I love eating and am obsessed with looking at menus online. So when Chicago Restaurant Week approaches, I spend hours poring over menus and making reservations to try as many new foods and restaurants as I can afford and my waistline will allow. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a trained food critic and I’m a vegetarian, so my review is skewed in that direction. However, I include comments from my fellow diners for you carnivores.
Ada Street’s menu was titled, “first supper in the White House,” and each course was inspired by a different president. One of the highlights was the duck confit poutine, in honor of Thomas Jefferson, who allegedly brought French fries to the U.S. The duck and the gravy were perfect accompaniments to what has become a commonplace food. The beer cheese and broccoli soup was flavorful and thick, inspired by Barack Obama, the first president to brew beer in the White House, as well as Michelle and her garden. The chicken fricassee entrée was quite flavorful; apparently Abraham Lincoln didn’t like Mary’s haute cuisine and often requested this dish instead. My vegan couscous curry, inspired by former junk-food lover, Bill Clinton, had just the right amount of spice and was made with the Israeli variety. The only slightly disappointing dish was the cherry and bourbon compote, honoring George Washington. There weren’t many cherries; chocolate ice cream was the main component, topped with a sublime cinnamon whipped cream. All the presidential stories were printed on the back of the menu, adding to our dinner conversation and knowledge base. Accolades to Ada Street for their creative menu as well as the quality of the food.
Ada Street is located at 1664 N. Ada St., just north of North Avenue and east of Elston.
In chatting with our server, she let us know that their Restaurant Week menu included items from the standard menu in full-size portions. We were in for a treat. The roasted cauliflower entrée was accompanied by a crispy mushroom ragout, which was just as flavorful, if not more so, than the cauliflower. My companion had the market fish, salmon that evening. It was served skinless, seared, and on a bed of lentils and sweet potatoes; she said it was the best salmon she ever had. While I think of cherries as a summer food, they were included in both the exquisitely dressed house salad with candied walnuts, pickled onions, and feta and the cherry clafoutis (a baked fruit dish covered in a flan-like batter.) Boarding House’s version, topped with crème fraiche and a cherry coulis, looked like a cupcake or popover, and didn’t taste too “custardy.” Service, atmosphere and food were exceptional.
Boarding House is located at 720 N. Wells St., one block south of Chicago Avenue.
The Dining Room at Kendall College
I had tried for the past two years to get a Restaurant Week reservation here. Expectations were very high and I was excited to support the chefs of tomorrow. The highlight, concurred by my husband and daughter, was the panko fried chicken first course served on miso udon. I had the white bean and wheat berry gateau, an upscale, and quite tasty, version of a veggie burger, with a side of mushrooms and zucchini with tzatziki sauce. Mushrooms have been the sleeper food of my dining experience and in this case they were fantastic. Disappointing was that there were several changes from the menu that was posted online. Of all my visits this year, Kendall College provides the best value proposition. This was a $33 tasting menu that included a glass of house wine. We also got a sushi amuse bouche, which my husband called “amazing” and a last course of candies prepared by their pastry chef.
The Dining Room at Kendall College is located at 990 N. Branch St., just west of Halsted.
Ema features Mediterranean cuisine, so had numerous vegetarian options. A unique feature was that at lunch they offered two appetizer courses instead of dessert. The spreads and mezze were served simultaneously with warm, soft, lightly herbed pita bread. The toasted almond and garlic spread was our favorite; the avocado and sweet pea was good as well. The regular menu offers numerous spreads that you can combine into an entrée. I’d go this route on my next visit. The mezze course wasn’t as interesting: feta and olives, potatoes, or a salad with halloumi cheese. The entrée course redeemed the experience. The winter squash risotto was creamy and rich and my green falafel sandwich was delicious: one side of the pita pocket spread with tzatziki and the other with hummus, filled with a tangy kale salad, tomatoes, and falafel. After all that good food and bread, I was glad not to be having dessert!
Ema is located at 74 W. Illinois St., near the corner of Illinois and Clark streets.
Fig & Olive
Fig & Olive was the only restaurant where I had eaten before. Their menu was also vegetarian-friendly and Mediterranean-inspired. All four appetizer choices were vegetarian as were two of the four entrees. The carrot and ginger soup included both traditional orange as well as purple carrots and had tasty croutons flavored with Fig & Olive’s signature olive oil (their bread and oil plate came with the meal as well). While ordering a salad entrée seems to go against the spirit of adventure Restaurant Week inspires, my F&O salad was outstanding. It included figs (large, fresh, and better than any cookie-version of the fruit) and olives and was dressed well. The kabocha squash risotto was outstanding; rich and cheesy. Fig & Olive is known for their crostini, and rightfully so, and they were available as one of the dessert options or as an addition to the menu.
Fig & Olive is located at 104 E. Oak St., just west of the Magnificent Mile.
Chicago Restaurant Week ran from January 27 to February 9, and featured over 300 establishments.