The Best New Restaurant You've Never Heard Of

Article provided by Crain'sChicago Business

  BURGER:  romaine, tomatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, cheese, brioche

BURGER: romaine, tomatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, cheese, brioche

By JOANNE TRESTRAIL

New restaurants in the dining-mad West Loop cover wide territory, mood-wise. You've got your glamorous, your austere, your trendy, your rambunctious, your just about anything but cozy. Under-the-radar Taste 222, opened in May. A short hop up Canal Street from the Ogilvie Transportation Center, its three-story building could easily be missed, what with all the glassy new high-rises just north of it and across the street.

But once you're inside, the 40-seater is so easy on the nerves, you might want to move in. Oriental rugs, living room-worthy lounge seating off to one side, an elegant bar with leather-topped stools, unobtrusive background music, comfortable lighting, efficient staffers who seem happy to be there, plus excellent food and drink at gentle prices—it's a surprising combination in this neck of the woods.

The storefront space is the brainchild of former McDonald's CEO Don Thompson, whose venture-capital firm, Cleveland Avenue, mentors and invests in entrepreneurs in food, beverage and restaurant projects. Taste 222 is a real-life, real-time showcase for that work.

It doesn't come across as a corporate experiment or a test kitchen, though, but as a well-run restaurant with a highly individual personality. Judson Todd Allen, a Chicago native and Food Network alum, heads the kitchen, sometimes tweaking his menus in consultation with visiting chefs. The results could be called comfort food plus—everything we sampled had a little something extra going on.


  COBB SALAD:  lettuce, bacon, avocado, egg, croutons, tomatoes, garlic & lemon vinaigrette

COBB SALAD: lettuce, bacon, avocado, egg, croutons, tomatoes, garlic & lemon vinaigrette

When to go: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 p.m. Friday. Closed weekends.

Who's there: At midday, local businesspeople like the approachably sophisticated setting for work talk and solo laptopping over tasty food.

Sit right down: Lots of choices for a small space. Seats at the counter facing the open kitchen let you watch cooks in action. There are also high-top tables, regular tables, stools at the bar and comfy couches and chairs.

Best bites: Soup of the day ($5/$8): We liked a Tuscan version with vegetables and spicy sausage, and also a silky vegan carrot-coconut creation garnished with roasted cauliflower. Brussels sprout salad with currants and candied pecans ($9). Shrimp toast with avocado mousse ($12). Crunchy beer-battered fried chicken sandwich ($13) with multihued root-vegetable chips. Meatloaf sliders ($12 for two, with chips) with beef and fennel pork sausage and dabs of mild goat cheese. Beautifully composed poke bowl with salmon or ahi tuna ($14).

The extra mile: Full bar, plus imaginative "zero proof" mocktails, such as a watermelon mint shrub with wild osmanthus (a fragrant flower) and peppercorn ($6).

Jessica Sweeney