Visiting eight restaurants in one night isn’t something that someone just does. The logistics alone are mind-boggling: How much time is spent at each restaurant? How much do you order? How do you quickly get from place to place? What time do you make reservations for? And most importantly, how do you actually plan to eat everything? That’s why, when I was invited by the folks at Boka Restaurant Group, owners of some of Chicago’s best restaurants, to fly out for a night and visit eight of their properties, I was incredibly intrigued — but also slightly skeptical about whether it could actually be done. Well let me tell you: It can be done. And it was ridiculously awesome.
When I arrived at the first restaurant on the docket, the Italian spot Balena, I was met by the group’s founders, Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, who were just as excited for the evening as I was. They’d never dined at so many of their own restaurants in one night, and they rarely have the opportunity to dine at their restaurants as “regular” guests at all. They were super-friendly, down-to-earth, and gregarious, and were full of behind-the-scenes stories about their time in the biz; they made for excellent dining companions. The respect and admiration that every single one of their employees had for them — from executive chefs on down — was also a delight to see.
The restaurants we visited — Balena, Boka, GT Fish & Oyster, GT Prime, Girl & The Goat, Momotaro, Duck Duck Goat, and finally Swift & Sons — were all smartly designed with major attention to detail, big and bustling, and packed. The evening was planned down to the minute (more or less): We rolled into the restaurant, were served a few preselected dishes (a menu of all the evening’s restaurants and offerings was waiting for us at each location), sampled each, and rolled out to the next place. We started at 5 p.m. with the intention of spending a half-hour at each restaurant, but as the night (and the wine) wore on, the pace became a little more, shall we say, leisurely. By the time we parted ways, a little after midnight, we felt like old friends and Rob and Kevin had earned my respect for not only the care and attention they put into every one of their establishments, but for also the way that they run their restaurants and treat their employees.
Click here to learn a little about each of the restaurants we visited, and to see a photo of every dish we tasted along the way. And for a preview of the group’s soon-to-open Bellemore from chef Jimmy Papadopolous, click here.