Powerhouse, Reel Club, Room 21, Sepia, Shikago, Sixteen
Powerhouse is located in an imposing restored 1909 building that once housed railroad generators but now harnesses a different kind of power. Chef John Peters—an alumnus of Trio, Alinea, and Naha—serves up surprisingly sophisticated seasonal fare emphasizing artisanal producers in a retro supper-club atmosphere. Lightly browned bay scallops captivate with their accompanying diced serrano ham, bitter orange purée, and parsnips. Game lovers should leap for the venison loin on huckleberry jus and wild rice with dried cherries and roasted chestnuts. And another selling point: With thick drapes, well-spaced tables, and carpeted floors, it's pretty quiet.
SHOWSTOPPER Crisp-skinned slow-roasted chicken thigh on toasted farro and thyme-flavored kohlrabi
WORST ANSWER We asked our waiter, Why is the pork chop listed under game? "Because it's Berkshire pork."
NICE TOUCH Unexpected mignardises at meal's end
OTHER FAVORITES Crisp kurobuta pork belly in curry broth with toasted barley and roasted apples; dry-aged strip loin with broccoli rabe and sunchokes
FLASHBACK The garlic salad dressing on the romaine hearts salad was served decades ago at owner George, Peter, and Nicolas Alexander's old South Shore restaurant, Alexander's.
—D. R. W.
This year's Lettuce Entertain You entry doesn't exactly break the seafood-house mold pioneered by Shaw's Crab House, but the handsome, bustling space brings a lot to the table. The talented chef, Mychael Bonner, has some new tricks up his toque, such as an elegant and juicy "gift-wrapped" grouper fillet roasted in clear parchment (en papillote) with clams, sunchokes, and green beans. Nicely browned tilapia has been pounded thin, crusted in sesame-almond breading, and graced with an arugula, celery, and radish salad. Reel Club's menu says that its seafood is humanely harvested and comes from ecologically sound sources—and a fine dry-aged prime bone-in New York strip steak is more than just window dressing.
SHOWSTOPPER Alaskan king crab cocktail glows from blue illumination under its floating ice vessel.
OTHER FAVORITES Signature hibiscus Cosmo; complimentary cheese puffs; Maryland crab cakes; miso-glazed black cod; lemon meringue pie
BIGGEST SURPRISE An appetizer of excellent Asian dry-rubbed spareribs
MOST UNEXPECTED DETAIL Unusual winetasting flights from master sommelier Alpana Singh
—D. R. W.
Gonzo restaurateur Jerry Kleiner has taken a South Loop building that was once a Capone liquor warehouse and speakeasy, given it a gaudy red bordello look, and named it after a door that was found in an old escape tunnel. Chef Dan Tucker and pastry chef Kate Milashus have got the accessible American style down pat. The handsome seared beef carpaccio is drizzled with lemon-vinaigrette and garnished with a small salad. Pan-seared salmon tasted fine on a white polenta cake surrounded with mushroom truffle broth replete with chanterelles and little boiling onions. And if you love banana cream pie, you've come to the right place.
SHOWSTOPPER Décor-matching red velvet cake with sour cherry reduction and pistachio ice cream
BOOTLEGGER'S DELIGHT Retro filet Oscar—beef medallions topped with jumbo lump crab, Béarnaise, and asparagus
NICE TOUCH Big patio for outdoor dining
ASK YOUR SERVER . . . to give you a tour through one of the creepy narrow tunnels they discovered behind the walls. You will end up on the second floor in a small room now overlooking the kitchen. Plans are to make it a chef's-table location.
—D. R. W.
Sepia, bursting at the seams every night in a brilliantly refurbished 1890s printing shop, has no business being as good as it is. From backslapping cocktailers sipping Green Monsters in the comfy lounge to a smart set splitting inspired shareable flatbreads in the striking walnut-paneled dining room, Emmanuel Nony's West Loop stunner seems to rub every patron just the right way. Chef Kendal Duque has crafted sensations such as a juicy but crisp Berkshire pork chop with apples, arugula, and cassis vinegar—and a perfect crisp slice of bacon draped across the top for good measure. Like everything else here, it's pure pleasure.
SHOWSTOPPERS Charred baby octopus and toasted bread with tomato sauce; a mesmerizing steak tartare topped with pickled shallots and a raw farm-egg yolk
OTHER FAVORITES Delicate pan-fried skate wing with parsnips and raisin-caper sauce; goat cheese cheesecake with pistachio Linzer cookies and Meyer lemon jam
DON'T TAKE MOM It's loud. REALLY LOUD.
TASTING NOTES Smart, well-selected wines get overshadowed by the classic pre-Prohibition cocktail list.
GRIPE The artisan domestic cheese plate—with its small hunks and uninspired accompaniments—is pretty stingy.
Against all odds, the Shikami brothers, chef Kevin and host Alan, opened a restaurant one block north of the Board of Trade—not a location naturally suited to attracting fans of beautiful modern Asian food. But there it is, offering fare such as an intricate sweet-soy-and-sriracha-glazed sautéed duck breast with ramen noodles, duck confit, bok choy, shiitakes, scallions, Thai chilies, and Sichuan pepper-flavored pineapple. Catherine Miller's beautiful desserts are in the same elaborate vein: Just dip into the green tea shortbread with chocolate crémeux (a mousse), caramelized bananas, vanilla crème brûlée, and chocolate five-spice ice cream. It's a safer bet than trading soybeans.
SHOWSTOPPER Roasted wild striped bass seasoned with sesame, garlic, and chili in spicy lobster broth
JAPANESE CHUTZPAH Shikami makes a Vietnamese spring roll of grilled Korean short ribs and Thai sriracha sauce.
WHOEVER THAT CHARMING BRITISH WAITRESS IS . . . she's terrific.
HEY, SHIKAMI BROTHERS What's with the outrageously expensive wines? Interesting selections, for sure, but isn't this more of a $40 wine place?
OTHER FAVORITES Miso scallop soup; tuna tartare with spicy tuna and avocado maki; sautéed steelhead trout with sesame spinach, soba noodles, and unagi; pineapple trio
GOTTA LOVE THE LOOP Shikago is closed for dinner on Saturday nights.
—D. R. W.
Like the building itself, Trump Tower's flagship restaurant is a work in progress destined to be a star of Chicago's luxury scene. Thanks to Australian chef Frank Brunacci and pastry chef Hichem Lahreche, the kitchen bursts with talent; no expense was spared in the main dining room. Everyone gawks at the wall paneled with gleaming African kevazinga wood, the stunning cityscape views, and the chandelier dripping with more than 19,000 Swarovski crystals. Despite the splendor, service on early visits was offkey and amateurish. The kitchen, however, had its act together, with two exciting tasting menus and à la carte lovelies such as slow-poached New Zealand snapper with sauce basquaise and lemon verbena cake with lemon sabayon and lemon curd brûlée.
SHOWSTOPPER Duck percik—two amazingly tender cylinders of boned breast cooked sous vide-style with Malaysian coconut milk and chili sauce, served with date-kumquat chutney, crisp polenta cake, and black cumin carrot jus
OTHER FAVORITES Quail breast with leg goulash and red beet drizzle; loup de mer smoked "à la minute" with horseradish ravioli; chocolate trilogy—molten chocolate, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate foam with a hint of cilantro
CONUNDRUM The biggest chandelier in the city, and it's still too dark to read the menu.
GPS ALERT Given inadequate directions to the restrooms, two members of our party wound up in the kitchen.
GET A GRIP The music is terrible: perilously close to Muzak at times, thumping dance tracks at others.
—D. R. W.