with a bevy of other impressive dishes, from duck and winter squash toast to buffalo fried cauliflower, and Corridor’s seasonal craft brews, the restaurant and brewpub is a deserving destination for pretty much any Chicagoan with taste buds.

Just up the street, beloved local pizza institution Coalfire expanded its Chicago footprint by opening its second location on Southport. Larger in size and menu scope than the original Grand Ave. outpost in West Town, the colorful and familial eatery features a miscellany of classic red and white pizzas, like margherita, four-cheese and meatball. But the real bread and butter are the novelties, like a lasagna pizza heaped with Berkshire sausage, sweet red peppers, whipped ricotta, basil and garlic; or a honey and salami version that nails the perfect blend of sweet and savory. They’ve even got a couple vegan pizzas, including one with a pistachio pesto base, spinach, garlic, crimini mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.

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Southport Corridor is Chicago's Newest Restaurant Row

Southport Corridor is Chicago’s Newest Restaurant Row

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Southport has also emerged as a bit of a hotspot for empanadas of all things. More recently, hyper-popular 5411 Empanadas chose Southport for their latest Chicago location, bringing their vivid style and classic-meets-contemporary menu to Lakeview. Favorites include bacon-date-goat cheese empanadas, plus staples like ham & cheese and spinach.

Snaggletooth emerged as one of the biggest casual openings of 2016, featuring a simple and well-honed menu of cured fish, breakfast bialys, whitefish salad, tartines and other fishy fixtures like pastrami trout and tuna confit. The tiny space became a huge hit, located just a bit further south along the Southport strip. For some of the freshest fish, especially for diehards of lox-like creations, Snaggletooth is a Chicago essential.

A surefire harbinger than your neighborhood is getting impossibly hip is the arrival of an impossibly cool Mexican restaurant and bar. Wicker Park has Big Star, the West Loop has Federales and now Southport has Tuco & Blondie. Although more family-friendly than the latter two hot spots, it’s no less of a people-pleaser in regards to its comfort food and zesty libations. Start off with a round of chicharrones, guacamole and “Holy Grail” nachos loaded with beef or chicken before heating things up with fajitas and taco platters brimming with chicken tinga, grilled mahi mahi and al pastor pork. To drink, margaritas get their menu dues in a variety of flavors, including passion fruit and black cherry, plus a mezcal version and a Cadillac made with Don Julio añejo, Grand Marnier, lime and agave.

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Southport Grocery & Cafe

Southport Grocery & Cafe

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This is just the tip of the iceberg for Southport, too. Along with venerable standbys that have been popular for years, like Southport Grocery & Cafe and Tango Sur, the vibrant strip on the western fringe of Lakeview looks like it’s well on its way to cementing itself as one of Chicago’s go-to dining districts.

Two New Restaurant Redesigns You Need to Know About

New Restaurant Redesigns

In wildly different parts of the city, two of Chicago’s most enduring restaurants recently underwent extensive makeovers and emerged with fresh new looks and new menus. In the Art Institute of Chicago, Terzo Piano got a facelift that made the restaurant as gorgeous as the museum’s world-famous artwork, while in West Town, Ruxbin opted for refinement over its timeworn eclectic funk. Here’s everything you need to know about Chicago’s spiffiest redesigned restaurants.

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Restaurant Redesigns @ Terzo Piano

Restaurant Redesigns @ Terzo Piano

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Terzo Piano
Located in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, Tony Mantuano’s Terzo Piano has a lot of expectations to live up to in it’s restaurant redesign. Thanks to a recent revamp from Dirk Denison Architectes, those expectations have been wildly exceeded. The firm served as the restaurant’s original architect, so it only made sense to bring them back for the remodel and help evolve the property. They really went above and beyond, too,…………………

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Restaurant Redesigns @ Ruxbin

Restaurant Redesigns @ Ruxbin

Ruxbin

Restaurant redesign in wildly different parts of the city, two of Chicago’s most enduring restaurants recently underwent extensive makeovers and emerged with fresh new looks and new menus. In the Art Institute of Chicago, Terzo Piano got a facelift that made the restaurant as gorgeous as the museum’s world-famous artwork, while in West Town, Ruxbin opted for refinement over its………………………

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Some of the best restaurant design is intended to go unnoticed. Sure, there will be eye-catching components — a cool mural, a quirky bathroom — but those aren’t as important as the layout, the lighting, the carefully cultivated mood. A well-designed restaurant won’t distract from the food, and especially not from the conversation. Instead, it will subtly contribute to one of those memorable evenings when everything clicks: the meal, the service and the warm vibes.

Architects and designers from six Washington firms that help make such evenings possible spoke with The Washington Post about what inspires them — which in turn might someday inspire home dwellers. Restaurant interiors often contribute to architectural and design trends. Designing for a restaurant, says Michael Francis of Queue Design Agency, is “this great little microcosm of an experience that allows you to experiment on a micro scale.”

The Washington Post

Best Restaurants for Boozy Brunch in Chicago

Best Restaurants for Boozy Brunch in Chicago

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Boozy Brunch? What is brunch without a little booze? And this being winter (albeit a warmer than usual one), a little booze is always a welcome distraction from the season. When it comes to imbibing at brunch, you could stick with the coffee and orange juice route, but the weekend repast is just so much more satisfying with a brunch cocktail or two. From inventive Bloody Marys to coffee-infused cocktails, here are our picks for Chicago’s most essential boozy brunch beverages.

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Boozy Brunch @ The Promontory

Boozy Brunch @ The Promontory

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The Promontory: This sprawling Hyde Park Mecca certainly has a way with warming cocktails. With a whole list of drinks to choose from, running the gamut from beer cocktails to booze coffee, there’s something for everyone (if you’re over 21, that is). Standouts include the Mighty Coffee, a toasty libation infused with rum, creme de banana and a dash of maple whipped cream. Coffee bitters can be found in the Cafe Amore, which also features bourbon, port, Averna and egg white for a light and fluffy texture. For something sweet and dessert-y, try the Orange Meringue. It’s almost like a grown-up Orange Julius, what with its creamy, citrusy blend of vodka, Combier, fresh orange juice, vanilla dn egg white.

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The Gage: It’s all about the classics at The Gage, where a concise lineup of boozy options range from Irish Coffee and mimosas to Bloody Caesars, which consist of vodka, hot sauce, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce. What really sets it apart from a Bloody Mary is the mix of tomato juice and clam juice, lending a pleasant salinity to the drink.

 

Gather: Lincoln Square’s quintessential neighborhood go-to, Gather features lots of beverage choices at brunch. These include lots of playful twists on classic flavors and drinks, like the Brown Derby made with bourbon, grapefruit and honey syrup, the Tangled Up in Blue with gin, sparkling wine, Aperol, lemon and blueberries, and the Sunny Side of the Mountain with rye, Genepy Des Alps liqueur, peach-chamomile syrup, lemon and fresh rosemary.

Dove’s Luncheonette: The entire cocktail menu at Dove’s Luncheonette is a dreamy, inventive, and refreshing twist on the brunch norm. Of the many tempting options, there’s City Snow made with mezcal, egg white, Licor 43, lemon and Mexican chocolate; a paloma-like Topo Pequeño with tequila, grapefruit juice, grenadine, orange bitters and a fizzy splash of Topo Chico; and Diabo Suave with Del Maguey Vida, ginger beer, lime and creme de cassis.

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Flo: “Brunch” and “shots” don’t usually go together, unless you’re a real party animal. But at this Mexican-accented West Town staple, you’d be wise to think twice. The restaurant does a nice “breakfast shot” by mixing house bacon-infused bourbon with butterscotch Schnapps. It’s served with an orange juice chase.

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avec: The brunch cocktail list at avec isn’t long, but the focus here in more on quality over quantity. The Harissa Bloody Mary is a wonderfully spicy riff on the norm, while the Face the Day is great for caffeine fiends, with its mix of cold-brew coffee, dark rum and chocolate bitters.

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Uncommon Ground: Aptly, you can expected a bunch of uncommon brunch libations at Uncommon Ground. Try the Sienna Sunrise, a perky blend of rum, Aperol, orange liqueur and lime. Or The Hayride is especially apropos for winter, made with house-infused spice rum, local apple cider and ginger syrup, served warm in a mug.

 

Weekly Planner: Brunch at Publican Anker, Midday Dining at Animale

Weekly Planner: Brunch at Publican Anker, Midday Dining at Animale, Sunday Lasagna at Roots Handmade Pizza and More.

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Brunch at Publican Anker

Brunch at Publican Anker

Weekly Planner: Brunch at Publican Anker

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Midday Dining at Animale

While one restaurant rolls out brunch, another adds lunch. Bucktown’s beloved Animale has added weekday daytime service to its repertoire, featuring an array of panini, pastas, burgers and other afternoon grub, all with an inventive Italian accent. It’s the same kind of fare popular at dinner, with an emphasis on off-cuts of meat and dishes like cacio e pepe and tartufo burgers. Additionally, Animale has added a bevy of daily specials and promos as well, including BYOB Mondays, all-you-can-eat pasta on Tuesdays, burger bargains on Wednesdays and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar on weekends. The restaurant’s new hours are noon until 10:00 p.m. daily.

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Mucho Chingon at Local Option

Anytime Local Option throws a special beer event, it’s worth noting. Their first of the new year is dubbed “Mucho Chingon,” and it takes place February 3 at noon. That’s when the revered Lincoln Park beer bar will be locked and loaded with rare beers from a variety of breweries. Beer junkies should swing by to check out options like Founders Lizard of Koz, Goose Island Bourbon County Barley Wine 2016, Against The Grain Bo & Luke, Pikeworks Black Tuna, Local Option Bierwerker Dampf Loc, and lots more.

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Founders Tapping at Fountainhead

Another beer event to tack on to your calendar comes courtesy of Fountainhead. The popular Ravenswood restaurant and bar is putting the spotlight on Founders Brewing Co. on Groundhog Day, February 2, from 6:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. During this time, they’ll be featuring a massive roster of Founders beers, available via a vertical of drafts. Beers include the 2013 Old Curmudgeon Old Ale, 2014 Backwoods Bastard BA Scotch Ale, KBS: Kentucky Bourbon Stout, Lizard of Koz BA Imperial Stout and the official release of Frootwood Maple Syrup Bourbon BA Cherry Ale.

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The California Clipper

The California Clipper

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House Turns 20

A Gold Coast legend Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House celebrates a milestone with a throwback.

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Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House Turns 20

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House Turns 20

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Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House Turns 20 this year.

One of the OGs of the Gold Coast’s dining scene, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House is celebrating a particularly commemorative occasion with its 20th anniversary this month. Throwing it back to their opening day in 1997, the steak and seafood hotspot is toasting with a menu inspired by its inaugural year, cake, bubbly and more.

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See Hugo’s Chef Video

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A lot has happened at Hugo’s over the years. The restaurant quickly became a local favorite, spawning three additional locations and raking in over $14 million in sales a year. In 2016, the restaurant served more than 200,000 meals, earning it a spot as one of the 100 Top Grossing Independent Restaurants in America. The esteemed restaurant got even better with its recent appointment of executive chef Russell Kook, an alum of such spots as Chicago Cut and The Florentine.

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20 years after Steve Lombardo and Hugo Ralli followed up Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse with Hugo’s, the boisterous sister spot is celebrating with a week-long spree of festivities and specials starting February 22. To kick things off, the restaurant will feature an anniversary party from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., with passed hors d’oeuvres, glasses of bubbly and birthday cake. Lombardo and Ralli will be in attendance to cut the first slice. The event is free to attend and open to the public. RSVP by emailing pr@h2publicrelations.com.

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Subsequently, Hugo’s will feature a throwback “Then & Now” menu from February 22 through March 1, highlighting some of the restaurant’s most classic dishes and even specially priced to reflect 1997 menus. This will include mussels, frog legs, jumbo lump crab cakes, key lime pie and glasses of Far Niente Napa Chardonnay. As a nice modern juxtaposition, specials for the occasion will also include some brand new creations from Kook, like scallops with cauliflower puree and beet vinaigrette, grilled Spanish octopus and togarashi-crusted tuna steak.

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Happy anniversary to a true Chicago classic — here’s to 20 more!

Cozy Up to Chicago’s Top Fireplace Restaurants

Chicago’s Top Fireplace Restaurants Warm up to these fireside destinations.

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Chicago's Top Fireplace Restaurants @ Broken Shaker

Chicago’s Top Fireplace Restaurants @ Broken Shaker

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Chicago winters can be a brutal time, and such frigid days necessitate the nourishing solace of fireside dining and drinking. Embrace the hearty vibes and fireside delights at one of these cozy Chicago spots.

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III Forks Prime Steakhouse: Chicago’s Top Fireplace Restaurants  If ever there’s a kind of restaurant that feels right at home with a roaring fireplace, it’s a steakhouse. At III Forks Prime Steakhouse, such fireplaces get central placement, prominently displayed in the sprawling restaurant. Thanks to the design and the general coziness of the space, the fireplaces lend a nice ski lodge-type ambience, which is the best you can hope for on winter nights in Chicago.

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Broken Shaker: At the risk of spoiling my cozy little secret, my favorite place to work remotely on my laptop is the fireplace nook in the lobby of the Freehand Hotel. It’s a secretive little area tucked alongside a small set of stairs in the back of Cafe Integral, and most people don’t seem to know it’s there. Along with a fireplace, the little corner also boasts comfy chairs, a small table, and knick knacks indicative of a Latin American cafe. In general, the whole lobby space between Cafe Integral and Broken Shaker is a dark, comfortable cottage-like motif perfect for relaxing with coffee or cocktails.

Hopleaf: When it comes to toasty bar comforts, it doesn’t get any better than Hopleaf. Chicago’s preeminent Belgian beer bar is an absolute winter essential. Because beer-steamed mussels, crispy aioli-dipped frites, and a fireplace situated in a dining room that looks like a ski lodge is the ideal definition of winter respite.

Scofflaw: A gin-centric bar may not be the first place that comes to mind when craving cozy bars, but Scofflaw merits a visit this season thanks largely to its second room located around the corner from the main bar. Here you’ll find a parlor reminiscent of an Alice in Wonderland tea party, complete with lavish, snug couches, chairs, and a roaring fireplace. It’s the perfect setting in which to enjoy hot buttered rum, exceptional bar food, and enough gin to make you forget about the temperature outside.

Cindy’s: Probably not a viable idea of the temperature is hovering around zero, but one chic spot for outdoor fire pits is Cindy’s. Beloved during the warmer months for its impressive vista of Millennium Park from the roof of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, Cindy’s proves its worth as a year-round al fresco destination with outdoor fireplaces and blankets for keeping toasty. It’s especially nice when enjoyed with a cocktail or two.

Drumbar: Another stellar rooftop cocktail bar is this Streeterville stunner. The best part about this space is its ambience reminiscent of a Clue-like mansion, complete with an indoor fireplace and outdoor fire pits. Along with some of the most intricate and special craft cocktails in town, it makes for a wholly immersive drinking impressive to help you endure the winter months.

Old Town Social: Housemade charcuterie is especially tasty when eaten in close proximity to a bustling fire. Old Town Social is as close as you can get to fireside cured meats without actually immersing yourself in flames, so be sure to take advantage this season The Old Town stalwart is a go-to year-round for their impressive and unique in-house charcuterie program, complete with housemade hot dogs, but the space is especially alluring now that it’s fireplace area is full steam.

Sable Kitchen & Bar: The fireplace at Sable Kitchen & Bar is electric, sure, but it’s just as comforting as the real deal. Plus it’s nice to have zero chance of accidentally burning alive. The makeshift fireplace provides a comforting backdrop for Sable’s bites and sips. Get cozy with one of Sable’s impeccable hot cocktails, and pair it with some steak tartare, some lobster rangoon, and some falafel sliders.

Matt Kirouac

Chicago’s Top Culinary Couples

Married culinary couples cook together and work together

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Chicago's Top Culinary Couples @ Urban Cantina

Chicago’s Top Culinary Couples @ Urban Cantina

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Dos Urban Cantina
Logan Square’s Mexican stunner is courtesy of chefs Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart, the culinary couples who met while working together at Topolobampo under Rick Bayless. Similar to their dynamic there, Enyart mans the savory fare at Dos Urban Cantina, while Jones Enyart is in charge of pastries and desserts, culling ideas and inspirations from all over Mexico.

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Spinning J
After running a pie delivery business called Cheap Tart out of a shared kitchen space for years, Dinah Grossman and Parker Whiteway took the next big step in achieving their dreams by opening Spinning J in Humboldt Park. The beautiful, vintage-inspired bakery and soda fountain pays homage to dessert parlors of Americana yore, even repurposing equipment like a marble bar from a bygone Milwaukee pharmacy. Grossman puts her cooking and baking skills to good use here, crafting a menu of pies, cookies, quiche, English muffins, milkshakes and more. Meanwhile, her husband utilizes his background as a chemist helps in making botanicals, phosphates and sodas. In a way, Spinning J’s famed phosphates and gelato floats epitomize their relationship.

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Baker Miller
Dave and Megan Miller are among Chicago’s pastry elite. After quickly rising to local acclaim at Bang Bang Pie Shop, they decamped to open a place all their own. Baker Miller is perfectly representative of their joint talents and passions, all with the common ground of wholesome and locally sourced cooking. Dave’s strengths lend themselves to the savory side, which includes impossibly creamy grits, saucy biscuit sandwiches and grain bowls, while Megan continues to turn out some of the best pies, cookies, muffins and cinnamon rolls in the city.

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Vera
One of the most beloved neighborhood-y spots in the restaurant-saturated West Loop, Vera is the handiwork of husband-wife duo Mark and Elizabeth Mendez. The pair worked together previously at Carnivale before leaving to work on their passion project. The result is a Spanish-accented wine bar that smartly combines their two strengths. Mark is in the kitchen, cooking up tapas and other inventive Mediterranean dishes, like crab-stuffed peppers and Moroccan spiced lamb chops. Up front, Elizabeth is the force behind Vera’s renowned wine program, which boasts ample Spanish wines by the glass and bottle. She’s also developed a penchant for sherry as well, with Vera becoming one of the go-to wine bars in the city for the fortified wine.

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Spiaggia
Chicago’s O.G. culinary couples is Tony and Cathy Mantuano, of Spiaggia fame. Notably, they’ve taken their camaraderie outside the restaurant by collaborating on cookbooks together. Cathy, after all, has extensive experience writing wine lists for restaurants. The Spiaggia Cookbook – Eleganza Italiana in Cucina and Wine Bar Food are both prime examples of their dynamic efforts, whereas Tony provides recipes and food inspiration and Cathy adds expertise in wine.

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mk The Restaurant
Prominent power culinary couples Michael and Lisa Kornick opened mk The Restaurant in 1998, and they’ve been at the forefront of Chicago’s multifaceted dining scene ever since. After having spent years clocking time in restaurants all over the country, the time was right for the couple to open something together, with the goal of having 100% control over the customer and employee experience. That dream lives on today, with Kornick overseeing mk’s proclaimed menus with along with chef Erick Williams, and Lisa being the familiar face managing operations outside the kitchen.

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Smyth and The Loyalist
For John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, their companionship took them from Chicago to the East Coast and back again. The married culinary couples worked together at legendary Charlie Trotter’s before opening Town Ship in rural Virginia, to much national fanfare. When they closed that restaurant, they wound up returning to Chicago with not one, but two restaurants. Smyth is their tasting menu spot in the West Loop, housed in a warm loft space with a massive open kitchen and dishes rich with offbeat flavor combinations, like crab and foie gras with scrambled miso, or lamb saddle with seaweed and black truffle. Coming full-circle, the restaurant also gets its name from Smyth County, Virginia, where they honed their culinary philosophies. Right below Smyth is The Loyalist, a more casual bar and restaurant with inventive a la carte plates like green curry-spiced chicken thighs and lemongrass sundaes with blueberries and molasses. At both restaurants, John tackles savory dishes and Karen does desserts.

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Oriole
Nestled down a West Loop side street so quiet and unassuming it almost looks like a wide alley, Oriole is a clandestine surprise that beckons guests into a casual, comfortable dining room for one of the best tasting menus in Chicago. Cara Sandoval is the first face you’ll see, greeting guests and walking them through the back of a freight elevator to access the industrial-style dining room. Her front-of-house expertise and service is echoed nicely by Noah Sandoval in the kitchen. As executive chef, he develops dynamic menus that change constantly, each dish intricate and immaculate both in terms of flavor and presentation. Thanks to the Sandovals shared philosophy, Oriole is the rare fine dining restaurant that genuinely feels as casually inviting as dining in someone’s home.

Valentine’s Day Dining Guide 2017

Where to eat, drink and toast to your loved one on Valentine’s Day.

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Valentine's Day Dining Guide 2017 @ Cochon Volant

Valentine’s Day Dining Guide 2017 @ Cochon Volant

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The most romantic day of the year is coming up, which means one of the biggest days for dining out and trying to impress your loved one. Fortunately, Chicago is filled with fresh dining options and ideas that won’t make the holiday tradition feel like an expensive chore. Here are several places to put on your romantic radar this year:

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III Forks Prime Steakhouse: The 2017 “Sweetheart Menu” at this downtown stunner is a three-course tasting for two available February 10 through February 14, so you’ve got plenty of opportunity to partake. First, guests choose between the signature III Forks salad or lobster bisque, followed by a surf and turf combo of two filet mignons and two lobster tails. A chocolate-lovers treat is for dessert. The menu is $170 per couple, with optional sparkling wine selections as supplements.
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Floriole Cafe & Bakery: It doesn’t always take a lavish dinner out to impress your partner. Sometimes a sweet little gift is best. In which case, you should head over to Floriole Cafe & Bakery, which is baking up special sweet treats for the holiday, ideal for surprising your loved one on Valentine’s Day. Available throughout February, items include chocolate caneles, conversation heart cookies, heart-shaped tarts, chocolate ganache cakes and chocolate mousse domes with satsuma marmalade.

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The Violet Hour: One of Chicago’s most iconic cocktail bars is also one of the city’s most romantic. There’s just something about the clandestine entryway, the tall curtains, the dim glow of The Violet Hour that makes the cocktails that much more alluring. For the holiday, the bar will host two seatings for special holiday happenings. The first is a cocktail hour from 6:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., during which guests will get a welcome cocktail, followed by a menu of special cocktails and a dessert at the end. The second seating takes place from 9:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. During both events, there will be a Champagne bar cart roving around for guests to learn about making their ideal Champagne cocktail. Another adorable addition is stationary supplied on the tables so diners can write love letters together. Tickets for both seatings are $75, which includes drinks and dessert. Additional bites are a la carte.

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312 Chicago: Red-colored pasta is the order of the day at 312 Chicago, which is thinking outside the heart-shaped box this year with a special Valentine’s Day menu focused on unique, rosy pastas and other romantic accents. In case you were curious, the pasta gets its red tint from beets. Dubbed the “Menu di San Valentino,” the three-course tastings feature dishes like beet ravioli stuffed with roasted pheasant, risotto with strawberries and lump crab meat, grilled hanger steak with Taleggio fondue and roasted beet dumplings and red velvet cake with strawberry sauce and cream cheese. The cost for the prix fixe is $55 per person, and for those who’d prefer to dine on Saturday, February 11, the restaurant will also be featuring select dishes as specials.

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Cochon Volant Brasserie: There’s just something so innately romantic about a downtown brasserie. Case in point: Cochon Volant, which never fails to impress with its alluring setting and cozy, heartwarming French-accented cuisine. On Valentine’s Day, the Loop restaurant will be featuring specials like escargots with blue cheese and croutons, 72-hour rotisserie chicken with roasted tomato sauce an half-priced Moet Champagne by the glass or bottle.

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Vermilion: For those who’d like to add a little more exoticism and spice to their Valentine’s Day itinerary, Vermilion is an apt choice. The enduring River North restaurant, which features a smart fusion of Latin and Indian cuisines, is serving up a special menu for the holiday called the “Sultry Red Eat Your Heart Out” prix fixe. As the name suggests, each dish is lush with red components, featuring five courses of eclectic preparations. These include a salad of beets, hearts of palm mousse, lobster, arugula, cumin, passion fruit vinaigrette and balsamic caviar; oysters with crimson pomegranate, lime and mint; red chimichurri New York strip steak or lamb shank with sweet potatoes and tomato rice; and “hedonism” chocolate cake with hibiscus sorbet and red candied rose petals. Reservations can be made by calling Vermilion or via OpenTable.

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Brindille: Get in the Valentine’s Day spirit a little early with a trip to Brindille for Valentine’s Day Tea. The French afternoon tea service takes place February 10, with seatings from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Expect elegant sweet and savory bites by chef Carrie Nahabedian and pastry chef Craig Harzewski. The cost is $60 per person and makes for a wonderful couple’s date. RSVP by emailing info@brindille-chicago.com