Food and liquor go together like Mike Ditka and facial hair, but it's not as easy as slapping together a plate of food with a random boozy beverage. It takes a special artistry and precision to make a masterful pairing, and when done right it can really make a memorable meal. There are plenty of places in Chicago who have got pairing down to a science, many of which are participating in Chicago Restaurant Week.
Acanto (18 S Michigan Ave)
In a city filled with Italian restaurants, it takes a special gem to stand out from the herd. Acanto is that gem, located right across from Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue. From the same folks who operate The Gage and The Dawson, Acanto is a killer modern interpretation of Italian classics, which can be sampled during CRW for lunch or dinner. The restaurant also happens to be quite dexterous with their beverage pairings, be it a nice glass of Italian wine or a masterful cocktail. Dishes on the CRW menus include beet-cured fluke with beet and blood orange salad, beef bolognese with bucatini and roasted tomato, truffled gnocchi, and tiramisu cannoli. Acanto makes beverage pairings easy by offering two featured wines on their menu, along with numerous glasses and bottles. For mixed drinks, there's a thoughtful array of house cocktails, housemade sodas and more.
Frontier (1972 N Milwaukee Ave)
Frontier may be best known for their adventurous game-focused menu brimming with everything from alligator to kangaroo, but what they're also great at is finding the right beverage to match with that meat. Together, the food and beverage pairings at this West Town bastion make for a wholly unique dining and drinking experience. During CRW, the dinner menu features dishes like rabbit and frisee salad, duck and andouille sausage gumbo, smoked wild boar shank, and char-grilled redfish. The drink list is enormous, but bartenders and servers are well-versed in matching beverages to your tastes (and your wild animal). With large bourbon, Scotch, and mezcal selections, along with punches and seasonal cocktails, spirits are easy to come by here. There's also a large array of craft beers, many on draft, and a concise selection of red, white, and sparkling wines.
Trenchermen (2039 W North Ave)
Beverages are paramount as part of the dining experience at Trenchermen, one of the boldest restaurants in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. Here, chef Patrick Sheerin dazzles tastebuds with contemporary, eclectic cuisine attuned to some serious artistry happening behind the bar. To drink, the crafty cocktails are not be missed, executed by bartenders with surgeon-like precision. Or you could always stick to their solid wine list and let the venerable service staff be your guide. The dinner menu during CRW lists wine pairing suggestions for each course as well, with dishes like brandade croquettes, carrots with sunflower falafel, gnocchi with kimchi bolognese, smoked hakuri turnips, hanger steak "pot roast," and Basque cake with quince and poached pear.
Bistrot Margot (1437 N Wells St)
Sometimes you just crave a classic French dining experience rich with butter, bread and wine. Bistrot Margot is the place to satisfy those cravings. The Old Town stalwart is offering wine pairings with their dinner menu (they are also offering a lunch prix fixe, but it's probably best not to get wine-drunk in the middle of the day, no?), so you can kill all the birds with one stone. Expect dishes like French onion soup, escargots, boeuf Bourguigon, creme brulee and more, all beautifully juxtaposed by French reds and whites.
As exclusive wine partner for Chicago Restaurant Week, Terlato Wines will be poured at hundreds of restaurants alongside special Restaurant Week menus. The Terlato portfolio includes 70 of the finest brands, including Bodegas Valdemar, Chateau Timberlay, Colavita, Greystone Cellars, Rutherford Hill, Tamari and much more.
Visit Terlato Wines' website to view a full list of participating restaurants that will be serving Terlato wine pairings.
Mercadito Chicago (108 W Kinzie St)
Mexican food and agave-based spirits are in perfect synergy at Mercadito, one of the hottest, zestiest restaurants in River North. With three CRW menu options throughout the weeks - brunch, lunch, and dinner, each equipped with optional beverage supplements -it's never been easier to match your guacamole with your mod margarita. Both food and drink menus offer elevated interpretations of south of the border classics, from white sweet potato-infused guacamole and blackened cobia tacos to black tea-infused tequilaand cinnamon-laced Palomas, so you know your CRW cravings will be in good hands.
City Winery (1200 W Randolph St)
When it comes to pairing food and wine, you can't really outdo an urban winery, now can you? City Winery literally spells it out for you, enticing oenophiles and foodies alike with their prix fixe lunch and dinner menus and their impressive miscellany of wines. Both lunch and dinner menus offer an optional wine pairing upgrade for $12, wherein dishes like hummus, salmon, falafel, and bread pudding are adjoined by the likes of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Because falafel is always better with Pinot.
Bottlefork (441 N Clark St)
A place that bills itself as a drinking-inspired restaurant has got to be a good option for pairings during CRW. Bottlefork is that place, the perfect personification of food and drinks working in tandem. The River North spot is serving up a CRW lunch menu with dishes like popcorn sweetbreads (order these), lager-battered cod, smoked corned beef brisket, kale Caesar, and "tots" with pimento cheese sauce. The bar side of the equation rises to the occasion with draft beers, kegged wines, and a huge variety of innovative cocktails that run the gamut of spirits. There's a beet and brandy-based Fizz, a warm cocktail laced with cardamom and Somrus liqueur, an elixir enriched with rhubarb saison, a rum-based tipple splashed with India Pale Ale, and lots more.
Celeste (111 W Hubbard St)
Another place that seamlessly bridges the gap between bar and kitchen is Celeste, a multi-level, multi-tiered concept that looks and feels like a casual mansion. Here, food menus and drink menus operate in slick unison, with both operations designed to complement and accentuate one another. The restaurant is joining CRW for dinner, featuring items like grilled baby octopus with romesco sauce, housemade saffron fettuccine in vegetarian ragu, and apple tarts with almond dough and caramel pastry cream. Wash these courses down with one of their killer bottled cocktails or a glass of wine. The restaurant and bar is handily equipped to tag-team each bite and sip.
The Monarch (1745 W North Ave)
The Monarch may look like your everyday Wicker Park sports bar, but what lies within is truly a regal experience for gastronomes. Experience the surprising wonders of The Monarch for yourself as you eat and sip your way through their CRW dinner menu, which can be complimented by wine and Champagne pairings for a supplemental price. Dishes include olive-adorned bruschetta, potted chicken liver pate, fried Brussels sprouts in curry vinaigrette, braised pork shoulder with cornbread grits, fried green tomato sandwiches with jalapeno cream sauce, and butterscotch pudding with salted Scotch caramel.
Photos: Frontier (Adam Alexander); Acanto (Alexander); Trenchermen; Mercadito; Celeste