by Maggie Shea, Chef Magazine

This article is an online exclusive for the May 2010 issue of Chef Magazine.

Chef has rounded up a few suggestions of what to eat when you're not eating samples at the 2010 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show this weekend.

The Gage, 24 S. Michigan Ave.
If you're looking to gather with a few friends for a bustling evening enjoying contemporary American fare and sipping bottled craft beer or small-batch whiskey, grab one of the 300 seats at The Gage (interior pictured, above), a stylish Irish pub on Michigan Avenue across from picturesque Millennium Park. The Gage seamlessly blends inviting and rustic charm with a sophisticated menu to epitomize the definition of the gastropub. Nosh on executive chef Dirk Flanigan's playful take on poutine--French fries smothered in curd cheese and elk ragout--fried chicken livers or Scotch eggs to start. Comforting yet refined entrée choices range from lamb stew vindaloo and Wagyu beef pot roast to locally crafted sausages with brie and crispy potato and a slow-roasted pork sandwich with sweet chile-fried onion, fried kale and mustard on a pretzel roll.

Open for lunch and dinner Monday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; brunch, lunch and dinner on Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. To make a reservation, click here or call (312) 372-4243.

Nightwood Restaurant, 2119 S. Halsted St.
A few miles due west of McCormick Place will land you in Chicago's historic Pilsen neighborhood, home to Nightwood restaurant, the contemporary American sequel to 10-year-old Lula Cafe. Co-owner/executive chef Jason Hammel and his wife and fellow owner Amalea Tshilds opened Nightwood last year to a warm welcome of nightly packed seats--and it has remained a hot spot for Lula fans and foodies alike. The menu, handwritten daily as the chefs shop farmers' markets, boasts a laundry list of local products prepared simply to highlight their just-picked freshness. A spring salad of City Farm arugula, wild-foraged fiddlehead greens, radishes, green garlic and sheep's milk cheese is a tribute to early-season produce. Hand-cut pasta is dressed simply with almond, garlic, mint and rapini for a satisfying vegetarian preparation. Entrées showcase the savory flavors of open-flame cooking: wood-grilled Gunthrop Farm duck breast and Three Sisters black beans, charred tomato, almond cr
ème fraîche and cilantro and wood-grilled whole Wisconsin trout with Anson Mills farro, marinated fennel and green garlic are among the choices. With comforting dessert choices like rhubarb crisp with bourbon vanilla gelato, cardamom pot du creme and a changing selection of warm cookies, you're sure to end on a happy note. (Pictured, slow-cooked then squash-grilled pork, courtesy of Jason Little Photography)

Open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and brunch on Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For reservations, visit or call (312) 526-3385.

Sable Kitchen & Bar at the Hotel Palomar, 505 N. State St.
Flanking the south end of the brand-new Hotel Palomar in the River North is the chic gastro-lounge (bar pictured, right) where your cocktail is sure to be as artful and impeccable as your meal. Master mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout is the mind behind the extensive and whimsical cocktail list that spans several pages of top spirits and liqueurs. Executive chef Heather Terhune recently took the helm at the Sable kitchen from her old spot at Atwood Café in the Hotel Burnham, bringing along her contemporary interpretations of classic dishes. Spring-pea asparagus soup with mint yogurt and ricotta-herb ravioli with roasted wild mushrooms and asparagus welcome the bright bounties of spring. Sweet and savory flavors play off one another in entrées such as pistachio-cherry duck sausage with Parmesan grits and bison short rib sliders with root beer glaze. For a playful yet sophisticated dessert, cinnamon funnel cakes and dark chocolate whoopie pies beckon childhood.

Open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday, for dinner daily and for brunch on Sunday. For reservations, click here or call (312) 755-9704.

Neuvo León, 1515 W. 18th St.
Nuevo León, a Pilsen institution, has been serving traditional and affordable Mexican food for the past 48 years. Stop in early for a Mexican hot chocolate or horchata (rice water) and chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast favorite of scrambled eggs with fried tortilla bits, chopped tomato, onion and chiles. Lunch and dinner include staples like whole red snapper (huachinango) in red pimiento sauce; tortas, tacos (pictured, below) and tostadas with a selection of meats and toppings; or enchiladas suizas filled with meat, rolled and dipped in mole or red chile ancho sauce with a pile of melty cheese on top. Whatever you opt for, nothing will cost you more than $15.

Open Sunday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to midnight. Reservations are not accepted. When you come in, do as the Web site tells you and ask for a table in the back, which is "brighter and more festive." Call (312) 421-1517 or visit for more information.

Benny's Chop House, 444 N. Wabash
If you find yourself craving dry-aged beef when you come to Chicago, you're not alone. Benny's Chop House, which just opened in April in the River North, is very much a classic steak house with soft, deep booths; aged prime Allen Brothers steaks; jumbo crispy hash browns and creamed spinach; and a piano lounge for sipping martinis and slurping up fresh oysters before the meal. Still, a few surprises like the liver and onions foie gras, Wagyu beef carpaccio, wiener schnitzel and Maine lobster ravioli make this a compelling dinner choice even for those who'd rather not feast on a ribeye.

Open for lunch Monday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and for dinner Monday through Thursday, 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 4:00 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday, 3:00 to 10:30 p.m. To make a reservation, click here or call 312-626-2444.

Quick-serve goes high-end
Let's face it: Americans are street food-crazy. Fine-dining chefs all over Chicago have thrown their hats into the quick-serve ring, opening their own burger and taco joints with a few of their signature touches. Michael Kornick, best known for MK, has partnered with David Morton on DMK Burger Bar (2954 N. Sheffield Ave., [773] 360-8686), a Lakeview burger joint with grass-fed beef and lamb patties as well as turkey, veggie and portobello mushroom options. An array of original handcrafted toppings round out the offering. And don't forget to add a basket of ultra-crispy fries, cooked in beef fat--a Kornick original he brought over from MK. The 400 block of North Clark Street may as well be named Bayless Ave., as celebrity chef/restaurateur Rick Bayless has opened his third restaurant on the block, Xoco (449 N. Clark St., [312] 334-3688), which is appropriately the Mexican slang for "little sister." Here Bayless pays homage to the beloved street food and snacks of Mexico with breakfast pastries, hot-from-the-fryer churros and empanadas, Mexican hot chocolate, crusty tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and made-to-order caldos (meal-worthy soups). Housed in what used to be the private dining room at Tru, M Burger (161 East Huron St., [312] 254-8500) offers a simple menu that includes a few burgers (M Burger double cheeseburger pictured, above left), shakes and fries. The house special--The M Burger--with bacon, cheese and secret sauce, will require extra napkins, but it's worth it. The crew behind Blackbird, Avec, The Violet Hour and the Publican continue to outdo themselves in cool with their latest venture, Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave., [773] 235-4039). This no-frills, honky-tonk taqueria offers up simply made tacos and tostadas and a selection of whiskeys, tequilas and cheap beer, while old-school country warbles on the record player in the background. If you aren't in the mood to linger, grab your order from the pickup window.
The International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) committee is launching an initiative to recognize suppliers that have made a commitment to sustainability through innovative products, services, technologies and programs. The Becoming Environmentally Sustainable Together (BEST) in Baking program will evaluate and acknowledge companies that work to be more sustainability by fostering energy conservation, reducing water usage, decreasing landfill waste, promoting healthy living and/or reducing their overall environmental impact.

Interested suppliers can fill out an entry form discussing how their entries are helping the baking industry become more environmentally sustainable. A panel of expert judges--made up of experts in sustainability and/or baking best practices--will evaluate the environmental impact, feasibility, return on investment, innovation and practical application to the baking industry of each submission. Those who demonstrate significant environmental sustainability will be recognized on, in future press releases, on IBIE's social media channels and in an onsite display area at IBIE 2010 Sept. 26 to 29 in Las Vegas. An entry form and complete list of criteria can be found at