A's List: ‘Tis the season to be merry at these hot new Chicago destinations

Taste 222 is a popular gathering spot in the Fulton River
District during the holiday season. (Photo: Taste 222)

By Audarshia Townsend

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for you to gather with out-of-town friends or family, pals from work or your regular crew to celebrate the holiday season. Most folks follow annual traditions, hitting up the same spots for yuletide cheer, but why not shake things up a bit? We’re highlighting some new hangs for your enjoyment.

Galit (Lincoln Park)

This Middle Eastern restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Zachary Engel was an instant hit when it landed in Lincoln Park last spring. You’ll find his take on traditional eats like hummus, pitas, and coal-roasted vegetables and meats, and everything is share-able. The best way to approach eating here—when dining with larger groups—is taking advantage of “the other menu,” which is what they consider their chef’s tasting menu. It’s five courses, including a signature hummus, plus favorites like coal-roasted chicken thighs and ma'amoul (Middle Eastern shortbread cookies filled with nuts, figs or dates).

Menu highlights: Galit is great for those with restricted diets. They eagerly make substitutions with all dishes. Especially tasty on the menu is Bubbe’s Brisket hummus, which is enhanced by smoky cinnamon, tomatoes and braised carrots. Smoked lake trout, hummus with trumpet mushrooms and collard greens, and the lamb chop with sweet potato are also of special note.

Oversized raviolo stuffed with braised short rib
at Hubbard Inn (Photo: Hubbard Inn)

Hubbard Inn (River North)

The three-level venue shut down for a few months to undergo a major renovation. Hubbard Inn returned just in time to attract holiday revelers in its fashionable River North home. The first level is a classic cocktail lounge that’s ideal for after-work gatherings. The second level offers a Garden of Eden motif, with artificial flowers and plants throughout the space. Here, bartenders create cocktails based on the setting, and they use flowers, fruits, vegetables and other botanicals to drive the flavor profiles. The top floor’s reserved for live music and private events. When it’s open to the public, guests are treated to cabaret-style performances.

Menu highlights: Dishes are playful in concept and presentation, such as a butter-poached Maine lobster cake served in its own claw, oversized raviolo stuffed with braised short rib and an egg yolk, and Maple Leaf duck breast with frizzled Brussels sprouts and a butternut squash puree.

The 24K gold chicken wings at Play Kitchen & Cocktails in the Gold Coast. 
(Photo: Play Kitchen & Cocktails)

Play Kitchen & Cocktails (Gold Coast)

A hybrid of sorts, Play Kitchen & Cocktails is in the Gold Coast in the Division Street entertainment corridor. It's a sports lounge with elevated bar fare, and later at night, it transforms into a high-energy nightclub. The dinner menu boasts a host of fun plates to share with friends or a significant other. At the top of the list are the 24K gold chicken wings. They're marinated in bourbon barbecue sauce (made with 24K gold flakes), then smoked.

Menu highlights: The lobster mac and cheese, brisket nachos and Cajun grilled chicken sandwich are also big sellers.

Taste 222 is open breakfast through dinner. (Photo: Taste 222)

Taste 222 (Fulton River District)

Situated in the bustling Fulton River District neighborhood, the sleek restaurant is a popular hangout for those who work and live in the area. Taste 222 acts as sort of an incubator as its owners, a venture capitalist firm specializing in entrepreneurial food and beverage concepts, showcase many of their investments in the restaurant. Customers can grab to-go offerings or eat in the main dining room. There's live music, deejays spinning on the regular, and a sport-bar lounge with an enormous screen to watch games.

Menu highlights: Taste 222 is open breakfast through dinner with offerings ranging from Belgian waffles topped with roasted peaches to prosciutto-wrapped filet mignon.

WoodWind's fried chicken and waffle sandwich (right) is one of the menu's highlights.
(Photo: WoodWind)

WoodWind (Streeterville)

It's located on the 18th floor of the Lavin Family Pavilion within the Northwestern Medicine Campus. WoodWind is also only a couple of blocks away from the Magnificent Mile, so it’s an ideal stopover after shopping. The views, especially at night, are spectacular and are of the Streeterville neighborhood's skyscrapers. They serve as a nice backdrop for WoodWind's decor, which is chic and modern. Regionally sourced ingredients highlight the seasonal food and drink menus, and this culinary team has strong beliefs in sustainability. Many unused parts of fruits and vegetables from the kitchen, for example, make their way to the bar program.

Menu highlights: Signature dishes include the fried chicken and waffle sandwich (available during brunch and lunch), smoked lamb ribs in a honey and lavender sticky sauce, and a 28-day, dry-aged New York strip.

See previous A's List columns right here