Date Night Eats to Get You in the Mood
~By Melissa Wiley, Families in the Loop
Summer’s over and the days are growing shorter with each passing sunset. But that only means longer nights and more time to enjoy them. Chicago is home to one of the country’s most robust culinary landscapes, so you owe yourself ample opportunity to eat and explore over candlelight. Plus, nothing tops the sensuality of good food. Eating off each other’s plates is the ultimate foreplay, wouldn’t you agree? So consider your date night one long aperitif that may just stimulate another kind of yearning.
Here are some of our favorite intimate places to wine and dine:
Talk about sexy! One step inside this sultry, low-lit homage to the roaring ’20s and you’re living out a speakeasy fantasy. The décor alone bespeaks volumes. Fans of Brendan Sodikoff’s Maude’s Liquor Bar, Au Cheval, and neighboring Gilt Bar know to expect vintage pleasures amid his largely French cuisine, but Bavette’s evokes new heights of nostalgic allure. Voluptuous red leather booths, decadent chandeliers, a vintage sink cum raw bar, antique mirrors, and distressed brick all quietly hint that you aren’t in 21st-century River North anymore. The menu affords you the opportunity to sink your teeth into the restaurant’s eponymous boeuf as well as seafood, chicken, chops, and sides like buttery mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. There’s also no shortage of vintage craft cocktails to keep spirits high while lights stay low.
Body language is everything. So when trying to connect with your date, nothing beats the sensual primacy of eating with your hands. Enter everyone’s favorite African cuisine, Ethiopian. Ras Dashen in Edgewater serves up some of the city’s best in a warm, inviting ambiance that feels like your long-lost African living room. Named after the tallest mountain in Ethiopia where Chef Zenash came of age, the restaurant abounds in fresh, mouth-watering Ethiopian comfort food, all served on traditional spongy injera bread that serves as your edible plate and utensil both. Order an entrée each—beef, chicken, lamb, fish, or vegetarian—and share along with three mouthwatering sides. The misser wat, pureed red lentils in a spicy berbere sauce, is not to be missed.
It’s been a long week, and now you need to unwind. In a perfect world, you’d mosey down to the Big Easy itself to really let loose in the French Quarter. Fortunately, Big Jones in Andersonville has your craving bases covered right here in Chicago with heirloom Southern cooking that will leave you salivating for more long after date night is over. The locally and sustainably sourced menu varies seasonally, but you can always count on snagging yourself some crawfish etouffee, gumbo, and fried-green tomatoes, among other Southern staples prepared with detailed Northern expertise. For dessert, try the buttermilk pie with muddled raspberries, spearmint ice, and cracked pepper candy. With its lush velvet curtains and wrought-iron furniture, this old-world space is a charming microcosm of Southern decorum. But that’s no reason not to get down and dirty with food that’s more than a little naughty.
Meaning “little dream,” Piccolo Sogno fulfills on its name’s promise while managing to stand out from the Italian-American crowd on the merit of its fresh and simple cuisine alone. The fact that its interior is quietly divine, with vaulted cream ceilings, navy blue walls, and elegant chandeliers, doesn’t hurt. Start with the antipasti, perhaps the fiori di zucca, made of crispy squash blossoms stuffed with fontina over tomato puree, before moving onto the secondi piatti. You can’t go wrong with the griglia mista, served with grilled calamari, shrimp, and octopus and tossed with orange, fennel, tomatoes, olives, potatoes, arugula, and lemon oil. The wine list is proudly and exclusively Italian, as is everything in this surprisingly authentic slice of Italy in Chicago’s Meatpacking District. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing “O Sole Mio” to each other all the way home.
Photo Credit: Fotor