Balena “brims with talent” and is “overflowing with ambition.” Julia Kramer checks out the new Italian spot in Lincoln Park and gives it four stars. She raves about the mackerel, smoked to impart a “compelling meatiness” and the whole-roasted fish topped with an “inspired” peanut gremolata that “sets it apart from any competitor.” Korean-style short ribs are “brilliantly played” against strips of candied orange peel and the chili oil that comes with the mortadella pizza “should be required of every pizzeria.” Kramer’s biggest compliment goes to pastry chef Amanda Rockman, whose tiramisu is a “reinvigoration of the genre” and quite simple, “genius.” [TOC]
The food at Nellcôte excels amidst the hyperactive party atmosphere, writes Phil Vettel. The Neapolitan pizzas feature “thin, slightly chewy crusts [and] puffy edges” while frog leg-filled raviolini swim in an “intense” black-garlic consommé. A value-friendly, “beautiful” foie gras torchon is poached in duck fat and “fat, creamy” sweetbreads come with a sweet-sour mix of apple and pickled mustard. The simple desserts are “very enjoyable” with housemade ice creams being “note-perfect.” [Tribune]
Although the menu at Allium tends to be “all over the place,” it’s still “remarkably personal” and an “ambassadorial duty” to visitors. Mike Sula tries the signature deconstructed Chicago-style hot dog that is more of a “highly emulsified” Polish, and “puffy” bacon buns that are a tribute to the original version. Seared foie gras is given a dessert-like treatment on a bed of “sweet, moist” pineapple “upside” cake and more familiar dishes are “winningly twisted,” like blood-red bison tartare topped with a poached egg and served with waffled potato chips. Pitfalls include seared halibut filet in a lobster and hominy stew that is “subdued” by an “overrich” butter-mounted sauce, “plastic-textured” pappardelle and a gummy mint gnocchi that is “overpowered” by other flavors. [Reader]
Out in Glen Ellyn, Bistro Monet’s dishes demonstrate a mastery of southern French cooking. Thomas Witom starts with “sensational” tender frog legs nestled with escargots and a tomato-garlic sauce that provides an “extra oomph.” The restaurant’s cassoulet is a “good one” and “nothing announces spring” like the salad of grilled asparagus and brie. A “perfectly” sautéed striped bass brings a smile to faces and dessert choices include a caramel-filled chocolate tart that comes with an “intense sugar high.” [Sun-Times]
Eater Chicago intern Jeffy Mai contributed this article.