Phil Vettel, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, joined Tribune Company (at Suburban Trib) in 1979, and has been The Tribune'’s restaurant critic since 1989. He has a wife and two sons, one or more of whom often accompany Phil on his culinary adventures. He also makes a mean egg-salad sandwich.

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Phil Vettel

Phil Vettel

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Monteverde review: Pasta love drives Sarah Grueneberg's West Loop restaurant

Monteverde review: Pasta love drives Sarah Grueneberg's West Loop restaurant

January 25, 2016

Should have rented a bigger space.

  • Review: Swift & Sons — Best beef Wellington ever — and other prime stuff

    January 15, 2016

    In the past year or so, we've seen a number of legitimate chefs apply their talents to the American steakhouse, and the results have been better than we might have hoped (had we known that chef-driven steakhouses were about to become a thing).

  • Finery review: Chefs bring Midwestern rusticity to St. Charles

    January 8, 2016

    If you drive west on North Avenue long enough, you'll reach the Fox River, driving through the heart of bucolic St. Charles, home to a beautiful boutique hotel, a glorious Art Deco municipal building and a surfeit of boutique shops.

  • Looking back at Bistro Margot review

    December 8, 2015

    This review, originally published Jan. 14, 2000, is from Tribune archives

  • Cochon Volant review: New brasserie looks and tastes the part

    December 4, 2015

    After the early- and late-'90s departures of Le Bordeaux and Yvette Wintergarden, it was safe to presume that bistro/brasserie dining would return to the Loop when pigs flew.

  • Intro review: 4th chef surprises with menu full of oohs and aahs

    November 13, 2015

    Chicago has been the launching point for some eventual Broadway hits — "Spamalot" and "The Producers" come to mind — but I don't recall our town serving as an out-of-town tryout for a restaurant before.

  • Review: GreenRiver makes a big splash in Streeterville

    November 6, 2015

    I've visited many restaurants whose cocktail programs inspired me to return for a drink now and then. At GreenRiver, which opened in mid-September within Northwestern Medicine's campus in Streeterville, the drinks pull you in, the food persuades you to stay and the service makes you want to buy a nearby apartment.

  • Review: Via Lima brings Peruvian flavors to North Center

    October 29, 2015

    The storefront space in North Center wasn't supposed to be a restaurant. When Eni Cadena acquired the property on Lincoln Avenue, she had a gift shop in mind.

  • Reviews: Alpana Singh's Seven Lions and Boarding House have star power

    October 26, 2015

    This week, we try something different, reviewing two restaurants owned by the same person.

  • Review: De Quay offers gentle tour through Dutch, Indonesian flavors

    October 16, 2015

    David de Quay traces his love for cooking to preschool, where, he says, he commandeered the classroom's play kitchen.

  • Review: Ampersand raises the bar in Ravenswood

    October 12, 2015

    Ampersand Wine Bar could really use a spark.

  • Review: Next restaurant's Terroir menu is all about the wine

    October 2, 2015

    "I didn't choose the Krug life," deadpanned our server, as he poured the vintage bubbly. "The Krug life chose me."

  • Chicago Gourmet: Star chefs, burgers and plenty of pigs

    September 27, 2015

    The Chicago Gourmet equivalent to "Gentlemen, start your engines" is Sam Toia's triumphant, "Is this beautiful weather, or what?"

  • Review: Bar Siena is like a really good Italian sports bar

    September 11, 2015

    Bar Siena is a casual Italian restaurant aimed at a fun-loving, sports-focused crowd. Or it's a sports bar with upscale dining options.

  • Review: With Mike Sheerin at the helm, Embeya is worth your attention

    September 3, 2015

    Empty restaurants can be off-putting; you walk into a sparsely populated dining room and wonder if the neighborhood locals know something you don't.

  • An impressive debut for Chicago Food + Wine Festival

    August 30, 2015

    For an inaugural event, this weekend's Chicago Food & Wine Festival acquitted itself admirably.

  • Blanchard review: Jason Paskewitz returns with his best restaurant yet

    August 27, 2015

    Less than two months old, The Blanchard is becoming a destination. Saturday nights are booming, and it's just a matter of time before the rest of the week follows suit.

  • Review: Intro delivers light, bright flavors under chef Aaron Martinez

    August 17, 2015

    Timing isn't everything. But it sure can be nice.

  • Dolce Italian review: A problem with seasonality

    August 7, 2015

    A little bit of Miami Beach washed up in River North when Dolce Italian made its debut in May. The Miami original garnered a lot of attention when it won Bravo's "Best New Restaurant" competition last year (besting 15 other competitors), and my hopes were high that the Chicago iteration would have more substance than style.

  • Taus Authentic review: Chef Michael Taus still has it

    August 1, 2015

    I first became a fan of Michael Taus' food when he opened Zealous in Elmhurst; it was 1993, and Taus was producing French-informed, globally influenced dishes that were masterpieces of clean, harmonious flavors. The best option was his degustation, six courses for $35. Ah, the good old days.

  • Where to eat near Chicago Bears training camp

    July 30, 2015

    About 100,000 Chicago Bears fans are trekking to Bourbonnais over the next two weeks for training camp — and they're going to be hungry (and not just for a good season).

  • Prime & Provisions review: Does Chicago need another steakhouse?

    July 24, 2015

    Why does Chicago have so many steakhouses? Because people go to steakhouses.

  • Charlatan review: Chef Matt Troost's Italian cooking adds to his cred

    July 17, 2015

    With its narrow space, well-worn hardwood floors, whitewash-dabbed brick walls, mounted animal heads and funky, plumbing-pipe light fixtures, Charlatan looks every bit the storefront Chicago restaurant.

  • Cherry Circle review: More polish needed to make it a gem

    July 10, 2015

    I feel confident that Cherry Circle Room will become an excellent restaurant. The dining room has a great look, the kind of sultry decor that makes you feel more sophisticated just by being there. In Peter Coenen, Cherry Circle Room has a chef who cooks with bold assurance and sweats the details, delivering more than his modest menus promise. And the terrific cocktail program was designed by boozy alchemist Paul McGee, who already has worked mixological magic at The Whistler, Three Dots and a Dash, Lost Lake and many more places.

  • No ticket left behind: Get more for your money at Taste of Chicago

    July 7, 2015

    Taste of Chicago opens Wednesday and continues through Sunday in Grant Park. Admission to the food and music festival is free, as always; you pay only for the food and drink you consume.

  • Oak + Char review: Bold flavors keep it hot in all the right ways

    June 29, 2015

    Homey meets hip at Oak + Char, a River North spot that boasts a laid-back, neighborhood feel and a deftly executed menu that's approachable without being predictable.

  • Review: 7-course 'Art' menu at Topolobampo

    June 22, 2015

    On some level, we all understand that food can trigger emotion, that certain tastes and aromas can exhilarate us, transport us, make us feel warm and nurtured. Dishes we group under "comfort food" aren't comforting in and of themselves, but in the way they return us to memories of when food meant security and love.

  • 62 great outdoor dining spots in Chicago and suburbs

    June 12, 2015

    It seems as though outdoor dining has been around forever. In fact, Chicago's outdoor-dining scene was born a mere 30 years ago.

  • Where to take dad on Father's Day

    June 12, 2015

    Let's face it, guys: Father's Day ain't Mother's Day. Mother's Day is one of the two busiest Sundays on the restaurant calendar (Easter is the other); Father's Day is above average, maybe. That means far fewer restaurants are going all-out they way they did in May. Still, these 10 spots are delivering deals and events on June 21:

  • C Chicago review: Reaching for the high C-notes

    June 5, 2015

    There's an interesting experiment going on at C Chicago, the 7-week-old restaurant that took over the old Keefer's space. To wit: Will Chicagoans buy seafood the way they buy steak?

  • Intro review: Erik Anderson brings out the beast

    June 2, 2015

    I am officially jealous of Minneapolis.

  • Next review: 'Tapas' menu is a party, inside and out

    June 1, 2015

    Ever-changing Next restaurant has explored serious Spanish cuisine before, in its "El Bulli" menu in 2012. With "Tapas," the menu that debuted in mid-May, the approach is far lighter, both in the complexity of the dishes and in the overall dining room mood.

  • Don't-miss restaurants to try this summer

    May 26, 2015

    It's time once again for my Summer Eating List. Patterned after the summer reading lists that haunted my school days, this list tells you the recently opened, soon-to-open and hoping-to-open restaurants to keep in mind for a summer of dining enrichment.

  • Review: Formento's earns 3 stars

    May 20, 2015

    Formento's is a restaurant filled with happy contradictions, a classic-Italian concept that makes room on the menu for quail saltimbocca, and a dining room that exudes neighborhood charm while packing a wine list that would be the envy of many fine-dining restaurants.

  • 'Schmacon' and skulls at national restaurant show

    May 17, 2015

    Floss. Definitely should have brought floss.

  • Rural Society review: Jose Garces opens a beef lover's dream

    May 13, 2015

    Jose Garces is a brand name in Philadelphia, where he owns 11 of his 16 restaurants, but the Chicago-born, Humboldt Park-raised chef is a relative unknown in his hometown. Were it not for Mercat a la Planxa, his spiffy Spaniard in the Blackstone Hotel, Garces might have no local name recognition at all.

  • Where to take mom for Mother's Day dining

    May 6, 2015

    One of the busiest dining-out days of the year is Mother's Day, and there are more restaurants gearing up for Sunday's onslaught than there's room or time to list. Suffice it to say that any restaurant you have in mind is almost certainly doing something. For example ...

  • Pushing the envelope, gently

    May 6, 2015

    When it comes to Harvest Room, an ambitious 2-year-old restaurant in southwest suburban Palos Heights, chef Jonathan Harootunian is pulling out some of the stops.

  • 51 places to dine alfresco in the city and suburbs (while you still can)

    September 29, 2014

    How are you going to get people to eat indoors when there are so many outdoor-dining options in the city and suburbs? Here are some of the best bets for dining under the sun and moon, divided in New, View and Tried-and-True categories.

  • Restaurant review: Parachute ★★★

    September 23, 2014

    For my money, 4-month-old Parachute is the most exciting restaurant to open in Chicago this year. The husband-wife chef team of Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim are working magic in Avondale.

  • Restaurant review: Ceres' Table ★★

    September 16, 2014

    The success of Ceres' Table in its original Uptown location was a culinary mystery. Set across the street from a cemetery and next door to the infamous Lincoln Towing company, Giuseppe Scurato's restaurant sat on a street that literally was the last place any Chicagoan wanted to end up.

  • Restaurant review: Osteria Langhe

    August 26, 2014

    At some point, Chicago's Italian restaurants lost their focus, and I don't mean that in a bad way.

  • Restaurant review: Boltwood, in Evanston ★★

    August 19, 2014

    Brian Huston had no idea that his 2-month-old Evanston restaurant, Boltwood, would be so popular. Or so noisy.

  • Restaurant review: Spiaggia ★★★★

    August 5, 2014

    This is not your father's Spiaggia. It isn't even Obama's Spiaggia.

  • Review: Kinmont ★

    July 30, 2014

    One of the signature dishes at 6-month-old Kinmont is the Fisherman's Stew, a sized-for-two bounty of fish, shellfish and vegetables. It's an unwieldy dish, even a slightly sloppy one — the massive prawns are shell-on — but the cluttered platter represents the best of the day's market, minimally fussed over.

  • Restaurant review: Bottlefork ★★

    July 16, 2014

    What do you get when you put a four-star chef in a one-star concept?

  • Restaurant review: Japonais ★★

    June 24, 2014

    Masaharu Morimoto, aka the Iron Chef, has landed. The chef, who has restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Florida, California and Hawaii — plus two in India and one in Mexico City — teamed up in February with the folks behind Japonais to add Chicago to his list of conquests.

  • Restaurant review: Old, new find a place at Niche

    June 17, 2014

    The west suburban Geneva restaurant Niche is a couple of months shy of its 8th birthday, but in the eyes of many of its devoted fans, it's a much older restaurant.

  • Where to take dad on Father's Day

    June 12, 2014

    Father's Day is Sunday, and if you haven't figured out what to do for Dear Ol' Dad, Chicago restaurants are eager to assist.

  • Two restaurant is worth a second look

    June 9, 2014

    Deuces are wild at Two restaurant, which gets its name because there are two owners, it's their second restaurant (the now-shuttered Zak's in Hinsdale was the first) and the West Town dining room has a "second life" by way of the reclaimed materials used in its decor.

  • Next review: Chinese: Modern menu pays homage, sells innovation

    May 29, 2014

    What you think about Chinese: Modern, the latest iteration by the theme-shifting restaurant Next, may well come down to how you feel about The Coconut.

  • Libertyville's new draws: Milwalky Trace & Shakou

    May 22, 2014

    The last time I was in downtown Libertyville, I was hanging two stars on Tavern in the Town, an ambitious steak-and-seafooder with an impressive wine list. In my view, that was about the only reason to dine on this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.

  • Taste of Chicago 2014: Turkey legs are back!

    May 15, 2014

    Well, we knew Dominick's wasn't coming back. But plenty of other restaurants and food trucks are gearing up to participate in Taste of Chicago, July 9-13 in Grant Park.

  • Boka review: Everything old is new again

    May 15, 2014

    I can't decide if Boka is the best new restaurant, or the most-improved old restaurant, in Chicago.

  • Four stars: Topolobampo is one of Chicago's finest restaurants

    May 8, 2014

    Topolobampo is approaching its 25th birthday (toward the end of the year) looking very much like a restaurant gearing up for 25 more.

  • Local reservation, pay method is just the ticket

    May 1, 2014

    42 Grams is the latest Chicago restaurant to feature prepaid, nonrefundable tickets in place of traditional reservations. The advantage to the customer: Known, up-front costs and little, if anything, to settle up at evening's end. The advantage to the restaurant: reliable customer counts and freedom from the dreaded, profit-devouring no-shows.

  • Dusek's cuisine all over the map, in a good way

    April 23, 2014

    Pilsen might seem like an odd place to open a beverage-focused, gastro-pubby restaurant, but chef Jared Wentworth recalls hearing the same sentiment when he opened Longman & Eagle in Logan Square.

  • How to be mistaken for a restaurant critic

    April 16, 2014

    Jared Wentworth remembers the day that Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, strolled into his restaurant — anonymously.

  • Breakfast with Ina Pinkney

    April 9, 2014

    For a retiree, Ina Pinkney doesn't sit around much. Pinkney recently closed her beloved breakfast/lunch spot, Ina's, going out with a grand finale on New Year's Eve, capping a restaurant career that spanned 22 years in three Chicago locations. In the three months since, she has moderated and sat on panels, speaking about women chefs and the restaurant industry in general; joined a memoir-writing group ("some pretty damn accomplished people there," she said, admiringly); made a fistful of TV appearances; lent her name to a charity or two; and tirelessly promoted her one and only cookbook, "Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast," which came out late last year.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Passover dining

    April 9, 2014

    Passover begins at sundown Monday, and of course many of Chicago's restaurants are eager to help. Here are a few options; unless noted otherwise, special dinners are available Monday and Tuesday.

  • Dogs by the decade this year at the ballpark

    April 7, 2014

    Hot dogs at the ballpark are nothing new. But in celebration of Wrigley Field's 100th birthday, some of the park's hot dogs this year will have a radically different look.

  • Shuck and awe at new oyster restaurants

    April 3, 2014

    Chicago's love for oysters dates back to the mid-1800s, when trains from the East Coast made oysters accessible to rich and poor alike. Today, specialists such as GT Fish & Oyster and Shaw's Crab House shuck thousands of oysters each week, and oysters appear on menus from steakhouses to sports bars.

  • Patrick Fahy's star still rising

    April 2, 2014

    Patrick Fahy, three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's outstanding pastry chef award (finalist in 2011) is well-known to Chicago dining fans. In the past five years, Fahy has been executive pastry chef at Blackbird, Avec and The Publican; executive pastry chef at Hotel Sofitel Chicago Water Tower and its restaurant, Cafe des Architectes; and pastry chef at four-star Sixteen.

  • Down-to-earth luxury at Travelle

    March 20, 2014

    It has been a brutal three months for Chicago's restaurants. Beyond the Facebook Chiberia photos and scientifically illiterate global warming jokes lies the grim reality that the cold and snow of 2014 have kept Chicagoans in their homes and out of dining rooms.

  • Campus restaurant Waterleaf is a suburban oasis

    March 13, 2014

    There are hidden gems, and then there are hidden gems. Waterleaf restaurant, for instance, isn't a good restaurant where one wouldn't expect to find it; it's a good restaurant tucked away where you'd never think to look for it.

  • Restaurant review: A10

    March 5, 2014

    Hyde Park has plenty of restaurants that are worth your attention. Now there's one that demands it.

  • Topolobampo's '1491' menu posits a much different Mexico

    February 27, 2014

    'There's a saying," says chef extraordinaire Rick Bayless, "that every Mexican recipe begins, 'First you brown the onions and garlic.'"

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Pepper and egg sandwiches

    February 26, 2014

    As a kid growing up Catholic, my meatless-Friday options included canned tuna, grilled cheese, tomato soup and whatever nasty fish my mom would slap in a fry pan.

  • The Boka restaurateurs behind star chefs

    February 19, 2014

    In 10 short years, Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz have gone from being fledgling restaurateurs to being the Chicago restaurateurs everyone wants to work for.

  • Dishes for two on Valentine's Day

    February 12, 2014

    I don't know when "shareable" became attached to "small" in the dining realm, but waiter patter has included the phrase "small, shareable plates" — spoken without a trace of irony — for some years now.

  • Cicchetti has culinary cred to spare

    February 6, 2014

    There was more than one Italian restaurant to debut in December by a veteran restaurateur and a culinary dream team. I wrote about Nico Osteria, in the Gold Coast, a few weeks ago; now let's regard Cicchetti, a Streeterville restaurant that is doing with the flavors of Venezie what Nico is doing with Italian seafood.

  • Chicago Restaurant Week: Carlucci keeps eats reliably good

    February 4, 2014

    The first Carlucci opened in 1984 at Halsted Street and Webster Avenue, and for many years it was one of the most popular Italian restaurants in the city. These days, Carlucci is strictly a west suburban operation (1801 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove, 630-512-0990), operating out of a spacious, tastefully ornate location (there is a Carlucci in Rosemont, which has different ownership).

  • Nobody does Restaurant Week better than Naha

    February 2, 2014

    As we head into the final stretch of Chicago Restaurant Week (which concludes its 14-day run on Thursday), I turn my attention to Naha (500 N. Clark St., 312-321-6242), because if there's a restaurant that handles Restaurant Week better than Naha, I've yet to find it.

  • Chicago Restaurant Week: Junk food platter at Chuck's

    January 31, 2014

    Though he was born in Evanston and famously won an Iron Chef America cooking challenge (in the “Battle Hamburger” episode), Kerry Simon is far better known outside Chicago than here, thanks to his restaurants in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

  • Next review: Steakhouse works over classic, but with not lots of steak

    January 29, 2014

    Chicago Steak, the latest iteration of Next restaurant (which changes themes three times a year), is a head scratcher, the first effort by Grant Achatz, Dave Beran and Nick Kokonas to leave me uncertain as to what the trio intended.

  • Vie proves Restaurant Week isn't just for city spots

    January 28, 2014

    One of the nice developments of Chicago Restaurant Week during the past seven years is the increasing number of suburban participants. It’s especially gratifying this year, when the miserable weather is keeping potential diners close to home; the shorter the travel distance, the better.

  • Chicago Restaurant Week: Coco Pazzo

    January 26, 2014

    For more than 20 years, Coco Pazzo (which means "crazy chef") has been one of Chicago's best Italian restaurants. A wide-open converted loft combining exposed timbers and white-linen tables, Coco Pazzo's look perfectly matches chef Federico Comacchio's fine-dining presentations of rustic Tuscan cuisine.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Chicago Restaurant Week

    January 22, 2014

    Chicago Restaurant Week is back — bigger and extended.

  • Dream team delivers at Nico Osteria

    January 22, 2014

    Few phrases quicken my pulse as reliably as "a new Paul Kahan restaurant." I've been counting the days since I heard that One Off Hospitality (Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander and Kahan, among others) was developing a rustic, seafood-focused Italian restaurant in the heart of the Gold Coast. And everything about Nico Osteria, which opened in early December, has justified that eager anticipation.

  • In the Heart of Chicago, a hub of restaurants and history

    January 18, 2014

    The street appears frozen in time. If you stood at 24th Street and stared south down Oakley Avenue, the view probably doesn't look that different from 30 years ago. This is the heart of the Heart of Chicago neighborhood.

  • Save the Tables 2013: Your table is reserved for New Year's Eve

    December 26, 2013

    New Year's Eve is just six days away. Do you have your dinner reservations yet?

  • Phil Vettel recommends: New Year's Day brunch

    December 26, 2013

    I admit to an irrational fondness for New Year's Day pajama brunches. The idea of showing up for brunch in one's pjs has a certain quirky charm, and when the entire dining room, including staffers, is doing the same — let's just say that one year at Mon Ami Gabi, the one party that innocently showed up in normal attire looked quite abnormal indeed.

  • Get your holiday protein fix at a Chicago steakhouse

    December 19, 2013

    It's getting to be crunch time for holiday shopping, so you can expect massive crowds in our area malls and shop-heavy neighborhoods. Which doesn't concern me, frankly, but dining out after a day of retail madness does.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Christmas Day dining

    December 18, 2013

    Bowling and movies aside, there's not a lot to do outside the home on Christmas Day. But a good number of restaurants stand ready and willing to serve that day:

  • Beatrix's creative catchall in hotel setting

    December 12, 2013

    Coherence is overrated. That's the conclusion I draw from Beatrix, an agreeable hodgepodge of a restaurant that opened six months ago in River North and has been doing brisk business ever since.

  • Balena's $99 pizza just might be a bargain

    December 11, 2013

    The thing you need to know about the special $99 pizza being offered at Balena (1633 N. Halsted St., 312-867-3888) is that originally it was going to be a $500 pizza.

  • It's all gourd at Kabocha

    December 5, 2013

    My wife took a bite of the scallop-crab motoyaki, one of the specialties at Kabocha, and smiled beatifically.

  • Sea change at Oceanique

    November 21, 2013

    Mark Grosz is old school, and I mean that in the best possible way. He learned his craft by working at top restaurants here and abroad, most notably under Jean Banchet when Banchet and Le Francais were in their prime. And he runs a superb restaurant, a gently gracious dining room that hearkens to a time when people sought restaurants for relaxation, not energy.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Beaujolais nouveau

    November 20, 2013

    Part harvest festival, part good excuse to drink wine, the annual release of Beaujolais nouveau takes place the third Thursday on November. Beaujolais nouveau is a light, fruity, food-friendly and fun red wine meant to be enjoyed young, and preferably chilled. Beaujolais nouveau shouldn't be taken too seriously and should never be expensive — and that goes for the celebrations as well.

  • Michelin gives, takes away

    November 14, 2013

    Reactions, rants and general observations regarding the Chicago Michelin guide star ratings, which were announced Tuesday.

  • Peruvian decoded at Tanta

    November 13, 2013

    Three-month-old Tanta, in River North, is easily Chicago's most accomplished Peruvian restaurant, elevating the cuisine — a melting pot that claims Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, African and ancient Incan influences — to the level of fine dining.

  • Sushi flies high under the radar at Masaki

    November 6, 2013

    The best sushi restaurant you never heard of sits just east of the Hancock Center, coddles customers in whisper-quiet surroundings and seats all of 22 bodies when full, which it almost never is.

  • Where to eat if you're following the Bears to Green Bay

    October 24, 2013

    GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Chicago Bears pull into town a week from Monday, which means a lot of Bears fans will be heading here as well. And because it takes more than three hours to drive here from Chicago (possibly much longer; Interstate Highway 94 is an under-construction mess north of the state line), it makes sense to make some dining plans, especially if you're not tailgating:

  • 10 more reasons to go south

    October 24, 2013

    In addition to the 10 south suburban restaurants we highlighted, here are another 10 worth your attention.

  • Simple menu excels at Wood

    October 16, 2013

    Wood is a restaurant that delivers more than it promises. The menu lists simple-sounding dishes composed of familiar ingredients, but the excitement starts when the dishes hit the table. The executive chef, Alinea alumnus Ashlee Aubin, abides by the local/seasonal/high-quality-ingredient credo that many chefs profess; he just does it a lot better than most.

  • Seafood that soars at Juno

    October 9, 2013

    This has been the worst year of Jason Chan's life, and the best.

  • Next review: Bocuse menu salutes the competition and chef

    October 3, 2013

    Bocuse d'Or, the latest menu from the ever-changing Next restaurant, takes its inspiration from the biennial culinary competition named for the visionary Paul Bocuse. But the restaurant's tribute is as much to Bocuse the chef as it is to Bocuse the competition.

  • Phil Vettel recommends buffalo chicken wings

    September 26, 2013

    The happy truth about Buffalo (and other style) chicken wings: Respectable to very good wings aren't hard to make. Fry 'em right (that is, until the skin is good and crispy), douse them in sauce (hot sauce, butter and vinegar are the base components of your average Buffalo sauce) and you're all set. This is why virtually every sports bar in the country serves chicken wings; they're easy.

  • Two stars for Fat Rice

    August 22, 2013

    One of the attractions of ethnic dining is the opportunity to immerse oneself, however briefly, however imperfectly, in another culture; to step out of one's comfort zone and revel, for an hour or two, in the unknown. Travel, without the inconvenience of travel.

  • Glencoe's Guildhall restaurant

    August 1, 2013

    Considering the dearth of full-service dining within the confines of north suburban Glencoe, the new Guildhall restaurant probably didn't have to work very hard to attract an audience. Just about anything would have been an improvement.

  • Revisiting Everest, Les Nomades

    July 11, 2013

    In the 1998 Zagat Survey Chicago Guide, of the 40 restaurants with the highest food ratings (based on popular opinion), 20 of them were French.

  • Branching out

    June 20, 2013

    "I never wanted an empire," says chef Carrie Nahabedian, in a massive understatement. For the past 12 years, she and her cousin, Michael Nahabedian, have been perfectly happy with Naha, one of the best contemporary-American restaurants in Chicago, as their one and only operation. But they say the dream of opening a French restaurant was never far from their minds, and when the stars aligned and a space became available just two blocks north of Naha (Chicago foodies of a certain age might remember it as the original site of Harry's Velvet Room), the Nahabedians jumped, and Brindille — the name refers to a tree branch that supports new growth — was born.

  • Lollapalooza, Taste of Chicago food announced

    June 19, 2013

    Chicagoans got a little preview of this year’s Taste of Chicago (running July 10-14 in Grant Park) when the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events opened eight Taste booths and a cooking demonstration tent during the lunch hours Tuesday in Daley Plaza.

  • Next review: Vegan menu achieves unexpected luxury

    May 30, 2013

    Chicago has seen vegetarian restaurants before, and vegetable menus before, but nothing, not even the vegetable tasting menus that Charlie Trotter offered during his long career, compares to the Vegan menu currently featured at Next. In more than 20 courses across four hours, Next dazzles diners with one inventive vegan creation after another.

  • National Restaurant Association show: Samples, swag draw thousands

    May 21, 2013

    The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (or as convention-goers say, "No, not that NRA ...") is the yearly confab of food and hospitality professionals at McCormick Place that began Saturday and ends Tuesday. As national conventions go, this one is unimaginably vast and gobsmackingly specific.

  • Chefs using their noodles

    May 18, 2013

    Eggs, cheese, bacon and black pepper. Those are the components that go into pasta carbonara, a classic Italian dish that's a real crowd pleaser.

  • Scouting the gems of San Juan

    April 17, 2013

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — This island offers so many visual treats — gorgeous beaches, rugged hills, beautiful churches and majestic historic forts — that dining becomes a virtual afterthought. A hunk of meat or fish, some sides of mofongo (fried mashed plantains) and mamposteao (rice and beans with other goodies), a stiff rum drink and you're good to go, right?

  • Phil Vettel: Two stars for Found Kitchen

    April 4, 2013

    The last time I stepped inside an Amy Morton restaurant, it was March 1990, when Morton, daughter of legendary restaurateur Arnie Morton, had a pleasantly quirky Old Town restaurant called Mirador. It was a cute place, decorated with framed mirrors and eclectic artwork, and the food was very good, especially under chef Debbie Gold, now making foodie headlines in Kansas City, Mo.

  • Phil Vettel searches Chicago for great prime rib

    March 21, 2013

    This began, as stories sometimes do, with a reader request. A gentleman asked for recommendations for prime rib. Not steaks, not beef in general, but specifically prime rib. The only condition he imposed was that he didn't want to wait until the weekend to enjoy it. And that complicated things a little.

  • Rabbit hopping onto U.S. menus

    February 21, 2013

    On menus across the country, rabbit dishes are multiplying like — do I have to say it?

  • Naha's Restaurant Week menu tough to top

    February 3, 2013

    Nobody does Restaurant Week like Naha does. Considering that more than 250 restaurants participate, offering multi-course lunches for $22 and dinners for $33 and/or $44, that's no idle statement.

  • Next review: The Hunt celebrates fauna, flora and, mostly, flavor

    January 31, 2013

    After a 2012 season in which Next presented the ethereal flavors of El Bulli, the seafood-centric family food of Sicily and the infinite subtleties of Japanese kaiseki, chef Dave Beran and company are getting assertive in 2013. The Hunt, Next's opening menu, is a flavor powerhouse, a parade of bold ingredients, colors and textures.

  • Next review: Kyoto menu is the best since Paris

    October 4, 2012

    To eat at Next is to share skull space with some of the most creative culinary minds in America. That is manifestly apparent after one dines at Kyoto, the sixth production, if you will, of Next's culinary repertory.

  • Sixteen review: Scaling the heights of fine dining

    September 27, 2012

    Can a four-star meal begin with fried smelts and end with a Butterfinger bar? My last dinner at Sixteen says yes.

  • Taste of Chicago: Same as it ever was

    July 11, 2012

    Buoyed by near-perfect weather, Taste of Chicagoreturned to Grant Parkon Wednesday to a substantial lunchtime crowd that looked very much like opening-day Taste crowds from years past.

  • Next review: Sicily menu focuses on simplicity, purity of Italian cooking

    June 28, 2012

  • Denver: Drink it all in

    June 26, 2012

    I never thought of Denver as much of a foodie destination, though Frasca, a 30-minute drive away in Boulder, gets heaps of well-deserved praise. But on a weekend trip a few months ago, I encountered a few meals — and a few drinks — that have me eager to return.

  • Next review: El Bulli dishes flawlessly re-created

    February 22, 2012

  • Next review: Childhood menu re-creates aromas, sights, tastes of youth

    December 1, 2011

    This time, Next is selling memories. Childhood, the latest menu from Next, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas' shape-shifting restaurant, is a Proustian food journey that, although based on Achatz's and executive chef Dave Beran's childhoods, is designed to evoke yours.

  • Rosewood in Rosemont holds its own against the heavy steakhouse hitters

    November 7, 2011

    Who eats: Business types; conventioneers on break from the nearby convention center.

  • Fixed-price lunch at Blackbird great deal

    September 19, 2011

    Who eats: This West Loop dining room pulls in business types, a surprising number of students and the occasional mild-mannered reporter.

  • Virgin America winning a fan in Chicago

    September 2, 2011

    I am no longer a Virgin virgin.

  • Country cousin far from simplistic

    September 1, 2011

    When word went out that Jason Paskewitz and Ryan O'Donnell were planning Rustic House, a sequel to their successful first venture, the sophisticated Gemini Bistro, I figured the pair wanted a simpler follow-up restaurant, something that would let them expand without overexerting themselves.

  • Next review: Tour of Thailand elevates a familiar cuisine

    August 25, 2011

    Next, the shape-shifting restaurant by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (the principals at world-famous Alinea), dazzled diners with its inaugural "Paris 1906" menu. For an encore, the kitchen went about as far afield as possible. To Bangkok, in fact.

  • Fine dining stakes claim in Berwyn

    August 11, 2011

    To corrupt an old saying, the good Lord never closes a condo without opening a bungalow.

  • A Capital lunch plan

    August 8, 2011

    Capital Grille

  • Pub honors its inner Brit

    July 28, 2011

    Owen & Engine is a 10-month-old gastropub with charming British decor, a beer list bulging with British-style ales and a menu that includes dishes such as bangers and mash and hairy taddie. But chef de cuisine Charles Burkhardt would rather not call the place a British pub, thank you.

  • Sam & Harry's Steakhouse offers modest prices amid sumptuous surroundings in northwest suburbs

    July 24, 2011

    Sam & Harry's Steakhouse

  • French, without the accent

    July 14, 2011

    It's impossible for me to view Paris Club, the hip French bistro that opened in River North five months ago, without feeling a sense of loss.

  • Naha is a good way to impress an associate, and it offers a bright room, professional service and possibly the best burger in town

    July 11, 2011


  • Ing's dishes are spot on

    July 7, 2011

    Homaro Cantu is a chef defined and limited by his excesses. At Moto, Cantu's science-based culinary sleight-of-hand never fails to dazzle even the most jaded diner, but when the presentation promises more than the dish's flavor delivers — and in my view that occasionally happens — the letdown is more keenly felt. Especially at the lofty price point that Cantu's food occupies.

  • Benny's Chop House all about the beef

    June 20, 2011

    Benny's Chop House

  • No need to fish for compliments

    June 16, 2011

    Eventually, the restaurant team of Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz will open a restaurant that fails to live up to expectations. Mostly because expectations for this everything-touched-turns-golden duo keep rising.

  • It's all relative

    May 26, 2011

    It would be easy to overlook Fogon, an 8-week-old Mexican restaurant in River West, especially as the space has been home to two or three forgettable restaurants in the last few years.

  • Dishes speak a universal language

    May 12, 2011

    Mexican-French fusion isn't a new concept in Chicago -- Carlos Gaytan does it rather well at Mexique, and even the newly opened Fogon in River West crosses the Atlantic for a dish or two -- but credit chef/owner Yanitzin Sanchez (chef Yanni to her fans) with a very personal and frequently delicious approach.

  • Creativity trumps authenticity

    May 5, 2011

    What started off 17 months ago as a modest banh mi stand inside the West Loop's French Market has become one of the city's most interesting Vietnamese restaurants.

  • The foodie mayor

    April 30, 2011

    He was the city's Foodie Mayor, a big supporter of Chicago's dining scene who put a high value on Chicago's reputation as a world-class restaurant city. And he was instrumental in creating Chicago Gourmet, a sort of foodie version of Taste of Chicago that has grown into one of the most prestigious chef festivals in the country

  • Strategies for getting into super-hot Next

    April 28, 2011

    The good news is that Next, the sequel restaurant by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, is living up to its sky-high expectations.

  • Next review: Inaugural menu embraces Paris 1906 cuisine

    April 25, 2011

    I visited Next looking for greatness, and I found it.

  • Stirring advice from a star chef

    April 21, 2011

    Danny Bowien, the chef/owner of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, has won accolades for his tiny Mission District storefront and last month was named one of San Francisco's rising-star chefs of 2011 by the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • Ria chef gets it right

    April 7, 2011

    Taste, as a jazz musician once noted, is manifested in the notes one declines to play. In that regard, Danny Grant is a taste master.

  • Talk about your flying fish

    March 24, 2011

    One unexpected benefit of enhanced airport security is that airport dining options have never been better. The arrive-early dictum (to allow for screening delays) has resulted in airports full of travelers with time on their hands and the sure knowledge that the airlines have no intention of feeding them.

  • Dinner and a movie

    February 24, 2011

    Man, I wish I'd gotten this assignment two years ago.

  • Gilt a pleasure in a trying location

    September 8, 2010

    If my enthusiasm for Gilt Bar seems a little restrained, well, I vowed that I wouldn't let myself get hurt again.

  • Stephanie Izard: America's sweet tart

    August 26, 2010

    Five years ago, I wrote that chef Stephanie Izard had "a fanaticism for balance that a Wallenda might envy."

  • Food-friendly Philly

    July 3, 2010

    My wife and I were relaxing on a sunny afternoon in Stella, a gleaming-tile pizzeria whose wood-burning oven produces the kind of crusts that would curl the toes of any pizza lover, when the couple at the nearby table asked, "Do you know where you're going to eat tonight?"

  • Prasino gets an A for eco-friendly effort

    April 1, 2010

    Three-month-old Prasino does so many things the right way, you just want to hang medals around the necks of Peggy Maglaris-Kopley, cousin Ted Maglaris and the rest of the family members who brought this west suburban concept to life.

  • Review: Sepia -- 3 stars

    December 3, 2009

    Sepia ***

  • Il Poggiolo gets Jerry Kleiner's signature look in Hinsdale

    November 19, 2009

    Despite a demographic that would make most restaurateurs salivate, Hinsdale has not always been kind to its dining options. Since finally permitting liquor licenses in 2001 (Hinsdale was DuPage County's last bastion of temperance), the town has bid farewell to Salbute, Kafe Kokopelli and Embrace, all of them ambitious concepts.

  • Ottimo creators hope it'll be first of many

    November 12, 2009

    Visiting Osteria Ottimo, a joint venture between Patrick Concannon (of Don Juan's restaurant in Chicago's Edison Park neighborhood) and Scott Harris (of the 20-locations-and-counting Mia Francesca empire), is not unlike attending the out-of-town debut of a Broadway-bound play.

  • Mercadito's cuisine undermined by miscues

    November 5, 2009

    Mercadito is never going to be an outstanding restaurant, but it has the potential to be pretty darn good. The NYC import, which reached the Lake Michigan shore in September, has an intriguing small-plates menu of traditional Mexican and designer Mexican nibbles, gorgeous decor and a cadre of eager-to-please floor personnel.

  • Restaurant review: Mado

    October 29, 2009

    Pig-worshiping foodies -- and they are legion these days -- should consider Mado as their church.

  • Zaidi's offers excellence at the sushi bar, inconsistency elsewhere

    October 15, 2009

    Thoroughly modern in its look, menu and approach to food and wine, Zaidi's is an oasis of independent thought in a chain-dining desert. I hope the locals provide enough support, because this is a place that deserves to live.

  • Review: Taxim -- 1 star

    October 1, 2009

    There's no law that says a Greek restaurant must take up residence on the six-block stretch of Halsted Street known as Greektown, but one could be forgiven for thinking so.So, when a brash newcomer like Taxim sets up shop on the Wicker Park/Bucktown border, far from the cries of "Opaa!" reverberating by Halsted and Adams streets, it has to mean something.

  • Kleiner brings his signature design, and a bit more, to 33 Club

    September 17, 2009

    Jerry Kleiner's newest restaurant, 33 Club, is nothing you haven't seen before and nothing you haven't tasted before.

  • Candy for the eyes, food for the palate

    September 3, 2009

    If someone had suggested to me that this summer's hottest dining location would be at State and Lake Streets, I probably would have administered a field sobriety test.

  • Review: Han 202

    August 20, 2009

    The best dining deal in Chicago can be found, every day, at a tiny Bridgeport storefront called Han 202, where chef/partner Guan Chen offers a five-course menu for $20.No, not $20 per course. Twenty dollars for the whole meal.

  • Restaurant review: Les Nomades

    August 13, 2009

    Six years have passed since my last visit to the magical little house on East Ontario Street. In that time, Chicago's culinary landscape has changed dramatically.

  • Imagine Lula, all grown up. That's Nightwood restaurant

    August 6, 2009

    One is tempted to view 10-week-old Nightwood in terms of 10-year-old Lula, the now-legendary Logan Square restaurant to which Nightwood is the long-awaited sequel.

  • Spanish menu at Eivissa could use a lot less foam

    July 30, 2009

    This is less of a review than it is an intervention: Dudley Nieto, step away from the foam machine.

  • Sweets & Savories restaurant pares prices but not the flavor

    July 16, 2009

    A good number of Chicago restaurants manage to survive without a liquor license, but Sweets & Savories might be the first to turn its back on one.

  • Happy hour ahoy!

    July 9, 2009

    Chicago's various cruise lines ply the waters of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River pretty much year round (until the river freezes over, at least) during the day, evening and even midnight. But when the long nights of summer arrive, an additional option enters the mix: the early evening cocktail cruise.

  • Spunky Italian bistro Agio is making a name for itself

    July 2, 2009

    "Just south of Spunky Dunkers" doesn't sound like the ideal way to describe your restaurant's location, but in the Palatine area, that tells the locals exactly where to find you. "It's a landmark," enthused a colleague who lives in the area. "Out here it's Woodfield, Ikea and Spunky Dunkers."

  • Restaurants, thou shalt heed these tips

    March 5, 2009

    "It's a great time to be a restaurant customer," says Larry Huber, co-owner of Clean Plate Club, which operates six restaurants (including Pete Miller's and Davis Street Fishmarket) in Chicago's suburbs. "It's no longer business as usual. We're zeroing in on customer service, and I see operators all headed in the same direction."