Shaved Foie Gras

A Winter Salad

Hawaiian Rolls

Guitara pasta



Lemongrass Semifreddo

Chocolate pudding

Chocolate pudding and amaro daiquiri

***** (5 stars)

I was excited to try this latest offering by Boka, and it did not disappoint. The decor is beautiful, and it has a high energy vibe without being deafening. There is a smaller side room that overlooks the kitchen which is a bit quieter.

We tried the eight-course tasting menu, which is a collection of dishes offered on the regular menu, but in smaller sizes. It’s a perfect way to sample many of the menu highlights, and is very reasonably priced compared to other tasting menus around town.

We enjoyed all of the courses, but the stunner was the salad, of all things. It was an intensely complex combination of almost innumerable tastes and textures that came together with a different experience in almost every bite. Sadly, since it’s called the Winter Salad, it probably will be off menu when you read this.

The other highlight of the meal was the accompanying wine pairing. It was priced freakishly low compared to the extensive wines by the glass, and every single wine was a superb match with its course. I always worry about wine pairings, because so often, even in high-end restaurants they seem like really weird finds from a bored sommelier. Not so here! Although the selections are indeed mostly obscure, that was part of the fun discovery process, and every one was a superbly balanced old world gem. And the final selection, an amaro daiquiri, perfectly matched a complex dessert.

Each of the wine selections was presented by the sommelier, Jamel Freeman, who carefully explained the background of the wine and why it had been selected to accompany that course. His encyclopedic knowledge and engaging manner was a real treat.

The rest of the service is provided by a well-orchestrated tag team of servers, runners and bussers. It’s an impressive organization, but I couldn’t help wishing we’d had a bit more interaction with a dedicated waiter who would play host as well as Jamel did with the wine.

Bellemore is definitely another winner, and I look forward to future visits.

564 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 667-0104

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery



Nachos (no beans)

Rib eye


**** (4 stars)

Based upon the name I was expecting sort of a dive bar, but it’s actually quite modern and nice inside. The menu offers a broad range of sports bar food, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good our selections were.

The nachos were actually better than any I’ve gotten in Chicago’s Mexican restaurants. They were spread out in a thin layer over a huge rectangular tray, so they stayed nice and crisp. We ordered them without the black beans, just our preference.

I had the ribeye, and it was a pretty darn good steak for much less than half what it would cost in any of River North’s steakhouses. About half of it needed to be trimmed away, but that’s what makes a ribeye so tender and juicy, and this one certainly was.

Service from our original server was a bit spotty, but the bartender and manager filled in nicely during her unexplained absences.

I was definitely favorably impressed, and will return.

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
One West Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 755-9339

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

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

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

The Berkshire Room


**** (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

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


**** (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.

228 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 280-4960