With its tremendous reputation, tiny space (just 1,400-square-feet), and no reservation policy, Au Cheval is one of the more difficult seats to snag in Chicago. After failing to score a table without a tortuously long wait several evenings in a row, I decided that dining right when the doors opened at 11 AM was my best bet. Sure enough, I was seated without a hitch at that early an hour.
Opened in 2012 by restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Doughnut Vault, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf), Au Cheval is the quintessential upscale diner. Sodikoff and Executive Chef Jason Vaughan (L20, A16) have dreamed up a sensational menu featuring updated diner classics and globally-influenced fare. The execution is phenomenal, surprising and delighting diners at every turn.
Joining The Astronomer and me for our super-early lunch was our friend Britta. More bellies means more smiles and more food—everyone wins!
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Chicago is ahead of the curve when it comes to the gourmet doughnut trend. Not only is there an abundance of establishments, but they are often chef-driven ventures. Taking deep-fried dough to the next level in every way, Chicago—I commend you.
One of the most successful local concepts is Glazed & Infused. The mini-chain is backed by Scott Harris of Mia Francesca, The Purple Pig, and Davanti Enoteca, among others. Behind the deep-fryer are Christine McCabe, onetime pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s, and Tom Culleeney, former head of Lettuce Entertain You‘s franchise operations with Krispy Kreme.
The doughnuts here are made from high-quality ingredients and are fried in trans-fat free oil. Fruity glazes and fillings often change with the seasons.
Every location is equipped with a microwave to capture that ever so fleeting fresh-from-the-fryer essence. The Astronomer was a huge fan of this amenity, while I thought it was a silly move considering the freshness of the doughnuts available on the premises. Day-old doughnuts, on the other hand, I’m all for nuking.
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I’ve got a thing for fancy diners, so I made time to visit two of Chicago’s best while in town.
First up, a late brunch at Chef Stephanie Izard‘s Little Goat. I’d dined at her more formal Girl & the Goat on a previous trip and had a ball—Pig Face, anyone? I expected nothing less than a stupendous time at her latest venture.
Opened in 2012, Little Goat serves done-up American diner classics with a smattering of new school hits. Like Girl & the Goat, the diner is perpetually packed. The Astronomer and I waited 25 minutes for two seats to open up at half past three on a Sunday afternoon.
Even though I was slightly annoyed with the wait, Little Goat’s sunny interior, full of natural light, bright accents, and happy diners, made it difficult for my frown to stick around.
Twas impossible to stay upset with this cute little goat face staring back at me.
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While it might seem silly to down four doughnuts just before dinner, it was necessary for survival in Chicago, where no reservation policies are the norm at the most popular spots in town.
Case in point: we arrived at Avec at half past seven on Saturday night and were finally seated near 10 PM at one of the cramped communal tables. Such is the life of a foodist in the Second City. #FirstWorldProblems.
Opened in 2003, Avec serves a Midwestern interpretation of Mediterranean classics in small plates fashion. “Taking its cue from the regions of Southern France, Italy, Portugal, and the coast of Spain, Avec’s cuisine reflects the aromas, flavors and colors of the Mediterranean,” according the the restaurant’s website.
Chef Koren Grieveson helped open the restaurant in 2003, earning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes in 2010. In 2013, Perry Hendrix, took over the kitchen.
To start, an order of Avec’s famous chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon in a piquillo pepper-tomato sauce ($12). These meaty mouthfuls were sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once. Beautiful stuff, and maybe even worth a two hour wait. Maybe.
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