When I began as a food writer, back in the days of balsamic drizzles and bottomless expense accounts, critics waited a month or two before visiting a new restaurant, allowing it time to settle in like any recently launched business. These days, the minute the contractor is hired, every urban boho with an Instagram account and an opinion is already passing judgment. Though no one in the industry cares for this acceleration, that’s the world we’re in now. Before any early visit, I say a little prayer: Please let this place be ready.
Daisies was. I dined there a few weeks after Joe Frillman’s 64-seat pasta house opened in June—and I was not only relieved but smitten. The narrow, tin-ceilinged interior of the old Analogue space in Logan Square has been redone with an unfussy grace. Arresting watercolors of fruits and vegetables by the chef-owner’s sister, Carrie Frillman, adorn the exposed brick walls, and the back patio, landscaped with verbena and alyssum arranged by Frillman’s mother, Nancy, is a mellow wonderland. And much of the produce at Daisies comes from Frillman’s younger brother’s farm in Prairie View, Illinois, the family’s hometown.
Frillman, a former chef at Balena, has crafted a straightforward menu—eight or so starters, six to eight homemade pastas, and two proteins—in harmony with the charming ambiance. Three big lumps of creamy Burrata get blanketed with peas and pea shoots, mint leaves, spring onions, and a sweet-tangy vinaigrette. It’s soft and modest and I’d order it every time. Same with the leeks, which have been caramelized in butter, deglazed, poached in a lemony court bouillon, and charred on a griddle—all before landing on the plate with a puckery mustard hollandaise, ruby streaks of mustard greens, and a dusting of breadcrumbs. Each piece of leek liquefies on your tongue and leaves a gentle, earthy impression.
The family ties make even the menu’s big productions feel homey. The carrot rillettes appetizer resembles a surrealist’s palette, with its dense disk of carrots cooked in duck fat, then whipped and topped with house-fermented horseradish crème fraîche and vinaigrette-slicked carrot ribbons. You’re meant to spoon everything onto seeded crackers or toasted multigrain from Publican Quality Bread. No tricks—just vegetables, treated right.
Daisies’ pastas are among Chicago’s best. Thick, buttery stracci nestle under clouds of grated pecorino with delicate English peas in a lamb sugo made from house-butchered meat that’s been braised for three to four hours. Toothy, mint-kissed Piemontese tajarin (a yolk-rich pasta) is brilliantly counterbalanced by nubs of chicken cracklings and roasted asparagus. At Balena’s tasting counter, Frillman used to do a customized beet agnolotti for a single VIP guest. At Daisies, he makes the dish for everyone. Beets get poached and puréed, encased in dough packets, enrobed in a Technicolor beet sauce, and sprinkled with dill and poppy seeds. Smoked trout roe cuts the sweetness, and crème fraîche gives a soft landing.
I enjoyed the flaky Lake Superior whitefish sandwiched between layers of wheat berries and braised red cabbage, all of it enriched by another lusty dab of crème fraîche, but Daisies does have its letdowns. The baked cornflake chicken disappointed, having been pounded into bland submission. And desserts are limited to some bite-size blueberry bars and a crumbly Kahlúa cake that’s perfectly moist but barely tastes of Kahlúa.
The young, earnest servers are in love with Frillman’s food. And despite my few grumblings, I found myself nearly as besotted. Daisies has popped out of the ground already in full bloom.