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North Pond Review

By Anthony Todd in Food on Apr 4, 2008 3:00PM

bhp3.jpgNorth Pond Restaurant, overlooking Lincoln Park’s North Pond, has become one of our absolute favorite restaurants in Chicago. We’ve dined there three times in the past six months, and have never had anything less than a perfect dining experience.

Many North siders don’t even know North Pond exists! There is no street access to the small restaurant, only pathways from the roads that border the park to the east and west. The building itself doesn’t look like much from the outside. Built as a warming house for skaters in 1912 and refurbished with an Arts and Crafts/Prairie School motif, North Pond may win the prize for the most comfortable of the city’s upscale restaurants. Unlike many of Chicago’s favorites, North Pond’s design doesn’t smack you in the face the moment you walk in the door – it’s enters your consciousness gradually. Vintage travel posters, quotes from Thoreau and Chaucer on the dimly lit walls, a small fireplace tucked into one corner; we noticed all of these things throughout our dining experience, and gleefully pointed them out to our companions.

Enough about how pretty it is. What about the food?

Chef Bruce Sherman (just nominated for a James Beard award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region) has put together a menu that manages to be interesting and exceptionally delicious without pulling any culinary tricks. More than mere spectacle, quality is the watchword at North Pond – take the lobster bisque, an old standard that is almost a cliché. By adding Vidalia onion and a tiny bit of pickled watermelon radish, Sherman intensifies the flavor of the creamy lobster broth. Not a “new twist on an old favorite,” just the best version of the dish that you can imagine. Slow-roasted, bacon-wrapped rabbit was another favorite - tender, well seasoned and accompanied by roasted purple potatoes. First-time customers to North Pond should try the rosemary basted quail, served with lobster.

North Pond integrates seasonality into its menu, but in the same modest way. Sherman, a member of the board of the Green City Market, has a strong commitment to environmentalism and local foods, but rather than bragging about his localvore credentials, there is only a small notation at the bottom of the menu that many of the products were grown locally and sustainably . Oh, and our server mentioned that we should watch out for buckshot in our squab, because it had been hunted instead of farmed.

North Pond Restaurant is located at 2610 N. Cannon Drive. There, you will find a valet station and a path to the restaurant. Reservations are strongly recommended. They are open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30.