Somewhere in between the spine-chilling winters, extreme humidity, torrential downpours and tornado warnings, there are actually four or five absolutely beautiful summer days in Chicago.
And, we brave Chicagoans are no fools. When those rare and precious summer days arrive, we make a point to do just about everything outside, which, of course, includes eating. Barren city sidewalks are transformed into quaint street side cafes, and the patios hidden behind many Chicago restaurants become balmy, candlelit outdoor dining rooms. Like Brigadoon, the fictional Scottish village of Broadway fame that appears once every hundred years, the opportunity for alfresco dining in Chicago will be here and gone before we know it. So, grab a friend or schedule a date and book a table to enjoy a leisurely meal under the starsok, streetlamps and fluorescent light from high rises, but you get the idea. To provide you with a little inspiration, here are a few of my favorite alfresco dining spots.
Long before it became cool, Lula Café was serving seasonally inspired dishes made with organic and ingredientsand they still are. Only now you have to wait even longer for a coveted patio seat at this Logan Square hot spot. But, it's worth the wait. Lula's farm fresh greens and artisan cheeses are even more delicious outside at sunset. The menu changes with the harvests, as it should. A recent "Monday night farm dinner" menu included taleggio and cauliflower bisque, homemade linguine with pickled asparagus and oregano sausage and almond panna cotta with Klug farm cherries. 2537 N. Kedzie, 773-489-9554, lulacafe.com/Read more story below....
Ever been to a restaurant so adorable you wanted to squeeze its cheeks? No? Then you haven't been to Anteprima. I fell in love with this Andersonville gem over homemade pasta and creamy panna cotta one snowy Chicago evening. So, imagine my delight when I discovered that tucked behind the cozy sage-colored dining room is an outdoor patio! Colorful pots of flowers, lights strung overhead,and just a handful of tables make Anteprima's patio the perfect place to enjoy the seasonally-inspired rustic Italian menu ( and summer romance! ) . Share a bottle of Prosecco and the strawberry-rhubarb crisp with someone special, and I can pretty much guarantee you a good night. 5316 N. Clark, 773- 506-9990, www.anteprimachicago.net/
Café Ba Ba Reeba
Tapas pretty much beg to be eaten outside, and if you can look past the trixies and the tourists, Café Ba Ba Reeba is a great place to do it. Nothing says summer like a cold pitcher of sangria on a patio, and you won't go wrong with Ba Ba Reeba's classic red or white versions. But if you're feeling adventurous, try the white peach, black raspberry, or my personal favorite
( obvi ) , the sparkling sangria. Start with the goat cheese baked in tomato sauce, and then meander your way through Ba Ba Reeba's menu of shared plates. Stand outs include mushroom empanadas with porcini aioli, warm potato and onion omelette, garlic shrimp and the rioja short ribs with manchego mashed potatoes. 2024 N. Halsted, 773-935-5000, www.cafebabareeba.com/chicago
I'm not going to lie, you can get better food in Chicago, but Flatwater has the market cornered on alfresco ambiance. The place is literally on the river, as in you can park your boat at the restaurant ( and if you have a boat that you drive to restaurants, please e-mail me, I'd like to be friends ) . Flatwater has several seafood starters, which is kind of funny because we all know they did not come from the Chicago River. But, go with the waterfront theme and try the PEI mussels or the crab cake. Dinner entrees include roasted chicken with grilled vegetables and pan-seared duck breast with roasted squash. Be warned, you're paying a mark-up for the viewbut it is worth every penny. Mediocre mahi mahi tastes fantastic when you're looking at the stunning Chicago skyline from this vantage point. My strategy, however, is to order a salad and a nice, crisp bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. 321 N. Clark, 312-644-0283, www.flatwater.us/index.html
Looking for "alfresco" dining without any exposure to the elements? Try LM Restaurant's enclosed back patio. The deep oranges and browns from the main dining room are carried out onto the patio, where you also get the benefit of lush landscaping and twinkling white lights. Maybe it was the oversized black and white photos of Luc and Mary ( the children of owners Stephan and Nicole Outrequin Quaisser ) hanging on the walls, but I felt like I was having dinner at the home of a hip Parisian couple when I recently ate at LM. The service is not flawless, but it is lovely, which is sometimes better. The food is classic French with a modern twist. I highly
recommend the brown butter crepes served with Gruyere, Swiss chard and caramelized onions. The homemade tarte tatin has received a lot of praise, but I frankly found it bland. The tarte peanut butter cream, on the other handtres bien! 4539 N. Lincoln, 773-942-7585, lmrestaurant.com/home.html