Big Jones, C-House, Eve, Glen Prairie, Graham Elliot, L2O
Every few years, some enthusiastic chef comes along and claims he’s going to show us Yankees what Southern cooking is all about. He rarely does. But Paul Fehribach’s warm Andersonville storefront makes good on its promise, offering reinvented Louisiana standards like gumbo ya-ya and a Carolina shrimp burger—and far more ambitious spins. A stunning seafood crêpe bursts with crayfish and shrimp in a red wine sauce, and the Niman Ranch baby back ribs in a Worcestershire house rub are among Chicago’s best bones. You know it’s not your typical Southern restaurant when the waiter says, “The chef is not pleased with the pâté today; would you like to order something else?” Yes. Everything else. –J. R.
A fishhook is the menu motif of this sleek wood-clad dining room, and the bait is Marcus Samuelsson, the acclaimed chef of New York City’s Aquavit. But credit chef-on-the-spot Seth Siegel-Gardner, who found his groove after a shaky start. Begin with tastes of lively yellowtail seviche tacos or bacon-vinaigrette-dressed crab salad encircled by translucent sliced apple. You gotta like Siegel-Gardner’s crafty takes on the lobster club (with avocado and bacon-flavored brioche) and fish and chips with house-made tartar sauce and an amazing ketchup of smoked Hungarian cherrypeppers and za’atar spice. Who needs Marcus? –D. R. W.
The mosaic-mirrored Eve is the glamorous Gold Coast sib of Lincoln Square’s two-star spot Tallulah, and she may have even more potential than her older sister. The centerpiece of Troy Graves’s modern menu is the grilled lobster sausage, a mousse-textured thriller that also involves chanterelles, bacon, pearl onions, and a luscious maple béchamel: It’s the year’s best new sausage. Follow that with rack of lamb and lamb ragoût with sheep’s-milk ricotta dumplings and then the offbeat lemon basil cake with basil anglaise and pear relish, and you have a wicked meal. –D. R. W.
Not only is the name of this serious newcomer a geographical oxymoron, but Glen Prairie pursues the green-minded goal of serving artisanal foods—ideally Midwestern—in the blandly upscale dining room of a corporate hotel chain. By golly, it works. From the excellent local cheeses to chef Daniel Ovanin’s tender Indiana duck breast on white bean cassoulet with maple gastrique, GP keeps its promise. The big surprise is the terrific chervil-crusted Wisconsin northern pike—rarely seen on menus—set over sautéed green beans alongside a red crock of just about the best mac and cheese in the Midwest. A bonus: The how’s-it-goin’ chef and friendly staff make sure you have a good time.
–D. R. W.
Graham Elliot Bowles may be Chicago’s most playful chef, but you’ve got to admit he’s capable of more than, say, deconstructing a Snickers bar. His stylishly quirky River North spot is an enigma, at times brilliant—as in dishes like a stunning roasted monkfish Wellington with French lentils, leek fondue, and truffle purée—and at times crumbling under the weight of its gimmickry, as in a convoluted play on bagels and lox that ends up tasting like . . . every other bagel-and-lox sandwich you’ve ever had. Bowles, to his credit, has unleashed an unpredictable restaurant that is easy to like. But it’s also difficult to love. –J. R.
L2O oozes the kind of extravagance that we’re all supposed to be blanching at right now, but the food and the room are both so stunning, awe quickly trumps guilt. Laurent Gras’s prix fixe menus include simple preps of obscure Japanese fish like kinmedai (prized deep-water snapper) and intricate constructions like a cocoa nib–topped foie gras lobe with port wine meringue and togarishi gêlées. Desserts lean to whimsical options such as “chocolate and raspberry done 16 ways,” which combines the two flavors in every form imaginable. Servers know their stuff but have a loose attitude considering the posh environs. Rarely has a new restaurant been so brazenly out of step with the times and managed to succeed so wildly. –J. R.
Photography: Anna Knott