CHSO August 2008 : 111

BOKA PHOTO BY JEFF KAUCK [CHEF OF THE YEAR] Grant Achatz ALINEA Th ese days it’s hard to open a magazine or newspaper—Food & Wine, Th e New Yorker—and not see an article about Grant Achatz. And we can’t think of a chef more deserving. By now everyone’s aware of Alinea, Achatz’s cutting-edge restaurant, which opened inMay 2005 and quickly wowed critics and diners alike (“They’re either going to laugh, be intimidated, be intrigued or all of those things,” Achatz says.). And you’re probably also aware of his recent courage in the face of tongue cancer. Six months after announcing that he was cancer-free, Achatz accepted the 2008 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. It was an outstanding year for Achatz, indeed. 1723N.Halsted St., 312.867.0110.. << Back in the kitchen after a whirlwind year of award-winning highs and terrifying lows, Grant Achatz credits his time working for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry with giving him the drive to save his life. BEST PLACE TO GET LUCKY Is it just coincidence that three of Naha’s bartenders met their future husbands while working at this River North restaurant, or was it the passion on the plates that inspired them? While there are no guarantees that you’ll find romance here, too, we do feel pretty confident that you’ll become smitten with chef Carrie Nahabedian’sMediterranean-influenced contemporary American cuisine. A recent James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Midwest, Nahabedian is a big supporter of Chicago’s Green City Market, as the shout-outs to farmers and local producers on her seasonally changing menu show. And her Angus beef burger on a house-made ciabbata bun with lovely caramelized onions—we get ours topped with a Spanish bleu cheese—served at lunch only (sigh) has earned quite the following. Look who’s feeling the love now. 500 N. Clark St., 312.321.6242. REMEMBER WHEN CHICAGO was known as a meat-and- potatoes, deep-dish pizza kind of town? Funny, we can’t either. Maybe it’s because our minds have been occupied by thoughts of all the top-notch restaurants that have been opening faster than you can say, “Reservation for two, please.” From Trump’s amazing Sixteen—the best new view in the city—to Graham Elliot Bowles’ eatery devoted to all things, well, Graham Elliot, 2008 has left us with little doubt that Chicago is the country’s most exciting restaurant city—and we’ve got the James Beard Awards and the big-name, NYC-chef invasion to prove it. Over the next 12 pages, we’re highlighting the best of the Windy City’s culinary stars—from a lounge that serves inventive small plates, with a dance floor on the side, to a seafood-focused restaurant that’s redefining the fine- dining experience. Dining in Chicago has never been sweeter (or, for that matter, more savory). So, go on, take a bite. THE REIGN OF SPAIN Th e whole small-plates craze has taken quite a beating lately. We think the tapas—and the rest of the food—at Mercat a la Planxa can change all that. Executive chef Jose Garces, along with chef de cuisine Michael Fiorello, spent time in Barcelona, and it shows in dishes like octopus with potatoes, squid-ink angel hair pasta and white anchovy fl atbread.While we don’t know where they got the inspiration for the slow-cooked pork belly or Black Angus ribeye, they both have us saying three words: Mas, por favor. Th e wonderfully wacky décor and views of Grant Park aren’t bad either. 638 S.Michigan Ave., 312.765.0524. RUNNER-UP [CHEF OF THE YEAR] Giuseppe Tentori’s trout with grilled salsify at Boka. BEST PLACE TO TAKE OUT-OF-TOWNERS Walk into Sixteen, and it’s hard to concentrate on anything but the beautiful views of the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower and Lake Michigan. Th en there’s the multitiered Swarovski chandelier, the glass-enclosed wine rooms and a stunning curved African wood wall. It’s a good thing chef Frank Brunacci’s modern American cuisine—veal shank tortellini, duo of pork with Israeli couscous and peach purée—can hold its own. Maybe your visitors will be so enthralled, they’ll off er to pick up the tab. Trump International Hotel & Tower, 401 N. Wabash Ave., 312.588.8000. GIUSEPPE TENTORI, BOKA Charlie Trotter’s loss has led to not one but two terrifi c dining options for the rest of us. More specifi cally, chef Giuseppe Tentori, who, after spending nine years perfecting his culinary skills at Trotter’s, left last year to become executive chef at Boka and took on a similar role at the just-opened Perennial. Yeah, you could say Tentori likes to keep busy. While this Italian native refers to his food as “simple,” with signature dishes such as stuff ed squid with baby spinach and spicy pineapple and tapioca seasonedwith squid ink, we think it’s simply delicious. Sorry, Charlie. 1729 N. Halsted St., 312.337.6070. AUGUST 2008 <Angeleno 111 AUGUST 2008 < 111

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