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Phil Vettel's 2014 restaurant reviews

Bite-size capsules of all of Phil Vettel's 2014 restaurant reviews

All of Phil Vettel's 2014 restaurant reviews in one convenient place.

A10 (three stars), 1462 E. 53rd St., 773-288-1010.

Plenty of Hyde Park restaurants are worth your attention, but A10, by Matthias Merges (Yusho, Billy Sunday), demands it. Named for a motorway that connects northern Italy to southern France, A10 offers traditional-with-a-twist Italian and French dishes. Small plates include bar-food riffs such as a sausage-and-cheese version of a Scotch egg, and skewered sweetbreads suspended over fontina fondue; large plates shine with interesting accompaniments, such as the crisped artichoke and parsley spaetzle supporting the rack of lamb. A very strong beverage program (a Merges signature) and a well-trained, largely locally based front-of-the-house staff are big pluses. Open dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday. Prices: Pastas and large plates $14-$30. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; $8 valet parking.

Acanto (two stars), 18 S. Michigan Ave., 312-578-0763.

Henri is gone, but Acanto, its Italian-themed replacement, offers considerable solace, particularly as chef Chris Gawronski has stayed on. A redesign gives Acanto a more casual look, and the pasta-heavy menu is budget friendly, though dishes such as veal breast parmigiana and the three-way pork composition are well worth the extra money. A Open: Dinner and lunch Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $14-$38. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Bohemian House (two stars), 11 W. Illinois St., 312-955-0439.

In Chicago, you find Czech food at inexpensive suburban restaurants, not in the center of the city, so one has to admire the boldness it took to bring Bohemian House (Boho, as per the front sign) to restaurant-rich River North, to say nothing of installing Jimmy Papadopoulos, a man bereft of Czech heritage or experience, as executive chef. Yet he acquits himself with flavors traditional and otherwise, including a note-perfect pork schnitzel, a "grilled chicken paprikash" that proves to be a delicious contradiction in terms and a cauliflower salad that plays like a Cold War lyonnaise. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $17-$30. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Boltwood (two stars),  804 Davis St., Evanston, 847-859-2880.

Bryan Huston, longtime chef de cuisine at The Publican, is the kitchen force behind this buzzworthy contemporary American, which is significantly more civilized with the installation of sound panels throughout the dining room (early reports complained of excessive noise). All the better to enjoy Huston's food, which evinces a comfort-food rusticity that turns even simple dishes into treasures. A food-friendly wine list and impressive cocktails are pluses. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Prices: Large plates $18-$36. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Bottlefork (two stars),  441 N. Clark St., 312-955-1900.

Former Four Seasons executive chef Kevin Hickey now oversees the kitchen operations for Rockit Ranch Productions, including this narrow 80-seater wedged between Frontera Grill and Bub City. An ambitious cocktail program and late-night menu are happy bonuses. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Large plates $16-$29. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Bow & Stern Oyster Bar (one star), 1371 W. Chicago Ave., 312-988-0644.

Up to a dozen oysters are available here each day, which you can wash down with one of three dozen craft beers and a nice selection of oyster-friendly wines. But chef Brian Greene's contributions are greater than the chipotle cocktail and wasabi-ginger mignonette sauces he puts on every oyster platter. There is, for instance, a very sophisticated scallops and pork-belly entree (with cherry-quince sauce and date gastrique), and a rice-flour fish-and-chips that's just one of Greene's many gluten-free offerings. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $16-$46. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Boka (three stars), 1729 N. Halsted St., 312-337-6070.

Ten-year-old Boka has a new chef in Lee Wolen (ex-Eleven Madison Park) and an exciting new menu, loaded with familiar ingredients that barely hint at the complexity of Wolen's cooking. Seriously, the broccoli salad is a don't-miss dish. There's also a roasted chicken that's reminiscent of the bird offered at NoMad in NYC, but Wolen's heart is more evident in the short rib entree (the meat offering the flavor and texture of rib-eye). Add in Genie Kwon's inventive desserts and Tim Stanczkiewicz's first-rate cocktails, and you've got the ingredients for a perfect evening. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $22-$33. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Ceres' Table  (two stars), 3124 N. Broadway, 773-922-4020.

An accomplished Italian restaurant that caught the attention of the Michelin Guide (Bib Gourmand distinctions for two straight years) in its remote Uptown location, Ceres' Table figures to receive more attention and accolades with its move to people-dense Lakeview. The larger space (double the previous size) and a wood-burning pizza oven don't hurt, either (the pizza Calabrese is particularly impressive), but at the center of it all is chef/partner Giuseppe Scurato's cooking, which is respectful of Italian regional cuisine without being tradition-bound, as his very contemporary take on vitello tonnato demonstrates. The all-Italian wine list is budget-sensitive when it needs to be; that and the under-$9 cocktails make this an attractive place to bend one's elbow. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, brunch Sunday. Prices: Pastas and main courses $15-$32. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Dusek's  (two stars), 1227 W. 18th St., 312-526-3851.

Is Pilsen the next Logan Square? That's the gamble being made by the people behind Longman & Eagle, who bought the landmark Thalia Hall building and have installed this beer-focused restaurant, whose global, medium-plates menu is overseen by L&E chef Jared Wentworth and executed by chef de cuisine Hillary Sundberg. You'll find Mediterranean flair in the brandade fritters with romesco sauce, a taste of the South in the Kentucky fried quail, Middle-Eastern accents in the chermoula-topped venison tartare — but mostly you find really tasty food. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Medium to large plates $12-$16. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Accepted for parties of 5-12 only. Noise: Conversation-challenged.

42 Grams (three stars), 4662 N. Broadway, 42gramschicago.com.

Don't call for reservations; you buy tickets to this imaginative Uptown BYO, which plays host to one or two intimate dinner parties per night. Sit at the eight-seat chef's counter or the 10-seat communal table, but either way you're in for a treat. The husband-wife team of Jake Bickelhaupt and Alexa Welsh are your chef and helpful guide, respectively, through a meal that combines remarkable ingredients with a bit of culinary sleight-of-hand. The food is serious enough to impress, playful enough to be fun. Open: Dinner Wednesday-Sunday. Dinner with tax and tip: $203.68. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Tickets purchased online (42gramschicago.com); required. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: BYO; wheelchair accessible.

Japonais by Morimoto (two stars), 600 W. Chicago Ave., 312-822-9600.

Iron chef Masaharu Morimoto has landed in Chicago, applying his Morimoto signature menu to the well-established Japonais. It's an ideal marriage in most respects; Morimoto's celebrity matches well to Japonais' status-conscious clientele, and his food veers from "fun" dishes (for the cocktail crowd) to serious cooking — particularly the sushi bar and the seven-course, $120 omakase option — for the food-driven clients. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday. Prices: Entrees $24-$39 (steaks higher). Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Juno (three stars), 2638 N. Lincoln Ave., 872-206-8662.

After rebuilding for nearly eight months following a January fire, Juno has quickly re-established itself as one of the elite sushi restaurants in the city, thanks largely to the masterful work of chef and partner B.K. Park. His new menu embraces former signatures, such as the smoked sashimi, and includes new treats such as the King and Queen nigiri and a trio of freshwater and sea eels. As always, Park's omakase dinner is the best, albeit priciest, way to go. The welcoming and sophisticated dining room, patrolled by owner Jason Chan, is as good as new. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Prices: Large plates $17-$29. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly.

Kinmont (one star), 419 W. Superior St., 312-915-0011.

Sustainability is a watchword (and buzzword) for many restaurants, but at this River North seafooder, sustainability drives every decision from kitchen to dining room. Chef Duncan Biddulph has a special fondness for sourcing and serving "rough catch," which are lesser-known (and thus not overfished) species. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Main courses $14-$30. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible, valet parking.

mfk (three stars), 432 W. Diversey Parkway, 773-857-2540.

This Spanish-seafood restaurant (named for famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher) is tough to get into but very much worth the effort. Owners Scott and Sari Worsham and chef Nick Lacasse have impeccable culinary credentials, and the attention to detail shows on every plate. The laid-back, friends-chatting-over-food vibe can't be improved. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Tuesday-Sunday. Prices: Main courses $20-$24. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Accepted (limited) by phone. Noise: Conversation-friendly..

Milwalky Trace (two stars), 603 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 847-530-7172.

Chef/partner Lee Kuebler (ex-Ada St.) is reason enough for Chicagoans to consider beating a trail up here again. The small-plates menu is fleshed out by four entrees, including one serious steak, but I'd point to the pork shoulder with clams. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $17-$35. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; outdoor patio.

Next (four stars), 953 W. Fulton Market, nextrestaurant.com.

They turned back the clock for Next's current iteration; not as far back as the "Paris 1906" menu demanded, but some 13 years, when chef/partner Grant Achatz was making culinary magic at Trio in Evanston. Chef Dave Beran pretty much nails such well-loved dishes as Achatz's olive-oil ice-cream sandwiches and exploding truffle ravioli, and manages a surprise or two of his own. This plays out over 21 courses, most of which celebrate Achatz's subversive undermining of flavor and texture expectations and occasionally focus on the service piece more than on what is being served. It's a wonderfully nostalgic trip for Trio veterans, but fascinating and delicious enough to stand on its own. Open: Dinner Wednesday-Sunday. Prices: Dinner with wine, tax and gratuity $450-$525. Credit cards: A, DS, M, V. Reservations: Tickets sold online only. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Niche (two stars), 14 S. Third St., Geneva, 630-262-1000.

Executive chef Chris Ayukawa's creative-American menu abounds with global touches, be it the irresistible French gougeres, the Asian-informed tuna with coconut-lemongrass cream or the Latin-inflected pork cheek with plantains and chayote slaw. On-the-ball service is a plus. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: Entrees $24-$32. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; late-night menu weekends.

Nico Osteria (three stars), 1015 N. Rush St., 312-994-7100.

The latest restaurant by One Off Hospitality (Avec, Blackbird, The Publican, etc.) is impressive in every way. The food is in the hands of executive chef Erling Wu-Bower and pastry chef Amanda Rockman, as formidable a culinary team as anyone could want. Rustic Italian seafood is the menu's thrust, from delicate crudo plates to the hearty Neapolitan ragu, but as you indulge, remember that desserts are a must. Open: Breakfast, lunch, dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $17-$38. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Osteria Langhe (two stars), 2824 W. Armitage Ave., 773-661-1582.

This cheerfully minimalist Logan Square restaurant focuses on the food and wine of the Piemonte, Italy. There are good cocktails, but the all-Piemontese wine list is the most fun to explore. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Main courses $17-$25. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Street parking.

Parachute (three stars), 3500 N. Elston Ave., 773-654-1460.

What may well be the most exciting new restaurant in 2014 occupies a cozy corner in Avondale, where husband-wife chef duo Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim use Korean ingredients to bring new, unexpected nuance to such familiar dishes as Peking duck, tagliatelle bolognese and bouillabaisse. The no-reservations policy means you'll wait; this food is worth it. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: Main courses $14-$36. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Not accepted. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Pearl Tavern (two stars), 180 N. Wacker Drive, 312-629-1030.

An impressive addition to Chicago's oyster landscape (which itself is stronger than one might expect), Pearl Tavern is an agreeably boisterous, pubby-looking riverside spot offering pristine, perfectly handled oysters, along with an ever-changing assortment of crudo and ceviches by chef Chris Lorenz. Open: Dinner Monday-Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday. Prices: Small plates $12-$16. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly advised. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Valet parking.

River Roast (two stars), 315 N. LaSalle St., 312-822-0100.

With well-known chefs Tony Mantuano and John Hogan on board, perhaps this riverfront restaurant should have been called Celebrity Roast. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Main courses $22-$25, entrees-for-two $39-$42. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly advised. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

RPM Steak (three stars), 66 W. Kinzie St., 312-284-4990.

This chic, sleek steakhouse exceeds expectations in so many ways I can scarcely list them all. On Doug Psaltis' menu, there is a dizzying array of beefy options, from USDA prime to locally grass fed steaks, A5 Japanese wagyu and even a bison steak, as well as superb seafood and a memorable, coal-roasted chicken. The kitchen doesn't miss a beat with the appetizer and dessert options, and dinner-jacket-clad servers are utterly professional. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $23-$155. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Salero (three stars), 621 W. Randolph St., 312-466-1000.

"Midwest, inspired by Spain," is chef Ashlee Aubin's thumbnail description of this West Loop "tapas-free zone" (though there are Basque pintxos on the bar menu). Aubin offers up such treats as chorizo-stuffed quail, anchovy-glazed pork belly and seafood zarzuela with saffron-sherry broth. Desserts are very good, and the Spanish-heavy wine list is augmented by a well-chosen selection of sherries. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday. Prices: Entrees $23-$36. Credit cards: A, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Shakou (one star), 625 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 224-433-6675.

"Shakou" translates to "social life," and there's no lack of that in this lively, shiny, two-level space, which attracts a dressy, date-night crowd on weekends. Executive chef Sang Choi produces a menu of solid sushi choices. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday. Prices: Maki rolls $12-$20, main courses $17-$24. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended weekends. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; complimentary valet parking.

Spiaggia (four stars), 980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-2750.

The finest Italian in Chicago (and certainly one of the finest in the country) welcomed its 30th anniversary with a floor-to-ceiling makeover (by Mark Knauer), rendering the dining room a little less formal, a lot more modern and not a whit less spectacular among the additions is a front-and-center bar and lounge that serves a light bar menu (though the full menu can be enjoyed here). Executive chef Chris Marchino brings an artist's eye for presentation to the overhauled menu (even the wood-grilled scallops, a favorite of a certain Chief Executive, have been changed somewhat). Rachael Lowe adds superb wine service to an exemplary cellar. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Secondi piatti $42-$65; six-course menu $145-$155. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Hushed. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Topolobampo (four stars), 445 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434.

Nearly a quarter-century after opening as Frontera Grill's more-sophisticated sibling, Rick Bayless' fine-dining Mexican continues to strive and amaze. There simply isn't a more intellectually stimulating Mexican restaurant anywhere. In addition to a menu of creative, dazzling dishes (available in build-your-own three-, five- and seven-course dinners), there is a bi-monthly, themed menu available (previous themes include the pre-Columbian "1491" and "Mexico City: 1671"). Chef de cuisine Andres Padilla's cooking is extraordinary, abetted by a superb front-room staff, Jennifer Jones' breathtaking desserts and Jill Gubesch's spot-on wine pairings. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Tuesday-Friday. Prices: Three-, five- and seven-course dinners $55, $90 and $120. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.

Travelle (three stars), 330 N. Wabash Ave., 312-923-7705.

The AMA (nee IBM) Building is a registered landmark, which is why there is barely any exterior clue to the existence of the Langham Hotel (which opened in 2013) and its fine-dining restaurant, Travelle. Blessed with stylish good looks and a river-view lounge, Travelle offers a seafood-focused menu with Middle Eastern accents, overseen by chef Tim Graham (ex-Tru, Paris Club). Clever touches include a "sea-cuterie," a fin-and-claw version of a salume assortment, and "flaming saganaki wings" whose flavor rises above its gimmicky name. Main-course fish are superb, Scott Green's desserts imaginatively continue the Middle-East theme and the 1,600-bottle wine list will curl any oenophile's toes. For true indulgence, opt for the three-course, $145 Seafood Elevation, the greatest seafood tower you're ever going to find. Open: Breakfast, lunch, dinner Monday-Sunday (brunch Saturday-Sunday). Prices: main courses $24-$45. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended weekends. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking ($14 with validation).

Two (two stars), 1132 W. Grand Ave., 312-624-8363.

The dining room, filled with repurposed materials, exudes a neat and tidy rusticity that jibes nicely with executive chef Tom Van Lente's locally sourced American cooking. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $14-$21. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking Thursday-Saturday.

Vistro (one star), 112 S. Washington St., Hinsdale, 630-537-1459.

Well-established fine-dining chef Paul Virant (Vie, Perennial Virant) set out to create a simple neighborhood hangout in the suburb in which he lives, and downtown Hinsdale is the better for it; the brick-walled space pulls in a multigenerational crowd, and price is no doubt part of the appeal. Do not pass up Elissa Narow's desserts. Open: Dinner and lunch Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $14-$38. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.

Waterleaf (three stars), 425 Fawell Boulevard, Glen Ellyn, 630-942-6881.

College of DuPage, a seat of higher learning, is now a destination for higher dining thanks to Waterleaf, a French-focused restaurant inside the college's Culinary and Hospitality Center. It is not, as is commonly assumed, a student-run operation, but a professionally staffed operation featuring chef Nadia Tilkian. There's nothing exotic to the menu; Tilkian sticks to well-understood dishes, created with precision and artistry, including bacon-wrapped quail with a potato, celery root and quail-egg "nest," and cocoa-crusted duck with vanilla-carrot sauce. Gayle Marcotte's desserts are even prettier. Factor in the dining room's understated luxury, the thoughtful wine list and the well-crafted cocktails and you have one of the best restaurants in the western suburbs. Open: Dinner and lunch Monday-Sunday (brunch Sunday). Prices: Entrees $18-$36. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Recommended. Noise: Hushed. Other: Wheelchair accessible; free parking lot.

Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine" and on CLTV.

pvettel@tribune.com

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