Chicago Restaurant Week is back — bigger and extended.
Running a full 14 days (Friday through Feb. 6), this seventh annual rendition is officially the longest ever. In practice, though, the promotion, in which participating restaurants offer three-course lunches for $22 and/or three- and four-course dinners for $33 or $44, always tends to linger a few extra days, as restaurants keep those deals in force.
To me that's a good thing. It tells me that the menus are discounted low enough to attract customers, but not so low that it's a hardship for restaurants to offer them. The fact that there are more than 250 participating restaurants (about the same as last year) tells me that too.
Chicago Restaurant Week is primarily a city event, but there are at least 20 suburban participants, many of them sequels of city-based concepts, including the Morton's The Steakhouse locations in Northbrook, Schaumburg and Rosemont; McCormick & Schmick's in Oak Brook and Rosemont; Catch 35 in Naperville; and Farmhouse Tavern in Evanston. But such independents as Quince and Oceanique in Evanston, Atwater's in Geneva, Carlucci in Downers Grove and Whitney's Cafe in Oak Lawn are participating as well.
Last I looked, there were still tickets to Thursday's First Bites Bash, which runs 5:30-8:30 p.m. in Union Station's Great Hall, where more than 50 restaurants will be offering tastings and beverages. Tickets are $125, a portion of which will benefit local charities Gilda's Club Chicago and Pilot Light; find tickets at firstbitesbash.com.
To book a table for Restaurant Week, go to eatitupchicago.com, where you'll find all the participating restaurants and their menus; you can search restaurants by neighborhood and make instant reservations via OpenTable, one of Chicago Restaurant Week's sponsors.
Hint: If a restaurant is sold out online, make a phone call. Naha, for instance, is sold out for much of the week, but it always saves a few tables for walk-ins and folks who call. And you can always get the menu at the bar, which is the case at many restaurants.
It's a lot of work to sift through 250-plus restaurants, so I've taken the liberty of highlighting a few restaurants that are new, intriguing and/or worth considering based on past performance.
Ada St.: Dinner ($33) menu includes Moroccan carrot salad, bouillabaisse, citrus pound cake. 1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069
American Junkie: Lunch menu includes Duque burger, cedar-plank salmon, mango cheesecake; dinner ($33) includes Berkshire pork chop, Amish chicken breast. 15 W. Illinois St., 312-239-0995
Aquitane: Dinner menu ($33) includes turbinado-glazed salmon, duck breast with apricot-sauternes jam, sun-dried tomato tart. 2221 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-698-8456
bellyQ: Dinner ($33) menu includes Thai-style fried chicken, carrot-ginger soup, smoked wagyu tri-tip, Berkshire pork katsu, Vietnamese cinnamon doughnuts. 1400 W. Randolph St., 312-4563-1010
Big Jones: Dinner ($33) menu includes crispy deviled crab fritters, Angels on Horseback, Carolina rabbit bog, Meyer lemon pie. 5347 N. Clark St., 773-275-5725
Bistro Voltaire: Dinner menu ($33) includes such French classics as escargots, coq au vin, French onion soup, gnocchi Parisiennes, steak frites. 226 W. Chicago Ave., 312-265-0911
Blackbird: You can't beat a $22 lunch at a four-star restaurant. Menu includes sweet-potato soup with swordfish, grilled sturgeon with fingerling potatoes. 619 W. Randolph St., 312-715-0708
Bub City: Lunch and dinner ($33) menus; Smokie's chili, General Joe's chicken, BBQ ribs. 435 N. Clark St., 312-610-4200
Cafe Spiaggia: Lunch and $33 dinner menus; items include gnocchi with wild-boar ragu, cappelacci with butternut squash and brown butter. 980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-2750
Carlucci: Serving $22 lunch and $33 dinner; menus include arancini, pizzette con funghi, porchetta, linguini bobonato. 1801 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove, 630-512-0990
Cicchetti: Only a few weeks old, Cicchetti's lunch options include Nonna's meatballs, assorted bruschette and white-bean soup; dinner ($44) includes gnocchi with pork shank, short-rib ravioli and brick chicken. 671 N. St. Clair St., 312-642-1800
City Tavern: Dinner menu ($33) includes chickpea and potato soup, bourbon-braised short ribs, grilled chicken. 1416 S. Michigan Ave., 312-663-1278