The Early Bird Gets the Bargain

There are good trends and bad, and Happy Hour is one of the best. For starters, everybody wins. Diners get a bargain, and restaurants give down time a positive spin. Some restaurants focus on spirits and nibbles, while others offer a well-priced prix-fixe as a bonus for early birds.

Locanda's location in a part of Streeterville crowded with hotels and high rises gives it access to a lot of potential walk-ins. With this in mind, the restaurant's Happy Hour menu focuses on spirits and a limited menu of interesting edibles.img_4857-1

Apple Cinnamon Mule

Trust Me Vodka ( gluten free/organic) sponsors Locanda's Happy Hour(4-6pm). It's a top quality vodka that pairs well with a bar that resident mixologist Jeremiah James describes as "top tier."

Lavender Martini

vodka

A good mixologist is a showman, and it's a role James relishes. He keeps up a steady banter as he squeezes limes, muddles herbs, shakes decanters, and-with a flourish- pours the finished cocktail into the perfect glass. The prep is entertaining, but as it turns out, drinking the cocktail is even better.

one of Locando's "nibbles"

a nibble

And then there are the nibbles, all of them tasty and interesting and none of them designed to be a meal. Neither are they intended to occupy center stage. James' cocktails have a lock on that.

Locanda Ristorante, 201 E. Walton Place 312.397.8800 Happy Hour from 4 to 6 pm every night except Saturday.

The Barn Steakhouse actually fronts on an alley. It's a short and somewhat appealing alley, but it's an alley nevertheless. As a result, the restaurant doesn't benefit from street traffic. What it does benefit from is its reputation as a premier steakhouse.

Prime, dry-aged steaks carry a hefty price tag. The Barn's 8-ounce, Center Strip Manhattan Cut is $39.95 and the 14-ounce Dry-Aged New York Cut is $63.95. So it's no small thing that the three-course, $30 prix-fixe includes a 6-ounce, New York strip steak as one the entree options. Like the dinner menu, the prix-fixe also offers some tasty alternatives to beef, one of them-on a recent evening- roasted branzino.

the 6-ounce steak

the 6-ounce steak

Limiting the options is key to developing a successful prix-fixe. With this in mind, the only appetizer is the Little Gem salad tossed with the creamy Dijon dressing that's fast becoming one of the restaurant's signature items. For dessert, however, there's both a pecan streusel carrot cake and "Arnie's" chocolate velvet cake.

"Arnie" was owner Amy Morton's father Arnie Morton, for decades one of the city's premier restaurateurs. If something has his name on it, you know it's going to be first rate. And, rest assured, this cake lives up to its name.

img_9331

The Barn Steakhouse, Rear, 1016 Church, 847.868.8041

Happy Hour 5-6 pm- every night except Saturday

Holiday Specials

Eden is doing several four-course tasting menus on New Year's Eve, one of them vegetarian. Chef Devon Quinn is also doing an la carte menu that includes Painted Hill ribeye and King Crab.

Eden, 1748 W. Lake, 312.366.2294

Imperial Lamian is celebrating the season with an array of specials available December 21-31. Expect Douchi Short Ribs braised in black bean sauce, Golden Crab Fried Rice, Emperor's Lobster braised in a truffle butter sauce, and seasonal cocktails.

Imperial Lamian, 6 W. Hubbard, 312.595.9440.

Executive Chef Craig Couper has crafted two new dishes for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve- a 60 day dry aged, slow roasted Prime Rib with Yorkshire pudding and Port jus ($51) and a 32-ounce Bone-in Filet Mignon Roast ($123).The indulgent, four-course "New Years Eve Experience" ($110) is available beginning at 5pm. The restaurant's all-day dinner menu and a modified lunch menu will also be available.

Michael Jordan's Steak House, 505 N. Michigan Ave., 312.321.8823.

At Lowcountry South Loop, the special, New Year's Eve Day menu includes seafood boils and other southern favorites.

Lowcountry South Loop, 1132 S. Wabash Ave., 888.883.8375.

Chef Mari Katsumura is celebrating Yugen's  first New Year's Eve with a 7-course tasting menu ($275) and beverage pairings ($175) by sommelier Olivia Noren.

Yugen, 652 W. Randolph, 312.265.1008

Virtue, Chef Erik Williams' new restaurant, offers seatings at 5 pm ($65) and 8 pm ($85 including a champagne toast). The restaurant's menu is inspired both by Williams' southern roots and his long tenure in fine dining (MK).

Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd St. 773.947.8831.

A Format Change

All of Furious Spoon's venues are transitioning from fast casual to full service. Partners Anshul Mangal and Executive Chef Shin Thompson are also rolling out a larger menu. Details are scarce, but they're promising more information in the near future.

Furious Spoon is inspired by Thompson's grandfather's ramen shop in Hokkaido, Japan. Chef Thompson uses handmade noodles and encourage diners to slurp them furiously.

Furious Spoon has five stand alone locations. The full service format will debut at the Lakeview location (800 W. Belmont) in January.

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    CAROLE KUHRT BREWER

    Carole is an arts, entertainment and food journalist. She writes "Show Me Chicago" and "Chicago Eats" for ChicagoNow and covers Chicago places and events for Choose Chicago (City of Chicago) as well as freelancing for a variety of publications.

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