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Critics Praise Etta’s Open-Hearth Cuisine

Plus Free Rein excels during lunchtime


Mike Sula says Etta is a “lower gateway to appreciating the work of one of the city’s more talented chefs.” The new Wicker Park operation from the Maple & Ash group stars Danny Grant’s open-hearth cooking at prices that are “relatively good value.” There are “lovely” pizzas with “soft, almost Neapolitan nuclei,” the best one being a “Fire Pie” topped with giardiniera, guanciale, chile de arbol, and sweet peppers. Pastas are “rich and often dressed just to the point of excess,” such as cavatelli Bolognese that’s a “greedy pleasure.” Whole roasted branzino offers “skin crisp as a chip” and “silky flesh” while “lush lamb practically drips from neck bones oozing fat and marrow.” Desserts include a shortcake “perked up” with blueberries and whipped cream. [Reader]

Phil Vettel checks out Etta as well and gives it three stars, praising the flame-kissed cooking and salads. “Do not pass” on the focaccia or the roasted oysters slathered with smoked tomato butter. Salads are “well thought out and beautifully composed,” such as a “gorgeous” arugula and peach salad with radish, blue cheese, and candied walnuts. An “impressive” Fire Pie pizza is “so balanced that even [Vettel’s] spice-phobic companions enjoyed it,” while pastas include a “marvelously complex” mafaldine with manila clams, king crab, and ‘nduja butter. The star of the show, though, is the “Pig Picnic” — slices of pork shoulder and shredded and crisped pork belly served with an array of accompaniments. For dessert, the chocolate-sabayon tart “delivers a powerful chocolate punch.” [Tribune]

Free Rein is the “best new lunch in the Loop in at least two years” according to Graham Meyer. The all-day restaurant inside the St. Jane Hotel showcases former GreenRiver vet Aaron Lirette’s talents. Kampachi crudo is “plated like a tasting-menu dish” alongside a litany of unadvertised ingredients while “lightly spicy elements” on several dishes add an “extra dimension [that] aligns the food with the complexity of upscale dining rooms.” Other highlights include a burger that “belongs in the conversation with Au Cheval and Maillard Tavern” and a nonstandard beef tartare hailed as a “new classic.” [Crain’s]

Heritage is “full of wonderful and delicious surprises.” Lisa Shames sits down at Chicago’s only caviar bar and finds an “eclectic mix of Czech-, Polish- and Korean-leaning dishes.” While the fish roe selection boasts delicacies like osetra caviar, there’s also an affordable bowfin “choupique” at $10 for 15 grams. But “no matter what you order or how much you spend, your overall experience will be the same.” The rest of the menu is also “worth exploring.” Pierogi filled with crab, pickled ramps, and lavender lardo and paired with cucumber chunks and tomato water are a tribute to the Chicago-style dog while veggie ramen is made with summer squash and hen of the woods mushrooms. Don’t skip dessert — the buttermilk custard pie served with raspberries and vanilla ice cream is worth saving room for. [Sophisticated Living]

Free Rein

224 North Michigan Avenue, , IL 60601 (312) 334-6700 Visit Website


1840 West North Avenue, , IL 60622 (312) 757-4444 Visit Website