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Keefer's, Chicago Keefer’s One of Chicago’s finest, Keefer’s, has a delightful ambience

A taste of Chicago, 2010-style

Elyse Glickman finds Chicago very much a food lovers’ paradise, with sumptuous steaks and deep-dish pizzas
photographed by the author, Jess Smith, Jeff Kauck and Doug Fogelson

 

In the late 1970s, The Taste of Chicago—mother of all American summer food-and-entertainment festivals—did much more than create a template for foodie celebrations worldwide. It also sparked a transformation that took the city from a beer, hot dog and pizza town into an innovative restaurant capital. Granted, people from around the world seek out Vienna beef hot dogs and deep-dish pizza—and for good reason. Today, however, there is also the siren call of classic steakhouses and contemporary eateries.

If you find yourself in Chicagoland any time of year, be sure to find time to eat your way around the city, both at hidden neighbourhood gems and classy destination spots. Here’s just a tiny taste of the best.

 

Upmarket Chic-ago

Dine (733 W. Madison, 1 312 602-2100)
While many ambitious urban restaurants across America lay claim to having definitive “homestyle cooking with a modern twist”, Dine actually succeeds when it comes to reconciling its alluring concept with what actually comes out of the kitchen. At first glance, it is an old-school, not-too-frilly Chicago diner punched up with mod furnishings, eclectic art, historic photos and chic lounge areas. Nearly everything looks familiar on the menu—meatloaf, mac-and-cheese, salmon, Cobb salad and appetizers. This, however, is where looks are deceiving. Order the meatloaf, and what you get is a velvety, juicy brick of Angus beef-based goodness, nicely accented with garlic spinach, potatoes and savory orange gravy that recalls your favorite homemade soup. No surprise it was chosen by local food critics as one of the very best in town. The salmon works because it is simply salmon, adorned with garlic spinach and mashed potatoes. While you could eat the Cobb or calamari for days (with lots of help), the onion tart stands out as one of the more unconventional items: a desert for people who opt for savoury indulgence. For the rest of us with a sweet tooth, meanwhile, Dine pushes the envelope ever-so slightly, replacing routine deserts with a lemon (brioche) bread pudding and a crème brûlée-singed Valrhona-chocolate flourless cake made that much more special with sorbets that taste as if they were just picked from the garden.

 

N9NE Steakhouse (440 W. Randoph Street)
With its mod-’60s décor, and the contemporary accoutrement (courtesy of Chef Michael Shrader) served with the filet mignon, N9NE is not your parents’ steakhouse. While a small selection traditional main courses (such as filet mignon, the excellent New York strip with Bordelaise sauce, salmon, etc.) and sides (spinach, thin and steak fries, mashed potatoes) are there for your delectations, modern appetizers and creative salads and entrees fill out the rest of the menu with a sense of fun. How can you not smile when a N9NE-logoed popcorn box filled with rock shrimp adorned with two non-traditional sauces (lemon aioli and hot Thai red sauce, oddly wonderful when mixed) or crispy cones brimming with scoops of tuna tartare and lobster salad arrive at your table? Salads, such as the Heirloom tomato salad (made by the lovely balsamic-based vinaigrette) provide a nice, clean counterpoint for the meats and starches. If you’re still around after dinner and crave a cocktail and a bit of a flirt, check out Ghostbar upstairs. If you feel you’re experiencing a bit of déjà vu reading this, it’s probably because you’ve seen or been to their (excellent) Las Vegas counterparts at the Palms Hotel & Casino. However, remember this is Chicago, baby, and what you see is the real deal—good taste in its natural state.

 

Keefer’s (20 W. Kinzie, 1 312 467-9525)
Although many a local reviewer and Playboy dubbed Keefer’s one of the best steakhouses in America, and the chops (including the Delmonico filet that’s much in demand at lunch and dinner) live up to the hype, owner Rich Keefer winces slightly and will tell you the fish dishes created by Chef John Hogan (above left) are incredible as well. Given that he and his brother conceived the airy, Frank Lloyd Wright-esque restaurant, he ought to know. And yes, the fish dishes are incredible. The dinner preparation of the halibut, in fact, meets all the requirements of what a restaurant’s signature dish ought to be (Dijon mustard, brioche breadcrumbs, wild mushroom sauce and watercress coulis). If you come for lunch, you have the added benefit of some fun extras such as a bowl of seasonally tuned soup of the day and fluffy potato croquettes. Salads, meanwhile, are crisp, clean and spare on dressing, which is great considering that the mix of vegetables are what will sell them. The broccoli salad is a surprising mix of broccoli heads, apple, fennel and podda cheese, while their basic artisan tomato salad is punched up with the addition of pine nuts. If you’re a chocolate fan, meanwhile, you’ll be quite happy with the orange-chocolate crème brûlée or the thin-but-dense triple chocolate cake adorned with honey chocolate ice cream.

 

Local flavour

Tiffin: the Indian Kitchen (2536 W. Devon Avenue, 1 773 338-2143)
If it is curry, spice and silks you crave, Devon Avenue is your kind of street, with miles of jewellery stores, sari shops and excellent Indian fare. However, Tiffin stands out as the jewel in the area’s restaurant crown. Their extraordinary lunch buffet entices with oven-fresh nan, zesty curries with killer sauces and flawless, juicy tandoori chicken. Making it better still are the airy, nicely decorated dining area and superb service.

 

Tecalitlan (1814 W. Chicago Avenue, 1 773 384-4285)
Given how Tecalitlan scores on all fronts—freshness, quality, service and value—it is a little surprising that Mexican food enthusiasts consider this one of Chicago’s best kept secrets. For starters, literally, you get a lush and spicy salsa and hearty out-of-the-oven tortilla chips. Next, order grilled steak, chicken, pork, vegetarian or chorizo (nice texture and bite) any way you want—tostadas, tacos or burritos. If you’re hungry, go all the way with a “Suiza”-style burrito (covered with cheese), dress it up with cebollitas asadas (grilled onions) and finish with a strawberry liquada or margarita. ¡Olé! A huge full meal for two often comes out to less than US$20.

 

MetroKlub (733 W. Madison, 1 312 602-2104)
A quick, filling meal between downtown business meetings, minus the guilt? Who knew? MetroKlub combines classic kosher deli fare, contemporary cuisine and healthy (no pork, no seafood, no dairy—no kidding!) ingredients to create the perfect downtown lunch spot.

 

The (deep) dish on pizza
Although downtown institution Pizzaria Uno is said to be the birthplace of Chicago deep-dish pizza, there are many classic venues all over the city that deliver the goods when it comes to crunchy, cheesy, piled on perfection: Giordano’s, Carmen’s, Eduardo’s and Lou Malnati’s are all winners, whether you crave hearty sausage pizzas or vegetarian varieties (most do superb spinach pies). Other local favourites include Leona’s (famous for their decadent “white” Alfredo pizzas and good thin crusts) and Home Run Inn (a South Side tradition). •

 


Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.

 

Dine
Jess Smith

N9NE

Jeff Kauck

Jeff Kauck

Jeff Kauck

Jeff Kauck

Keefer’s

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