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The Best Specials of James Beard Eats Week

Rabbit ravioli at Acanto, squash soup at Le Sud, crab amandine at the Gage, and more

Acanto   PHOTO: Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune

Since 2015, the most important awards in food, the James Beard Awards, have been hosted in Chicago. Most of you probably won’t go to the actual awards on May 6 (a somewhat ponderous affair, unless you really like celebrity chef sightings), but for ordinary Chicago diners, the coming of the awards means a ton of great special events. Guest chefs are in town, Chicago restaurants want to show off their skills, and all of that adds up to James Beard Eats Week.

Mostly, James Beard Eats Week means that more than 100 restaurants around town will be offering some special menus and dishes. Lots of these have some sort of tie-in to the man himself, and they’re usually pretty solid bargains. My favorite are the spots serving dishes from Beard’s cookbooks, an opportunity to get a taste of the great man’s food.

For example, Acanto will be offering a spring rabbit ravioli, made with bacon and sour cream, inspired by a recipe in James Beard’s American Cookery. Le Sud is serving a squash soup from a James Beard recipe, complete with cider braised mussels, saffron and black truffle. The Gage is making a soft-shell crab amandine with Meyer lemon and brown butter, inspired by a recipe in his New Fish Cookery.

Some participants get a little more quirky. Beard notoriously loved coconut cake, so Eli’s Cheesecake is serving a five-layer coconut cake, frosted with coconut buttercream and topped with shredded coconut. Since Beard was rarely photographed without his signature bowtie, Gibson’s is serving a special take on oysters Rockefeller (with truffled hollandaise and osetra caviar) shaped like the tie. It’s worth perusing the entire list of specials to see if there’s anything that catches your eye.

While James Beard Eats Week might be the formal promotion associated with the awards, there are lots of other special events going on. Matt Kerney (Brass Heart) and Brian Fisher (Entente) are collaborating on a special 12-course split meal on May 2 at Brass Heart, with six courses from each chef – a great opportunity to try two high-end spots in one night.

Sometimes events aren’t specifically Beard-themed but conveniently showcase chefs who just happen to be in the city for the awards. For example, on May 4, New York’s Gramercy Tavern will be joining forces with Boka for a dinner from chefs Lee Wolen and Mike Anthony. The 8-course menu will feature highlights from both spots, and at $165 it’s way cheaper than a trip to New York.

Now, of course, you may wish to attend the actual awards. Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of Modern Family fame) is hosting, and the event is at the Lyric Opera on Monday, May 6. Tickets are a whopping $500, which gets you into both the awards and the post-awards tasting event. If you’re a huge food geek and you’ve never been, it can be worth a visit; put on your tux and scope out the celebrities. Good luck to all the Chicago nominees!

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