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Restaurants: Prix Fixe, March 27, 2008

From special-occasion splurges to weeknight deals

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Prix Fixe

From special-occasion splurges to weeknight deals

Alinea1723 N. Halsted | 312-867-0110

F 9.9 | S 9.7 | A 8.2 | $$$$ (12 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Monday, Tuesday

rrr Discreetly located in a town house spitting distance from chef Grant Achatz's first employer, Charlie Trotter, Alinea is marked only by a valet's sandwich board at the curb. Inside, a dining room and glass-walled kitchen share the first floor; up a set of glass stairs covered by metal mesh mats are two more small, luxuriously spare dining rooms. The menu has changed since I went there, but the concept remains the same: prix fixe tasting menus of experimental cuisine in 12 ($135) or a daunting 24 ($195) courses; wine pairings add to the bill. Achatz's initial offerings included bacon mounted on a trapeze and the by-now-notorious PB&J amuse—a peeled grape slathered with peanut butter, wrapped in brioche, and served, with stem, atop a wicked-looking wire contraption. Now the frequently changing menu might include such dishes as Hot Potato, a tiny bowl of chilled potato soup with a pin bearing a chunk of hot potato, Parmesan, butter, and a slice of black truffle; to eat it you slide the pin out so the potato and truffle drop into the soup, then slurp it as you would an oyster. The Alinea experience remains tightly controlled, with specific instructions as to how certain dishes should be eaten. Under less polished conditions this would be annoyingly pretentious, but the soothing rituals of fine dining can take the edge off the edgiest of cuisines. —Martha Bayne

Avenues108 E. Superior | 312-573-6754

F 9.2 | S 9.1 | A 9.4 | $$$$$ (7 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

rrr The "foielipop"—a dense, sweet, creamy disk of foie gras impaled on a stick and coated with Pop Rocks—is obviously no longer on the menu, but showstopping as it was, several other dishes on chef Graham Elliot Bowles's ambitious tasting menus actually topped it on my last visit. A delicately roasted squab, for one, came dressed with a dark, smoky bacon and laurel-scented kalamata olive tapenade. Paper-thin rounds of slightly gamy kangaroo carpaccio, served with tiny "noodles" made of cantaloupe and cucumber, lime caramel, and an aromatic eucalyptus foam, were another winner. But despite all the experimentation Bowles has become famous for, my friend and I voted a simple beef tenderloin best in show: velvety and rare at its core, it was ever-so-slightly charred and dusted with sea salt. Not every dish made the finals: a single seared scallop over a sunchoke panna cotta was oddly monochromatic, and the mild flavors in a quintet of rabbit loin, leg, rillettes, bacon, and kidney were no match for the exquisitely fussy presentation. Still, this gracious Peninsula Hotel dining room well deserves the buckets of praise heaped on it since Bowles, a vet of Trotter's and Tru, took over three years ago. Beginning in April, Curtis Duffy, formerly chef de cuisine at Alinea, will take the reins as Bowles leaves to start his own restaurant. —Martha Bayne

Bonsoiree Cafe & Delicacies2728 W. Armitage | 773-486-7511

F 8.9 | S 7.6 | A 6.8 | $$ (5 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Friday | Closed Monday, Saturday | Open late: Friday till 11 | BYO

rrr This smart BYOB spot started life as a casual deli and cafe and still does double duty as a catering kitchen, but owners Shin Thompson and Kurt Chenier hit their stride last year when they spiffed the place up a bit and introduced three-course prix fixe dinners. Now that's available only on Tuesdays for $30; on other nights of the week, the five- and seven-course tasting menus are $50 ($40 on Sundays) and $70, respectively. The eclectically influenced contemporary American menu showcases clean, streamlined, seasonal flavors, with spring offerings ranging from Kampachi tartare with home-pickled ginger to a hominy crepe with red curried lentils to a veal medallion and pastry duo with an artichoke croquette. On Saturdays the restaurant offers a $55 five-course "underground dinner" with seatings at 6 and 8 PM; to get an invite, sign up on the mailing list at bon-soiree.com. On Sundays not just the price but the menu is fixe. —Martha Bayne

Cafe des Architectes20 E. Chestnut | 312-324-4000

$$$French | Breakfast, Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Till 11 every night

Walk into this chic cafe just off the lobby of the Sofitel hotel and you could easily think you're in Paris (where the chain is based) or Milan. Pierre-Yves Rochon's stunning decor features 5-foot-tall light fixtures suspended from 50-foot vaulted ceilings, brilliant red banquettes, and backlit translucent bar walls that change from green to purple. Chef Gilles Arzur aims to dazzle as well, with an innovative French menu that covers meals from breakfast to late-night snack. Lunch is a treat, and there's the option of ordering a four-plate, 30-minute business lunch for $20.95. The chef also offers a three-course prix fixe menu for $40; your choice of appetizer (e.g., seared quail breast, cauliflower veloute, a fricasee of escargots with braised fennel, chorizo, and anise emulsion), an entree (beef tenderloin, duck breast, spicy crusted black cod), and dessert. The wine list is extensive and international. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Cafe Matou1846 N. Milwaukee | 773-384-8911

F 8.9 | S 7.4 | A 8.6 | $$$ (14 reports)French | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr This Bucktown storefront has its little airs—witness the untranslated French preamble on the cover of the wine list. But it also has its comforts: woody decor, pressed-tile ceilings, and chairs right out of your grandfather's office. Chef Charlie Socher terms his food "cuisine bourgeoisie"—which is to say French, but for the most part without the usual accompanying presumption. The house salad is served simply with a light oil, the liver paté is buttery smooth, and a seafood bourride sings with tarragon. Still, bourgeois or no, it's all about the sauces, and on this evening (the menu changes daily) rich duck came with a classic pinot noir-green peppercorn number handily sopped up with a Jerusalem artichoke puree. Socher offers a three-course dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday for $23, and every fourth Wednesday is a "cellar raid" with select bottles of wine for $17. —Ted Cox

Carlos'429 Temple, Highland Park | 847-432-0770

$$$$$French | Dinner: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday

Carlos and Debbie Nieto have operated this intimate French dining room in Highland Park since 1981. The atmosphere is regal, with handsome dark-wood trim, richly toned fabrics, and elegant porcelain dinnerware. Ramiro Velasquez runs the kitchen, dazzling patrons with the expertise he gained under such powerhouses as Jacky Pluton, Don Yamauchi, Eric Aubriot, and Alan Wolf. A la carte dishes include Hot and Cold Foie Gras—seared Hudson Valley foie gras with grenadine-infused caramelized onions and chilled La Belle Farms foie gras on banana bread with vanilla syrup—and herb-crusted rack of lamb. A seven-course degustation menu ($100) with optional paired wines ($155) is a dining adventure, with appetizers like huckleberry-glazed squab breast with grilled pears and New Zealand venison loin with a smoked-parsnip puree, root vegetables, and a cassis gastrique. (A vegetarian tasting menu can be prepared upon request.) The encyclopedic wine list is mostly French but also offers American, Australian, and German options. On Mondays diners can bring their own wine—there's no corkage fee—and servers will suggest food pairings from the menu. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Charlie Trotter's816 W. Armitage | 773-248-6228

F 8.4 | S 8.6 | A 7.7 | $$$$$ (13 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

When I last dined at this Lincoln Park landmark, the eight-course grand tasting menu started with salty-sweet Tasmanian ocean trout with spiky, even saltier hijiki; then came halibut served with tender, glowing baby asparagus on a bed of turnip puree. The vegetable tasting was even more attention grabbing, with an amuse gueule of morels and fiddlehead ferns and a caramelized Maui onion soup with a sweet-onion flan at the bottom that made our eyes roll back in our heads. The wine degustation is what puts the average per-diner cost over $240, and it's well worth it. Our meal began with a pale Bellini, then moved on to a crisp Larmandier-Bernier blanc de blancs brut, a delicate Kruger-Rumpf Riesling Kabinett, a Movia pinot nero full of leather and smoke, and a Bodegas Catena Zapata "Alta" cabernet sauvignon. We ended with an Olivares "Dulce" Monastrell and a petal yellow honeysuckle-flavored Tokaji-Aszu "5 Puttonyos" Chateau Pajzos, and after five happy hours I walked into the evening with the scents of lavender, peas, and fennel still playing in my nose. —Elizabeth M. Tamny

Deleece4004 N. Southport | 773-325-1710

F 7.5 | S 7.6 | A 6.8 | $$ (19 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Under chef Joshua Hansen, Deleece is family friendly, the kind of neighborhood place where you can take your children and they will miraculously behave. Thankfully, that doesn't condemn you to chicken fingers (though they are on the children's menu). Instead there's sophisticated comfort food—for instance, crab cakes with an almond crust and avocado yogurt. Some old favorites never grow old, like a succulent pan-roasted salmon fillet served with Chinese sticky black rice, spinach, and leeks in a pear-ginger sauce. There's a three-course prix fixe dinner for $20 every Monday and Tuesday. —Mara Tapp

The Dining Room at Kendall College900 N. North Branch | 312-752-2328

F 9.9 | S 7.2 | A 8.8 | $$ (6 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

rrr With a prix fixe option—$28 for a three-course dinner Tuesday through Thursday, $18 for lunch Monday through Friday—the Dining Room at Kendall College is one of the best fine-dining deals in town. A teaching restaurant for advanced students in the school's culinary and hospitality programs, the Dining Room offers a changing seasonal menu evenly between "surf" and "turf" preparations, with a few veggie options thrown in for good measure. The student servers are beyond accommodating, making up for the occasional lapses with an extra helping of goodwill. Currently on break, the Dining Room reopens for lunch on April 10 and for dinner on April 11. There will be a new spring menu; for info see kendall.edu/TheDiningRoom/tabid/219/Default.aspx. Wine is half price on Tuesdays. —Martha Bayne

Everest440 S. LaSalle | 312-663-8920

F 9.3 | S 9.4 | A 8.0 | $$$$$ (7 reports)French | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

rrr Good-bye, leopard-print carpeting. This fine-dining destination on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange now has a much sleeker look, with black carpeting, black armchairs, and silver sconces in place of the heavy chandeliers. But though the decor may have once seemed dated, chef Jean Joho's cuisine has never been. On my last visit dinner began with an amuse bouche: a mousse-light brandade, a sip of artichoke soup, and a dab of celery remoulade festooned with a crispy piece of fried fish. The sauce accompanying a smoky-flavored roast lobster bore hints of horseradish, a flavor that came to the fore later in the form of horseradish-crusted grouper. A single scallop served atop a bed of shredded cabbage was dressed in a hauntingly good sauce featuring melfor, an Alsatian honeyed vinegar, with hints of bacon and pleasant bursts of caraway. The crowning dish, a medallion of venison served with tiny portions of spaetzle and red cabbage, was a revelation. This was followed by an impressive selection of artisanal cheeses. Throughout, the wine pairings, which included classic Alsatian offerings such as a Tokay, a Riesling, and a pinot gris as well as a big American zinfandel with the cheese course, were right on the mark. We floated through the desserts on a cloud of bliss right up to our after-dinner coffees, offered with a selection of petits fours. Everest offers a pretheater package of three courses for $54 ($86 with wine pairings), with seatings at 5 and 5:30 PM. —Kathie Bergquist

HB Home Bistro3404 N. Halsted | 773-661-0299

F 7.7 | S 8.5 | A 7.7 | $$$ (13 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | BYO

Except for a tweak of the name, little has changed at HB Home Bistro—formerly HB—since the Hearty Boys of Food Network fame sold the Boys Town mainstay to their opening chef, Joncarl Lachman. The loft-look storefront decorated with vintage mirrors and black-and-white photos by "front-of-the-house guy" Bob Moysan is the sort of friendly restaurant you'd like to have in your neighborhood. On a recent visit the waiters seemed to know most of their customers, occasionally even sitting down with them. Specials, written on a blackboard, bop around the Mediterranean and beyond, and Lachman's cooking remains . . . well, hearty. Plump black mussels "Amsterdam" style swam in an extremely buttery herb-flecked beer broth, along with fennel, garlic cloves, and slices of carrot. Caesar salad came swathed in a tangy anchovy dressing, though I'd prefer crisp inner leaves of romaine to the dark green outer ones and multiple croutons to the single tooth breaker. The massive pork loin served with red-skin mashed potatoes, peppery braised purple cabbage, and whiskey-glazed apples is one of the most popular entrees on the seasonal menu—and for good reason. Desserts aren't artful, but chocolate chocolate-chip Bundt cake should satisfy anyone's inner child. Brunch brings offerings like uitsmijter Dutch-style fried eggs and ham with mustard cheese. On Wednesdays there's a three-course prix fixe with your choice of items from the a la carte menu for under $30, and HB Home Bistro is BYO with no corkage fee. —Anne Spiselman

Le Lan749 N. Clark | 312-280-9100

F 9.2 | S 9.0 | A 9.2 | $$$ (12 reports)Asian, Vietnamese, French | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

rrr The vibe at Le Lan is a lot more fun than the stuffy, unjustifiably reverent atmosphere at "collaborating chef" Arun Sampanthavivat's eponymous Thai restaurant, perhaps due to the influence of partner Roland Liccioni (Le Francais). Under executive chef Bill Kim, a veteran of Charlie Trotter's and Trio, they've broadened the restaurant's focus from French-Vietnamese to French-pan-Asian, and rather than presenting a dumbed-down, diluted mess of ethnic influences, individual dishes are generally inspired and delicious. A Thai coconut soup was thick—almost currylike in consistency—but refreshing, with olive-oil-poached shrimp and a buoyant top note of lemongrass, something that was echoed to great effect in a coconut creme brulee I had for dessert. Wagyu beef carpaccio came with a sprinkling of trout roe and tempura cracklings; the spring roll stuffed with pork belly, shrimp, and cilantro was like an upscale banh mi. A tea-smoked duck breast with brioche bread pudding and kumquat-star anise reduction was well suited to its fruitier accents. The basmati fried rice of the day on my visit was bright and gingery and couldn't have been more different from the spicy saffron basmati that came with my venison loin. On Tuesday nights (and every other weeknight between 5 and 6 PM) there's a $38 prix fixe option, with choice of soup or salad, entree, and dessert—a terrific value. —Mike Sula

Lockwood17 E. Monroe | 312-726-7500

$$$$$American Contemporary/Regional | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

With so many tony hotel dining rooms biting the dust, you've got to hand it to the Palmer House Hilton for giving Lockwood a chance. The handsome room exudes contemporary sophistication, but strikes against it include the lack of a street entrance, high prices, and a mantra of "fresh seasonal foods" that doesn't distinguish it from scads of other trendy spots. Throw in service that, at least on my visit, was well-meaning but unpolished and the pressure is on executive chef Phillip Foss (Le Cirque, Bistrot Margot) to provide the wow factor. He gives it a shot with a seven-course "signature tasting" (now $85, $140 with wine) packed with luxury ingredients. Highlights when I dined were a "Russian sampler" of layered smoked sturgeon and yellow beets coated with vodka creme fraiche and crowned by osetra caviar; tender sliced squab paired with "not faux gras" (i.e., the real thing) and accented by bitter chocolate sauce; and a rectangle of Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson, a raw cow's milk cheese served with mashed persimmons, truffle honey, and brioche. Salty red-wine sauce was all that marred prime beef tenderloin blanketed with black truffles, and while the brownie in "Bertha's famous brownie revisited"—named for Bertha Palmer—was dry, the accompanying chocolate ice cream and mousse were lovely. The a la carte lineup was mixed. I enjoyed the light yet rich "oysters and pearls," Island Creek oysters with caviarlike globes of chenin blanc and a side of hollandaise, but no one would mistake the slightly bitter "faux gras"—duck liver terrine—for genuine foie gras. Creative cocktails and craft beers were more impressive than the wine list, which doesn't give vintages even though prices range from $40 to $600. —Anne Spiselman

Marigold4832 N. Broadway | 773-293-4653

F 9.2 | S 8.7 | A 9.0 | $$ (12 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr This upscale Indian restaurant just up the block from the Green Mill is a stunner, a low-lit, jewel-toned space with impressive cuisine. Grilled scallops were dusted with garam masala, served with tender asparagus, and sprinkled with marigold blossoms, the last a delightful touch. The vegetarian dahi kebab salad was equally eye-opening: pristine microgreens paired with a warm, peppercorn-encrusted yogurt cheese in a garlicky orange-coriander vinaigrette and garnished with pistachio bits and slices of lush fig. Lamb vindaloo—a huge, meaty shank ("Here's your stegosaurus leg," said our server) that to my palate could have borne more spice—was the only plate that slightly disappointed, but a side of three fresh house-made chutneys made up for it, as did the dark horse of the meal, murg makhni, meltingly tender and perfectly spiced tandoori-cooked chicken in cream sauce. The restaurant has a friendly, neighborhood vibe: "Looks like we ordered the same things you did," a fellow at the adjoining banquette exclaimed to us. "How was it?" he asked. "Excellent, but here—you must try some of these chutneys." Bottles of wine are half price on Wednesdays, and on Tuesdays there's a three-course regional tasting menu for $25. —Kate Schmidt

Moto945 W. Fulton | 312-491-0058

F 9.6 | S 10.0 | A 8.0 | $$$$$ (7 reports)Global/Fusion/Eclectic, Asian | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

rrr In a few short years Moto chef Homaro Cantu has earned a global reputation as one of the most gonzo practitioners of "molecular gastronomy." His Fulton Market restaurant is a surprisingly subdued showcase, one small, dimly lit dining room and bar. But perhaps that makes sense: the food supplies the bells and whistles. On my last visit we tried the ten-course menu and were by turns excited, amused, befuddled, annoyed, impressed, and delighted. Consider, for instance, "blue cod and popcorn": lightly seared fish served over a popcorn puree, topped with coconut powder, accessorized with noodles made from gelled passion fruit, and finished with an electric green dollop of shiso syrup. It's a riot of strong flavors, but though each is fun on its own, there's no alchemy to them combined. Other dishes were more successful, putting Cantu's trademarked (literally) technical shenanigans to work in the service of food that actually tastes good. A duo of acorn squash broth and a vacuum-frozen and expanded squash foam focused the rich squash flavor in two enlighteningly different forms; a square of ahi tuna served on a "chill grill" (a small stainless-steel grill run through the very busy liquid nitrogen station) was "cooked" by the cold metal, effecting an intriguing surface transformation. "BBQ pork with the fixin's" was a small serving of savory braised Kurobuta pork cheeks over barbecue sauce served with a trompe l'oeil "charcoal briquet," in truth a chewy white crouton painted with squid ink and mustard. A dessert dubbed "chili-cheese nachos" was a masterful example of the kitchen's ability to mess with your preconceptions: candied tortilla chips topped with gelled kiwi-mint "salsa," a lemon-cheesecake crema, and "cheese" made by grating mango sorbet into a liquid nitrogen bath. Is it pretentious? Sometimes. But on balance Moto's a full-immersion experience that anyone interested in this lunatic fringe of contemporary cooking would be a fool not to try at least once. —Martha Bayne

Oceanique505 Main, Evanston | 847-864-3435

F 8.1 | S 8.5 | A 8.0 | $$$$ (8 reports)Seafood, French | Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

This French seafood restaurant continues to lead the Evanston pack with artistic and well-executed fare by chef-owner Mark Grosz. A starter of grilled calamari and shrimp was exquisitely plated with an "ocean salad" of ginger, daikon, and avocado; rich butternut squash ravioli were accompanied by prosciutto and a nutty brown butter sauce with fresh sage and walnuts. Fish such as the Australian barramundi give the menu an adventurous edge, while more common offerings like walleye and yellowfin tuna also make strong appearances. The wine list is wide-ranging and surprisingly moderately priced. A three-course prix fixe meal is $42, a six-course meal $75, and through the end of March, in honor of the restaurant's 19th year in business, there's a five-course menu with a complimentary glass of champagne for $55. On Mondays you can bring your own wine with no corkage fee. —Laura Levy Shatkin

La Petite Folie1504 E. 55th | 773-493-1394

F 7.6 | S 8.8 | A 8.0 | $$$ (8 reports)French | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

Michael and Mary Mastricola, both former U. of C. students and longtime Hyde Park residents, decamped to Paris in the mid-90s so Mary could attend the Cordon Bleu cooking school, then returned to Chicago to open this charming restaurant serving spectacular baguettes and a wide range of French classics. Begin, for example, with an Alsatian onion tart, ratatouille, or smoked pheasant salad. Elegant entrees follow—try roasted rack of lamb with herbed polenta and Basque peppers or a rabbit saddle stuffed with a truffled veal mousse. The three-course, $32 prix fixe menu is available from 5 to 6:30 PM only and changes about every ten weeks. Each incarnation offers a choice of soup or salad, a main course, and dessert. The strictly French wine list is ably selected and reasonably priced. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Quince1625 Hinman, Evanston | 847-570-8400

$$$American, American Contemporary/Regional| Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday

At Quince, in the old Trio space, chef Mark Hannon gives upscale American comfort food meticulous, even fussy treatment—short ribs, for instance, are carefully composed in three small stacks on a long, rectangular dish and served with a Bayley Hazen blue cheese risotto so rich you can forget about a cheese course. Current highlights on the seasonal menu include roasted duck breast with sweet potato pie and a foie gras nage and an appetizer you don't want to miss: shaved asparagus salad with a fragrant truffle vinaigrette. Wine pairings, handled by Alinea vet Joe Ziomek, are also top-notch. A five-course tasting menu, available on request, is $75. —Kate Schmidt

La Sardine111 N. Carpenter | 312-421-2800

F 7.1 | S 7.0 | A 7.7 | $$$ (6 reports)French, European | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Owner Jean-Claude Poilevey (Le Bouchon) brings his nearly flawless native cooking to the Randolph Street market district. The menu is similar to Le Bouchon's, with the addition of several rotisserie options, including rabbit and pheasant. Raters appreciate the room, which is more spacious than Le Bouchon's and includes an ample bar for waiting. The extraordinary wine list has some of the best hard-to-find French Bordeaux and burgundies, and all bottles are half price on Mondays. On Tuesdays there's a three-course prix fixe for $25. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Sweets & Savories1534 W. Fullerton | 773-281-6778

F 8.7 | S 8.5 | A 7.8 | $$$ (11 reports)American, French | Dinner: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Tuesday

rrr David Richards doesn't stand on ceremony. No maitre d' or hostess greets you when you walk in the door of his cozy Fullerton Avenue storefront. Servers wear jeans and duck under the bar to rustle up drinks; bottles of wine are grabbed off a rack by the door. But the refined, French-inflected food has more than enough power to carry the show. The menu changes frequently, but the star of the a la carte section remains the famed foie gras burger, a $20 fistful of Kobe beef topped with truffled mayonnaise and a thick slab of illegal paté. On my last visit the tasting menu—now offered nightly at five courses for $60, eight for $75—started off with a refreshing tomato-saffron fondant evocative of a spoon-friendly Bloody Mary. Pan-roasted blue-nosed grouper over rosemary-potato hash was outstanding, as was the piping-hot duo of juicy duck breast and complex rabbit sausage—served with a seductively smoky white bean cassoulet—that followed. "Sweets" included a deliciously stinky Camembert with a fig-and-almond cookie, a mango sorbet, and a one-two punch of chocolate ice cream and warm molten chocolate cake. The wine list offers a range of reasonably priced options, including a 2004 Avalon cabernet sauvignon that somehow manages to be both complicated and mellow. Sunday brunch is $19 for a cocktail, appetizer, and main dish; on Mondays Sweets & Savories is BYO with no corkage fee and a $10 discount on the tasting menus. —Martha Bayne

Tru676 N. Saint Clair | 312-202-0001

F 8.1 | S 8.8 | A 8.5 | $$$$$ (6 reports)French, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

The cheapest way to eat at Tru, the Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand temple, is to skip dinner and just show up for dessert. Tru offers a few late-night reservations, subject to availability, for their three-course dessert tasting menu, which runs $25—a steal considering that a single dessert on the regular menu is $15. In any case, there's no question it would be hubris to have dinner at Tru and then order the dessert tasting (I recommend an early evening salad and a nap). There's a round of "fruit and custard" desserts, followed by a chocolate round: that's a total of eight different desserts for the four of us at the table, and although there were a few misses—the chocolate-port semifreddo was inexplicable—things like the gianduja napoleon with layers of frozen caramel mousse and hazelnut nougatine were breathtaking. To top it off, out came a dollhouse-size float of house-made root beer and Kahlua ice cream, and then—just to be polite—the staff brought by a tray of truffles and a jar of madeleines, then an entire cart of candies and miniature pastries: nougat, lollipops, truffles, macaroons, gelees. At 1 AM I walked out dizzy with sugar and luxury, convinced I'd never want dessert again and grateful that Northwestern University Hospital was across the street. —Nicholas Day

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