I had an incredible meal last night, at a restaurant in River North called Blue 13. (Sadly, at I'm writing this, their website seems to be having some issues, but an out of date menu can be seen at www.zagat.com/Verticals/Menu.aspx
The food was great. I've never had Mac and Cheese that was so amazingly good, and that was just the appetizer. The other couples that we were with exclaimed over the grilled caesar salad as well, especially the "Camel-eye Croutons". Alyse had a vegetarian dish, a butternut squash pasta that she really enjoyed, I had a grilled trout with lightly beer-battered onion rings and wasabi tater-tots with a dill creme freshe that was just amazing. It was grilled to perfection, tender but with crunchy bits, and had been stuffed with lemon and rosemary during the grilling, which really enhanced the flavors. Two others at the table had the Seared Sea Scallops and thouroughly enjoyed them, one had the "Amish Chicken", which was a free range organic (raised as if on a family farm, not a production line) chicked, deboned and roasted, and one other had another fish entree that I don't remember (he was at the other end of the table).
The portions aren't huge, but between the mac and cheese and the entree, Alyse and I were both pleasantly full... And then he came out to describe the deserts. No one at the table could resist the descriptioins, and we ended up ordering an apple tart (and I'm a sucker for apple tart and other apple deserts), with a honey glazed vanilla ice cream, and a warm chocolate cake (gooey chocolate filling) with a raspberry "paint" that included white pepper for a bit of bite. They were both incredible.
The flavor, texture, and presentation of the food was consistently high. And the service... Dan helped us all night, and the evening was greatly enhanced by his knowledge of the food and the preparations, and his enthusiasm about the entire place. He's clearly a foodie, and knows his stuff, but he's also really good at talking to people and entertaining them, and just a great host. We talked with him a lot, about the food, the decor (tattoo art on the walls, and a lot on Dan as well) the design of the place, and so forth. Very personable, and definitely one of the draws to the place as much as the food.
Blue 13's has been open for less than a year, and the menu is still changing and evolving. I get the impression that the menu changes have as much to do with the day-to-day shift in what's the best that they can offer, as finding the things that work best, and what goes over better with their customers. But I also get the impression that the chefs (who own the place) enjoy trying new and different things, and the best of those experiments go through a rigorous tasting process with the staff before hitting the menu. There were so many odd combinations on the menu, and they all looked interesting. I'm going to have to go back, just to try some of the other offerings.
They do take walk-ins and reservations, but they have specials on a number of the weeknights (and a sunday "family style" dinner), prix-fixe meals that really caught our eyes.
As I said to Alyse on our way home, it's been quite a while since I went to a restaurant for the first time, and raved about it so much after walking out. And we kept trying to come up with more people that we wanted to drag there. It's not cheap, but it's not horrendously expensive, and it's well worth the price. And I don't usually rave about food this much.