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Chicago Restaurant Week guide

What to try and what to skip during Chicago Restaurant Week, Feb. 17-26

February 07, 2012|By Lisa Arnett | RedEye

Surf and turf for less than $30? For thousands of hungry diners looking to try a new restaurant on a budget, that's the appeal of Chicago Restaurant Week. Organized by the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, the fifth annual event runs Feb. 17-26 and enlists participating restaurants—more than 200 in the city and suburbs this year—to offer a three-course lunch for $22, three-course dinner for $33 or an upgraded dinner option for $44 (tax, gratuity and beverages not included). But with so many participating restaurants, it can be hard to navigate. Here's a look at what to try, what to skip and what to know before you go.

Note: As of press time, all recommended restaurants had some reservations still available—if you act fast, that is.

NEW ADDITIONS WORTH TRYING

Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar
230 W. Erie St. 312-662-4888
Serving: Three-course lunch and dinner (both $22)
Why you should try it: This River North sushi and robata grill is breaking the rules and offering their three-course dinner at the $22 lunch price. If that's wrong, we don't want to be right.
Menu highlights: Mushroom salad with garlic-soy vinaigrette, rainbow and dragon maki, surf and turf with beef filet and jumbo shrimp, yuzu pie with coconut biscuit crust.

GT Fish & Oyster
531 N. Wells St. 312-929-3501
Serving: Three-course lunch ($22)
Why you should try it: During dinner, it's easy to go overboard with the sippable cocktails and shareable seafood plates at this popular River North eatery and end up with a whale of a bill. Dining during a long lunch break from work will keep things under control.
Menu highlights: Bruschetta with shrimp, avocado, grapefruit and toasted pistachio; scallops with candied bacon and winter squash; carrot cake with ginger ice cream.

Michael Jordan's Steak House
505 N. Michigan Ave. 312-321-8823
Serving: $22 three-course lunch and $44 four-course dinner
Why you should try it: This contemporary steakhouse has gotten plenty of positive buzz since opening last fall.
Menu highlights: Garlic bread with blue cheese fondue, lobster chowder, twin petite filets, chocolate tart with malted vanilla gelato.

NOT NEW, BUT WORTH YOUR TIME

Nightwood
2119 S. Halsted St. 312-526-3385
Serving: Four-course dinner ($44)
Why you should try it: This Pilsen gem rarely misses. I'm still thinking about the fried slices of preserved lemon I had at Restaurant Week here last year. If you're not the plan-ahead type, the discounted menu is available at the 8-seat kitchen counter, which is first come, first served.
Menu highlights: Foie gras agnolatti, spit-roasted pork loin with capers and anchovies, cocoa nib semi-freddo with hot fudge and brownie chunks.

Naha
500 N. Clark St. 312-321-6242
Serving: Three-course lunch ($22) and three-course dinner ($33 or $44)
Why you should try it: Since plenty of entrees alone at this acclaimed River North restaurant are in the $30 range, the $33 dinner is a serious bargain.
Menu highlights: Heirloom squash soup, pork belly risotto, coconut cream-grapefruit parfait. The $44 dinner includes an upgraded entree of duck breast and foie gras with a quince and fennel tart.

Aja
660 N. State St. 312-202-6050
Serving: Three-course lunch ($22) and three-course dinner ($33)
Why you should try it: This Asian-inspired restaurant inside the Dana Hotel is turning into a new contemporary American restaurant this spring at the hands of former Sunda chef Rodelio Aglibot, so this is its last Restaurant Week in its current form.
Menu highlights: Hot-and-sour soup with smoked bacon, chili-pecan lambshank with fried plantains, coconut caramel sticky pudding.

Aria
200 N. Columbus Drive. 312-444-9494
Serving: $22 three-course lunch and $33 three-course dinner
Why you should try it: This Asian-inspired restaurant inside the Fairmont Hotel isn't the hippest table in town, but chef de cuisine Beverly Kim's turn on "Top Chef: Texas" has made it that much more intriguing as of late.
Menu highlights: Mongolian lamb ribs with edamame-mint puree, swordfish with miso mustard and sunchoke puree, chocolate-caramel mousse

SKIP IT

Bar Toma
110 E. Pearson St. 312-266-3110
The three-course dinner option limits you to one appetizer (a mozzarella trio), just one of two pizza choices (margherita or pepperoni) and gelato for dessert. Because the savings aren't drastic, adventurous eaters would do better to dine during normal service to reap the benefit of choice.

Blackbird
619 W. Randolph St. 312-715-0708
This perennial favorite in the West Loop offers a $22 three-course lunch all year round, so you can concentrate your limited Restaurant Week time on other prospects.

25 Degrees
736 N. Clark St. 312-943-9700
If you're plunking down $22 on lunch, do you really want a burger? Plus, the decadent toppings on this River North bar's burgers make them filling enough without adding an appetizer and a dessert. If you disagree, this is one of the few Chicago Restaurant Week participants that doesn't take reservations.

Benny's Chop House
444 N. Wabash Ave. 312-626-2444
This River North steakhouse honors its Restaurant Week lunch special for the entire month of February, so you can take advantage of the discount before Feb. 17.

>>Check out our 5 tips
>>Read about two Chicago chefs who launched an Anti-Restaurant Week dinner.

lmarnett@tribune.com | @redeyeeats

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