Maple & Ash

**** (4 stars)

You enter the upstairs dining room of Maple & Ash quite dramatically, from an elevator at the rear of the building that opens out into a dramatic two-story space that is quite dazzling. Although it is a steakhouse in a city of steakhouses, the experience here is quite different. Servers are much more engaged with their guests, and there are many freebies and extras involved in each meal.

For example, before you’ve even started, there are chips and dip, watermelon radishes with salt, parmesan crisps, and even an “amuse booze” cocktail of vermouth and grapefruit. Crusty bread and butter come next. We were starting to worry we’d be full before the first course arrived.

An extensive wine list has a range of offerings at moderate prices but includes a page of under $50 bargains.

We opted for the “I don’t give a f*@k” tasting menu because it let us sample much of the menu. It’s a bargain at $145. These were the courses:

Seafood platter, not chilled, but rather roasted, featuring lobster, shrimp, scallops, and clams. The was served in a pool of butter which was later used for a tableside preparation of pasta.

Beet and watercress salad.

Rosemary fries with Hollandaise and aioli.

Meatballs with garlic cheese toast.

Bone in ribeye steak served with ricotta agnolotti, roasted squash, and mashed potatoes.

Ice cream sundae tower with three kinds of ice cream and 12 toppings to choose from.

We enjoyed the experience, and particularly our server. I can’t say there were really any home runs, and the steak was definitely not the highlight, as it wasn’t particularly tender. Overall it was a very rich menu, with little respite from heavily buttered dishes. The best items were the dip, the mashed potatoes, and the sundae.

Despite the large size of the room, noise levels were surprisingly pleasant (until a large drunk party was seated next to us) and the background music track is particularly chill.

If you are looking for a steakhouse-type experience that is a little out of the ordinary, it’s worth checking out.

Maple & Ash
8 W Maple
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 944-8888
http://www.yelp.com/biz/maple-and-ash-chicago

Luigi Stefani Pizzeria

*** (3 stars)

This place has quite a collection of poor reviews, but it is possible to get a good meal here. In fact, it can be one of the more healthful options in the entire airport food court. The trick is to go around the corner, past the greasy pizza, to the deli salad area. There, for$10, you can get a green salad topped with your choice of three fresh made deli salads. I chose grilled vegetables, asparagus, and something called harvest grains. They were all delicious.

Luigi Stefani Pizzeria
5700 S Cicero Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 838-8824
http://www.yelp.com/biz/luigi-stefani-pizzeria-chicago

River Roast

*** (3 stars)

I was expecting River Roast to be like all the steakhouses in town, but it’s not. For one thing, they don’t have steak. It’s also much more casual.

The concept here is that almost everything is roasted. I guess that makes sense, given the name. On the day we visited there was one selection of fish, prime rib or chicken as the protein sources. We didn’t choose any of them, although perhaps we should have.

Instead, we tried almost everything else on the menu. Unfortunately, despite that diversity, we didn’t really find anything we’d want to eat again. Here’s what we had:

House pickles were good, actually the best thing we had, but beware the red peppers as they are insanely hot.

Chicken “gobbets” were bite size chunks of fried chicken in a crispy batter, served with honey. They were the other dish we liked.

Shaved salad had a broad mixture of fennel, radishes, mushrooms, arugula, carrots and other stuff, dress in a lemon vinaigrette. The ingredients didn’t really come together into a cohesive dish.

Smoked salmon was served in a sauce that didn’t do it any favors.

Roasted carrots and “dirt” were pretty plain tasting carrots with some crumbs on them. A bit of the honey from the chicken helped them.

Peas were served in a bowl, and couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be soup. The bits of ham added some flavor, and these were probably the best vegetable.

Roasted curry cauliflower had a nice char on top, but the only flavor was from the red sauce underneath which it is a stretch to call curry.

Overall, nothing would bring me back unless I had a craving for prime rib, which might be good.

The service staff was friendly and efficient.

The night we visited there was a live jazz trio playing in the dining room, even though it was early. They were talented and the music was at a reasonable level.

River Roast
315 N La Salle Dr
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 822-0100
http://www.yelp.com/biz/river-roast-chicago-3

The Berkshire Room

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**** (4 stars)

This is a chill bar for craft cocktails, but they could up the food quality. The main draw is the “dealer’s ┬áchoice” selection of cocktails where you pick the spirit, the style and the glass and leave the rest to the mixologists. They are obviously really into it (just look at the extensive list of spirits), and it’s likely you’ll get something you really like.

I instead opted for a couple of the cocktail menu selections. The Continuous Negroni was one of the better Negronis I’ve had, intensely bitter, and quite complex.

The highly touted Weston was an interesting mix of bourbon, coffee essence and tobacco. I found it boring, but maybe it was because I had just had the negroni.

I tried all three of the dips on the menu, which were part of the “pick three” bar snack menu, and cost a very reasonable $8. The smoked whitefish was good, the onion was just okay, and the bean was not that great.

I also had the Reuben sandwich, which was nicely prepared, but contained huge hunks of very fatty “bacon” in quarter inch thick slabs. It wasn’t very good. The accompanying slaw was very bland, but the potato chips were excellent, super thin and very crispy.

In all, this is a great place for craft cocktails, but I’d skip the food entirely.

The Berkshire Room
15 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 894-0945
http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-berkshire-room-chicago

Brindille

Vicchysoisse

Beef tartare

Quail

Scallop

Lobster

Veal

Lamb

Strawberries and hazlenut

**** (4 stars)

This is a very fine restaurant that is doing most everything right. The chef’s eight-course tasting menu, which is available on request, is the way to go here. It’s assembled to match your tastes, and is a great way to experience the menu’s highlights.

Each course was beautifully presented. The only truly amazing one was the vichyssoise, but everything else was quite good, and the price was reasonable for the quality.

Service was informative and attentive, and the secondary service staff were particularly efficient at delivering and clearing.

Brindille has one of the better wine lists in town, at a reasonable markup of about twice retail. It’s heavy on quality French wines, and bears a bit of research before your visit to be truly rewarded.

Brindille
534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1616
http://www.yelp.com/biz/brindille-chicago

il Porcellino








**** (4 stars)

I was a big fan of Paris Club, which occupied this space, but I must admit that Il Porcellino is a much better restaurant–and business plan. It was packed the night I visited. But even though it was full, I liked the fact that I could still hear the background music (an odd blend of 20th century pop and cliche Italian restaurant music) and conversation was easy.

The space is unrecognizable and gorgeous. Hundreds of light bulbs hang over the dining room, creating a romantic aura, and the large bar out front and various room dividers are also cleverly lit to show off the bottles and other stuff on the shelves.

Service is extremely polished, with constant attention from the servers, and independent delivery of the food straight from the kitchen via runners.

I was unimpressed by the complimentary risotto ball amuse bouche, but after that everything was excellent.

The garlic loaf is a great way to start. It’s a mini boule, crisped on the outside and sliced into six pie wedges. Grated parmesan is stuffed into the cracks and then, tableside, garlic butter is poured in. It was delicious, and even managed to maintain its crispness throughout dinner.

Fried Brussels sprouts were also good, not too oily and not too buried in cheese.

I’m not too big on pasta, so I opted for the brick chicken specialty. Good move. It was a giant slab of boneless breast meat with a unique, super-crispy crust. But the thing that made the dish was the mixture of cauliflower, garden vegetables and butter on which it sat.

If you’re into hot fudge sundaes you’ll like the semi-fredo, but I wished I’d selected a different dessert.

Drink-wise, I started with a negroni. There are three choices, and I liked the Fernet-based one I picked because it was particularly bitter. The house Chianti I segued into wasn’t particularly good. But I finished with a Nonino, my favorite Amaro.

If I have any complaint about Il Porcelino it’s simply that there are no healthful options on the menu. Everything is either friend, drenched in butter or swimming in carbs. Even the salads look pretty heavy. It’s all delicious, but I couldn’t eat there very often without some lighter choices.

il Porcellino
59 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-0800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/il-porcellino-chicago

Farmhouse

**** (4 stars)

This is a review of Saturday brunch. The menu combines lunch items such as a burger with traditional brunch items prepared in non-traditional ways.

The Farmhouse breakfast included delicious scrambled eggs with spinach and cheddar. Contrary to the menu description it was not white cheddar, and the spinach was somewhat over-salted, but the combination–particularly the shallots–was delicious. Accompanying potatoes were nicely crisped even though they were in huge (as in half a potato each) chunks that made them look like cottage fries for Godzilla. The bacon and toast were unremarkable.

French toast, a new menu item, was served in three 3-inch by 3-inch by 3-inch cubes, browned on the outside, and topped with a mixed berry compote. It was tasty but very sweet.

Service was friendly, and the space is light and airy at lunch time. Upstairs and downstairs are nearly identical.

Farmhouse
228 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 280-4960
http://www.yelp.com/biz/farmhouse-chicago-3

Bijan’s Bistro

**** (4 stars)

It’s hard to categorize Bihan’s because of the incredibly diverse menu, which offers something for nearly every taste, from French and Mediterranean food to Burgers and sandwiches, Italian, and even bar food.

We liked everything we had, but in particular the spinach artichoke dip with lavash was really excellent.

There’s an extensive bar, and all the standard cocktails as well as wine and beer. Service was friendly and attentive.

In addition to all-day dining they server really late (4am).

Bijan’s Bistro
663 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 202-1904
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bijans-bistro-chicago