From Skid Row to Superlative

Not so long ago, the West Loop was known as one of America’s most notorious skid rows. Madison Street west of the Kennedy was a maleficent mile of burlesques, flop houses and sleazy taverns. I moved to the neighborhood in 2003 into a building that held an annual progressive Christmas party called The Taste of Skid Row. Advertisements

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Income Tax

All-encompassing menus are generally the province of Greek diners and recent culinary school grads who somehow fumbled into an executive chef role. As such, I had my suspicions when I saw the menu at Income Tax, a new Edgewater restaurant from chef Ryan Henderson (Maple & Ash), owner Nelson Fitch and GM Collin Moody. The dishes here are broken down by four countries: Spain, France, Italy and Germany. I also noticed that the Income Tax guys dubbed themselves a “neighborhood restaurant,” which is often shorthand for “Yeah, we have dry roast chicken, a mediocre burger and some beers on tap.” Things didn’t look good

Elske

If you’ve ever dated someone who uses really good-smelling shampoo, you’ve probably found yourself leaning in to catch a whiff. Or maybe it wasn’t shampoo, but a cologne or a scent on a T-shirt or the lingering tang of lip balm after a kiss. The point is, you’re kind of intoxicated or haunted by that scent depending on your experience with its wearer. I had the same reaction to the first dish I tried at Elske, a new West Loop restaurant from husband-and-wife duo David (Blackbird) and Anna Posey (The Publican).

Entente

Forrest Gump was wrong. Sometimes life is not like a box of chocolates. You do know what you’re going to get. In the restaurant business, this means that people with good track records tend to churn out great work over and over again. The folks behind Lakeview newcomer Entente—owner Ty Fujimura (Small Bar, Ani, Arami), chef partner Brian Fisher (Schwa) and pastry chef Mari Katsumura (Blackbird, Acadia)—are a veritable dream team.

GT Prime

There’s a semi-famous painting called “The Treachery of Images” by Belgian surrealist René Magritte. It’s not as well-known as the artist’s painting of a man in a bowler hat with an apple in front of his face, but you’ve probably seen it. It’s a painting of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or in English, “This is not a pipe.

Honey’s

It could be worse. They could have named it Cuddle Bear’s or Bae’s. But thankfully, the six-man crew—Justin Furman (New York’s defunct The Harrison), Tyrone Redic (Acadia), Virgil Abloh (Kanye West’s creative director), Ahmed Braimah (Underground), Andrew Miller (a branding PR strategist who favors giraffe-print shoes) and executive chef Charles Welch (Sepia)—settled on a less annoying term of endearment for their new West Loop restaurant, Honey’s.

Lena Brava

Leña Brava, which translates to “ferocious wood,” might make a decent character name in the next “Magic Mike” flick. But in this case, it’s a nod to the fact that just about everything cooked at Rick Bayless’ new West Loop restaurant is wood-fired in a hearth or cooked over oak-stoked grills. That’s right; there’s not a single gas-fired dish coming from the kitchen at Leña Brava.

Kimski

If you’ve ever wondered what Logan Square or Wicker Park looked like before hipsters, all you have to do is spend some time in the neighborhood surrounding Kimski, a new Korean-Polish fusion counter at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar in Bridgeport. There, you’ll find Section 8 housing, a metalworking shop, cops, politicians, blue collars and white collars—a true-blue Chicago neighborhood bursting at the seams.

Smack Shack

Located inside the Google building in Fulton Market, Smack Shack is not, as its name might suggest, an underground fight club for disgruntled techies. It’s the second location of a warehouse-sized seafood restaurant that started out as a humble food truck in Minneapolis in 2010. It gets its name from old East Coast fishing vessels called smacks. I like to imagine salty Boston fishermen used to say stuff like, “I pahked de smahk in Da-Ches-ter bay and it’s fullah lobstah.”

Duck, Duck, Goat

“I thought it was normal for your mom to make Mandarin pancakes when you were growing up. It was only later I realized nobody was doing that,” said Stephanie Izard, chef and partner behind West Loop’s new Duck Duck Goat. Armed with childhood memories of cooking Chinese food alongside her mother and recent travels to China, Izard teamed up with Boka Restaurant Group principals Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm for her third restaurant, a gourmet take on Chinese cuisine in Chicago. I stopped in recently to see if her efforts could satisfy General Tso’s army or if they’d leave me yearning for P.F. Chang’s orange peel shrimp