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Holiday Restaurant Specials 

From a Swedish Julbord to a New Orleans-style reveillon dinner

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Quan Nguyen via Flickr

A Mano

335 N. Dearborn | 312-629-3500

$$$

ITALIAN | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

A basement little brother to Bin 36, A Mano retooled earlier this year after a burst pipe shut it down for over a month. Its menu and wine list are vast and wide-ranging, in fact potentially unnavigable, but with careful selection you can build a great meal. An assortment of six salumi for $28 is a sweet deal that affords the chance to sample the likes of mole sausage and culatello, the soft, buttery nucleus of a ham cured prosciutto style. Most recent restaurants of A Mano's ilk haven't dared open their doors without firing up a wood-burning pizza oven, with mixed results, but here it's executed with facility to produce a slightly puffy crust. The reworked, more streamlined menu retains favorites like garganelli with braised boar and raisins and ravioli di ribollita, stuffed with white beans, black kale, and Tuscan bread. A similar combination turns up in "Mud and Grass"—black kale, chickpeas, and white truffle—one of six rustic sides. Under no circumstances skip the house-made gelati, which include both common flavors and curveballs like gingersnap, mascarpone, and an incredibly rich and fruity olive oil version. On Christmas the restaurant is offering a traditional Italian five-course feast of the seven fishes from 5 to 9 PM; it's $65. —Mike Sula

Atwood Cafe

1 W. Washington | 312-368-1900

$$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | BREAKFAST: MONDAY-SATURDAY | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SUNDAY BRUNCH

Just off the handsomely ornamented marble lobby of the Hotel Burnham, this dramatic room has oversize windows on two sides; floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains, massive baroque chandeliers and wall sconces, and crimson-and-black walls give it a regal yet comfortable air. Chef Heather Terhune's menu is mostly American: grilled rib eye, chicken breast with sour cream mashed potatoes, and maple-grilled Iowa pork chops with chunky applesauce for dinner; burgers, grilled cheese, and a pulled-pork sandwich at lunch. Breakfast sticks to the basics: omelets, oatmeal, waffles, and the like. For the holidays there's afternoon tea service in addition to lunch and dinner; kids get house-made lollipops to take home. The wine list is adequate if limited, but the cocktails are excellent. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Avenues

108 E. Superior | 312-573-6754

$$$$$

AMERICAN, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | DINNER: TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY, MONDAY | RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED

In taking the reins at Avenues at the Peninsula, Curtis Duffy was handed a job that's two, maybe three times as difficult as that of his predecessor, who only had to convince the world that he could make magic in an institutional hotel dining room. Duffy had to follow Graham Elliot Bowles's formidable act, and do it in a market that's far more competitive than when Avenues first drew the national spotlight. As Grant Achatz's right-hand man at Alinea, Duffy was an important soldier in the city's post-Trotter's/Tru/Trio surge to prominence, but his selection suggests a conservative continuity that doesn't do him any favors either. About that dining room: it acts like fog, its only virtue the view of NoMi's Chihuly chandeliers across the street. It's so stodgy I had trouble focusing on the first few courses out of more than a dozen we tried from the prix fixe menu. But gradually Duffy got my attention, anchoring the familiar powders, granules, bubbles, and froths in concert with unprocessed ingredients like baby greens and tiny blossoms. By course number four—a spoonful of Dungeness crab claw with macerated cherry—I was in his thrall, and wowed over and over again as the rest of the courses, each with a dizzying array of elements, arrived. Before dessert a devastating piece of grilled Wagyu with smoked coconut and basil puree simply destroyed me. When it was over we were exhausted but awed, and not too worried about Duffy or the huge bill. That came the next morning like a hangover. On Christmas Eve there's a five-course chef's tasting menu plus jazz and carolers; it's $110. —Mike Sula

Big Jones

5347 N. Clark | 773-275-5725

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, SOUTHERN/SOUL FOOD | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH

Paul Fehribach, former chef at Schubas' Harmony Grill, has taken the space long home to trapped-in-amber Augie's diner and turned it into an airy, minimalist dining room distinguished by floor-to-ceiling windows and wrought-iron chandeliers. Like those chandeliers, the menu gives a little wave to the French Quarter. The cocktail list is full of daiquiris, hurricanes, and nicely balanced Sazeracs—including one with absinthe—and the menu includes crawfish-boudin croquettes and a rich and smoky gumbo with chicken and andouille. I didn't try the sandwiches but I wish I had: at a neighboring table a sizable Tallgrass beef burger with fontina and aioli was provoking groans of happiness. And the fresh, clean flavors of a simple house salad got my friend to sit up and take notice. All in all Big Jones seems to be striving to fuse the accoutrements of upscale dining with the down-home soul of country cooking. When it works, the results are stellar, both sophisticated and bone-deep satisfying. On Christmas Eve there's a $40 four-course prix fixe menu modeled on the reveillon dinners traditional in New Orleans; offerings include goose gumbo, oyster stew, and coconut-cream Italian wedding cake. —Martha Bayne

Cafe des Architectes

20 E. Chestnut | 312-324-4000

$$$

FRENCH, MEDITERRANEAN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

Prior to his eight-year reign at One SixtyBlue, the Parisian-born Martial Noguier had two significant experiences as a turnaround artist, breathing new life into D.C.'s moribund Citronelle in the mid-90s and then at our own legendary Pump Room beginning in 1998. If anyone could elevate Cafe des Architectes' delivery and raise its profile it should've been Noguier. So why, my table collectively wondered, was our meal so uneven, baffling, one-note entrees bracketed by solid appetizers and stellar desserts and cocktails? The chief culprit among those main plates was an old friend from One SixtyBlue—Michael Jordan's favorite—a 14-ounce prime Delmonico steak with shallot marmalade, accompanied by a potato gratin. At $38 this piece of cow shouldn't have been as chewy and rangy as it was, nor should the gratin have been as tepid and gelid. Also disappointing: mushy diver scallops with a pair of tasteless frenched chicken wings, and wild striped bass with shredded, glazed veal cheeks. Noguier is a noted devotee of the Green City Market, but aside from the apple foam and chestnut puree that came with the bass, nothing we tried happened to advertise any of the familiar farm brands that show up on menus all over the city. Maybe we should have stuck with the many dishes that were so branded, but then again, the local-sustainable stamp didn't show up on the simple, solid mushroom veloute, creamy and earthy; or the port-marinated foie gras torchon—with pineapple chutney, no less; or the texturally multidimenional hamachi carpaccio with artichoke puree. Each of those little plates was perfectly satisfying, though none was anything more. The bright and shining stars were desserts by pastry chef Suzanne Imaz, whom Noguier brought along from One SixtyBlue—a pear-ginger creme brulee with almond phyllo and a chocolate dome with a pistachio cream center—and cocktails in the adjoining bar, mixed by an enthusiastic bartender who showed independence despite having to work with a silly cocktail menu that divides drinks into the categories "his" and "hers." On Christmas Eve a four-course dinner featuring tenderloin or guinea hen and concluding with a traditional buche de Noel is $55. —Mike Sula

Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar

546 N. Wells | 312-467-0546

$$$

FRENCH, BAR/LOUNGE | DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY

At this cheerful River North location, chef and co-owner Didier Durand (Le Perroquet, Le Francais, Gordon) brings his classic French cuisine down a notch—to casual dishes like duck a l'orange, steak au poivre, and coq au vin. The number of French-speaking patrons vouches for its authenticity and adds to the atmosphere. Framed mirrors and mounted press clippings decorate the warm mustard-yellow walls. Durand's wife, Jamie Pellar, runs the front of the house, and the francophone staff is courteous and attentive. On Christmas Durand is offering a three-course prix fixe dinner for $35.99 in addition to an a la carte menu featuring roasted goose and a buche de Noel. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Tre Kronor

3258 W. Foster | 773-267-9888

$$

SWEDISH, BREAKFAST | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: SEVEN DAYS; DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY

Every morning the kitchen at Tre Kronor turns out their legendary Danish, cinnamon rolls, and a number of cheese-filled omelets, each packing enough points to top out your Weight Watchers quota for the day. Most of the foods are of Scandinavian stock, though there's one quisling burger on the lunch menu; other offerings include quiche and Norwegian meatballs on limpa bread. Tre Kronor's herring, made in-house, is a superbly moist and meaty version, and Swedish meatballs here are light, delicate, and deliciously dressed with sweet-tart lingonberry sauce. In line with the robust Viking tradition, you won't find a salad here without cheese or bacon or both; the menu is full of the kind of fortifying food you'd want to eat before heading out to herd reindeer or invade your southern neighbors. Through December 23 the restaurant is offering a traditional Swedish Julbord, an all-you-can-eat buffet of more than 50 items for $49.95; a glass of glogg is included. —David Hammond

Venus Greek-Cypriot Cuisine

820 W. Jackson | 312-714-1001

$$$

MEDITERRANEAN | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL midnight, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11

Located in Greektown, this is Chicago's only Cypriot restaurant. The cuisine of Cyprus reflects its history: mostly Greek, but influenced by Turkish, Persian, Venetian, Roman, and British invaders. A few dishes on Venus's 15-course tasting menu resemble typical Greektown fare: the talatouri dip, made with thick, creamy homemade yogurt, cucumbers, and mint, is a lot like tzatziki, and the tender grilled marinated octopus, htapodi sti schara, is identical to the version on Greek menus. But the pourgouri (cracked wheat with onions and tomatoes) reminds me of North African couscous dishes, and the syrupy baklava—filled with almonds and walnuts instead of the usual pistachios —is as Middle Eastern as the stuffed grape leaves and the hummus. A few items are uniquely Cypriot: there's afelia, tender cubed pork marinated in wine and seasoned with coriander, and halloumi, a firm, salty goat cheese that's baked and served in wedges. The wine list highlights reds and whites from the Greek islands. On Christmas Eve there's a five-course family-style meal for $30, including a martini or glass of wine. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Zocalo

358 W. Ontario | 312-302-9977

$$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | Open late: friday & Saturday till 11

Owners (and cousins) Edgar and Marcos Castaneda have revamped the former Chilpancingo, offering a menu that highlights the many regional cuisines of Mexico. The extensive appetizers include flautas estila D.F., a seafood-stuffed chile Nuevo Mexico; among the house specialties are carne asada. The Castanedas have warmed up the massive space with wood accents, rustic decor, and, most important, attentive and friendly servers. From December 16 through Christmas Eve the restaurant will be celebrating the Mexican tradition of Los Posadas, offering a three-course prix fixe meal for $25 with items including roast turkey with green pumpkin-seed mole. —Heather Kenny

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