NSML July 2015 : Page 80

GREAT TASTES Each year, the sophistication and fun of the North Shore’s dining scene grows. New gems open; old favorites get fresh interiors; and menus change with dazzling speed. We now see seasonal vegetables taking a starring role, sustainable seafood getting a callout, and the thanking and naming of farmers as regular occurrences. Summer is the season to explore, eat and enjoy! BY LAURA HINE, SARAH WINOKUR AND MICHAEL WREN GRILLED GOODNESS Evanston’s Boltwood elevates the cheese plate with a grilled Brun-uusto cheese topped with prosciutto, melon and mint ($14). PHOTO BY NEIL BURGER

Restaurant Great Tastes

Laura Hine

Each year, the sophistication and fun of the North Shore’s dining scene grows. New gems open; old favorites get fresh interiors; and menus change with dazzling speed. We now see seasonal vegetables taking a starring role, sustainable seafood getting a callout, and the thanking and naming of farmers as regular occurrences. Summer is the season to explore, eat and enjoy!



Few chefs on the North Shore cook with more vim and vigor—both in terms of embracing global flavors or gilding plates with vibrant shocks of color—than Michael Paulsen. His melting pot of a menu is defiantly border-free. Chinese barbecue ribs ($14)? Spanish boquerones with burrata ($12)? Prosciutto-wrapped pork loin with kumquat marmalade ($22)? You can get it all at Abigail’s, but expect a packed house during Ravinia season. Good things come to those who wait. 493 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park, 847. 780.4862, abigails493.com


Menus that change with the seasons? Oh, please. That’s so 2010. At Boltwood, James Beard-nominated chef Brian Huston reformulates his menu on a daily basis based on whatever’s cropping up at local farmers markets. Every visit is a unique adventure—anyone for oxtail marmalade toast?—and yet Huston’s menu still displays extraordinary balance. Both the beloved (half roasted chicken with mole, $25) and the bold (a whole turbot with artichoke barigoule, $36) are given equal weight, making Boltwood a can’t-miss destination for conservative and courageous diners alike. 804 Davis St., Evanston, 847.859.2880, boltwoodevanston.com

3 HOUSE 406

Jennifer Eisen says she was inspired to open House 406, which is named after the area code shared by the entire state of Montana, by the many meals she’s enjoyed out West over the years. Consider that a tip on what to order. Executive Chef Eloin Amador does his best work with both surf and turf, whether he’s dressing up a banana-leaf baked red snapper ($32) or grilling a Hofherr pork rib-eye with mushrooms and Swiss chard ($26). It’s more proof that simplicity, in the right hands, can be a delicious virtue. 1143 1/2 Church St., Northbrook, 847.714.0200, house406restaurant.com


Nicole Pederson’s crowd-pleasing menu embodies modern farm-totable Midwestern cooking in its purest form. It manages to pivot effortlessly from lamb meatballs ($14) and charcuterie boards ($13) to Slagel Farms steak ($28) and whole Indiana shrimp ($18) without missing a beat. You can taste the terroir of our native streams, valleys and plains in everything she cooks—the clean and the flinty, the subtle and the bold, the rural and the urban, all packed into one daring yet approachable menu. 1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847.868.8945, foundkitchen.com


At Quince, chef Andy Motto continues to show an uncanny talent for breathing new life into whitetablecloth classics. Having cooked in some of the area’s best kitchens, including Charlie Trotter’s and Le Francais, Motto builds menus that flow artfully from one course to the next, marrying subtle palate-sharpening starters, like octopus in a banana-blossom salad ($16), or ricotta gnudi with pickled onion ($13), with muscular entrees like barramundi sauteed with curry capers ($31) or a juniper-rubbed venison ($32). If traditional fine dining is a dying art, we’re glad Motto has yet to get the memo. The Homestead, 1625 Hinman Ave., Evanston, 847. 570.8400, quincerestaurant.net.



We’ve always preferred this Lake Forest classic’s outdoor patio, with its trees and shade, to the Nantucket-inspired interior. Now that it’s summer dining season, it’s time to start with spinach artichoke dip ($13) and the club sandwich with roasted turkey and aged cheddar cheese ($12). Remember, dahling, you’re in Lake Forest. Order what the locals eat and you can’t go wrong. 655 Forest Ave., Lake Forest, 847.234.8800, themarkethouse.com


The courtyard of Winnetka’s historic Laundry Mall may not have a view of the Aegean Sea, but cafe tables and umbrellas, plus the staff's warm hospitality and delicious food, are the next best thing. Always busy on summer nights, Avli features small plates that can be eaten tapas style, and traditional Greek entrees like sofrito ($18) and pastichio ($15). Almost everything is made inhouse, and after a beautiful alfresco dinner, you’ll feel like you’re dining at a Greek friend’s summer house. Opa! 566 Chestnut Ave., Winnetka, 847.446.9300, avli.us


In busy downtown Evanston, chef Elio Romero has created an outside dining oasis just steps from the Davis Street Metra. His seasonal menu mixes classical French 3 2 cooking with bright, fresh flavors like pomegranate seeds, Meyer lemon and pickled Honeycrisp apples. Entrees range from $19- $34. We love the combination of the best people-watching in the ’burbs plus food worthy of the city. 915 Davis St., Evanston, 847. 570.9821, chefs-station.com


Not only does Convito have a lovely outside space (Thursday nights, Plaza del Lago hosts a weekly concert, so you’ll have live music too), but this restaurant also has a busy market with to-go options for those who want to walk down to the beach and really go alfresco. If you prefer silverware, cloth napkins and glass wine goblets, eat in and enjoy delish pasta ($11-$17) and inventive salads ($7-$10) under an umbrella or under the stars. 1515 Sheridan Road, Wilmette, 847.251.3654, convitocafeandmarket.com


This sunny courtyard begs to be enjoyed with one of the housebrewed beers—a new innovation for Peckish Pig, but one we knew was coming because Evanston is the “official” craft-brew epicenter of the North Shore. Start with a flight of beers to try out the current offerings, and bring your growler to fill on your way out. To fill you up, try the pasty of the week ($7) (like a British empanada), the crispy trout ($15) or the beloved hog wings ($13). Trust us on that last one! 623 Howard St., Evanston, 847.491.6778, thepeckishpig.com.


Libertad, Skokie

The Latin American flavor palette, like its geographic scope, is wideranging— there’s more to it than avocadoes and cilantro. At Libertad, Executive Chef and owner Armando Gonzalez wields his paintbrush with aplomb. He draws inspiration from traditional ingredients and personal experience, pulling in dishes from Mexico, and Central and South America to create a small but mighty menu that delivers big on taste. Skirt steak gets the Argentine treatment with herby chimichurri and crispy yucca frites ($18); carpaccio salmon takes a trip south with avocado and serrano peppers ($16). The flautas are pure Mexico, loaded with chicken barbacoa and dressed with chunky salsa cruda, pickled onions and queso fresco ($11). Irresistible cocktails are heavy on rum, tequila and cachaça; sweetened with housemade ginger-habanero syrup; and brightened with fresh citrus juices. Desserts span the divide between gringos and Latinos with flavor mashups like passion-fruit cheesecake with Oreo crust, strawberry compote and fresh caramel corn ($7). Buen provecho! 7931 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847.674.8100, libertad7931.com.


Gerhard’s Elegant European Desserts, Lake Forest

If you’re searching for a showstopping dessert that will please everyone at the table, look no further than Gerhard’s Elegant European Desserts’ signature Chocolate Marjolaine. Originally developed for the Four Seasons by chef Gerhard, it features layers of crunchy chocolate meringue, creamy white chocolate mousse and rich dark chocolate ganache, surrounded by a thin wall of Swiss Toblerone chocolate and topped with sculptural chocolate shavings that recall the architecture of Frank Gehry. Blissfully nut- and gluten-free, it’s a sweet ending for all. 720 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest, 847.234.0023.



Looking for a veggiecentric dish that will leave carnivores begging for a bite? These two gorgeous dishes elevate garden goodies with flavor and panache.

INOVASI Small and large plate options abound at John des Rosiers’ innovative but not pretentious Lake Bluff spot. Watch heads turn when this salad comes to the table: gin-infused and pressed watermelon scattered with baby arugula from the restaurant’s rooftop garden, roasted macadamia nuts, Parmesan sawdust, orange zest and balsamic grape reduction ($13). It’s an art form to order well. 28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff, 847.295.1000, inovasi.us

SARANELLO’S With a totally different look than des Rosiers’ composed dish, the vegetable antipasti platter ($10) here is heaped with veggie goodness. Executive Chef Mychael Bonner varies the offerings seasonally, but look for anything wood-roasted, like the (dare we say it) meaty mushrooms and tangy beets. If you slip some salumi onto the platter, well, we won’t tell. 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, 847. 777.6878, saranellos.com.



Do Glencoe folk fl ood Guildhall because of its big-city vibe, the inventive craft cocktails, the ambitious American Bistro menu... or because there’s no real competition in town? Perhaps all of the above. But whether you grab a seat at the extensive bar or in the whitewashed, light-filled dining room, you know you’re part of a scene. Don’t miss the tarte fl ambée ($14). 694 Vernon Ave., Glencoe, 847.835.8100, guildhallrestaurant.com


If you’re divorced and live on the North Shore, chances are you’ve found your way here at some point. The dark bar room is often wall-to-wall with attractive singles (or those trying to look the part). Food is not an afterthought; you’ll find a comfort-heavy menu of juicy burgers, fried chicken, skinny-ish salads and more ($13-$16). Save room for the sweet-potato fries. 305 Happ Road, Northfi eld, 847.784.9200, thehappinn.com


This barbecue-and-beer-happy neighborhood watering hole is drawing standing-room-only, sportsfocused crowds. With Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena across the street, it’s a great place to catch a game—or recover from one. The bonus? Th e food is actually really tasty, from thin-crust pizzas ($14) and smoky, messy brisket sandwiches ($14) to a kick-ass brunch. 1700 Central St., Evanston, 847.905.0669, tmhevanston.com


Union has become the gathering place for SPACE’s preand post-show diners, as well as the place to run into neighbors for a little gossip and chatter. Th e wood-burning oven that dominates the room turns out craveable small plates ($6-$12) and artisanal pizzas ($13-$17), while a rocking selection of cocktails, wine and craft beers keeps the hipsters coming. 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847.475.2400, unionevanston.com


The bar here is always jamming, but in the warmer months it really hit its sweet spot, as Trifecta has one of the best outdoor patios around. You’ll dig the decidedly downtown vibe and the selection of wines by the glass. Grab some chipotle chicken lollipops ($14) to share, and wash them down with a citrusy Effen Ugli cocktail ($13). Chocolate fondue is a must to close out the night ($10).501 Chestnut St., Winnetka, 847. 441.1700,trifectagrillwinnetka.com.



It’s the trend that will not die—probably because they’re delicious and provide that “wow” moment for the table. We’re talking about the Godzilla rolls beloved in the United States but certainly not authentic to Japan. Start with nori wrapped around, yes, rice, veggies and fish; but add in everything yummy from cultures around the globe like cilantro, spicy mayo, cream cheese and fried onion bits; then top them with tobiko and masago (red and black flying fish roe) and more special sauces. We hate how much we love them! Favorite places for OTT rolls include: Coast (2545 Prairie Ave., Evanston, 847. 328.2221, coastsushibar.com), Koi (624 Davis St., Evanston, 847.866.6969, koievanston.com) and Shakou Sushi (625 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 224.433.6675, shakousushi.com).


PM Prime, Highwood

After 40 years spent in the trenches, Bob Bansberg unsurprisingly knows (and gives) great service. Stints at the Pump Room, Ambria and Gabriel’s have taught him the importance of putting the needs of the customer first. Luckily for PM Prime, he brings that knowledge to its sleek, aviation-themed dining room as general manager and sommelier. A wine educator by both vocation and temperament, Bansberg has coached the well-trained staff to respond effortlessly and quickly to any request; the linens, plates and glasses are spotless; and woe to the wine or water glass that goes unfilled. Professionals staff the restaurant; these aren’t actors waiting for their big break. Perhaps that’s why you have their undivided attention. At PM Prime, the spotlight is reserved for the diner. 310 Green Bay Road, Highwood, 847.433.0600, pmprimesteak.com



One of the best parts of high-end dining is walking into a space that’s designed to the nth degree—lighting, wallcoverings, flooring, art, tables and bar. When it works, you want to stand and applaud. That’s how we feel when we walk into e+o in Mount Prospect with its sweeping floor-to-ceiling installations; mod, floaty lights that look like they’re made out of frozen mercury; hard and soft materials; as well as space divided into cozy booths and an open bar area made for mingling. Better still, the decor matches the food. The menu has Asian-influenced dishes, like the roasted duck with daikon hash or the tuna poke served with a chile sauce and wontons, but it also has international influences as well. Like the linguini with sweet-corn cream or the rib-eye served with a fried egg and chimichurri. Executive Chef Rodelio Aglibot presents food on interesting plates with tweezerplaced precision. Remember the old saying, “You eat with your eyes?” That goes for the decor as well. 125 Randhurst Village Drive, Mount Prospect, 847. 398.3636, eofoodanddrink.com.



Of course we love being greeted with a double-cheek kiss by Pascal Berthoumieux, the owner of Bistro Bordeaux, who knows many of his guests by name. It’s one of the many reasons the restaurant is a beloved classic. The French wine list, cozy interior and dishes like moules frites au safran ($22) that will transport you to La Rive Gauche are the other reasons this spot never disappoints, and, indeed, often thrills. Ooh, la, la. 618 Church St., Evanston, 847. 424.1483, lebistrobordeaux.com


While the food at Campagnola could justify a little attitude—wood-fired radicchio wrapped in bacon with basil aioli and goat cheese ($9) could strut—the long-serving staff at this restaurant prefers to keep it warm and casual. It’s fine dining without airs or pretense; chef Vince Di Battista just keeps reminding us why simply prepared, seasonal food is so delicious. 815 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847.475.6100, campagnolarestaurant.com


A Highwood anchor, Miramar continues to delight with a dining room lit by owner Gabe Viti’s warm greeting as well as tall white candles dripping onto the tablecloths. Order a dry rosé and splurge on a dozen icy cold oysters ($36) to get everyone in a perfect summer frame of mind. 301 Waukegan Ave., Highwood, 847. 433.1078, miramarbistro.com


In an unlikely location on Green Bay Road, Michael Lachowicz has created a finedining haven of starched linens, comfortable surroundings and delicious multilayered tastes. The staying power of this classic rests on its special-occasion status, with dishes like butter-fried sweetbreads ($18), or grilled quail stuffed with truffle risotto and foie gras ($37)—certainly suitable for a must-impress evening. 64 Green Bay Road, Winnetka, 847.441.3100, restaurantmichael.com


For its 25th anniversary, Oceanique gave itself a face-lift, and while we’re not recommending that as a typical anniversary present, it was a good move for this seafood-forward restaurant. The country French look is out, and contemporary is in. What hasn’t changed is the commitment to excellent wines and stunning (and sustainable) seafood. The menu changes daily; try the seven-course tasting menu ($110) to see the high bar set by chef and owner Mark Grosz.505 Main St., Evanston, 847.864.3435, oceanique.com.



The restaurant scene on the North Shore continues to bubble along at a healthy pace with newcomers opening up and down the lakefront. Beelow’s (1850 Second St., Highland Park, 847.780.3300, beelows.com) features 45-day-aged steak from the family’s pasture-raised cattle. Further west, Marigold Maison (2535 Waukegan Road, Bannockburn, 847.940.0200, marigoldmaison.com) brings owner John Kapoor’s healthy Indian dining to the North Shore. In Wilmette, Contadino (1146 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette, 847.920.5962, contadinorestaurant.com) is now open with chef Will Johnson overseeing the Italian menu, and Firefly Kitchen, a popular caterer (111 Green Bay Road, Wilmette, ffkitchen.com), is taking over A La Carte’s old space. In Evanston, the healthy Freshii (1596 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 847. 448.4300, freshii.com) has opened its first North Shore location, and the crazy delicious The Amazing Kale Burger (741 Howard St., Evanston, amazingkaleburger.com) just opened to the delight of vegans all over the North Shore. It’s time to take your hungry self and stop by one of these digs and get to know a new neighbor.


Recipe Swap

The cruffin, a muffin-croissant hybrid that is the signature of San Francisco baker Ry Stephen, has inspired such frenzy that when a thief broke into the store, the only thing taken were the recipes. We understand this love of sweet and doughy, so we asked three of our favorite baking gurus about recipe envy.

"I absolutely love everything Leslie Mackie at Macrina Bakery in Seattle makes. I would kindly borrow her binder with all the muffin recipes— especially the morning glory and banana ginger!” –Ellen King, owner and baker, Hewn

“The frosted butter cookies from Al's Deli in Evanston. They are so protective, they have a four-cookie maximum!” –Liz Bearwald, owner and baker, The Bent Fork Bakery

“After culinary school, I turned my studio apartment into a test lab, trying to recreate the apple pancake from Walker Bros. But it can’t be duplicated!” –Jordan Rappaport, co-owner and baker, Baker Boys.


Lee Kuebler

When Milwalky Trace first opened in Libertyville a little over a year ago, all too often a diner would walk in, sit down, open the menu and then leave. “People assume a restaurant in the suburbs will have what they’re used to,” says chef Lee Kuebler, whose background includes working with David Morton and Michael Kornick at Chicago’s Ada Street. “That happens a lot less these days.” He credits the popularity of his restaurant—it’s packed all the time—with the growing sophistication of diners and the large number of Chicago ex-pats who are now loyal regulars. Kuebler keeps them coming back with an ever-changing menu. “For summer, I’m excited to play around with fresh corn and shishito peppers,” he says, but a lot depends on what he finds at the Thursday farmers market. That mindset of having a plan, but working with what you find, also shapes his next move. “We have a concept for a second restaurant, but we’re just waiting for the right location,” he explains. “We’re excited to build on our brand and the quality of our food.” 603 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 847.530.7172, milwalkytrace.com.



Enjoying a seasonal fruit pie at Prairie Grass Cafe has become a summertime rite of passage. Stuffed with whatever hyperlocal fruits are in season, the pies boast an impossibly flaky crust made from a recipe perfected by chef Sarah Stegner’s own mother, Elizabeth. 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, 847.205.4433, prairiegrasscafe.com


The Loretta ($7) at Sarkis Cafe is a first-ballot Greasy-Spoon Hall of Famer. It’s your choice of breakfast protein topped with a smorgasbord of onions, green peppers, tomatoes, melted cheese and mayo on buttered French bread. Fraternity fare doesn’t get any better than this. 2632 Gross Point Road, Evanston, 847. 328.9703, cafesarkis.com


Ordering a Hackneyburger ($12) isn’t so much about the burger itself—a 1/2 pound of perfectly seared ground chuck set between two slices of dark rye. It’s really about the sides: the extra helping of history and memories that come free of charge with every order. 1241 Harms Road, Glenview, 847. 724.5577, hackneys.net


The now-legendary apple pancake ($11) is the working man’s souffle, a cinnamondusted behemoth with a crispy, craggy exterior covering an interior that’s as soul-soothing as grandma’s best apple pie. 153 Green Bay Road, Wilmette, 847. 251.6000, walkerbros.net


A true North Shore original? Not quite. The Japanese-based Ramen Misoya chain has three locations in the United States: New York, San Francisco and Mount Prospect. But after sampling a bowl of Misoya’s ubercreamy, miso-rich ramen, we’re claiming this one as our own. 1584 Busse Road, Mount Prospect, 847.437.4590.


Mix it Up

Perhaps inspired by the homegrown craft spirits coming from North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff and FEW Spirits in Evanston, local cocktail menus have taken a turn for the delicious. Ward Eight (629 Howard St., Evanston,847. 420.7353, wardeight.com) is every cocktail geek’s go-to spot because mixologist and proprietor Cody Muldeer is both a wizard with a shaker and a true historian of the craft. He has curated a far-ranging list evocative of both past and present for this modern speakeasy. For cocktails with an Asian accent, PL8 (736 W. Northwest Highway, Barrington, 847. 382.1988, pl8simplyasian.com) consistently delivers tropics-reminiscent drinks spiked with deeply spiced flavor infusions, like pineapple-Thai basil and coconut-lemongrass. SPACE (1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847. 492.8860, evanstonspace.com) keeps the rock ’n’ roll vibe going with its cocktail list, helpfully listed light to bold; listening to remarkable music while sipping something special is a winning combination. The clubhouse vibe of Nieto’s (429 Temple Ave., Highland Park, 847.432.0770, nietosrestaurant.com) welcomes you to its well-stocked bar, while Firkin (515 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 847. 367.6168, firkinoflibertyville.com) beckons with whiskey-heavy offerings to remind you its more than a destination beer bar.



We love a wine list that helps us discover something new and delicious. Flight (1820 Tower Road, Glenview, 847.729.9463, flightwinebar.com) has 35 wines by the glass and offers flights like The Rhone Range ($15) and Summer Red ($16). The Stained Glass (1735 Benson Ave., Evanston, 847.864.8600, thestainedglass.com) also nudges us to try something new with cleverly named flights like Intriguing Italians ($21), Not So Gentle Giants ($18) and Three to Tango ($21)—like we needed the encouragement. Bobby’s Deerfield (695 Deerfield Road, Deerfield, 847.607.9104, bobbysdeerfield.com) not only has an extensive wine list, but the wines are available to take home at a generous discount, so no more beloved but unfindable bottles.

Moving to handcrafted beer means moving to (or at least dining in) Evanston, which has become the epicenter of beer brewing on the North Shore. Temperance Beer Co.(2000 Dempster St., Evanston,847. 864.1000, temperancebeer.com), Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. (1615 Oak Ave., Evanston, 224.999.7320, smyliebros.com), Sketchbook Brewing Company (825 Chicago Ave., #E2, Evanston, 847.859.9051, sketchbookbrewing.com) and Peckish Pig (623 Howard St., Evanston, 847.491.6778, thepeckishpig.com) all brew and serve their own sudsy creations. Each offers seasonal and interesting flavors, so don’t be shy to ask questions before you commit to a growler. As much as we love the beer, even more, we love talking with the on-site brewmasters about the passion that is so evident in the product. Bottoms up!

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