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Cru Cafe & Wine Bar; Weather Mark Tavern
DISH Weekly Dining Guide in Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2012-12-19

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This column deals with two restaurants that may play on readers' (or eaters') assumptions—but with results that benefit people.

Cru Cafe & Wine Bar (25 E. Delaware Pl.; www.cruwinebar.com ), possibly because of its Gold Coast location and elegant atmosphere, has some people thinking of patrons dining while clothed in tuxedoes and flowing dresses. However, the place couldn't be more relaxed (a polo and nice jeans are fine), although the interior is, indeed, elegant. (My dining companion commented that Cru looks like "someone's Gold Coast mansion.")

However, just because Cru isn't hoity-toity doesn't mean the food and drinks aren't high-quality; in fact, the dinner was most impressive (and reasonably priced). We started with cocktails, notably the Sazerac (which contains rye, syrup, bitters, absinthe and a lemon twist) and the Headless Horseman (a concoction of orange vodka, bitters and ginger beer), which we enjoyed immensely. (I later tried an elder fashion royale that was even better than the Horseman.)

The food? Well, choosing the stolen dates (chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon with romesco sauce) as an appetizer got the dinner off to a tasty start—and, somehow, things even got better with the flatbread, one of the best I've tasted in quite some time. The server had me at "turkey chorizo," but it also had mozzarella, tomatoes and basil—making for a tantalizing mix.

The entrees were more than satisfactory. My friend loved his gnocchi, and the slow-roasted Amish half-chicken burst with flavor—and there was enough to take home to enjoy later. There are also some incredible desserts (which aren't indicated on the website), but one would be wise to partake; the pumpkin cheesecake is incredibly good.

The only no-no of the night occurred when a server brought out our entrees—and picked up my (unfinished) Horseman by the top (or head, if you prefer); needless to say, I didn't finish that glass. However, aside from that hiccup, my friend and I had an amazing time at Cru.

Another place that may have to deal with misconceptions is Weather Mark Tavern (1503 S. Michigan Ave.; www.weathermarktavern.com ). There was a time when the word "tavern" conjured thoughts of a dive bar with a bowl of salted peanuts among the eats. However, as affable owner Mark Stern told Savor, "You have places like Tavern on Rush and City Tavern, so 'tavern' now has a more upscale meaning."

Again, by "more upscale," don't think this place is fancy-schmancy. However, do expect an unbelievable selection of food and drink items; the online menu alone is impressive.

Also, expect to see nautical items everywhere. ("Weather mark" is a sailing term.) Retractable sails separate booths on one side of the wall, and there are buoys, flags and nautical-themed photos.

However, don't confuse this place with a Long John Silver's. For one thing, Weather Mark offers 45 different rums. Also, as previously mentioned, the menu is quite extensive—and it's not just seafood.

I started things off with a server's suggestion: a drink called a Dark and Stormy (rum and ginger beer) that was quite pleasant. As for appetizers, my friend and I tried bacon-wrapped potatoes, mac 'n cheese and pigs in a blanket. However, the last item were definitely not your run-of-the-mill "pigs," which featured grilled venison and wild-boar sausages wrapped in puff pastry. Those were tasty, but the potatoes (served with sour-cream sauce) hit the high mark for both of us.

Entrees consisted of a pork chop and a burger called "One Fungi." (I felt like I needed a rimshot when I ordered this.) The latter is an Angus burger topped with a portobello mushroom, filled with sausage-and-spinach stuffing, and topped with Swiss cheese—and it's just as filling as it sounds. The grilled pork chop got an "A+" from both of us; it was tasty and incredibly juicy. (By the way, as a side you can get regular fries, sweet potato fries—or a mix of the two.)

To wrap things up, my friend had the raspberry chocolate-mousse cannolis (which he said were divine). I had the delectable brownie bites, served with vanilla ice cream. Needless to say, we were both in food comas by the time we left.

I highly recommend Weather Mark. The food is incredible, the servers were quite friendly (and eye-catching, to boot) and Stern is quite gay-friendly. (At one point, he and I talked about local gay icon Chuck Renslow.) Also, don't forget that the restaurant offers weekend brunch—including items such as eggs Benedict and bottomless mimosas. I have a feeling I'll be back.


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