Share These Best Small Plates with a Sig Other – Dining Chicago.com 1/20/2012

Dining Chicago LogoWhen you’re trying to get your romance on, the last thing you want to happen is a bloated stomach from eating too much food. That’s why we’re still onboard with the small-plates trend, which allows diners to share and sample more items than usual from restaurants’ menus.

The just-opened Bread & Wine on the Northwest Side should thrive with the concept, as it offers a number of inventive, budget-conscious dishes that are ideal for sharing over a nice bottle of vino.

Dining ChicagoHighlights are certainly the warm Burrata cheese that comes with pickled fennel and crispy capers, and also smoked trout that’s served over toast. But what’s certain to grab customers’ attention is the delightfully decadent duck confit pierogi. Rich in flavor and style, it’s accompanied by pickled red onions and herb crème fraiche.

Over at Between Peruvian Café & Lounge (formerly known as Between Café & Lounge), the scene is swanky and the dishes are sexier than what you’ll find at most establishments. The menu is rooted in traditional Peruvian cuisine with, of course, contemporary accents and exotic ingredients.

Unique items such as Andean corn, glazed sweet potatoes and chili pepper cream add new flavors to traditional ceviche, and the Arroz con Mariscos has quickly become Between’s staple dish. The Peruvian-style seafood paella is simply rich—so it’s best to share—and includes Latin spices as well as corn, shrimp, octopus, squid and scallops.

The guys behind Old Town Social saw much success with their first effort, where Executive Chef Jared Van Camp specialized in house-made charcuterie and wild game dishes. With second project Nellcôte, which is scheduled to open in the West Loop in February, he takes things up a notch, offering offbeat Italian and French fare at moderate prices.

With entrée prices not exceeding $15, it’ll be hard pressed not to try everything on the menu. Nellcôte’s striving for a true locavore experience, featuring the nation’s first-ever in-house milling program, where Van Camp will daily produce his own whole grain wheat and flour. That right there will set his Neapolitan-style pizzas and pastas apart from other restaurants’ offerings.

While Pops For Champagne is well known for bubbly and sparkling cocktails, it’s finally getting recognition for its food. New graham elliot Executive Chef Andrew Brochu was the first to pair well-crafted dishes with champagne when he took charge, and now former Bonsoiree chef Luke Creagan carries on the tradition in his new role at the helm of the kitchen.

He’s completely revamped the menu to reflect his fondness of Moroccan, French and Italian cuisine, and dishes are light enough to complement sparkling wines. The slow-cooked octopus is served with fried pita and harissa, lotus root “nachos” are dusted with jalapenos, chorizo hash tots are drizzled in candied and sour orange sauces, and the lobster ravioli comes sprinkled with red tobiko.

The scene-iest restaurant slash lounge to open thus far in 2012, Tavernita is expected to be a hit with movers and shakers as well as hardcore food enthusiasts. Executive Chef/partner Ryan Poli’s created a menu inspired by recent trips to Latin America and Spain, putting a strong emphasis on share-able dishes.

Tavernita’s crudo bar features light seafood favorites, from an oyster cocktail to cerviche to hamachi and fluke. And those looking for heartier bites should get their fill with Wagyu beef and pork meatballs, suckling pig confit, and a corn pudding made of rock shrimp and chile poblano.

And former Epic and N9NE chef Michael Shrader sets up shop in Little Italy with the highly Euro-influenced Urban Union. The menu is divided into four sections: Seafood, Pasta & Dumplings, Meats & Such, and Vegetables & Friends. Most dishes, such as Bar Harbor mussels, porchetta, baby turnips and head-on shrimp, are roasted in the wood-burning oven. All pastas and dumplings are handmade in-house, and the “luxurious” raw bar features the likes of fruit de mer platters, oysters on the half shell and Maine lobster.

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