Fig Cocktail at Baptiste & Bottle

Baptiste & Bottle's Fig Cocktail (Photo by Kailley Lindman.)

What better gift for the holidays than a trip to one of the new, hot-hot-hot restaurants that have opened just this fall? From the city to the North suburbs, there are options aplenty, and we’ve lined them up for you — alphabetically, of course. We hate to play favorites!

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Bad Hunter

Bad Hunter's Red Curry Squash Tart

Red Curry Squash Tart

The West Loop’s newest veggie-centric restaurant — part of the Heisler Hospitality group (Trencherman, Lone Wolf, Pub Royale) — is open from 11 a.m. every day, serving lunch, dinner, and an in-between “all day” menu. And while its existence is a boon to the vegetarians among us, to be sure, carnivores can cavort here with equal aplomb. For every Veggie Burger dish of Wood-Grilled Carrots and Fennel ($12) with green chile pesto and avocado crema that exits the kitchen, you’ll find someone salivating over the Soy-Cured Wagyu Beef ($18). People, we can all have nice things. Witness the Red Curry Squash Tart ($10) with spiced peanuts and coconut cream. Chef Dan Snowden and pastry chef Emily Spurlin  are firing on both cylinders. 802 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-265-1745

Baptiste & Bottle

Baptiste & Bottle's Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup (Photo by Kailley Lindman.)

You’ll find Chef Richard Sandoval’s (Latinicity) latest hot spot inside the chic new Conrad Chicago Hotel right off the Mag Mile. Unlike the other 40-plus restaurants under his umbrella, Baptiste & Bottle does not have a Latin feel; in fact, it’s an homage to classic American menus, albeit with a seasonal twist. You’ll find Biscuits ($7) with cheddar and chive  with black garlic and butter, Spaetzle with Duck Confit ($17) topped with maitake mushrooms and a 62 degree egg, and Day Boat Scallops ($29) with brown butter, sun choke and pear, crying out for a table of friends to indulge. 101 E. Erie St., 312-667-6793

Eden

Eden's Blistered Melrose Pepper, Confit Duck Agrodolce, Cinnamon Basil

Blistered Melrose Pepper, Confit Duck Agrodolce, Cinnamon Basil

This is the first brick and mortar opening for the team behind Paramount Events, one of Chicago’s premier caterers. Inspired by the vibrant flavors of the Mediterranean and Mideast, Chef Devon Quinn is rolling out a menu stocked with gems: an Umami Doughnut with melty Raclette; Seafood Stew redolent with fennel and spicy nduja sausage; Braised Duck Lasagna; and Milk Chocolate Mousse with blood orange reduction, figs, and almond milk granité. 1748 W. Lake St., Chicago, 312-366-2294

Elske

There was a great deal of anticipation about this West Loop opening as the chef/owners are husband and wife team David and Anna Posey, who made their reputations with Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality (David at Blackbird, Anna at The Publican). There is a decided focus on wood-fire cooking, and there are both a la carte and tasting menus (the latter priced at an astoundingly reasonable $80 a pop). By the way, elske means “love” in Danish, appropriately enough for a restaurant couple. 1350 W. Randolph St., Chicago

Entente

Entente's Cheesecake

Cheesecake (Photo by Matthew Meschede.)

Executive Chef Brian Fisher (a Schwa acolyte) and Pastry Chef Mari Katsumura (formerly of Grace and Acadia, and daughter of the late, great chef Yoshi Katsumura) combine forces to great advantage at Entente, a small intimate boîte in Lakeview. The menu is small, too, but is filled with big, big flavor. The Chicken Liver Mousse ($12), served with Concord grape jelly, pumpkin seed butter and a crumpet (yes, a crumpet), is an R-rated PB & J, the mousse whipped to an impossible smoothness; Katsumara’s delicate “Cheesecake” ($12) is festooned with delicate edible flowers and fruit gels and sauces in jelly bean colors. 3056 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago

GT Prime

GT Prime's Beef Tartare

GT Prime’s Beef Tartare (Photo by Anthony Tahlier.)

His first bespoke restaurant, GT Fish & Oyster, still packs them in, so now Chef Giuseppe Tentori (and his partners at the Boka Group) are taking on a more meat-centric focus at GT Prime. Their aim: to reinvent the steakhouse. Looks like they may succeed. Even among the many steakhouses in River North, this one stands out. There’s real attention paid to the shareable plates, which run the gamut from cold dishes — such as Tuna Crudo ($18) and Lyonnaise Salad ($15) — to hot delights (Seared Foie Gras ($20) and Mortadella Arancini ($12) among them). Veggies are given significant love, too. Red meats come in four- and eight-ounce portions, but are limited to loin cuts of beef, lamb, venison, bison and beef strip, along with skirt steak and a top-notch burger. No meat coma, here. And the interior design is stunning. 707 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-600-6305

Knife

Knife's steak

Photo by Cindy Kurman.

The Lincoln Square neighborhood has its own new steakhouse in Knife, brought to you by the folks from nearby Fork. Executive Chef Tim Cottini is dry-aging the locally sourced beef in-house; all steaks come with onion strings or hand-cut fries and Cottini’s Journeyman steak sauce. A side order of River Valley Ranch Mushrooms en Papillote ($9) will happily gild the lily, and don’t you deserve something special? The craft cocktail list displays wit, with each house-created drink dubbed with an obscure term. I’m especially intrigued by the Exulansis ($13), an inspired concoction of snap-pea-infused St. George Botanivore gin, chamomile syrup, aloe and lemon juice. 4343 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-799-8283

NaKorn

NaKorn's Jumbo Lump Blue Crabmeat

Jumbo Lump Blue Crabmeat

Co-owners (and best friends since their school days in Thailand) Sam Rattanopas and Mina Sudsaard have created something unique and special in Evanston, and I absolutely love it. This isn’t your typical Thai restaurant; you’ll find no pad thai or chicken satay with gloppy peanut sauce. Instead, you’ll discover home-style Thai dishes, gorgeously prepared and plated, redolent with coconut and curry and tangy tamarind flavors. Don’t miss the Pandan Tapioca Pearl Crackers ($9) with a relish of minced chicken and shrimp, or the Coriander Crispy Shredded Beef Brisket ($10) on charred Thai sticky rice to start. Jealous stares will accompany the arrival of Khun Sompit’s Big Fish ($32), a whole, crispy branzino served with lime gastrique. Whatever you do, don’t leave without ordering the Coconut Cream Pie Parfait ($8), a deconstructed version of the classic, complete with triangles of flaky pie crust that have recently visited a waffle iron. I mean, yum. 1622 Orrington Ave., Evanston, 847-733-8424

Publican Anker

Publican Anker's Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken (Photo by Derek Richmond.)

One Off Hospitality (Nico Osteria, Big Star, Violet Hour, Avec, Dove’s Luncheonette, etc.) is on an extended roll; it seems that James Beard Award-winners Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia can do no wrong. Their newest, located just down the street from Big Star and Dove’s in the Wicker Park nabe, is a little more veggie-focused than its elder sibling, pork and shellfish shrine The Publican. Sure, you’ll find pristinely bright and briny oysters, and a pork dish or three (blood sausage, anyone?), but they share pride of place with Grilled Cucumbers ($9) with whipped ricotta; Greek-inspired Fried Eggplant ($10) with Halloumi cheese and spiced honey; and an Apple Salad ($11) with fennel, almond and sunflower chimichurri. Rumor has it the Pub Burger ($11) is a contender. 1576 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-904-1121 

Smyth/The Loyalist

The Loyalist bar

The Loyalist (Photo by Galdones Photography.)

When word got out that Charlie Trotter vets John Shields and Karen Urie Shields were coming back to town — after a highly successful four-year sojourn to Town House in Smyth, Virginia — to open a new concept in the West Loop, Chicago foodies pretty much lost their minds. Now that they’ve opened to rave reviews, it’s easy to see why. Upstairs, Smyth features elegant eight- and 12-course tasting menus ($135/$195), while downstairs, The Loyalist offers a la carte goodies like Charred Octopus with Fresno Chiles and Shell Beans ($16) and Crispy Chicken Thighs with Green Curry and Squash ($25). The Shields’ commitment to locally sourced produce is borne out by their collaboration with The Farm, located an hour south of Chicago, which is providing them with an extensive selection of edible flowers, herbs, tomatoes, veggies and greens. 177 N. Ada St., Chicago, 773-913-3774

Terra & Vine

Terra & Vine's Charcuterie Plate

Charcuterie Plate

From the ruins of Bravo Italiano, in the shadow of Evanston’s Cinemark Theatre, comes restaurateur and sommelier Alpana Singh’s (Seven Lions, Boarding House) latest venture, her first in the suburbs. Billed as “Italian Mediterranean,” they’ve done a banner business from the get-go. Maybe it’s the rustic, full-flavored cooking, or the chic interior re-do of the space. People are clamoring for a taste of the Shrimp Calabrese Pasta ($22), plump rock shrimp tossed with n’duja sauce and roasted broccoli over al dente torchio noodles and showered with grated pecorino cheese, or perhaps the zesty Salmon Livornese ($25) over fregola sarda. Grab a drink at the lovely bar after or before the show. 1701 Maple Ave., Evanston, 847-563-4333

The Barn 

The Barn

The Barn interior (Photo by Alan Shortall.)

Found’s Amy Morton and Chef Nicole Pederson have opened a new spot, and it’s located, as advertised, in the old Borden’s horse barn, now transformed into what Morton terms “a modern meaterie.” An homage to her legendary restaurateur father, the late Arnie Morton, The Barn’s menu features Pederson’s revamped versions of American culinary classics like the Grand Central Caviar Sandwich ($17.95) and Pan-Seared Calves’ Liver ($22.95) with bacon, leeks and a red wine reduction. Daily specials, such as Wednesday’s Chicken Pot Pie or Saturday’s Rack of Lamb, change it up a bit. Fight for a spot at the already crowded zinc-topped bar and pretend you’re back in a ’40s supper club. Rear 1016 Church St., Evanston, 847-868-8041

True Food Kitchen 

True Food Kitchen's Ancient Grains Bowl

Ancient Grains Bowl (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

Dr. Andrew Weil is a driving force behind the True Food chain, which promotes the notion that clean eating can also be delicious. The menu is filled with ingredients that fight inflammation and promote good health, like whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, probiotics (yogurt, kombucha), lean meats and fish, and fresh spices (garlic, turmeric, ginger). The expansive, light-filled space is conducive to lunch or brunch with friends, a quick smoothie after a workout, or a healthy dinner … accompanied by a Thai Grapefruit Martini ($12). The Ancient Grains Bowl ($15) is a winner, as is the Brussels Sprout and Wild Mushroom Pizza ($14), topped with taleggio and fresh garlic. If this is what healthy feels like, bring it on. 1 W. Erie St., Chicago, 312-204-6981 

Won Fun Chinese & 2Fun Chinese 

Won Fun Chinese's Peking Duck

Peking Duck

Another upstairs/downstairs pair in the West Loop, this time with a Chinese theme. At the first floor Won Fun, lots of red paper lanterns and red leather booths are the backdrop for ersatz Chinese food like Foie Gras Fried Rice ($24.99) and Chinese Bacon Buns ($8.99), Szechuan favorites  like spicy Ma Po Tofu ($17.99) and Dan Dan Noodles  ($11.99) and a Beijing-style Duck Dinner ($72.99) with all the fixings (steamed buns, duck fried rice, duck bone broth) that will feed four easily. Upstairs at 2Fun Chinese, karaoke and cocktails. 905 W. Randolph, Chicago, 312-877-5967

Zad by Pita Inn

Zad by Pita Inn's Zad's Combo

Zad’s Combo (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

If, like me, you’ve been driving by their “opening soon” sign for the past few months, you’ll be thrilled to know that Zad is open for business, and it’s delicious. This fast casual Mediterranean café is part of Falah Tabahi’s Pita Inn mini empire. When they moved to bigger digs down the street, he couldn’t quite bear to part with Pita Inn’s original location, so he remade it into a new concept, developing all of the menu items himself, including the slow-braised and fragrant Lamb Stew ($13.99) and the traditional home-style Mujadara ($8.99), a long-grain basmati rice and lentil dish showered with deeply caramelized onions and topped with house-made yogurt. Salmon is delivered fresh every day and served over couscous with vegetable stew (slowly simmered potato, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and onions). Gluten-free and vegetarian dishes abound; service is fast and prices exceedingly reasonable. Finish up with the creamy, cinnamon-topped Rice Pudding ($2.99). 3910 Dempster St., Skokie, 847-410-7999


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