Spring is a time of renewal, and that’s certainly the case in the restaurant world. New restaurants are opening their doors; chefs are reinventing themselves in different venues; and some notable food-based charities are renewing their commitment to raising money for worthy causes.
The next generation of Lettuce Entertain You  partners (R.J., Jerrod and Molly Melman along with chef/partner Doug Psaltis) have done it again. il Porcellino  (59 W. Hubbard St., Chicago, 312-595-0800), their newest hot spot, has just opened in River North and already you can barely score a reservation on Open Table. The casual trattoria showcases rustic Italian cuisine, a collaboration between Psaltis and chef de cuisine Aaron Martinez. Cocktail ace Julian Cox is creating bespoke drinks based on the personal taste preferences of individual guests. Now THAT is service.
The Northman  (4337 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago), Chicago’s first cider pub, is finally open in Lincoln Square after many delays. You’ll find the most extensive selection of ciders available here, with more than 80 ciders on offer, including 18 draft choices, as well as a number of cider-based cocktails. Food will match the apple-forward beverages; you’ll find French and English bistro favorites created by Chef Sean Sanders (formerly of Browntrout).
Baker and Nosh , the beloved Uptown bakery/sandwich shop, will open a second location later this spring in Edgewater (5600 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago). It will be bigger and better, according to baker Bill Millholland. “We’ve been looking to expand for a while now, and Edgewater’s community was the perfect neighborhood to do so,” says Milholland. As long as they’re still serving that amazing BLT and the dark chocolate cherry cookies, I’m totally on board.
The talented (and attractive … see photo!) Tanta  team will open Arbella  (112 W. Grand Ave., Chicago), a hip new cocktail lounge in bustling River North, in May. They’ll be serving classic drinks along with “new-age progressive cocktails” (read: artisanal ice cubes, and beverages enhanced with smoke and liquid nitrogen), with small bites designed by Tanta executive chef Jesus Delgado and sous chef Cristian Padilla to complement the liquid concoctions. Unlike Tanta, the focus will not solely be on Peru; the influences will be global.
Wilmette once had no taco-centric restaurants; now it has two! The Trendy Taco  (1195 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette, 847-906-4041) and Taco Lago  (1515 Sheridan Road, Wilmette, 847-251-5400) are duking it out for taco supremacy. Look for my dual review in April!
The James Beard Awards  return to Chicago for a second year at the Lyric Opera on Monday, May 2. Chicago is proud to host the event, but even more proud of our native sons and daughters who have been nominated in the following categories:
- Outstanding Restaurant Design Award, 76 Seats and Over: Land and Sea Dept.  for the Cherry Circle Room , competing against Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors  for Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant  (both are in the refurbished Chicago Athletic Association !)
- Outstanding Pastry Chef: Meg Galus, Boka 
- Outstanding Restaurant: Alinea 
- Outstanding Restaurateur: Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of the Boka Restaurant Group (Boka, Girl & the Goat , Momotaro , Swift & Sons , etc.)
- Outstanding Service: North Pond  and Topolobampo 
- Outstanding Wine Program: Sepia 
- Rising Star Chef of the Year : Jenner Tomaska, NEXT 
- Best Chef, Great Lakes: Abraham Conlon, Fat Rice ; Curtis Duffy, Grace ; Lee Wolen, Boka; Erling Wu-Bower, Nico Osteria ; Andrew Zimmerman, Sepia
Fingers crossed for all of the fabulous Chicago nominees. Good news already for Best Chef, Great Lakes category: since all five nominees are from Chicago, we’re a shoo-in to win!
In more Lettuce Entertain You news, Intro  (2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago, 773-868-0002) is still bringing in visiting guest chefs every few months, but they’ve hired a permanent executive chef, Stephen Gillanders, who until a few months ago was a visiting chef there himself. The current visitor, Jessica Largey, won the 2015 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef for her work at the Bay Area’s swooned-over Manresa. Largey’s dishes are vegetable-focused and Northern California-inspired, and I had the opportunity to sample them at a recent dinner. Standouts include her Leek Veloute with celery, mushrooms and Marcona almonds and an umami-laden take on Parmesan Dumplings that were light as air. She will be cooking at Intro through the month of April.
Heather Terhune, the “Top Chef” alum and celebrated chef of Chicago’s Sable Kitchen & Bar , is headed out of town; more specifically, to open Tre Rivali  (200 N. Broadway, Milwaukee), the first Kimpton Hotels restaurant in Milwaukee. The menu will combine Terhune’s Midwestern roots with her love of bold Mediterranean flavors.
Food-Focused Charity Events
The Chicago Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier  will hold its bi-annual fundraiser on Monday, May 16 at Venue One  in the West Loop. This year’s iteration, entitled “Culinarium: Feast Your Senses,” features a carnival theme that will be carried out through “sense-sational” games, sit-down family-style dinner, and the famed “Dessert Dash.” The evening will also include live and silent auction, and carnival entertainment, all presided over by special guest host Ina Pinkney, the Breakfast Queen herself. Tickets are $175 per person, or $1,600 for a table of 10. All proceeds will go toward culinary scholarships and the Green Tables Initiative. For tickets and more information, go to lesdameschicago.org .
Green City Market  Chef’s BBQ Benefit tickets are on sale! Always one of the highlights of summer in Chicago, more than 100 of Chicagoland’s best restaurants will provide one hell of a picnic in Lincoln Park on Thursday, July 21, featuring products from Green City Market farmers. Midwestern breweries and distilleries are also on hand, pouring tastings of their handcrafted libations. Buy your ticket by Earth Day, April 22, and be entered into a raffle to stay at the nearby Hotel Lincoln on the night of the BBQ. All funds raised support the Green City Market and its outreach and educational programming. For tickets, click here .
On April 28, you will have the opportunity to take part in Dining Out for Life. More than 40 restaurants in Chicagoland will participate in this annual fundraising event raising money for deserving AIDS service organizations. All you have to do is visit diningoutforlife.com , choose a participating restaurant, and eat out on April 28. A generous portion of your tab will be donated directly. It’s easy to do good while eating well.
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