Eight Restaurants, 26 Dishes, Seven Hours: A Chicago Food Marathon

Boka’s founders Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm took us on an epic jaunt to eight restaurants in one night

Balena

Balena
Dan Jedell

This 10,000-square-foot Italian restaurant opened in 2012, and at its helm, chef Chris Pandel serves a hearty menu of pizzas, pastas, and dishes cooked on a hardwood grill that earned the restaurant a semi-finalist spot for 2013’s James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant. The well-lit space was designed by 555’s Karen Herold, and features 30-foot ceilings, a glass façade, and a leather-topped bar.

Balena: Mushroom Pizza

Balena: Mushroom Pizza
Dan Jedell

Mushroom pizza with fontina, taleggio, and scallions

Balena: Strozzapretti a la Trapenese

Balena: Strozzapretti a la Trapenese
Dan Jedell

Strozzapretti a la Trapenese with walnut, tomato, and pecorino

Balena: Tagliolini Nero

Balena: Tagliolini Nero
Dan Jedell

Tagliolini nero with crab, sea urchin, and mint

Balena: Grilled Striped Bass

Balena: Grilled Striped Bass
Dan Jedell

Grilled striped bass with spicy greens and charred lemon

Boka

Boka
Dan Jedell

Opening in 2003, Boka was Boka Restaurant Group’s first restaurant, and remains its fine dining flagship under the helm of chef Lee Wolen, who took over for Guiseppe Tentori three years ago and was named a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef Great Lakes 2016 (pastry chef Meg Galus also made it to the finals). Boka earned a Michelin star from 2010 to 2015, and was recently extensively redesigned by Group Simeone Deary.

Boka: Marinated Fluke

Boka: Marinated Fluke
Dan Jedell

Marinated fluke with sea urchin, chile, and radish

Boka: White Asparagus

Boka: White Asparagus
Dan Jedell

White asparagus with sorrel and dried scallop

Boka: Slow-Roasted Lamb Neck and Tongue

Boka: Slow-Roasted Lamb Neck and Tongue
Dan Jedell

Slow-roasted lamb neck and tongue with beets and baby gem lettuce

GT Fish & Oyster

GT Fish & Oyster
Dan Jedell

"Part James Bond's yacht, part New England cottage," a table at this 7-year-old seafood-centric restaurant under the purview of chef Giuseppe Tentori is one of Chicago’s toughest reservations. Designed by 555’s Karen Herold, the menu is 50 percent modern and 50 percent traditional, and all shareable.

GT Fish & Oyster: Caviar Deviled Eggs

GT Fish & Oyster: Caviar Deviled Eggs
Dan Jedell

“Deviled eggs” with smoked salmon, English peas, kumquat, and caviar

GT Fish & Oyster: Shrimp Bruschetta

GT Fish & Oyster: Shrimp Bruschetta
Dan Jedell

Shrimp bruschetta with avocado, toasted pistachio, grapefruit, and cilantro

GT Fish & Oyster: Oyster Po’Boy Slider

GT Fish & Oyster: Oyster Po’Boy Slider
Dan Jedell

Oyster po’boy slider with kimchi and peanuts

GT Prime

GT Prime
Dan Jedell

Born from a desire to transpose GT Fish & Oyster’s shareable plates concept to a steakhouse format, Giuseppe Tentori’s GT Prime opened in September 2016 and serves its steaks sliced and ready to share, Designed by Karen Herold (who by now had gone on to found her own firm, Studio K), the décor is meant to evoke a modern-day fairy tale. This is the newest restaurant in Boka’s portfolio.

 

GT Prime: The Carnivore Platter

GT Prime: The Carnivore Platter
Dan Jedell

Four 4- or 8-ounce cuts of beef filet mignon, beef strip loin, American Wagyu, and venison loin

GT Prime: Brussels Sprouts

 GT Prime: Brussels Sprouts
Dan Myers

Brussels sprouts with maple butter, jamón ibérico, and long peppercorn ->

GT Prime: Shishito and Corn

GT Prime: Shishito and Corn
Dan Myers

Shishito peppers and corn with parmesan sauce, lime, and paprika

Girl & The Goat

Girl & The Goat
Dan Jedell

Chef Stephanie Izard’s now-legendary flagship, Girl & The Goat, is one of the toughest tables in America. The 4,500-square-foot, 122-seat restaurant’s menu is divided into Meat, Fish, and vegetable categories, each with 10 shared plates. Designed by 555, the restaurant was a Best New Restaurant in America James Beard Award finalist for 2011, and it won Izard the Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes in 2013.

Girl & The Goat: Green Beans

Girl & The Goat: Green Beans
Dan Jedell

Green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews

Girl & The Goat: Confit Goat Belly

Girl & The Goat: Confit Goat Belly
Dan Myers

Confit goat belly with bourbon butter, lobster, crab, and fennel

Girl & The Goat: Seared Diver Scallops

Girl & The Goat: Seared Diver Scallops
Dan Jedell

Seared diver scallops with English peas, quinoa, tahini vinaigrette, and Chinese sausage

Girl & The Goat: Halibut

Girl & The Goat: Halibut
Dan Jedell

Halibut with blueberry nước chấm, Marcona almond butter, and green almonds

Momotaro

Momotaro
Dan Jedell

For its Chicago debut, New York-based AvroKo designed two unique spaces from the ground up for three year-old Momotaro — a spacious and luxurious main dining room, and a dark downstairs izakaya inspired by the postwar black markets of Tokyo (each dining room also has its own menu). Upstairs, chef Mark Hellyar oversees a seasonal fine-dining Japanese kitchen, and Shigeru Kitano helms the sushi bar.

Momotaro: Live Dungeness Rice

Momotaro: Live Dungeness Rice
Dan Jedell

A bowl dish of crab and rice with uni, peas, and salmon roe was transformed halfway through the meal, when a complex broth poured over it turned it into a completely new dish.

Momotaro: Sashimi

Momotaro: Sashimi
Dan Jedell

Bluefin tuna loin (akami), fatty red bream (kinmedai), and Ikejime flounder (hirame)

Duck Duck Goat

Duck Duck Goat
Dan Jedell

Newly-crowned Iron Chef Stephanie Izard’s newest restaurant (opened in March 2016) brings her vision of “reasonably authentic” to a sprawling AvroKo-designed fever dream inspired by the stores and shops of America’s Chinatowns. Each dining room has its own theme, from laundry to underground club, and funky wallpaper, faded photographs, red tassels, and lazy Susans greet diners as they tour the space. The menu is sprawling as well, and a glimpse into the open kitchen reveals Peking ducks and housemade Chinese sausages being prepared in the traditional way.

Duck Duck Goat: Jiaozi

Duck Duck Goat: Jiaozi
Dan Jedell

Potstickers with beef short rib and bone marrow

Duck Duck Goat: Shrimp Toast

Duck Duck Goat: Shrimp Toast
Dan Jedell

Toast topped with shrimp, greens, chiles, fermented cauliflower, and kewpie mayo

Duck Duck Goat: Beef Slap Noodles

Duck Duck Goat: Beef Slap Noodles
Dan Myers

Housemade “slap” noodles with short rib and luobo radish

Swift & Sons

Swift & Sons
Dan Jedell

This massive, retro, old-school steakhouse opened in 2015 with chef Chris Pandel (of Balena) at the helm, and its design (by AvroKo) incorporates elements from the space’s former life as a meatpacking plant while adding tile floors, a large bar, and plenty of dark woods. An Australian Wagyu strip loin was on the menu, but by this point in the evening we could only think about having dessert and a nightcap or two. As the cocktail cart arrived, so did John Railing, a legendary sleight-of-hand magician who occasionally is on hand to work the tables, and we were blown away by his skills.

Swift & Sons: Caramel Apple Tart

Swift & Sons: Caramel Apple Tart
Dan Jedell

Caramel apple tart with Tahitian vanilla bean cream and flaky shortbread

Swift & Sons: Meyer Lemon Tart

Swift & Sons: Meyer Lemon Tart
Dan Jedell

Meyer lemon tart with whipped crème fraiche, tangerine sorbet, and crispy meringue

Swift & Sons: Tahitian Vanilla Cheesecake

Swift & Sons: Tahitian Vanilla Cheesecake
Dan Jedell

Tahitian vanilla cheesecake with Graham crust, rhubarb-strawberry jelly, and raspberries

Swift & Sons: Tableside Cocktails

Swift & Sons: Tableside Cocktails
Dan Jedell

A selection of five high-end cocktails, prepared tableside, are available, including the Vesper Moderne (Tanqueray Old Tom Limited Edition Gin, Ketel One vodka, and Cocchi Americano), The Henley (Chicago Distilling Company Blind Tiger Bourbon, Giffard banana liqueur, salted oloroso sherry syrup, and bitters), and Campfire Tales (High West Campfire Whiskey, Carpano Antica vermouth, Benedictine, Andy’s Base Camp bitters, and toasted marshmallow).