In case you hadn't heard, the restaurant equivalent of the Oscars, the James Beard Awards, is taking place in Chicago's Lyric Opera on May 4. It's the first time the ceremony has ever been held outside New York City, and appropriately enough, Chicago has several restaurant and bar contenders up for big awards.
As if the fact that the prowess of Chicago's restaurant scene was strong enough to attract the biggest food awards ceremony in the world wasn't sufficient enough, further evidence of Chicago's world-class dining scene is exemplified by the nominees, which feature Chicago restaurants prominently in various categories. From restaurant design and service to dessert menus and bar programs, Chicago spots really run the gamut, showcasing our multifaceted talent pool in the hospitality arena.
Brindille, the fine dining French gem in River North from the restaurant vets behind nearby NAHA, picked up a nomination for best restaurant design, with design firm Bureau of Architecture and Design and designers James Gorski and Tom Nahabedian.
One of the most exciting awards of the night is the Best New Restaurant award. Think of it as the dining equal of The Grammy's Best New Artist award. So in that case, our very own Parachute could be the night's Sam Smith. The Avondale eatery is a husband-wife passion project from John Clark and Beverly Kim, who cook contemporary Korean-American cuisine in a cozy, homey atmosphere. Kim was a top contender on the Texas season of Top Chef and her role on that show and her career in general has been a real underdog story, culminating with this lauded restaurant in a highly offbeat location.
Oft cited as the bar that kickstarted the craft cocktail boom in Chicago, The Violet Hour is duly deserving of its nomination for Outstanding Bar Program. Year in and year out, the clandestine Wicker Park bar holds its own against the slew of new bars. Like Demi Moore, it just gets better with age, fine-tuning its multi-tiered cocktail list with a litany of artisanal spirits, custom-carved ice, and intensive mixology techniques on par with the finest kitchen work.
The oldest Chicago nominee of the bunch is a seasoned service vet, which is no wonder Topolobampo routinely racks up the nods for Outstanding Service. The fine dining masterwork of famed chef Rick Bayless, Topolobampo is one of the most unique Mexican dining experiences in the world, acclaimed both for its meticulous cuisine and its top-tier service.
Now it's time for dessert, and you'll definitely want to save room for anything Dana Cree makes at Blackbird. The venerable pastry chef is up for Outstanding Pastry Chef, not surprising at all considering the awe-inspiring caliber of her handiwork. Some of her seasonally inspired masterpieces include bourbon gooey butter cake with whipped goat cheese, caramelized strudel, sweet potato pie, and sorghum; a mille-feuille with Tahitian vanilla, deme Bauhaniere, passion fruit caramel, Mandarin orange, and marigold; and a teff flour crepe with coffee mascarpone, chicory crumble, candied hazelnuts, espresso, and rum.
Good luck to all the nominees! You make Chicago proud. And delicious.
For more details on the James Beard Awards, including a list of all Chicago nominees and a rundown of dining events open to the public, check out Choose Chicago's JBF coverage.
Photos: Brindille, Beverly Kim and John Clark, The Violet Hour, Topolobampo, Dana Cree