Houlihan’s shutters downtown location

By Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

Houlihan’s announced last month that it has closed its downtown location on Upper Wacker Drive, in the Illinois Center.

The reason for the closure was not immediately clear. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” the restaurant posted on its Facebook page, “We have closed our doors for good and want to thank each and every one of you for all the great memories.”

Leawood Kansas-based Houlihan’s Restaurants, Inc. still operates six suburban Illinois locations in Algonquin, Geneva, Naperville, Orland Park, Park Ridge, and Wheaton. A sign posted on a locked door invited patrons to visit these other outposts.

Long a feature on the Pedway’s dining map, Houlihan’s appeared to have been doing a thriving business for breakfast buffets, happy hours, and everything in between in the weeks and days leading up to the closure. During spring and summer, a sidewalk patio provided a prime vantage point for people-watching and enjoying a beverage or two. Its proximity to nearby hotels and offices ensured a steady stream of foot traffic. The establishment was highlighted in this publication as a Thanksgiving dinner option for diners who wanted to leave the food preparation and dishwashing to someone else.

Among the patrons surprised by the restaurant’s closure is Josh Tamlin. “The food was always good and they had great deals. The decor was pretty cool, with an awesome fish tank up front and plenty of TVs to watch sporting events,” he said.

A glance through the windows reveals a vacant, darkened interior with stacks of tagged, numbered dishware; kitchen items; dining room furnishings; and miscellaneous odds and ends that are going up for auction on January 6, 2016. Also on the auction block is a variety of memorabilia, including a football signed by Mike Ditka, a Marilyn Monroe bust, RCA Nipper statue, a seven-foot-long wooden swordfish, and several vintage metal signs.

Bob King Auctions, specializing in commercial auctions, appraisals, and liquidation services, has posted a list of auction items, with photos, on its website. Anyone who wishes to take part in the auction must register and provide a bidder’s card and $200 refundable cash deposit. No one under sixteen years of age is allowed on the premises for safety reasons.

Plans for the former Houlihan’s space are unknown at press time. The company could not be reached for comment.

‘Tis the season for warm winter cocktails

By Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

The best way to enjoy a Chicago winter is to spend it in Cancun. If that’s not an option, a warm cocktail will do. From December to March, cocoas, coffees, toddies and teas ward off the Windy City chill and turn whipped cream into a blanket. Here’s a list of New Eastside recommendations for the next round.

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McCormick & Schmick’s
Seafood & Steaks

McCormick & Schmick’s renowned dedication to natural ingredients takes the form of the fresh whipped cream dollops atop many of the selections of an after-dinner drink menu that bartender Rob Connaghan calls, “traditional across the board, outside of the Millionaire Coffee that you don’t see anywhere else.”

Millionaire Coffee combines the Irish cream and hazelnut flavors of Bailey’s and Frangelico with a “little bit of a boost,” says Connaghan.

Additional selections include one of the city’s most authentic Irish Coffees: a cup of joe with a shot of Jameson and a sugar cube; and the Spanish Coffee, which Connaghan recommends pairing with his favorite dessert, the Upside Down Candied Walnut Crust Apple Pie.

“The Tia Maria Liqueur and Korbel Brandy in the Spanish Coffee complement the cinnamon ice cream and apple pie,” he explains. “I have a hard time eating it less than once a week.”

All the coffees mix well with McCormick & Schmick’s award-winning happy hour, rated number one by USA Today, and into the evening.

“We do a really good job of getting it down to a cozier level,” Connaghan says. For anyone who wants to enjoy an entrée before hitting the sweet stuff, his current favorite is Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna.

1 E. Upper Wacker Dr · (312) 923-7226
www.mccormickandschmicks.com

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Sweetwater
Tavern & Grille

This hip Michigan Avenue restaurant is full of business people and tourists at lunchtime, but don’t let that fool you: when the sun goes down, the Sweetwater Tavern & Grille becomes a local joint where bartender Kevin Blake knows most of his customers by name. It’s so laid back, in fact, that there are no official warm seasonal drinks.

“We can make anything hot,” says General Manager Phil Miley. “We have a lot of whiskeys, so if you want to warm it up with a little whiskey — or scotch or bourbon — we got a healthy selection.”

The Sweetwater adds the heat of these higher-proof spirits into its regular specialty cocktails, which may come cold on the outside but go down warm on the inside. The Chi-Town Sipper is a combination of Bulleit Bourbon with Amaretto and Apple. The Blizzard Brisk adds Triple Sec and Lemon to Makers Mark. There are also 82 ales, beers, pilsners, stouts, lagers, porters and ciders to choose from.

The menu puts a thoughtful twist on bar favorites like the Mushroom Swiss burger, served with balsamic mayonnaise on a Kaiser roll, and traditional entrees like the Filet Mignon Trio, served with bleu cheese potato puree and grilled asparagus. Desserts include Peanut Butter Mousse Parfait and Baked Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. For anyone looking to enjoy the last course in liquid form, Sweetwater is happy to comply.

“We can always add a little Baileys or Kahlua to your hot chocolate,” says Miley.

225 N. Michigan Ave. · Chicago, IL 60601 · (312) 698-7111

www.sweetwatertavernandgrille.com

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Amuse

The seasonal drink menu at Amuse is the result of a group effort inspired by the Swissôtel’s Santa Suite on the 43rd floor.

“We wanted to bring some festivity down to the lobby,” says Food and Beverage Manager Ben Quick.

The resulting lineup — including The Frosted Berry Combo, The Nutcracker, Jack Frost and Winter Mule — offers enough winter-themed flavors to last all season.

The crowd favorite is the Frosted Berry Combo made with black raspberry Belvedere with strawberry puree, cranberry and lime juice topped by frosted berries.

“It’s really delicious and easily consumable so you can down more than one,” says Quick.

The warm one of the bunch is The Nutcracker, a foamy base of steamed cream and Frangelico flavored with Rumchata, Amaretto and white chocolate. Quick recommends pairing it with the Hot Chocolate Panacotta, a chocolate gelatin combination that “forms like a pudding” and is topped with pistachio whipped cream prepared daily in the hotel’s pastry kitchen.

The dessert is just one of Chef Dan McGee’s recent contributions to the menu. Other new dishes include the spicy crab Rangoon, which Quick describes as “one of my favorites”; and the Vitality Burger, a black bean burger with avocado pico de gallo on an avocado brioche bun that is “light, delicious and sharable, especially after the heavy holiday meals.”

Of course, the food and drink are just a part of Amuse’s winter charm. “We have our fireplace and it’s just a really warm and comfortable and welcoming area,” says Quick. “Being in the lobby of the hotel, you get to sit and watch all the world pass you by and we really pride ourselves on our service.”

323 E. Upper Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60601 · (312) 565-0565

www.swissotel.com/hotels/chicago/dining/amuse/

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Filini Bar

Filini bartender Ergys Dizdari created “something outside of the typical hot toddy routine” to keep customers warm this winter. The seasonal menu offers three selections made from two different ciders, a dash of exquisite bitters and dose of gin, bourbon or rum.

The “Twisted Earl” is a mug of hot cider infused with Earl Grey tea sweetened by honey syrup and orange bitters. The flavors melt into lemon-peel gin from Chicago’s Few Spirits with a steam that feels like a home kitchen.

“The Twisted Earl has a nice cider flavor,” says Surgical Instrument Designer and Aqua resident Doug Slomski. “Ergys recommended it as a seasonal drink and it is exactly what I was looking for.”

Additional selections include the Original Sin, a hot cider with pear and plum flavors, and the Sugarbush, which mixes Four Roses Bourbon with maple syrup and Angostura Bitters.   

“It’s about warming up people and their spirits,” explains Dizdari, who crafted the collection with mingling in mind. With three years’ experience at the lounge, he knows that people like to walk around and explore the attractions in the award-winning Aqua Building. “It’s very inviting and cozy, especially with the fireplace and the lobby,” he says. “People also like to go to the art gallery down the hall.”

221 N. Columbus Dr. · (312) 477-0234

www.filinichicago.com

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Caffé  Rom

“Anyone who loves true Italian coffee would want to come to Caffé Rom,” says barista Victoria Weddington, “We’re the epitome of Italian Coffee.”

Indeed. The white leather barstools and vibrant colors in this sunny little nook are waiting for Sofia Loren to roll up on a Vespa. Offering several custom-ground multi-blend roasts and a variety of desserts including daily handmade gelato, Caffé Rom’s Mediterranean dedication is worthy of a Caesar.

This winter, peppermint is all the rage at the cafe, mixing into mocha, white mocha and a brownie that Weddington describes as “super gooey and delicious.” There are also a new eggnog gelato and, as always, the Cornetto, a buttery and flaky Italian pastry baked fresh every morning.

For the non-peppermint lover, Weddington notes that “white chocolate is super popular around the wintertime” and she is ready to wow customers with her expertise on the cappuccino machine.

“All the baristas here go through extensive training,” she explains. “Anywhere from six to fifteen months.” The most challenging aspect of the process, she says, is “Learning how to make the making espresso shot.” The greatest reward: “interacting with the customers” once it’s perfected.

So stop in at the Caffé across from Lakeshore East Park to catch some of the interaction. Or just relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Either way, Weddington promises that, “You get the feel of being inside a true Italian coffee shop.”

E. South Water St. · (312) 981-7766  www.cafferom.com

Don’t want to cook? Enjoy Thanksgiving in a neighborhood venue

Daniel Patton | Managing Editor

There’s no sensation like dining out on Thanksgiving. Holiday menus, thoughtful decoration and bustling hospitality provide a uniquely warm reminder that someone else has to do the dishes.

This year, several restaurants in the New Eastside are committed to welcoming the last-minute procrastinators as well as the advanced reservation decision makers. From multi-course extravaganzas to underground tacos, here’s a list of nearby bistros that will be open for America’s autumn feast.

SPACER03-01 Filini Chef Carolina Diaz is preparing a five-course epicurean journey from the Great Lakes to the Mediterranean Sea.

IMG_5221-02Midwestern favorites like Sweet Rutabaga and Italian classics like Creamy Polenta Blend of Mushrooms stand out among the soup and side courses. For those who can’t decide on a region, the Homemade Pumpkin Gnocchi in the pasta course combines them both. Besides Roasted Organic Amish Turkey, the entrée list also offers Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Pork Loin. Dessert is a choice of cakes: Pumpkin Cheese or Apple Cranberry.

Cost: $80 per person ($95 with wine pairing)

Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Reservations: Require a credit card and will result in a $45 fee “if a reservation is a no-show or is cancelled after midnight the night before.”

221 N. Columbus Dr. · (312) 477-0234

SPACER03-01 The Palm at the Swissôtel is serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal in three courses prepared by veteran Chef Reuben Izaguirre. The choices begin with kale, radicchio or traditional salad and continue to include wild mushrooms, roasted butternut squash, and homemade cranberry sauce before arriving at the turkey and stuffing. Dessert is either pumpkin pie or homemade cheesecake. The menu features an option for kids and the bar has a couple of TVs, which enhance the restaurant’s reputation as a favorite family Thanksgiving destination. According to host Michelle Labriola, “people have started making reservations already.”

IMG_7904iia-01Cost: $55 per adult, $24 per child under 12

Hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Reservations: highly recommended

323 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · (312) 616-1000

Amuse in the Swissôtel is planning a feast to fit in with the relaxed atmosphere and great service that it offers throughout the year. The three-course menu, prepared by Chef Dan McGee, will include soup, turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. “It’s a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” says Food and Beverage Manager Ben Quick, “with pumpkin pie for dessert.” After dinner, the lounge will shake and stir its upscale cocktails until midnight. “We’re a bar,” Quick says. “So we’ll have the TVs on.”

Cost: around $32

Hours: 6 a.m. to Midnight (dinner service approximately 4 p.m.)

Reservations: highly recommended

323 E Upper Wacker Dr. · (312) 565-0565

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Morton’s The Steakhouse plans to stick with the trick it does best for Thanksgiving dinner, and that means steak. “Last year we didn’t serve any turkey,” explains Manager Chevalo Villalobos, “and we were busy.” From 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., he expects a carnivorous crowd to check in at random intervals and order regular menu favorites like the “very juicy” Chicago Style Bone-in Ribeye. The restaurant will also be showing the football game and employing its year-round mantra to spread the holiday cheer. “Our specialty is to make people happy,” says Villalobos.

Cost: regular menu

Hours: 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Reservations: recommended

65 E Wacker Pl. · (312) 201-0410

SPACER03-01 Hoyt’s will spend the holiday working as hard as its founder, William H. Hoyt, who entered the hospitality industry as a Chicago food retailer with $89 in 1858.

IMG_8323iia2-01The cozy but swanky restaurant that now bears his name at the Wyndham Grand on Chicago’s Riverfront will serve breakfast until 11 a.m. and then offer its regular menu as well as a prix fixe Thanksgiving feast that includes soup, a full turkey dinner and dessert. A scaled down version that includes only dinner will also be offered. Select bottles of wine will be available for half price.

Cost: $28 (three-course prix fixe) · $21 (turkey dinner only)

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Reservations: recommended

71 E Wacker Dr. · (312) 346-9870

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McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks offers a traditional two-course meal in both adult and kids portions prepared by veteran Executive Chef Stephen Hicks.

IMG_8253ib-01The appetizer features a choice of Butternut Squash Soup or Walnut Peeled Mixed Green Salad. The entree is a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread dressing, butternut squash, apple casserole and cranberry sauce. For those with enough room, pumpkin pie and the regular selection of desserts are available at the regular prices. A limited steak and seafood menu will also be offered and there are TVs at the bar. “We served about 800 people last year,” says Manager Tomi Matanovic, “so reservations are highly recommended.”

Cost: $25.99 for adults; $9.99 for kids

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Reservations: highly recommended

1 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · (312) 923-7226

SPACER03-01 Houlihan’s is “really busy on Thanksgiving,” says Manager John Astle. “We do the whole turkey dinner with the pumpkin pie and everything.”

IMG_7752ia-01Besides the regular influx of holiday families, the place draws a lot of smaller parties who “don’t want to go to the suburbs” and a mix of professional travelers from nearby hotels.

“You get people from Europe and people traveling and even some flight attendants,” Astle continues. It’s also a popular late-night destination for post-dinner drinks and TV.

Cost: $18.99

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Reservations: recommended

111 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · (312) 616-3663

SPACER03-01 MingHin Cuisine’s new location at 333 E. Benton Pl. will be open and serving the dim sum that made it famous from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The normal Happy Hour discount will be suspended for the day, but the signature Asian mixed drinks will be served until closing.

IMG_5378iia-01Cost: regular menu

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Reservations: recommended

344 E. Benton Pl. · (312) 228-1333

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Taco Fresco in the Pedway by the Metra Station will be open and serving, among other favorites, it’s popular steak taco, just like it has for the past seven Thanksgivings. According to Sam the Manager, the easiest way to get there is to take the stairway by the Cultural Center and keep walking straight ahead.

Cost: $2.75 for the steak taco; various prices for the rest of the menu

Hours: 7 a.m until “early afternoon”

Reservations: not required

151 N. Michigan. · (312) 565-1444

MingHin restaurant arrives in the New Eastside

By Daniel Patton | Managing Editor

MingHin Cuisine, the highest Yelp-rated dim sum destination in Chinatown, opened a new location at 333 E. Benton Place in September. Serving authentic Cantonese dishes and signature Asian cocktails in three separate rooms that create as many distinct moods, the taste is the same as its flagship restaurant, which received a 2016 Michelin Guide Bib Gourmond distinction.

The dim sum menu, available all day, offers a selection of more than 40 items ranging from dumplings to sweet custards, with dozens of buns, rolls, crepes, cakes and pot stickers in between. The shrimp and pork Siu Mai ranks among the most popular, the chicken feet with special sauce among the most unique.

Under the supervision of Chef Ming, who learned to cook when he was a teenager in Canton, China, all the items are prepared with fresh ingredients as soon as they are ordered. The authenticity and the process distinguish MingHin’s dim sum, which Manager Thomas Mun describes as “traditional Hong Kong style,” from the rest.

“We prepare everything by hand,” he says, “and we steam every single item after we receive the order.”

Besides dim sum, the menu contains an impressive variety of beef, pork, poultry, vegetable, and fried rice dishes. There are also more than twenty items listed under the Live Seafood designation. For aficionados making their first visit to MingHin, Mun recommends the Ginger and Scallion with Lobster.

But when it comes to favorites, he goes right for the barbecue, which includes pork belly, spare ribs and his top choice, the roast duck — “so crispy,” he explains. MingHin also makes a “world famous” Beijing Duck that is prepared in the traditional two-course style but does not require the traditional super long wait. “You do not have to order it early,” Mun says. “We sell it like hot cakes.”

An ample selection of beverages complements the cuisine, including signature cocktails mixed with lychee liqueur, the sweet nectar of the Asian passion fruit. Created and prepared by Mun himself, the most popular is “probably the Lychee Martini,” but it doesn’t end there. “You call it,” he says. “I make them.”

Since the restaurant sits on top of a hill that descends into Lake Shore East Park, the eastern windows overlook a vast and peaceful expanse of natural greenery that underscores the distant high rises along the river. Here, the main dining room seems to float over the landscape. The second dining room and the bar are on the other side, nestled in the walkway connecting to Randolph Street. The windows bring scenes of pedestrian bustle into the space, where natural woodwork and gentle lighting create the tranquility of a cozy hideout.

MingHin Cuisine is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Happy Hour is from 2:30 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (except holidays), and features a 20% discount off the total bill (dine in only). Delivery is available from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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