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Staff Picks: Chicago Restaurant Week 2013

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jan 11, 2013 4:40PM

2013_1_7_RestaurantWeek.png Restaurant week is fast approaching. If you want the best reservations at the greatest restaurants, you need to act fast. But what if you don't know where to start? Lucky for you, our Food and Drink staff has come up with their favorite options for restaurant week 2013.

Lorna Juett
Ceres Table: Since I'm moving to Uptown at the beginning of February, Restaurant Week is a good opportunity to revisit the participating spots in my new 'hood. Having dined at Ceres Table once, the opportunity to deeper explore their comforting, Italian-influenced menu on a smaller budget is quite enticing.

Demera: While I haven't had Ethiopian food since my first date with my boyfriend over four years ago. (He made a reservation at a completely empty BYOB Ethiopian restaurant without bringing a bottle of wine; thankfully the conversation was stellar and he is handsome.) We'll soon live a quarter of a mile from what is arguably the best Ethiopian restaurant in town, Demera. I get the feeling that after unpacking our stuff, their Restaurant Week dinner special that offers two people a choice of appetizer, entree, dessert, and a bottle of wine, for just $44 will hit the spot. While it won't hold the same excitement as a first date, I get the feeling we'll enjoy this cozy experience even more.

Anthony Todd
Mexique: Chef Carlos Gaytan received his first Michelin star this year, but the restaurant retains its comfortable, low-key vibe. The combination of Mexican ingredients with French technique is delicious. The restaurant week dinner menu offers a great sampling of the menu, but, unusually, the $22 lunch menu actually offers more variety! So, if you can get over to Mexique for lunch, this may be one of the sleeper hits of your restaurant week.

Trenchermen: I like a Restaurant Week menu with some variety. I know the restaurants have to make their food costs, but if I get to a reservation and am not in the mood for the only thing the restaurant is selling me (say, roast chicken), I'm inevitably going to have a bad time. Trenchermen has opted for the lower priced $33 dinner, with optional wine pairings for an additional $16. There are three choices for the first and second course, including the now-famous pickle tots, organic Scottish salmon, milk-braised pork shoulder and more. It's rare to see a Restaurant Week menu with individualized wine pairings for each dish; reward them for going the extra mile.

Melissa Wiley
Bistro Voltaire: The best escargot in the city! Their puff pastry toppings resemble pale little top hats and render the whole dish measurably lighter than you'll find elsewhere. In fact everything on the menu is downright succulent, so the pared-down Restaurant Week menu won't leave you feeling shorted of good options. Have fun identifying all the framed photos of French authors hanging above the single leather banquet.

Piccolo Sogno: Yes, were it summer, I would come here solely for the sweetly shaded patio. But it's worth mentioning that the food is a "little dream" as well, particularly the pasta dishes, which also come in appetizer portions to form a true primi piatti. Don't forget the house-made gelato. Some things can't wait for warm weather.

Paul Leddy
Vie Restaurant: When I first moved out to the suburbs from the city, I kicked and screamed like a little child. Then I discovered Vie Restaurant was just 8 miles from my house and my world seemed to get brighter. Walking into Vie is like stepping back in time. No, the dining room isn't some stodgy wood-paneled room out of the early 19th century with servers just as old (quite the opposite, actually). You step back in time as you taste fruits and vegetables that have been captured in their peak through various preservation techniques. Asparagus in January? Yes, when it has been pickled in the early spring. Chef Paul Virant and his team have a great understanding of these preservation techniques and let the ingredients sing in harmony through their inventive cooking. Vie Restaurant is worth the trip no matter if it is 8 or 30 miles away.

Balsan: In the Waldorf-Astoria (formerly Elysian) hotel, arguably one of the most beautiful hotels in Chicago if not the world, you will not find an exclusive restaurant meant just for the guests, but a surprisingly low-key, casual restaurant called Balsan. The restaurant has a European bistro feel to it and the dishes are comforting and warm on Chicago winter nights...It is winter, right?