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Oh, the Cupidity 

Twenty restaurants offering V-Day specials

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Oh, the Cupidity

Twenty restaurants offering V-Day specials

Aigre Doux230 W. Kinzie | 312-329-9400

F 7.7 | S 6.0 | A 6.8 | $$$$ (5 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Mohammad Islam and Malika Ameen, the married couple in the kitchen at Aigre Doux, have celebrity chef pedigrees (the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Jean Georges, Balthazar, Craft), and the promise of their restaurant earned it blurbs in glossy magazines months before it opened. Given the boldface print, it's gratifying and somewhat surprising to discover that the food isn't crying for attention: it's simple, elegant, and good, full stop. Islam's dinner menu on my last visit offered graceful variations on New American ideas—for example, rack of lamb with truffled grits and fennel, an artichoke soup with Nantucket Bay scallops, mussels with a coconut curry sauce and butternut squash that are almost ethereally light. And Ameen's desserts should not be skipped: sticky toffee bread pudding with candied kumquats and Devonshire cream ice cream was shameless, over-the-top, and irresistible. On Valentine's Day there's a four-course dinner with a complimentary glass of champagne for $95 per person; dishes include lobster bisque, white asparagus salad with black truffle vinaigrette, prime rib, Dover sole, and a melting chocolate tart with a candied ginger shake shot and braised cherries. —Nicholas Day

Alhambra Palace1240 W. Randolph | 312-666-9555

$$$$Middle Eastern, Moroccan | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, Wednesday-Friday till 2, other nights till 11

Alhambra Palace's daunting scale—28,000 square feet seating up to 1,400—and Oriental-Institute-meets-Vegas decor makes it tough for the menu to rival the wow factor. But Daniel Wright, former executive chef at Souk, gives it a shot. In addition to hummus, baba ghanoush, dolmas, and other standard appetizers, there are specialties such as lebna, thick, garlic-infused yogurt; zaalouck, a spicy eggplant and tomato dip; and grilled shrimp chermoula, marinated in a paste of cilantro, red chile, cumin, and garlic. Cumin-crusted salmon comes with couscous and almond pesto; lobster ravioli with a truffled lobster sauce. Belly dancers, joined by flamenco dancers on weekends, entertain on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, when a late-night menu is available until the wee hours. For Valentine's Day the restaurant is offering two seatings with prix fixe dinners in addition to the regular menu. From 6:30 to 9:30 a four-course meal is $45 per person; items include quince-and-onion empanadas, Tunisian-spiced grilled salmon and shrimp, and a chocolate ganache cake with raspberry sauce. The second seating, in the vast Alhambra room, is $65 for the dinner and musical entertainment by Frayne and Bobby Lewis (sons of Ramsey). —Anne Spiselman

Cafe Aorta2002 W. 21st | 312-738-2002

$American, Vegetarian/Healthy | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Reservations not accepted | BYO

"Eat your heart out!" proclaims the menu board at this tiny, whimsically named cafe in Heart of Chicago, and it's no joke: the portions threaten to spill over the edge of the plates. But it's hard to be anything other than a hearty eater here—the food is pretty damn good. Right around the corner from the Pink Line stop at Damen, Cafe Aorta is so far best known in the neighborhood for its weekend brunch, but lunch and dinner offerings are worth a visit too. The Cajun hummus platter, listed as an appetizer and big enough for a meal, is an unusual combo: a zesty mound of hummus the color of cayenne pepper flanked with warmed pita wedges and a large helping of sauteed veggies. Sizable sandwiches include the Malibu, which is actually a retooled Monte Cristo; the slabs of tender turkey and ham between slices of eggy Hawaiian bread will have you reaching for your knife and fork. The turkey meat loaf, paired with a creamy dill sauce, is also tops. But best of all are the sides: the pungent sage-seasoned corn-bread dressing, unapologetically garlicky mashed potatoes, and pleasantly spicy mac 'n' cheese were all wonderful. Among the desserts, the crushed red velvet cake is a moist slice of heaven. That's just one of four sweets featured on the "Amor Menu" the cafe is offering for Valentine's Day, when $15 gets you soup or salad, dessert, and a main course from a list including stuffed pasta rolls with Cajun salmon over grilled veggies, maple-glazed chicken with pineapple salsa and polenta hearts, Cuban marinated steak with garlic sauce, and pasta marinara with tofu meatballs and "kickass garlic bread." The other finishers are chocolate flan, Cuban coconut-rum cake, and mocha-espresso-mint cheesecake. —Rob Christopher

Cafe Matou1846 N. Milwaukee | 773-384-8911

F 8.9 | S 7.5 | A 8.5 | $$$ (15 reports)French Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr This Bucktown storefront has its little airs—witness the untranslated French preamble on the cover of the wine list. But it also has its comforts: woody decor, pressed-tile ceilings, and chairs right out of your grandfather's office. Chef Charlie Socher terms his food "cuisine bourgeoisie"—which is to say French, but for the most part without the usual accompanying presumption. The house salad is served simply with a light oil, the liver paté is buttery smooth, and a seafood bourride sings with tarragon. Still, bourgeois or no, it's all about the sauces, and on this evening (the menu changes daily) rich duck came with a classic pinot noir-green peppercorn number handily sopped up with a Jerusalem artichoke puree. Socher offers a three-course dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday for $23, and every fourth Wednesday is a "cellar raid" with select bottles of wine for $17. On Valentine's Day, in addition to the regular menu, Socher will offer a four-course dinner for $54. Dishes include roasted-onion-and-garlic soup; linguine with French horn mushrooms, thyme jus, and Serrano ham; lamb scallops with rosemary-fig sauce; and a walnut gateau. —Ted Cox

Chalkboard4343 N. Lincoln | 773-477-7144

F 8.7 | S 8.3 | A 8.3 | $$$ (6 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday

rrr Walking into the airy, elegant Chalkboard space, it's hard to believe it was formerly the gloomy Tournesol. But classy as the room is, the menu is decidedly friendly, offering dressed-up versions of classic American comfort food. Daily specials are listed on the restaurant's namesake, a giant chalkboard, but often also on a paper menu that includes chatty asides from chef-owner Gilbert Langlois, a veteran of Rushmore and SushiSamba Rio. The good old combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup, which appears on the appetizer menu as roasted tomato bisque with grilled blue cheese in brioche, was right on: the soup was silky and rich, with added depth from the roasting, the tasty sandwich thoroughly dunkable. The menu changes frequently, but thanks to demand there are mainstays such as fried chicken with collards, mashed potatoes, and white sausage gravy. In addition to the regular menu, Langlois will offer several specials for Valentine's Day, among them chocolate-goat cheese soup with lavender and ginger, chilled king crab salad with "caviar wishes and champagne dreams," line-caught Hawaiian tuna tartare with blood oranges, a Berkshire pork osso buco, and braised duck legs with honey-glazed bacon and sweet potatoes. Kathie Bergquist

David Burke's Primehouse616 N. Rush | 312-660-6000

$$$$Steaks/Lobster, American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

At David Burke's Primehouse there's plenty of sizzle to go with the steak, including an in-house dry-aging room tiled with Himalayan salt and a proprietary sire bull named Prime 207L. But I was impressed despite myself. All meals begin with addictive cheese popovers baked in individual copper pots; fine starters include Kobe beef sashimi drizzled with truffle oil and pristine oysters. For the main course steak is clearly the way to go: my dining companion's filet mignon, a lightly aged bone-in beauty, had a distinctive beefy tang, and my bone-in rib eye, dry aged for 28 days, had me composing a mental thank-you note to Prime 207L. A great steak necessitates a great wine, and then-Primehouse mixologist (and former MIT molecular biologist, now beverage director for B.R. Guest) Eben Klemm nailed it with his pick of a Walla Walla, Washington, Syrah that emphasized the subtle buttery notes in the richly marbled beef. There are a number of sauces available, including a bearnaise, a lush truffle sauce, and a house-made steak sauce—all of which gild the lily. For Valentine's Day, in addition to the regular menu, the restaurant will offer a his-and-hers a la carte menu including toasted almond soup and espresso-crusted scallops (for her) or lobster risotto and steak (for him); "Millionaire Surf and Turf" ($175) can be ordered by either sex. —Gary Wiviott

Deleece4004 N. Southport | 773-325-1710

F 7.5 | S 7.6 | A 6.8 | $$ (19 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Lunch: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Under chef Joshua Hansen, Deleece is family friendly, the kind of neighborhood place where you can take your children and they will miraculously behave. Thankfully, that doesn't condemn you to chicken fingers (though they are on the children's menu). Instead there's sophisticated comfort food—for instance, crab risotto cakes. Some old favorites never grow old, like a succulent pan-roasted salmon fillet served with Chinese sticky black rice, spinach, and leeks in a pear-ginger sauce. There's a three-course prix fixe dinner for $20 every Monday and Tuesday. On Valentine's Day, in addition to the regular menu, the restaurant will offer a four-course prix fixe menu for $100 per couple ($130 with wine pairings); dishes include a red-and-white soup, frisee salad with fried oysters, a choice of beef tenderloin or potato-wrapped Kampachi, and chocolate fondue to share. —Mara Tapp

Dinotto Ristorante215 W. North | 312-202-0302

F 7.4 | S 6.3 | A 6.6 | $$ (7 reports)Italian | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

This Old Town restaurant does a good job of executing a familiar formula: contemporary Italian pasta, pizza, and chicken dishes served by an accommodating staff. Classic antipasti include fried calamari, steamed mussels in marinara, and spinach sauteed in garlic, lemon, and white wine. The Napolitana is a straightforward but nicely prepared cheeseless pizza topped with fresh tomato, basil, and garlic. Chicken comes with mushrooms in brandy cream sauce or stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. On Valentine's Day chef-owner Dino Lubbat will feature specials such as Chesapeake Bay oysters with spinach, Pernod, and lemon cream sauce; lobster ravioli with tiger shrimp, roasted red peppers, and peas in saffron cream sauce; a surf and turf of lobster and filet mignon; and "ravioli d'amore," dark chocolate ravioli stuffed with ricotta and Nutella. Laura Levy Shatkin

Exposure Tapas Supper Club1315 S. Wabash | 312-662-1082

$$$Bar/Lounge, Small Plates, American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2

Round about 10 PM one Friday, Exposure Tapas Supper Club became my idea of a bad time. The boisterous people at the next table were shouting just for the fun of it, the talented jazz combo was much too loud, the previously attentive waiter was MIA, and when the check finally arrived, it was almost impossible to read in the dim light. But the experience was more enjoyable before the white-tablecloth dining room got crowded and noisy. As the name suggests, the changing menu focuses on small plates (most $4-$14), though there are also a few entrees available. Oysters and clams from the raw bar were everything they should've been; charred beef tenderloin carpaccio paired with fennel, roasted pepper, and orange salad is another standout. Winning warm choices included bacon-wrapped dates with a spicy red pepper sauce, rustic gnocchi with a truffled creme fraiche, and au gratin potatoes with Gorgonzola. Black-bottom creme brulee ($5) solved an age-old dessert-lover's dilemma by bringing together an incredibly fudgy brownie and a silky custard with a crackly caramelized-sugar crust. On Valentine's Day those attending will receive a complimentary champagne cocktail and chocolate-covered strawberries; ladies get a rose as well. Anne Spiselman

Fat Cat4840 N. Broadway | 773-506-3100

$Bar/Lounge, American | Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations not accepted

O the plague of the flat-panel television! It's what prevents a lounge like Fat Cat, with its 20s-and-30s-inspired lighting fixtures, curved booths, and elegant wood bar, from being the handsome, wholly comfortable spot it could be. On the other hand, one of the TVs was showing The Thin Man Goes Home, so I can't be too unforgiving. And the food and drinks are way above average. An excellent selection of beers on tap and in bottles is supplemented by a whimsical cocktail list. Try the Prohibition, a multihued variation on the Rum Runner that goes down smoothly. On the food side, burgers, salads, and the Cuban pork belly sandwich are all good bets. There are also creative appetizers like fried mac 'n' cheese and Reuben balls, bundles of corned beef and Swiss rolled inside rye dough and then deep-fried. The waitstaff is quite friendly without being obnoxious, and the large space easily accommodates groups. On V-Day a Saint Valentine's Day Massacre Party adds specials like mussels in red sauce and special cocktails like the Bleeding Heart (Van Gogh orange vodka, blood orange puree, and Earl Grey tea infused with caramel) to the mix. —Rob Christopher

Fiddlehead Cafe4600 N. Lincoln | 773-751-1500

F 7.4 | S 7.8 | A 6.9 | $$$ (9 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Saturday-Sunday | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The kitchen at this casual, warm, wine-centric cafe offers a range of global appetizers and spiffed-up bistro standards like the signature three-way steak frites, served with russet, sweet potato, and polenta fries. The menu changes seasonally, but certain standards—roasted garlic hummus, seared ahi tuna—remain constant. Entrees include lamb shank, braised pork fettucine, and a winter farro salad with red pepper coulis. Fiddlehead Cafe was awarded an order of excellence by Wine Spectator this summer, and with a wine list of more than 350 bottles plus a couple dozen reds, whites, and bubblies available by the glass or in flights of three, it's hard to go wrong. But to get to a knockout like a 2004 cab-merlot-Syrah blend from Washington State's Hedges winery, you have to first figure out how to interpret the cutesy little icons that indicate traits like "dry," "complex," "berries," or "oaky." Still, to a person the staff at my visit was unflaggingly friendly, and the French cheese flight really soared. On Valentine's Day Fiddlehead is offering a three-course tasting menu with options including truffled potato soup, lamb shank osso buco, beef tenderloin, pan-roasted salmon, and chocolate fondue for $48 (wine pairings are an additional $15). There's also a five-course package, which adds a cheese course and appetizers like oysters on the half shell and duck confit in phyllo; it's $68, $91 with wine. Both can accommodate vegetarians. —Martha Bayne

Geja's Cafe340 W. Armitage | 773-281-9101

F 7.4 | S 7.4 | A 8.9 | $$$$ (7 reports)European | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till midnight, Friday till 11:30

Geja's is often touted as the most romantic restaurant in town. There are dissenters—one Rater complains, "First you have to cook your own dinner and then you go home smelling like you rolled around in cooking oil. . . . Very unsexy"—but I'm among those who find it a wonderful evening out. The candlelit basement feels like a Spanish cave, with wine bottles, curtained booths, and a live guitarist. And the fondue dining experience is a welcome change from the usual restaurant routine. The appetizer fondue is a smooth cheese blend (Gruyere spiked with kirsch) served with bread and fruit; the mix of sweet fruit juices and savory cheese is sure to arouse the taste buds. For the main course you can select beef tenderloin, chicken, lobster, scallops, shrimp, or a combination of several of the above to cook in a pot of hot oil. All are served with a large assortment of fresh vegetables and flavorful dipping sauces; an all-vegetable option is also available. Geja's celebrates Valentine's all week long, beginning on Monday, February 11, with an offer of 2 percent off for every year a couple has been married (proof such as a wedding license or commemorative napkin is required). On Tuesday there are complimentary carriage rides. Thursday through Saturday there's a premier package including roses and complimentary sparkling wine; it's $85 or $95 per person depending on the day and time. See gejascafe.com for more info. —Rachel Klein, Rater

Hot Chocolate1747 N. Damen | 773-489-1747

F 8.6 | S 6.0 | A 8.0 | $$$ (9 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Wednesday-Friday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Thursday till 11

Heretofore Mindy Segal has been best known for her stints as pastry chef at MK, MK North, Marché, Charlie Trotter's, and Spago, but at Hot Chocolate she serves a small, perpetually rotating dinner menu of seasonally inspired creations—rack of lamb with lamb shank grits, Vidalia onion, mint puree, and a mache salad; roast Gunthorp Farms chicken with buttermilk-poached salsify puree, melted leeks, and oyster mushrooms with a sherry vinegar jus. Of course, Segal's credentials guarantee an impressive dessert list, with confections such as a warm chocolate souffle tart served with house-made chocolate-caramel ice cream and pretzels. At brunch there's brioche French toast and an egg sandwich made with fresh ricotta. There's hot chocolate as well, offered in four varieties along with "black and tans" (two-thirds hot chocolate, one-third hot fudge) and "half and halfs" (half espresso, half dark hot chocolate). Segal swears she wasn't thinking of cocoa when she named the place, but the decor is pure Hershey's—even the occasional white accents in the warm brown room evoke lush marshmallows floating in a mug. Valentine's Day specials include king crab legs with Serrano ham and preserved Meyer lemon butter, braised veal cheeks with potato dumplings and ricotta salata, and cocoa nib tiramisu. —Anne Ford

Marigold4832 N. Broadway | 773-293-4653

F 9.2 | S 8.7 | A 9.0 | $$ (12 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr This upscale Indian restaurant just up the block from the Green Mill is a stunner, a low-lit, jewel-toned space with impressive cuisine. Grilled scallops were dusted with garam masala, served with tender asparagus, and sprinkled with marigold blossoms, the last a delightful touch. The vegetarian dahi kebab salad was equally eye-opening: pristine microgreens paired with a warm, peppercorn-encrusted yogurt cheese in a garlicky orange-coriander vinaigrette and garnished with pistachio bits and slices of lush fig. Lamb vindaloo—a huge, meaty shank ("Here's your stegosaurus leg," said our server) that to my palate could have borne more spice—was the only plate that slightly disappointed, but a side of three fresh house-made chutneys made up for it, as did the dark horse of the meal, murg makhni, meltingly tender and perfectly spiced tandoori-cooked chicken in cream sauce. The restaurant has a friendly, neighborhood vibe: "Looks like we ordered the same things you did," a fellow at the adjoining banquette exclaimed to us. "How was it?" he asked. "Excellent, but here—you must try some of these chutneys." Bottles of wine are half-price on Wednesdays, and on Tuesdays there's a three-course regional tasting menu for $25. On Valentine's Day, in addition to the a la carte menu, there's a three-course "Kama Sutra" tasting menu with complimentary dessert ($35). —Kate Schmidt

Quince1625 Hinman, Evanston | 847-570-8400

$$$American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday

At Quince, in the old Trio space, chef Mark Hannon gives upscale American comfort food meticulous, even fussy treatment—short ribs, for instance, were carefully composed in three small stacks on a long, rectangular dish and served with a Bayley Hazen blue cheese risotto so rich you can forget about a cheese course. Current highlights on the seasonal menu include seared foie gras—still legal up here—served with pistachio cream, strawberry jam, and toasts; yellowtail snapper with forbidden black rice, hearts of palm, and basil cream; duck breast with sweet potatoes, fruit, and a foie gras nage; and vegetarian options like quinoa and curried lentils. If the shaved asparagus salad—served simply in a big ol' bowl with a fragrant truffle vinaigrette—is on offer, don't miss it. Wine pairings, handled by Alinea vet Joe Ziomek, are also top-notch, and Tuesday through Thursday there's a three-course dinner with wine pairings for $45. On Valentine's Day (and on February 13 and 15 with advance notice) Hannon will offer a five-course tasting menu beginning with an amuse bouche of oysters, caviar, and creme fraiche and featuring choices such as a duck confit and foie gras sandwich, rainbow trout, and braised short ribs with asparagus risotto and truffles; it's $85 ($40 more with wine pairings), and seating by the dining room's fireplace is available. There's also the option of a six-course tasting menu served at a table in the kitchen; it's $125, and available throughout the year. —Kate Schmidt

Sepia123 N. Jefferson | 312-441-1920

F 8.5 | S 8.0 | A 9.3 | $$$$ (6 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch

rr r At Sepia, Emmanuel Nony's sleek "modern speakeasy," creative chef Kendal Duque (Everest, Tru, NoMi) runs the kitchen, and out front savvy servers seem happy to be there. The succulent slow-baked veal breast on wide, lightly minted noodles quickly became a signature entree not simply by default but because it's delicious. I also liked the thick Berkshire pork chop. Flatbreads, which head the menu, should be a natural with cocktails, but I didn't have much luck: the little one topped with applewood-smoked bacon and seasonal fruit didn't go at all with the Sepia Mule, which features house-made ginger-infused vodka. At brunch there's a bacon Bloody Mary made with bacon-infused vodka and eggs Benedict made with Berkshire pork belly. The eclectic, affordable wine list rounds out an enjoyable experience. On Valentine's Day the restaurant will offer three-course ($50) and five-course ($60) tasting menus with choices such as kushi oysters, sweet potato soup, grilled sturgeon, braised beef short ribs, and chocolate bread pudding for two. —Anne Spiselman

Sheffield's3258 N. Sheffield | 773-281-4989

$$Bar/Lounge, American, Barbecue/Ribs | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight | Reservations not accepted

Ric Hess, owner of this Wrigleyville tavern, spent months perfecting three house-made sauces (Memphis, Texas, and North Carolina style), and for almost a year now he's had his wood-burning Southern Pride smokers cranking. For reasons I will never understand, there aren't many places where you can get a decent pulled pork sandwich in Chicago, but even in the early going the one here was more than respectable, served with properly tangy coleslaw and a properly vinegary (and very tasty) mustard-based sauce. Sides including red-skin potato salad, corn bread, and collards with bacon showed the care being taken in the kitchen, as did a rich clam chowder packed with bacon, potatoes, and mushrooms. There are tons of craft brews on tap and by the bottle, and the staff is chipper and superfriendly. On Valentine's Day Sheffield's is offering a special concoction of chocolate stout and Belgian lambic and a "non-Valentine's" menu of fried dishes and finger foods; in the back room there will be screenings of "bitter romance movies" like Fatal Attraction and The War of the Roses. —Kate Schmidt

Shikago190 S. LaSalle | 312-781-7300

$$$$Asian, Japanese | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Saturday till 11

Shikago, the most recent venture from Kevin Shikami (Kevin), is at ground level in the canyon that is the LaSalle Street financial district. On a relatively slow Saturday night, we were rendered breathless by dish after memorable dish. Roasted quail with braised radish, hazelnuts, garlic chives, a maiitake mushroom ragout, and Shaoshing wine sauce was remarkable, but even commonplace appetizers like tuna tartare and salmon maki with avocado and cilantro were brought to life by a caring hand and premium ingredients. The pan-Asian fusion entrees on the constantly changing menu created subtle harmonies: red snapper in a sweet galangal sauce balanced slightly bitter Chinese broccoli and earthy chanterelles; sugary bulgogi was paired with delicately sharp daikon, peppery arugula, and scallion pancake straws; Alaskan salmon, sweetened with papaya, was perked up with lemongrass and peekytoe crab slivers in flowery jasmine rice. Flavors amplify one another in a lime semifreddo served with a nectarine tart, and the pineapple trio displayed variations worthy of a Bach fugue: vanilla-poached and soy-caramelized pineapple, a cinnamon-sugar pineapple "doughnut," and a refreshing pineapple-cinnamon sorbet. Though sophisticated, this place puts on no airs: tables are cross sections of centuries-old trees and the decor is Zen-like. There's a takeout counter at lunchtime. On Valentine's Day the restaurant will host a five-course dinner for up to 40 couples in the Phillip Johnson-designed law library 40 floors above the restaurant. It's $140. —David Hammond

Think2235 N. Western | 773-394-0537

F 8.7 | S 8.5 | A 8.3 | $$$ (30 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, italian | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO | Vegetarian friendly

rrr Raters remain high on Omar Rodriguez's Think Cafe, which has expanded in recent years to three airy, low-key dining rooms. The Italian-influenced contemporary American menu covers a lot of ground: a half dozen appetizers, as many salads, and even more pasta and entree options. Raters single out the white asparagus salad with tomatoes and Maytag blue cheese, but my friend went for a plate of arugula, dried apples, and goat cheese in a mango vinaigrette, a nice, teasing balance of flavors. A venison special paired dark, sweet, slightly gamy meat with whipped sweet potatoes, dates, and dollops of now-verboten foie gras—but its $35 price tag came as a bit of a shock. Another special of grilled bass with mango chutney, served over pearl couscous and topped with two lonely asparagus spears, was unfussy and satisfying. The multigenerational crowd is a testament to Think's appeal. —Martha Bayne

Vermilion10 W. Hubbard | 312-527-4060

F 7.6 | S 7.5 | A 7.8 | $$$ (16 reports)Indian/Pakistani, Latin American, Small Plates | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

There isn't really a philosophy behind Vermilion's fusion of Indian and Latin flavors—owner Rohini Dey and executive chef Maneet Chauhan just happen to like both cuisines. There are 20 or so tapas that exemplify the concept, such as plantain croquettas on a banana pachadi or an ahi escabeche seasoned with cilantro, onion pickle, and lime juice with a gazpacho shooter. Larger dishes are divided among fusiony selections—for example, a garam masala-dusted filet mignon with a mushroom ceviche and mango rice—and traditional Indian cuisine from Hyderabad. Especially intriguing are caldeirada de peixe, described as a traditional Amazonian stew of seafood and vegetables, and the miris Sri Lankan whole fish, prepared in a blend of 16 spices. One of the walls is painted bright red and hung with black-and-white photos shot by Indian fashion photographer Farrokh Chothia, and there's usually Latin or Indian lounge music playing. On Valentine's Day the restaurant is hosting what it calls a "Valentine's Aphrodisiac in Red," a five-course tasting menu for $65 ($100 with wine); the winner of the "Vermilion Lady in Red" contest will receive an "exotic Indian hamper." Laura Levy Shatkin

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