MEAT: Michael Jordan’s Steak House
Zest was a perfectly pleasant restaurant, but it always seemed like a waste of an opportunity. The InterContinental finally has a shooting star deserving of the hotel’s high-traffic spot along Michigan Avenue: Michael Jordan’s Steak House (to open in mid-August). The offshoot of a successful concept in New York and Connecticut, MJ’s is a contemporary velvet-boothed meat palace that will “play it straight up and do it well,” says James O’Donnell, the chef. That means unadorned prime beef dry-aged 45 days (MJ’s number after his comeback—get it?), shellfish towers, and 23-layer chocolate cakes (yes, we get it already). “The steak-house formula doesn’t have to be overthought,” says O’Donnell. “The twist is not having a twist anymore.” InterContinental, 505 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-321-8823.
“My goal is to have a garden with our own sourced vegetables and fruits,” says Missy Crovetti, the owner of M in downtown Highland Park. “That’s how we ate in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.” At M, set to open in mid-July, Crovetti plans to fuse those rustic roots with recipes from crackerjack chef Brian Greene (Abigail’s American Bistro, The Purple Pig), incorporating the seasonal bounty into dishes but showing equal love to down-home grub. “We do a truffled Tater Tot,” she drawls in an accent thick as pecan pie. “I think it’s divine.” 675 Central Ave., Highland Park; no phone yet.
Marcos Rivera, the 35-year-old Las Palmas progeny, had been loyal to his father’s trusty Mexican joints since boyhood, but he needed to break out of the tortilla shell. Along with chef Armando Gonzalez (Mas, MK) and designer J. Omar Magaña, Rivera unveiled his modern Latin spot Libertad (the word, fittingly, means “liberty” in Spanish) in June. “A lot of people were expecting tacos, burritos, fajitas,” says Rivera. “That’s not where we want to be.” Instead, you’ll find small plates, like mussels with leeks, potatoes, and chorizo bathed in coconut-saffron broth. No word yet on Dad’s verdict. 7931 Lincoln Ave., Skokie; 847-674-8100.
BUDGET BEAT: Minghin Cuisine
We liked what we sampled from the giant menu at this spiffy spot in Chinatown Square, starting with a simple appetizer of deep-fried shrimp balls ($4.95 for four). We were even happier with, if a bit overwhelmed by, the salt-and-pepper vegetables: a mountain of deep-fried green beans, zucchini, broccoli, green peppers, and carrots (also $4.95). Noodle dishes satisfied, too—particularly the terrific sizzling barbecue duck and udon noodles with kicky black pepper sauce ($8.95), from the “Hot Stone Pot Dishes” section of the menu. Barbecue is a strong suit, judging by our platter ($10.95 for two choices) of pork tenderloin and Macau-style pork belly. Yes, pork belly is everywhere these days, but these rich square-cut bites are something special, especially if you touch their crunchy skin, ever so gently, to the white sugar that comes in a dish alongside. You are unlikely to want dessert afterward. Instead, check out the owner’s collection of small ceramic teapots, neatly displayed behind glass, in the rear of the restaurant. Sweet! 2168 S. Archer Ave.; 312-808-1999.
Photograph: Anna Knott