Meritage Café well lives up to its moniker. This stellar restaurant is off the beaten path from downtown, but is well worth the effort to find.
I stumbled upon Meritage by happy accident. My first visit there was on a freezing winter night, when the restaurant’s façade was a bright, welcoming destination--we moved through heavy velvet curtains into a tastefully decorated main dining/bar area. We dined on the patio--you’d think that being outdoors in midwinter would be the last place to be, but Meritage’s patio is covered/heated in the winter. In the summer, the outdoor seating area is one of the best in the city. The restaurant is a beautiful setting for any meal, but if you want it a little quieter for a romantic meal, ask to be seated on the patio!
If the décor is not enough, the menu is sublime. The fixed menu is relatively shor--in fact, there are probably four times as many wines available as there are food choices. There are a few du jour items, which vary depending on season.
The first time I enjoyed dining at Meritage, we had the Chilean sea bass. It was amazing, but you will not find it on the menu now: Meritage is one of the many Chicago restaurants who are "Taking a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass" (see http://environet.policy.net/marine/csb). Their menu still remains heavily in favor of seafood, with a Northwestern/Asian-influenced touch.
Every piece of food is a piece of art, both for the eyes and palate. Start with the curried vegetable crispy rolls or one of the fantastic soups. The rock shrimp cake and crab salad is another tasty choice. Move on to the entrees--such as the Pacific king salmon, roasted duck breast, or seared scallops. For vegetarians, try the vegetable melange, which changes depending on the season.
Meritage has an outstanding and lengthy wine list, with primarily American varietals. Feeling indecisive? They offer tasting flights.
Save room for dessert! They have some elegantly simple choices--apple pecan torte, cinnamon bread pudding--or go for one of the more unusual selections, like curried ice-cream profiteroles or caramelized bananas and hazelnuts.
As a final compliment, the waitstaff is gracious: highly knowledgable, friendly, attentive without hovering, and never making you feel rushed.
And who would want to rush such a sublime dining experience?
Dinner only, catering available for private parties
Hours: 5:30-11pm Mon-Thurs, 5:30pm-12am Fri-Sat, 5-10pm Sun
Street and valet parking; cabs plentiful; CTA buses 73-Armitage, 50-Damen Smoking at bar only. Full bar.
Not wheelchair accessible.
Chef: Dirk Flanigan
January 17, 2003
From journal Chicago for the Non-Tourist