A friend in the food business recommended this restaurant. We enjoyed a delicious lunch. Our rating: five stars. Here are the details.
We entered off the street, up the escalator to the second floor. Bandera is located at 535 N. Michigan Ave in Chicago. We were warmly greeted. Tired after a morning at the Field Museum, we settled into a roomy booth with a lovely view of the restaurant. The casual atmosphere, chic and comforting, radiated friendliness.
I sipped a perfect glass of California Sauvignon Blanc and Jerry seemed to enjoy his beer. Our waitperson offered a complimentary appetizer, the house specialty, Iron Skillet Cornbread. We smiled and said yes, and thank-you. This stunning cornbread arrived hot, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and tasted wonderful with a hint of jalapeño.
Jerry ordered the luncheon plate of prime rib and classic Caesar salad with cornbread croutons. The dressing was superb to my taste. Juicy, tender, big beef flavor and perfectly cooked medium-rare described his meat. I tasted it, thought it was like steak instead of prime rib.
I chose grilled trout with a mixed green salad dressed in champagne vinaigrette. When Jerry tasted my fish, he said, “Oh my that’s good.” Fish, perfectly cooked, is rare, even though I almost always order fish. I would guess the fish in this restaurant was given the care that Michael Gibney describes in his book Sous Chef.
The flavors of the champagne dressing made the salad shine. In my judgment many restaurant vinaigrettes add little to the greens; I often reject them for something creamy. This time I took a chance and I savored an extraordinary salad. I asked the waitress if the chef would divulge the ingredients. She said he tells no one. She did say some of the ingredients are olive oil, champagne vinegar, turbinado sugar and a bit of jalapeno. I guess that’s where I will start when I try to recreate it at home.
Work progressing in the open kitchen added interest to the dining experience. The cornbread was on display behind the hostess station. I loved the open, inviting and friendly atmosphere. I did not notice the kind of posturing and busyness I observe in many Detroit area restaurants with a pretense to excellence. We felt well cared-for due to the exemplary service.
Our friend Michele, who recommended the restaurant, told us well-executed food and friendly atmosphere topped the list of reasons she and her husband ate there whenever they were in Chicago. They go for the food, not to be seen or to especially enjoy a social experience. Our food was probably the best prepared I’ve eaten in any eating establishment in the past few years, and certainly the best I’ve eaten in the Midwest.
If you are in Chicago, I urge you to ride the escalator to terrific food and a grand dining-out experience. Thank you, Michele for your recommendation. And, thank you to the staff at Bandera, who made our visit memorably special.
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