I love that Chicago is one of the best cities to eat in. Any style, flavors or price tag you’re looking for, it’s all here. I had the pleasure of dining at several food establishments lately and will tempt your taste buds with my thoughts and imageries here…
And – lucky for you – many Chicago Restaurant Week locations are extending their special menus through February 13 or even the end of February! Check out my Twitter feed for the listings.
Nico Osteria (1015 N. Rush)
I have been dying to try this Gold Coast newcomer to see what all the raving is about! Now I understand – Nico Osteria checks off all the boxes that comprise a great dining experience. Located adjacent to the Thompson Hotel, the restaurant boasts a fun atmosphere, an open view to the food prep area and a look out to the snowy passers-by. Greeted with warm service by each staffer, all of our needs were attended to. Most notable was our waitress, Lynn, whom we were so pleased is a true foodie. You can tell true foodie passion when you ask what to order – the taste descriptions and suggestions were spot-on.
To start us off right, my Dad (my wonderful dining partner) called over the sommelier to figure out which varietal would pair best with our planned menu. We began our meal with the Grilled Octopus Fettuna, a bruschetta of sorts topped with a tasty combo of caramelized shallots, white beans and olives. The pasta menu looked so good that we had to order two – the Fontina Scarpinocc and the Rigatoni with Ragu. For the first – imagine the swirl of sage, cinnamon, almonds and butter – such a delightful combination delicately topped with diced butternut squash. Don’t shy away from the butter – it really brought out the flavor! For the Rigatoni – true comfort food that warms you up on a night like these. Because Nico’s true passion is seafood, we ordered the Salt Crusted Branzino, which was a nice, light fish topped with the unique flavors of white clamshell mushrooms and zante currants – adding a refreshingly unexpected sweetness.
From start to finish, Nico Osteria provided a great experience, and I can’t wait to go back!
Nico Osteria Cocktail Lounge
If you venture just past the restaurant entrance and deeper into the Thompson Hotel you’ll come across a cocktail lounge bustling with Saturday-night vibe. Upon entering, let your eyes flow up past the wall of liquor to the wall of plants, adding greenery and character to this indoor space. There is a lounge niche to the back, and veering left into the Thompson Hotel lobby you can take the stairs up, past the rustic antler chandelier, to the upstairs bar, which has a great view of the mixings below. Over the sounds of cocktails being shaken and fancy people chit-chatting, you can order off their cocktail menu. For an after dinner drink, I selected the “Gilder,” a mix of vanilla, lemon and blood orange that turned out pink and frothy but was quite delicious and surprisingly not too sweet. Come check out this new spot after your dinner at Nico Osteria or when passing down Rush Street.
Nia Mediterranean (803 W. Randolph) – Participant in Chicago Restaurant Week
One of the cornerstones of the West Loop’s Restaurant Row, Nia provides a fresh look at Mediterranean comfort food. For my first voyage on Chicago Restaurant Week, we opted for lunch and beat the crowds, resulting in dedicated and personalized service. Pulled in by the prix fixe menu (on which everything sounds delicious), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their prix fixe menu is a regular fixture to provide their guests with a wide variety of Mediterranean tastes. With the option of six tapas or eight tapas, we obviously chose eight. The part that’s both the most fun but also the hardest is narrowing it down to just one choice per category! Read on for my favorites…
Of course, saganaki was one of my favorites. The classic savory Greek cheese, often lit up in flames, adds a special touch to a meal out. Served with a squeeze of lemon, so good! The wild mushroom risotto was a warm and nutty winter favorite, with each type of mushroom adding its own uniqueness to the flavor. For our seafood course, we chose the crab cakes topped with an artful drizzle of yellow saffron aioli. The perfect little bite-sized crab cakes were just the right texture and perfect for sharing. After much debate over the meat course, the lamb and feta meatballs came out a winner. Served with a pomodoro sauce and of course more cheese, the meatballs were a satisfying finale to our savory tapas. To quench the inevitable sweet tooth, order the bread pudding. Served warm, topped with caramel and vanilla ice cream, this is the most delightful bread pudding you will ever have.
With great options for sharing among large and small groups alike, check out Nia for their tasty tapas in the West Loop!
Pump Room (1301 N. State) – Participant in Chicago Restaurant Week
Nestled inside the Public Hotel, the Pump Room greets you with lovely décor and smiling faces. Taking you back to the old school Hollywood glamour, the space carries a beautiful esthetic – a series of round booths topped with unique round lanterns. In the downstairs area (near the restrooms), the walls are lined with black and white photos of fabulous guests from the past. People-watch the patrons to see who is the most fancy, chic or even famous. Not to be overshadowed by the décor, the food presented a wide range of flavors, textures and even temperatures.
As the Pump Room was participating in Chicago Restaurant Week, we opted to choose our meals from the special menu. Each of the first course options was a refreshing taste to kick off the meal. We tried the carrot and avocado salad, which was tossed with sprouts, a bright vinaigrette and topped with a dollop of sour cream. The salmon and rice sushi was a crispy little bite of deliciousness with multiple textures and flavors. For my entrée I ordered the fried chicken with spinach and buttery hot sauce. So yummy! The chicken was perfectly done with a light, crispy shell, mounted atop sautéed spinach as the green contrast to the spicy sauce below. Each bite was better than the last. Until….we received dessert! Cooling down our palates with a cup of ice cream, we were surprised to find all the little treats at the bottom of the cup – popcorn, candied peanuts and a layer of hot fudge. This was a great closeout to a beautiful meal. Looking forward to checking out the Pump Room’s other spots including the Library Bar and the coffee shop.
Watch List: Upcoming Restaurant Openings
In the spirit of fried chicken, get into Leghorn Chicken as soon as it opens its doors. Their luscious but simple menu serves up fried chicken on a buttermilk biscuit accompanied by toppers such as fried green tomatoes and housemade ranch. With some of their guiding principles in contrast with Chick-fil-A’s philosophies, Leghorn Chicken provides a breath of fresh air to the city.
Opening soon next to Bub City in River North, Bottlefork is slowly leaking photos of house cocktails, smoked meats and scratch-made desserts, but won’t give any concrete details. Watch for more info!