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.
Launched in 2008 with 35 pioneering participants, Chicago Restaurant Week, produced by the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, has grown to include more than 200 restaurants. (Find them all, with links that let you make online reservations, at eatitupchicago.com.) The question then isn't whether to go, but how on earth to choose.
Bar Toma for lunch ($22): Bar Toma's lunch menu includes three of the restaurant's best features: the charred-carrots appetizer, which is amazing, the softly chewy pizzas (get the Smoke and Cure version) and the house-made gelati and sorbetti for dessert. 110 E. Pearson St.; 312-266-3110
Benny's Chop House for lunch ($22): Benny's has already announced that its Restaurant Week menu will run through Feb. 29. Start with potato-leek soup or warm spinach salad, and move on to a filet with duck fat fries, seared snapper with carrot quinoa or butternut squash tortelloni. Dessert is a trio of sweets. Add a glass of cabernet sauvignon for $8. 444 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-626-2444
Frontera Grill or Topolobampo for lunch ($22): Rick Bayless' side-by-side dining rooms offer different lunch menus: sopa Azteca, pork duo and steamed Oaxacan chocolate cake at Topolobampo, mushroom empanadas, pork or chicken in red-peanut mole and coconut tres leches cake at Frontera. Better make two reservations. 445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab for lunch ($22): Choose the soup, crab claws and Key lime pie, or the soup, filet mignon and banana cream pie. The same menu is available at dinner ($33), with larger portions. 60 E. Grand Ave.; 312-379-5637
The Metropolitan Club for dinner ($33): Readers raved about last year's Restaurant Week performance by Metropolitan, a private club in Willis Tower that nevertheless allows nonmembers to dine. The three-course menu offers a choice of five appetizers and four main courses, finished with a chef's-choice dessert. 233 S. Wacker Drive; 312-626-2916
Morton's for dinner ($44): Lunch, available only at the Wacker Place location, has but one entree option, the prime burger (it is, however, an exceptional burger). Dinner, available at every Morton's Chicago-area location except for Naperville, offers more options, including filet mignon. 65 E. Wacker Place; 312-201-0410
Nightwood for dinner ($44): I love this Pilsen-perimeter American restaurant, and its four-course dinner menu has me puzzled and intrigued. What, for instance, is one to make of "foie gras agnolotti, big Italian red made little," or "family meal chicken thigh, napkins"? I don't know, but I'd like to find out. 2119 S. Halsted St.; 312-526-3385
NoMI Kitchen for lunch ($22): I haven't been back to this gorgeous dining room since it adopted a less-formal and less-expensive format, but this three-course lunch is a better deal yet. Main-course choice is the linguini with olives, cherry tomatoes and arugula, or the artisan grilled-cheese sandwich with Snow White cheddar and black-truffle butter. Decisions... Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030
Paris Club for dinner ($33): The dinner menu at this first-time Restaurant Week participant includes some of my favorites, including the lamb meatballs with spicy tomato sauce, the "coq au vin two ways" and the pistachio pot de creme. If you'd prefer the dark-chocolate mousse, we can still be friends. 59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800
Terzo Piano for lunch ($22): Perched above the Art Institute's Modern Wing, with beautiful city and Millennium Park views, Terzo Piano offers a menu that includes chickpea and vegetable soup with tahini and cumin, hand-made pappardelle alla puttanesca and a banana "tiramisu" with brown-butter gastrique. 159 E. Monroe St.; 312-443-8650
Trattoria Isabella for dinner ($44): I keep meaning to duck into this little out-of-the-way Italian spot; maybe this menu will be my incentive. The four-course menu starts off a little slow with a choice of Caesar or spinach salad, followed by fried calamari or sauteed mussels, but the puff-pastry salmon stuffed with spinach could be a hit, as could pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin with pear and gorgonzola sauce. 217 N. Jefferson St.; 312-207-1900
Trattoria No. 10 for dinner ($33). Nothing against the lunch menu at this reliable performer, which is rather similar to the night-time option, but Loop lunches tend to be crazed. It'll be calmer at dinner. And as good as the ravioli are here, that roasted whitefish with soft polenta and truffled butter sauce is calling to me. 10 N. Dearborn St.; 312-984-1718