When I first moved to Chicago over a decade ago, Chicago restaurants were nothing special. It’s not that there weren’t any decent places to eat, it’s just that were all the same. In fact, the Chicago restaurants ten years ago were predictably representative of the meat-and-potatoes stereotype of the “hog butcher to the world.” However, in a slow but steady shift, Chicago restaurants have become exciting, diverse and dining hot-spots. This change is due, in large part, to the growing number of young chefs who have won or gained acclaim on shows like Top Chef. If you are looking to get a taste of Chicago from both an old and new perspective, I suggest you check out the following elegant and sexy dining options:
Catch 35 – (Representing Old Chicago Restaurants)
If ten years is a good run for a restaurant, then 30 years is phenomenal! Catch 35 is a seafood-centric restaurant in The Loop, near the Chicago River which is closing in on that milestone. I started dining at Catch 35 long before I moved to Chicago in 2005. It had been a few years since I stopped in for a meal and I was delighted to find the food and service are still fantastic.
I arrived at Catch 35 on a stormy Wednesday evening and settled into a cozy booth near the bar where a piano player was entertaining the crowd with some jazz tunes.
I ordered a lovely glass of Prosecco to take the chill of off my shivering bones.
The menu at Catch 35 is impressive from the starters to the dessert. Since I saved my appetite, I was able to indulge a bit more. I ordered the fiery, glazed Szechuan sea scallops which were delicious, and beautifully presented. They were adorned with peppers and scallions and served over a chive potsticker. Crunchy noodles were the finishing touch to this zesty and colorful dish.
Next up, I ordered the Chilean sea bass, Catch 35’s signature dish, prepared with a ginger-scallion sauce. A substantial edamame-barley mash road shotgun on the plate.
Of course, if seafood is not your bag, don’t worry. Catch 35 offers some satisfying lamb and steak.
Another reason Catch 35 earns high marks from me is that it is open for lunch. It is a long and frustrating thorn in my side that more Chicago restaurants are not open for lunch. The menu is slightly different, but it is still surprisingly large. Also, at Catch 35 you can enjoy their 1/2 price bar menu weekdays from 2 – 5 pm. – 35 W. Wacker Dr. (Clark/Lake L station).
El Che Bar – (Representing New Chicago Restaurants)
Chef Manion lived in Buenos Aires for a while, and El Che bar is his love letter to that South American city. Everything from the dark and elegant space at El Che Bar to the vibrant libations to the open, wood-fired hearth brought back memories of my trip to Buenos Aires many years ago.
Since I am more of a seafood lover than a meat eater, I ordered the crispy barramundi with artichokes, olives, citrus, and mint. Wowza! I loved the contrast of textures, salty, sweet and pop of mint. Many chefs overlook the value of mint in seafood dishes. It’s a game changer and a staple in Mediterranean cuisines.
No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without some chimichurri, and I made sure I got mine in El Che Bar’s Japanese sweet potatoes. The chimichurri is definitely on point. Make sure you order more than one of these for the table.
The cocktail menu at El Che Bar is refreshing and festive, make sure you check out the fabulous wine selections. I love Argentinean wines, and I believe they are some of the best quality around for a lower price point. On my recent visit to El Che Bar, I indulged in a bubbly rosé which added to the warm setting here. 845 W. Washington Blvd (Morgan ‘L’ stop).
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to get to El Che Bar and Catch 35. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!