A's List: NBA All-Star Weekend promises to attract celebrity athletes, actors and more to Chicago hot spots
By Audarshia Townsend
This is the first time Chicago’s hosted the NBA All-Star Weekend since 1988. And with the Windy City considered the “culinary capital” of the country, we should expect an influx of high-profile athletes and celebrity visitors. The NBA All-Star Weekend occurs Feb. 14-16. Here’s a good sampling of where you’ll likely run into a famous face or two—or three.
The Lincoln Park breakfast and brunch nook’s been going strong for awhile now, and while Batter & Berries gets its share of celebrities, it’s more popular for the menu selection. The signature French toast changes regularly with offerings like peach cobbler, Oreo and red velvet, and the sweet potato waffle—which is stuffed with bits of fried chicken—is always a crowd pleaser. Be prepared to wait for a bit because there are no reservations. It’s BYOB.
The Melman siblings of LEYE have yet another hit on their hands. R.J., Jerrod and Molly’s Dance Studio “pop-up” nightclub may be accessed through the alley, giving it a bit of a mysterious vibe. Once inside on the second level, guests are enticed by vibrating light shows, contemporary live music and a late-night menu of pizza by the slice. It’s fashionable and funky, so be ready to dance at this brand-new boogieland.
Who doesn’t love a great speakeasy? In the West Loop you’ll find The Darling, an enchanting space filled with flowers and inspired by the Roaring Twenties—in London. Plaid walls, gilded mirrors and hardwood that looks like it’s been imported from a castle are only part of the charm. There are sporadic burlesque performers, tap dancers and even a guy who strums a ukulele. An abbreviated menu showcases share-able bites like cauliflower pizza topped with bacon, salmon tartare and glazed ribs, but the emphasis here is on the cocktail program. They're carefully crafted and there are several large-format options. Upstairs, deejays spin deep soul, hip-hop, house and more.
The cocktail lounge at Eleven Eleven, located under the Green Line, is one of the best-kept secrets in the area. Frequented by local professional athletes as well as visiting musicians, it’s been an ideal space for them to wind down after big games and shows. The restaurant is also known to showcase visual artists as well—and it’s evident by some of the very eye-catching wall art throughout the dining room and top-floor lounge. Menu highlights include saffron hummus with grilled flatbread, sticky truffle frites and roasted spaghetti squash.
Stephanie Izard’s ground-breaking eatery is still going strong on Randolph Street, so don’t be surprised to run into A-Listers here. If you can, squeeze into Girl and the Goat's communal table right off the hostess stand to watch all the action. You’ll encounter an ever-changing menu, but you can always expect a few signature dishes to remain: The goat empanadas, milk-braised pork pasta and fire-roasted shrimp aren’t going anywhere.
A professional athlete’s haven, Harry Caray’s is guaranteed to host some pretty well-known sports stars as well as sports television personalities. Though it’s named after the famed baseball sportscaster, the restaurant is filled with autographed memorabilia from athletes of all sports. It’s a classic Chicago-style steakhouse with many Italian options on the menu. Favorite dishes range from an 18-ounce, bone-in rib-eye to a giant plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
No doubt Chicago’s a phenomenal steakhouse town, and to set Maple & Ash apart, executive chef Danny Grant wood-fires steaks, seafood and vegetables. Of note is the seafood tower—which is a necessity if you want the full experience here. Oysters, scallops, Maine lobster, wild Alaskan king crab, black tiger prawns and more are fire roasted in the hearth and finished with garlic butter and chili oil. And, if there are leftovers, the server will toss them with house-made pasta. If you want to truly feel like the rock stars who will likely surround you, request the “I Don’t Give A F*@K” option and leave everything to the chef.
First came RPM Italian. Then came RPM Steak. So, it was natural for RPM Seafood to follow. With the latter, Lettuce Entertain You has gone all the way out, aptly situating the restaurant directly on the Chicago River. A seafood lover's paradise, RPM promises a premium experience, offering some of the world's best catches for a very well-heeled clientele. Menu highlights: crudo and tartare; seafood towers; a bone-in swordfish steak; charcoal-grilled black bass with Moroccan spices; and an update on an old Chicago classic, the Peekytoe Crab de Jonghe with garlic butter and espelette. The massive, 11,000-square-foot space can accommodate a lot of star gazing: Inside seats 350 guests.
West Town has an authentic soul food restaurant in Soule, a tiny, no-frills, BYOB establishment on the Chicago Avenue dining strip that also includes Beatnik, Funkenhausen, Roots Pizza and Porto. The restaurant is only a few miles away from United Center, making it convenient for an early dinner. It’s an especially favorite stopover for hip-hop stars and professional athletes looking for a homestyle meal with a soulful soundtrack. Best bites: jerk shrimp, shrimp and grits, grilled lamb chops, fried chicken, and blackened catfish with dirty rice.
The sleek and modern steakhouse owned by Boka Restaurant Group attracts a lot of suits for power dinners and after-work gatherings, but it also finds itself a popular destination for the extremely famous and wealthy. Prime steaks, house-made pastas and seafood are on the menu at Swift & Sons as well as premium cocktail and dessert carts. And, for an extra $60, a talented magician will perform at your table.
The glitziest dining and nightlife destination to hit Chicago in more than 20 years, the Asian-inspired TAO is situated on more than 34,000 square feet, which includes 275 seats for dining on the first-level dining room and an upper-level nightclub with 7,000 square feet. There's visual overload in TAO, and of course that's deliberate. A 16-foot-tall Quan Yin statue overlooks guests as they dine on offerings from the sea, sky and land, featuring signature dishes like lobster wontons, Peking duck, crispy snapper in "sand" and the popular tuna sashimi pringle. In the nightclub, revelers may enjoy cocktails, bottle service and a spectacular scene underneath a massive 10-foot bell and disco ball.
MK the Restaurant alums Erick Williams and Jesus Garcia have joined forces to open this upscale Hyde Park eatery specializing in reinvented Southern fare. Virtue's menu plays up chef Williams' illustrious fine-dining background, beginning with the "small rations," or appetizers, section. Most notable is the gem lettuce salad, which contains radish, bacon, boiled eggs, buttermilk dressing and house-made crispy black-eyed peas. This is also where you'll find Williams' signature biscuits with homemade butter and pimento cheese as well as Southern ham that's accompanied by pepper jelly, Southern pickles and mustard homemade crackers. The main event, or "large rations," offers a pork chop with cider-braised apples and yams; brown sugar-glazed salmon with Brussels sprouts, red peas and dill butter; and blackened catfish with Carolina gold rice and barbecue carrots.
Located on the terrace level of Peninsula Chicago (which is always booked with star power), Z Bar overlooks the Magnificent Mile. The cocktail lounge is a luxurious experience, offering upscale, unique drinks, a raw bar and an occasional celebrity sighting. Cocktails range from the classics (updated takes on the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Paloma) to original elixirs like the Officers' Quarters, a gin-based sipper that’s accompanied by a luscious ounce of caviar.
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