Now that the weather has finally turned, spring produce finally has had enough time to sprout and blossom. One of the most exciting times of the year to dine, restaurants throughout Chicago are filling their plates and their glassware with an abundance of springy ingredients. Here's where to get your fresh fix:
It may be small, but the petit salad (above) at Tru is mighty. It also happens to be one of the most gorgeous plates of food in Chicago currently. Chef/partner Anthony Martin's stunning new creation is a masterful ode to spring, made with baby gem and oak leaf lettuce, pickled green strawberries, marinated baby squash, sugar snap peas, icicle radish, fresh radish and zucchini blossoms, topped off with a bit of herb oil Banyuls vinaigrette.
Ada Street is shaking up spring in a glass with a couple rhubarb-y new cocktails. One is called Spin the Bottle, featuring Beefeater gin, Cava, rhubarb syrup and lemon, while the other, Psychocandy, contains Old Granddad Bonded Bourbon, Zucca Amaro, rhubarb and lemon. Over at Ada Street's sister spot, meanwhile, Henry's Swing Club has a carbonated and bottled libation called Pet Shop Eyes, featuring Tabernero Pisco, rhubarb, lime and pineapple bitters.
In other spring sipping news, Southport & Irving (SIP) has a few alluring new beverages on deck. Courtesy of beverage director Ardit Dizdari, these include a gin & rhubarb tonic (above), the French 75-inspired Shakedown made with lavender syrup, and the Planter's Punch brimming with rum, piloncillo syrup, Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters, angostura bitters and fresh lime. Pair all that with some new food dishes courtesy of chef de cuisine Alec Sherman, like the dandelion green salad with green almonds, green strawberries, and strawberry-Rioja vinaigrette; the poached asparagus and duck egg; or the rabbit leg confit with pickled rhubarb, English pea puree, smoked marrow-rabbit jus and pea vines.
Strawberries and rhubarb, spring's most reliable bedfellows, team up for a standout dish at Ani Sushi + Japanese Kitchen as well. Here, Chef Shin Matsuda is combining them for a new dessert, a Pavlova with shiso strawberries, rhubarb compote and orchids.
Over at newly opened BreakRoom Brewery in Albany Park, Chef Dirk Flanigan is getting crafty with fiddlehead ferns and ramps, using them both to adjoin a plate of Idaho trout with lemon pickled mustard seed. There's also a particularly herbaceous pork belly dish lush with basil, mint and cilantro.
Spring has most definitely sprung at Lockwood (above). The restaurant inside the historic Palmer House is showcasing newly seasonal wares throughout its menus, from cauliflower soup with pickled ramps to buckwheat gnocchi with English peas, spaghetti with fava beans, loin of lamb with peas and carrots, and a dessert crostada with rhubarb and apricot. And there's lots more where this all came from.
The one-two punch of Cafe Spiaggia and Spiaggia are both embracing spring fully. The former is slinging farfalle pasta with Coppa, English peas, spring onion, green garlic, pecorino Romano and black pepper, while the latter has "spring" written all over its fruitful menu. Start with antipasti like raw Slagel Farm spring lamb crudo with radish, cucumber, spring onion blossoms, spring garlic and pecorino before moving on to pasta dishes like chitarra rye spaghetti with Taleggio, ramps, morel mushrooms and rosemary. Save room for main courses like the Pacific black cod with asparagus, guanciale, green strawberry, and black lime, or the spring lamb with farro, spring onion and spring garlic.
Copper River salmon is as spring-centric as the greenest stalk of asparagus. Get your fix at Shaw's Crab House (above), where Chef Peter Balodimas is rounding out a plate of grilled salmon with morel mushrooms, spring peas and dashi broth.
From goat cheese ravioli with ramp pesto to sweet pea agnolotti and roasted and fried artichokes, RPM Italian does a masterful job of bridging the gap between Italian tradition and farm-fresh Midwestern produce.
Photos: Tru petite salad, Southport & Irving gin & rhubarb tonic, Lockwood shaved vegetable salad, Shaw's Crab House Copper River salmon