Biography

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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How to be mistaken for a restaurant critic

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.

  • Blue point specials

    April 3, 2014

    You need never pay full price for oysters, provided you're willing to eat early enough or late enough or on the right day. Hint: It really helps to be in the mood for oysters on a Monday.

  • 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.

  • Another right turn at 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 extended

    February 5, 2014

    Chicago Restaurant Week doesn’t end Thursday. True, Feb. 6 is the official last day, and the list of participating restaurants and menus will vanish from the choosechicago.com website. But, as in previous years, a number of Chicago restaurants are extending their three-course lunch ($22) and three- and four-course dinners ($33 or $44) for a few more days, and in some cases, a few more weeks.

  • 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 takes on the classic steakhouse

    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.

  • Cicchetti proves its culinary cred during Restaurant Week

    January 24, 2014

    Chicago Restaurant Week kicked off Friday with more than 300 participating city and suburban restaurants, including a lot of well-known faces and a few brand new ones.

  • 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.

  • Charlie Trotter's immense influence

    November 6, 2013

    More so than any top chef in town, Charlie Trotter was a local hero.

  • 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.

  • Chicago Marathon dining

    October 10, 2013

    The Bank of America Chicago Marathon takes place Sunday, and as always, Chicago's restaurants are ready to provide pre-, post- and midrace meal deals and vantage points.

  • Seafood that soars at Juno

    October 9, 2013

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

  • Conveyor brings sushi dishes to you

    October 3, 2013

    If you love sushi but hate waiting for it, Sushi + might be your idea of heaven.

  • New 'Bocuse' menu wins

    October 2, 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.

  • Chefs and the sun shine at Chicago Gourmet

    September 29, 2013

    The sixth annual Bon Appetit Presents Chicago Gourmet took place in Millennium Park over the weekend, and the sellout crowd that paid entry fees of $159 and up to sample gourmet goodies and fine wine did so under near-perfect conditions: Temperatures in the 70s and 80s, a gentle lake breeze and enough cloud cover to keep the sun in check.

  • 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.

  • Get ready for Chicago Gourmet

    September 19, 2013

    Bon Appetit Presents Chicago Gourmet returns next week for its sixth year, celebrating Chicago's chefs over two days (three, counting the preview events) of food and wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, seminars and more.

  • Charcuterie at Balena, The Bristol

    September 12, 2013

    Prolific cookbook author (21 published books) and TV personality Michael Ruhlman will hit town Tuesday, giving fans a couple of opportunities to meet, greet, nibble and dine.

  • Zesty Italians

    September 5, 2013

    Splashy restaurant debuts attract a lot of attention, no surprise there. But today we take a look at two quiet newcomers, low-key neighborhood Italians with impeccable culinary credentials: J. Rocco, which opened in mid-May in River North, and Tre Soldi, which arrived mid-June in Streeterville.

  • Ina Pinkney retiring after 33 years, closing Ina's

    August 28, 2013

    Corporations have exit interviews; chefs never have an exit interview," says Ina Pinkney. "So this is really something for me."

  • Windy City BBQ Classic getting fired up again

    August 22, 2013

    Shades of the Mike Royko Ribfest: Pitmasters Gary Wiviott (Barn & Company, 950 W. Wrightwood Ave.) and Jared Leonard (Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse, 6954 N. Western Ave.) will present the second Windy City BBQ Classic from noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 1 in the south parking lot at Soldier Field.

  • 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.

  • Two stars for Sumi Robata Bar

    August 15, 2013

    Those who know chef Gene Kato from his years as executive chef (one of two) at Japonais should be advised that while the quality of his cooking hasn't changed at Sumi Robata Bar, the restaurant he and his wife opened in January, the dining experience most definitely has.

  • Tanta: So much more than bread

    August 15, 2013

    Gaston Acurio gets around. The man whose Gaston y Astrid restaurant in Lima, Peru, is 14th on Restaurant Magazine's current The World's 50 Best Restaurants list has 32 other restaurants worldwide, has published 20 books, has been part of a documentary film with the legendary Ferran Adria and has numerous television appearances to his credit.

  • Air & Water Show viewing, dining options

    August 15, 2013

    One of the sure signs of the end of summer (sigh) is Chicago's annual Air & Water Show, which takes place this weekend.

  • A second look at Elizabeth

    August 8, 2013

    Elizabeth, the restaurant, is not quite a year old, but recent changes by chef/owner Iliana Regan have made the dining experience drastically different. And I like every single change she has made.

  • Lolla's food lineup boasts impressive names

    August 2, 2013

    For a festival in which food is not the primary focus, or even the secondary focus, Lollapalooza puts out a pretty good spread.

  • 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.

  • Three stars for The Lobby

    July 25, 2013

    One great thing about a hotel restaurant named The Lobby is that it's easy to find.

  • Bastille Day dining options

    July 11, 2013

    Le quatorze juillet, also known as La Fete Nationale in France and Bastille Day most other places, commemorates the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille, a fortress famed for holding political prisoners (though at the time of the storming, it housed only a handful of inmates, apparently of limited political significance).

  • 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.

  • Taste tips for this year's Taste

    July 4, 2013

    Here's everything you need to know about Taste of Chicago, which returns to Grant Park Wednesday and runs through July 14.

  • A new view of 'cue

    July 4, 2013

    Barbecue still holds a romantic allure. At its heart, you take meat and apply heat via smoke of a wood-burning fire. There's something primordial and attractive about the process. Unlike grilling a steak or frying a pork chop, smoking meats requires patience and instinct. Which is why it's easy to spot a barbecue restaurant, but hard to find one that does it consistently well.

  • Let's take this outside

    June 27, 2013

    The heat of summer 2013 took its sweet time arriving this year, even though summer officially began only last week. But as anyone in Chicago can tell you, the weather doesn't have to be ideal to make outdoor dining appealing.

  • Lillie's Q limited-edition sauce debuts

    June 20, 2013

    There's bourbon barbecue sauce, and then there's the stuff Charlie McKenna of Lillie's Q has whipped up — a limited-edition barbecue sauce whose bourbon accent comes from having spent the last six months aging inside a bourbon barrel. "There are a lot of sauces out there that pour bourbon into them," McKenna says, "but no one has done barrel aging. You get this nice hint of bourbon, instead of the astringent liquor taste. It's an amazing sauce, probably the best barbecue sauce I've ever had." The base of the sauce is Smoky, the most popular sauce at Lillie's Q. Aging took place inside a charred-oak barrel provided by Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.), which also produces the private-label Lillie's Q bourbon that the restaurant carries. In fact, the same barrel that produced Lillie's Q bourbon was used to age the barbecue sauce.

  • Dining options near the United Center

    June 20, 2013

    The Stanley Cup Final heads for a crucial Game 5 at the United Center on Saturday. Here are some pregame and game-time dining options near the UC, for those with and without tickets.

  • 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.

  • Summer Eating List

    June 13, 2013

    Summer is the sweet season for restaurants. Fresh produce is abundant, daylight lasts longer and restaurants are busier and bigger (with the addition of outdoor seats) than at any other time of the year.

  • Father's Day dining options

    June 13, 2013

    Time to show dear old dad some of the love you showed mom last month (you did remember mom last month, right?). Here are more than two dozen Father's Day dining options, including one event taking place the night before Father's Day, and one that will feed Dad on Monday too:

  • Chef talks Chicago vs. San Francisco

    June 6, 2013

    Michael Rotondo spent eight years at Charlie Trotter's, three of them as chef de cuisine, and was executive chef during the restaurant's final year, making him a pivotal figure during the eight-month victory lap between Trotter's announced closing and the restaurant's final meal.

  • Four stars for Next's Vegan menu

    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.

  • Diners left adrift in a sea of choices

    May 23, 2013

    E+O, a spiffy and spacious restaurant that opened three months ago in Mount Prospect's Randhurst Village mall, has something for everyone, which is the good news and bad news.

  • 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.

  • Phil Vettel: Two stars for Bread & Wine

    May 9, 2013

    To appreciate Bread & Wine, the 16-month-old restaurant in the Irving Park neighborhood, it helps to be less literal and more observant.

  • Where to celebrate Mother's Day

    May 2, 2013

    Mother's Day is a little more than a week away, so if you haven't made brunch/dinner plans, it's time to get cracking. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Significant sequels

    May 2, 2013

    In the last six months, three highly regarded restaurant chef/operators — Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat, Graham Elliot of his eponymous restaurant, and David Flom and Matt Moore of Chicago Cut Steakhouse — have opened sequel restaurants, each a more casual, more affordable version of their high-end originals.

  • A hidden gem, in plain sight

    April 25, 2013

    There are many things I don't understand about the restaurant business. I don't see why small plates are "shareable." I don't get the appeal of communal tables. And I don't understand why Storefront Company isn't crowded all the time.

  • Bring on brunch

    April 18, 2013

    Though Sunday brunch is a year-round option, warm and sunny weather is what brings out the crowds. I can attest to that, having spent most of the last 10 fairly miserable (weatherwise) weekends hitting one brunch after another; I don't think I found a single crowded dining room during all of February and March (Easter excepted), and reservations certainly were no problem. Brunch-friendly temperatures will be with us soon enough, and when they arrive, here are a few brunch spots, old and new, that will be worth checking out. Better still, visit them now, when tables are still easy to secure (Mother's Day excepted).

  • 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: Three stars for EL Ideas

    April 11, 2013

     EL Ideas has been playing to full houses since it opened in July 2011. That would be a nice achievement for any operation, but given the quirky experience chef and owner Phillip Foss offers, it's positively miraculous.

  • 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 picks Easter brunch spots

    March 27, 2013

    Sunday is Easter, and among other things, that means big crowds for Sunday brunch and dinner. Given the likelihood of sellouts, I made the list extra long this time.

  • Phil Vettel: Four stars for L2O

    March 27, 2013

    A lot of words have been used to describe L2O — minimalist, compelling, any superlative you care to name — but until recently, playful was not among them.

  • 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.

  • Two stars for both CiNe and A Toda Madre

    March 14, 2013

    There is no shortage of decent Mexican restaurants in the western suburbs, but far too many of them play down to their audiences, falling back on the standard Mexican and even Tex-Mex dishes that everybody prepares.

  • Where to eat during Big Ten tournament

    March 13, 2013

    Where you dine before or after the Big Ten tournament games depends on what time your team's game starts. If your team is playing at 11 a.m. (as Illinois and Minnesota do on Thursday, the winner playing Indiana at 11 a.m. Friday), you'll need a breakfast spot pregame, lunch spot thereafter. Subsequent games will have fans looking for late-lunch and early-dinner options, and fans of the 8 p.m. game teams (Northwestern and Iowa Thursday, the winner playing Michigan State on Friday) will be scrambling for a late-night postgame meal.

  • Phil Vettel: Two stars for Boarding House

    March 7, 2013

    The first thing that catches your eye when entering The Boarding House is the chandelier. Except it's not really a chandelier, but an art installation consisting of 9,000-plus (official count: 9,063) suspended wine glasses.

  • 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?

  • Wood's dinner menu as solid as its name

    February 8, 2013

    One of the best things about Chicago's Restaurant Week is that it allows diners to experience, at low financial risk, interesting and new (at least to them) restaurants.

  • Valentine's Day dining options abound

    February 7, 2013

    Valentine's Day is one week away, and as some of you have already discovered, restaurant reservations are going fast.

  • Phil Vettel: Four stars for Grace

    February 7, 2013

    Given chef Curtis Duffy's curriculum vitae — his work at Alinea, the two Michelin stars awarded to Avenues restaurant on Duffy's watch — there really wasn't any question whether Grace, Duffy's first solo effort, would be good. Just how good.

  • Hits, near-misses at Tesori

    February 7, 2013

    There's a new restaurant inside Symphony Center; what was once Rhapsody is now called Tesori (65 E. Adams St., 312-786-9911). It's got a new look — a little darker, a bit more romantic — a new chef in Andrew Deuel, and a spiffed-up bar area working hard to attract the after-5 and post-museum-tourist crowds.

  • Sepia's lunch menu too short, but satisfying

    February 6, 2013

    If I were to gripe about the Restaurant Week lunch menu at Sepia (123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920), it would be a mild complaint that the $22 menu has only two choices in each of its three courses.

  • 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's got game

    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.

  • Phil Vettel: Two stars for Embeya; One for Jellyfish

    January 10, 2013

    Two Asian restaurants with impressive credentials opened exactly one day apart: Embeya, a West Loop Vietnamese restaurant made its debut Sept. 11; and Jellyfish, a Gold Coast pan-Asian opened on the 12th. They're ideal for their neighborhoods; Embeya offers chef-driven focus, and Jellyfish is such a party-ready, eye-candy spot, it ought to be wearing heels.

  • Ready, reserved

    December 27, 2012

    I have this problem. I made more New Year's Eve reservations than I can use. More than 100 of them, actually.

  • Room for one more?

    December 13, 2012

    Four days before opening night, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse is buzzing with the energy of hundreds of workers. Tables are topped with white linen and set with wineglasses, even though they'll all be refreshed before the doors open for real. One woman is walking through the dining room with a pitcher of water, presumably rehearsing her route before the customers arrive.

  • Iliana in Wonderland

    December 13, 2012

    At one point of a dinner at Elizabeth restaurant, I was served a dark and rich maitake-mushroom tea (really a clarified broth) while a pure-white device on the table played Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." Which made me think that chef/owner Iliana Regan is a smidge older, or a ton hipper, than I'd supposed. Probably both.

  • Worst-kept secret in town

    November 29, 2012

    Can a restaurant be a hidden gem if everybody knows about it?

  • All but the drawl

    November 15, 2012

    From one end of the United States to the other, Southern cooking is hot. And while Chicago doesn't abound with Southern dining options, restaurants like Big Jones, Table Fifty-Two and The Southern — to say nothing of our growing crop of Southern-informed barbecue spots — ensure that the options we do have are formidable.

  • Beaujolais nouveau festivities

    November 15, 2012

    The annual release of Beaujolais nouveau, the light and fruity red made from the gamay grape, is a triumph of marketing and tradition. The wine itself, young, fresh and easy to drink, is no big deal (though it pairs nicely with roast turkey), but because French law decrees that the third Thursday in November is the earliest permissible release date, the day is celebrated with parties, special menus and festive cries of "Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!"

  • Let's break out the old crystal ball

    November 8, 2012

    Time once again for my annual exercise in humiliation, as I try to predict the star recipients in the 2013 Michelin Chicago Guide, which hits bookstores Wednesday.

  • Hold the boeuf?

    November 1, 2012

    There are at least three things you can count on at every Brendan Sodikoff restaurant. There will be a retro-cool, dimly lit atmosphere. There will be bread; roasted bone marrow with toast is a menu given. And there will be great soap in the restroom.

  • Achatz sees chance to put vision in focus

    October 26, 2012

    So much ink has been spilled chronicling the life and career of Grant Achatz, the most-honored chef and best-known cancer survivor in Chicago, if not the country, one wonders if there are stories left to tell.

  • The offal truth about animal parts

    October 25, 2012

    As Halloween approaches, we're reminded that while eye of newt and wing of bat may not have invaded the nation's restaurant menus, neck of lamb and ear of pig most certainly have.

  • Deconstructing the (departed) menu

    October 25, 2012

    D.B. Kaplan's. In honor of Halloween, we crack open the crypt to dig up the menu of a dearly departed restaurant. Set the WABAC machine to the early 1990s for a look at D.B. Kaplan's, a legendary Chicago delicatessen that marked the birth of Levy Restaurants. Located in Water Tower Place, the lively DBK offered more than 100 sandwich creations, all bearing groan-worthy, punny names. It was a more-innocent, sillier and arguably more fun time for restaurants. Now in restaurant heaven.

  • Your tables are ready

    October 18, 2012

    If we knew exactly what made restaurants successful, then there would be no unsuccessful ones. But the business is unpredictable and customers fickle; some mediocre concepts seemingly last forever, while genuinely worthy enterprises wither on the vine.

  • Belly up

    October 11, 2012

    OK, Bill Kim, owner (with his wife, Yvonne Cadiz Kim) of Urban Belly, Belly Shack and now your latest, 6-week-old BellyQ: What's with all the bellies?

  • Four stars for Next Kyoto menu

    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.

  • Fanciful food swap

    October 4, 2012

    Two of the most acclaimed chefs in the nation have embarked on an extraordinary, unprecedented switcheroo. By the time you read this, Grant Achatz of Alinea will have completed a five-night stretch of cooking his food at Eleven Madison Park in New York. Daniel Humm, chef and owner of that restaurant, is preparing to fly to Chicago, where next week he will run Alinea for five nights.

  • Drink and merriment abound at Chicago Gourmet

    September 30, 2012

    So much food and wine, so little time.

  • Scaling the heights

    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.

  • Go on, take a bite

    September 20, 2012

    The fifth annual Chicago Gourmet (full name: Bon Appetit Presents Chicago Gourmet) will take place Sept. 29 and 30 in Millennium Park. Hundreds of Chicagoans and visitors will be there; here are five reasons to be one of them.

  • Journey to center of a time warp

    September 20, 2012

    Trotting out familiar flavors in unexpected guises is almost de rigueur among serious young chefs these days, but few can match the wit and imagination on display at Trenchermen, a not-quite-3-month-old restaurant in Wicker Park.

  • A final meal at Charlie Trotter's

    August 28, 2012

    It was a strange feeling, emerging from a car at 816 W. Armitage Ave., knowing I would never do so again.

  • Dale Levitski's Frog N Snail

    August 16, 2012

    Dale Levitski's career arc is like that of most top chefs. In reverse.

  • Bar food, elevated

    August 9, 2012

    As a restaurant, Red Door in Bucktown seems rather unambitious, but as a neighborhood pub, the place is pretty impressive.

  • Lollapalooza's food lineup more tried-and-true than fresh

    August 4, 2012

    To sum up Lollapalooza's food lineup in terms of its musical headliners, this year's Chow Town roster is less Black Keys (currently hip) and more Ozzy Osbourne (nostalgically hip).

  • Acid trip

    August 2, 2012

    Graham Elliot is hot.

  • The power of now

    July 26, 2012

    If you haven't visited Tallgrass restaurant in a while, or worse, have never had the pleasure of this singular restaurant, let me humbly suggest that you make your plans now, or at least, soon.

  • Putting the accent on Italian

    July 19, 2012

    You could argue that Moderno, by dint of its farm-fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch ethic, is the most authentic Italian restaurant in Highland Park.

  • Shorter Taste long on results for pleased vendors

    July 16, 2012

    Any way you measure it, this year's Taste of Chicago was a success, reversing, even if slightly, two straight years of attendance declines.

  • A 'more approachable' Allium

    July 12, 2012

    As the former executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton Dining Room and Seasons, Kevin Hickey knows fine dining. He also knows when the writing is on the wall.

  • Hotel dining, take two

    July 12, 2012

    To appreciate the re-imagined NoMI Kitchen, which was unveiled last year, it helps to have known the original NoMI. Only then can one appreciate $16 salads and upper-$20s (and beyond) entrees as steps in the direction of affordability. The tab at NoMI Kitchen is perhaps 10 to 15 percent below what it was, but it remains a pricey proposition.

  • 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.

  • Here come food trucks

    July 5, 2012

    If all goes as planned, sometime in August food trucks with on-board preparation will be rolling in Chicago's streets.

  • Taste of Chicago returns

    July 5, 2012

    It's safe to say that nobody knows what to expect from this year's Taste of Chicago.

  • Phil Vettel reviews the Sicily menu at Next

    June 28, 2012

    For its latest menu, Next restaurant invested in a special piece of cooking equipment.

  • 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.

  • Go alfresco

    June 21, 2012

    Summer's here, and the time is right for eating in the street. Or near the street. Or in a bottle-service cabana high above the street.

  • Hole Foods

    June 7, 2012

    Cupcakes are cool. But doughnuts are hot.

  • Carbo-loading

    May 31, 2012

    As I exited Balena a week or so ago, a passing stranger stopped me.

  • Doggone good spot

    May 24, 2012

    Named for a departed pooch, Zak's Place is as friendly and eager to please as was its namesake.

  • Ahead of summit, the Loop is quiet — too quiet — for retail businesses

    May 19, 2012

    Downtown Chicago ahead of the NATO summit, which takes place Sunday and Monday, was given over to tourists in shorts and T-shirts as a good share of the workforce opted to telecommute Friday or take the day off.

  • Summer eating list

    May 17, 2012

    I don't know if teachers still do this, but at the end of each school year, I was handed a summer reading list, a sheet of required and optional books that would prepare students for the coming school year. (I still owe a measure of revenge to the teacher who saddled me with "Lord Jim.")

  • Small plates unite with style

    May 10, 2012

    No restaurant better exemplifies the changing face of the Taylor Street neighborhood than 3-month-old Urban Union.

  • Needs more pow

    May 3, 2012

    I've had this "Groundhog Day" feeling lately. I keep running into new restaurants — Tavernita, Nellcote — in which generally intelligent and well-executed food is presented in a cocktails-driven, loud and pulsating nightclub atmosphere.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    May 3, 2012

    Mother's Day is one of the biggest dining-out days of the year, which to me makes it one of the worst days to actually dine out, because it's a crazy-busy day for restaurants. But if mom wants to dine out, and this is the one day of the year when you absolutely have to let mom do what she wants, then put on a happy face and get with the program. At least some restaurants make a genuine effort to make the day's experience special. Here are some places worth your attention. And if I was somehow unclear before: Mother's Day is popular. Make reservations now. According to an OpenTable survey, 65 percent of moms plan to book their own reservations, which does not reflect well on the rest of us.

  • Mixed messages

    April 26, 2012

    Some day, I hope chef Jared Van Camp finds a suitably food-focused stage for his cooking, but that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon.

  • What to eat at Wrigley Field

    April 26, 2012

    Ninety-eight-year-old Wrigley Field was not built with fine dining in mind. "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack" wasn't just a song lyric; it was practically the whole menu. (Heck, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"  is only six years older than the park.) Concession spaces are tiny, ill-suited to producing a wide range of food.

  • When Graham met Questlove

    April 21, 2012

    Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the musician with a foodie streak, and Graham Elliot, the chef and music buff, have announced a joint venture to create food and music events for private events, industry parties and food-and-wine festivals.

  • Guy and the goose

    April 19, 2012

    I'm not awarding four stars to Goosefoot, the splendid new restaurant by former Les Nomades chef Chris Nugent. But I suspect it's just a matter of time — and not a lot of time — before I do.

  • Star potential shines at Aria

    April 5, 2012

    I've been meaning to review Beverly Kim's food ever since September's Chicago Gourmet. I was mightily impressed with her contribution to the food festival: a seafood panna cotta topped with mango gelee and a pair of chilled mussels.

  • Simply glamorous

    March 29, 2012

    Chicagoans have been enjoying a mini-boom of Spanish flavors of late. First there was Vera, which opened late last year in the Market District, and now Tavernita, which has been packing them in since its January opening in River North.

  • Bayless' food soars like the acrobatic stars of 'Cascabel' ✭✭✭

    March 28, 2012

    When a dinner-theater production is all about the transformative and seductive power of food, the stuff it serves to the audience had better be damn good.

  • Out to Lunch: Gioco, 1312 S. Wabash Ave.

    March 23, 2012

    Who eats: Loop business types and conventioneers.

  • Rise & dine

    March 22, 2012

    Spring has just begun, and yet we've already had more than a month of agreeable weekend-brunch weather. The mind-boggling warm weather we've been enjoying lately has me thinking that balmy Sunday afternoons will continue forever. Which is crazy, of course, but one can dream, right?

  • Slurping Turtle: Delicious nibbles elevate very casual, bustling scene

    March 8, 2012

    Takashi Yagihashi, a fine-dining chef if ever there were one, is adjusting to life as a casual-restaurant owner. It probably helps that his new spot, Slurping Turtle, has been a runaway hit since its doors opened in late November.

  • Bar Toma: Italian fare inspires dreams of summertime dining

    March 8, 2012

    Tony Mantuano is on a roll. A local politician who flies on Air Force One these days calls him "my favorite chef." He's in the running — again — for the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef award. His executive chef at Spiaggia, Sarah Grueneberg, came thisclose to winning Top Chef a week ago. His star power is such that last year Levy Restaurants happily blew up their venerable Bistro 110 (which probably needed overhauling) to let Mantuano create Bar Toma (as in TOny MAntuano), a casual-yet-urbane food and wine bar that seems to be a physical incarnation of "Wine Bar Food," the appetizer and wine book Mantuano wrote with his wife, Cathy.

  • Celebrating the tastes of Japanese street food

    March 1, 2012

    Matthias Merges worked at Charlie Trotter's for 14-odd years, and he was the man for most of them, serving as chef de cuisine, corporate chef and finally director of operations. "He was the glue to that place," one restaurateur says, admiringly.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    March 1, 2012

    Talk about your faith-based initiatives: Lenten season is here (has been, for a week now), and through April 6, observant Catholics are not permitted to eat meat on Fridays. With Catholics being rather abundant in the Chicago area, quite a few restaurants make an effort to put more meatless dishes on Friday menus, host Friday fish fries and offer Friday fish specials, as this brief list indicates:

  • Delicious Sepia a hot ticket

    February 24, 2012

    It has been a nice week for Sepia chef Andrew Zimmerman, who Tuesday was named a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation award in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category.

  • Friendly prices at Cafe des Architectes

    February 23, 2012

    Frankly, Cafe des Architectes, that civilized Gold Coast dining oasis in the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, has always been secretly affordable, particularly at lunch and weekend brunch. But during Chicago Restaurant Week, when a three-course lunch is $22 and the three-course dinner is $44, dining here is especially attractive.

  • Oh, the places they didn't go

    February 23, 2012

    When Charlie Trotter announced, just past the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, that he would be closing his eponymous Chicago restaurant at the end of August, quite a few people vowed to get to Charlie Trotter's, one last time or even for the very first time, before it was too late.

  • Phil Vettel reviews the El Bulli menu at Next

    February 22, 2012

    Frozen spheres of cheese. Ham-wrapped baguettes containing exactly nothing. An air-filled foam of carrot that still manages to taste like the most intense carrot you've ever eaten.

  • A taste of Italy includes a sip of bubbly at Prosecco

    February 20, 2012

    "Here at Prosecco," our waiter intoned, "we like to begin the meal with a complimentary taste of our sparkling wine." And so he poured a little prosecco into our glasses. Just an ounce or so, really, but it was lunch — pours are a bit more robust in the evening, I've found — and the barest sip of alcohol was all our work schedule would accommodate.

  • Dining amid the clouds at Metropolitan

    February 19, 2012

    The popularity of Chicago Restaurant Week, which continues through Sunday, can make some restaurants very difficult to get into. But it also offers access to dining rooms that ordinarily are off-limits.

  • Off to a tasty start

    February 17, 2012

    Restaurant Week got off to a flying start with busy dining rooms (reservations for lunch and dinner were extremely limited), tantalizing menus and superb food.

  • 5 things to know about Chicago Restaurant Week

    February 16, 2012

    After four very successful Restaurant Weeks — the inaugural event kicked off Feb. 22, 2008 — the fifth installment is gearing up. Here's how to be a savvy participant:

  • Prime plates: Where to go for Restaurant Week

    February 16, 2012

    Back for a fifth year, Chicago Restaurant Week kicks off Friday with 10 straight days of discounted dining, lunch and dinner, at some of Chicago's best restaurants.

  • Soaring on the South Side

    February 9, 2012

    When I heard that Acadia, a high-end restaurant, was opening in the South Loop, I sighed. A dining neighborhood that once looked like the second coming of Randolph Street — when Opera, Saiko, Cuatro and Room 21 were doing brisk business — has sagged badly in the last couple of years, as each of the aforementioned restaurants went dark. Only Chicago Firehouse and Gioco are left of that pioneering bunch, and Gioco only after a significant menu overhaul.

  • Where good value pairs with warmth

    February 9, 2012

    The thing that gets people in trouble on Valentine's Day (besides forgetting the day entirely) is the unreasonable expectation. People book into restaurants they don't know, with prices they're not accustomed to paying, and expect some undefined, magical experience.

  • Splurges for the indulgent

    February 9, 2012

    There are Valentine's Days. And then, there are Valentine's Days.

  • Tasteful eye candy

    February 2, 2012

    Things are certainly heating up, foodwise, in the neighborhood dubbed Lakeshore East, the easternmost spit of land between the Chicago River and Randolph Street. The stylish, upscale steakhouse III Forks opened there late last year; Aria restaurant is getting new attention thanks to Beverly Kim's appearances on "Top Chef"; and now we have Filini, which opened in November in the architectural gem known as Aqua Tower.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    February 2, 2012

    Depending on your perspective, this year's Super Bowl is an intriguing battle between two fascinating opponents, or a who-cares clash between an annoying East Coast team and a slightly less-annoying East Coast team (I'll leave it to you to decide which is which).

  • Phil Vettel recommends restaurants with spicy dishes

    January 26, 2012

    When it's cold outside, you want to be warm inside, and one way to accomplish that is with a nice jolt of spice in your food. Here are a few dishes, some of them in surprising places, that have gotten our tonsils' attention lately.

  • Taste vendors feel bigger bite

    January 25, 2012

    It may be a little trickier to make money at Taste of Chicago this year, but that apparently isn't dissuading restaurant owners who are veterans of the 32-year-old food and entertainment festival.

  • NOLA's next big thing?

    January 20, 2012

    What is to become Restaurant R'evolution is still under construction; there are gaping spaces for equipment yet to arrive and rubble yet to be removed. But chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto can look through the dust and see their vision coming to life.

  • Tourondel menu has complex surprises

    January 19, 2012

    Funny how a simple gesture, a little grace note, can render a dining experience memorable. For instance, I would send people to BLT American Brasserie just for the popovers.

  • Dining, indulgently, in the Big Easy

    January 17, 2012

    I get to New Orleans every so often, and my waking hours there can be separated into three categories: Eating, getting ready to eat and just finished eating. I map out my semiregular restaurant assaults the way some parents plan a day at Disney World: I figure out which attractions I most want to see and time my arrivals to ensure a good seat.

  • Chi-town and chorizo

    January 5, 2012

    Vera is a Spanish restaurant that feels like a local pub. That's not a complaint.

  • Charlie Trotter announces restaurant closing in August

    January 1, 2012

    New Year's Eve is a time for drama, but chef Charlie Trotter outdid himself Sunday.

  • Please be seated

    December 29, 2011

    You can't count on snow for Christmas. You can't count on a 7-3 Bears team making the playoffs.

  • Out to lunch: Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St.

    December 26, 2011

    Out to lunch: Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St.Who eats: Businesspeople, out-of-towners and, this time of year, lots of end-of-year revelers.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    December 22, 2011

    Dining out on Christmas Day is never easy, but it's not impossible. Most people know that Chinatown is always a good dining-out bet, and nearly every hotel restaurant has to provide some sort of food service, even on Christmas Day (can't let your guests go hungry).

  • Flying high on a new day

    December 15, 2011

    The question for me is whether Blackbird is a four-star restaurant with three-star amenities, or a three-star restaurant with four-star cuisine.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    December 8, 2011

    Now that holiday madness is upon us, here are a few rest stops whose seasonal decor will put you in a festive mood. And if not, there's always spiked eggnog.

  • Phil Vettel recommends steak houses

    December 1, 2011

    Last week it was turkey on Thanksgiving, turkey sandwiches for Friday's lunch, turkey tetrazzini for Saturday dinner and — you get the idea.

  • Feeding memories

    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.

  • Deconstructing chef Adria

    November 24, 2011

    Over the course of a year, a camera crew followed Spanish chef Ferran Adria — aka The Man Who Launched a Thousand Foams — as he and his kitchen staff developed and honed the new menu for the 2009 season, resulting in the film "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress," which opens Friday for a weeklong run at the Siskel Film Center.

  • Phil Vettel gives the Pump Room two stars

    November 10, 2011

    The foursome across from me could barely notice the food on their table, so intent were they on the party in the far corner. They craned their necks; they giggled; they tweeted furiously. Eventually, the female half of the group mustered the courage to approach. They were respectful. The famous person who had caught their eye graciously shook hands. The women departed, triumph in their eyes.

  • Stargazing: Phil Vettel handicaps Michelin-star winners

    November 10, 2011

    As the second Michelin Guide for Chicago prepares to hit bookstores next week, one thing is for sure: There will be change.

  • Phil Vettel recommends recently reviewed dining spots

    November 10, 2011

    A recap of the restaurants I've reviewed in the last six weeks or so:

  • 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.

  • C'est la Vie?

    November 3, 2011

    The fact that chef Paul Virant and I share the same monogram shouldn't confuse anybody, although years back the chef sent me a letter he received from some luckless job applicant who, instead of writing "Paul Virant" in the salutation, used my name instead.

  • Make a dash for it

    October 13, 2011

    Every time I figure that Logan Square is done with its boom of independent, unpretentious, quirkily personable restaurants, boom, another one pops up. If I were any other dining neighborhood in the city, I'd be developing a severe case of Logan Envy right about now.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    October 13, 2011

    If you're not joining the throngs gathering at Shaw's Crab House for this week's "Royster with the Oyster" celebration, here are a few other seafood specialists worth your attention:

  • MJ scores with new steakhouse

    October 5, 2011

    I'm old enough to remember the day the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan, and to remember that it was not a universally praised draft choice. The belief among some was that the Bulls already had guards; why did they need another?

  • A new place to play

    September 29, 2011

    We tend to think of a split personality as a bad thing, but it seems to be working, so far, for Quay, which opened in late July in the River East Arts Center and offers — one part sports bar, one part smoldering nightspot and one part restaurant — a little something for everyone.

  • Diners soak in flavor and booze during rainy Chicago Gourmet

    September 26, 2011

    (Bill Daley co-wrote this story)

  • Dine and dally

    September 22, 2011

    We all know these people: The party guest who will not leave, even though the hosts have changed into pajamas. The person on the phone who won't hang up until you fake an emergency. ("Oh my God, there's a bear on my patio! Yes, in my high-rise! Gotta go!")

  • 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.

  • Prepare to sip, swirl and swallow at gourmet fest

    September 15, 2011

    A few things you should know about the fourth annual Chicago Gourmet, which returns to Millennium Park:

  • Pump Room is primed & ready

    September 14, 2011

    The Pump Room is back, baby. The ghosts of former habitues Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and untold others can revel in a revamped dining room that's as relevant for today's restaurant patron as the original Pump Room was for the celebrities of yesteryear.

  • Charleston food, on foot

    September 13, 2011

    Charleston, S.C., is perhaps my favorite city in the South. Good-looking, friendly and rich with history — its history being especially relevant this year, the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. And the downtown area is cluttered with one good dining option after another.

  • 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.

  • From Paris to sizzling Bangkok

    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.

  • Phil Vettel recommends

    August 11, 2011

    So, your kid's going off to college. There's time for one last dinner out before you pack up the minivan.

  • 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

    Naha

  • 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.

  • Phil Vettel reviews Next

    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.

  • New food items at the Cell, Wrigley

    April 14, 2011

    U.S. Cellular Field

  • 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."

  • The worst airline food

    June 21, 2009

    The worst airline food is served by carriers American Airlines, United Airlines and U.S. Airways, while travelers can find the best in-flight meals on such carriers as Singapore Airlines and Air France.

  • 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."

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