At Blanc Burgers + Bottles, burger doesn’t just mean a basic grilled patty. In addition to American beef, there’s also hormone-free chicken, carnitas-style pork, and curried lentils among nearly 20 protein options. Chefs stuff or pile each with eclectic extras and housemade pickles. Hand-cut fries, beer-battered cheese curds and onion rings, and chicken wings marinated in housemade sauce make for marginally less elaborate sides. Though the options might seem overwhelming, servers with deep culinary knowledge acquired by sleeping on a copy of the menu every night are on hand to sort through them all.
Though the burgers take a wide-ranging, global approach to their flavor palettes, Blanc’s décor is decidedly space-age American. Stylized orange starbursts and flocks of bubbles decorate white walls around sleek furniture. Behind a long white counter recalling a luncheonette just opened in 1959, barkeepers pour wine, refreshing seasonal cocktails, and nearly 100 varieties of domestic, imported, and American craft brews, including steam beers, lagers, hop-rich IPAs, and specialty lambics. Even youngsters can hop on the craft-beverage bandwagon with more than 20 boutique sodas in flavors such as apple, blueberry, and pineapple, available with or without cocktail onions.
It's hard not to get in the mood for seafood amid 801 Fish's upscale, beachy ambiance. Above the open kitchen that's just beyond the oyster bar, a metallic ceiling abuts an accent wall with seafoam-green half circles that resemble patterns found in a mermaid's tail. Nearby, a sparkling glass tuna bathed in a blue accent light hangs over wicker chairs perched on warm hardwood floors, and a mural of two flame-haired mermaids backdrops bartenders pouring fine wines and cocktails.
Chefs in the open kitchen whip up pan-seared Florida grouper sided with peach jam and ricotta gnocchi, and a Hawaiian ahi tuna that boasts Japanese accents such as daikon noodles and miso broth. They also drench steak in bearnaise and send out Russian caviar with traditional accompaniments, including nonmetallic spoons and royal scepters.
At Mio, Executive Chef Julian J. Viso has designed a menu that highlights Italy's most beloved national dishes. He and his crew smother 10-ounce steaks in gorgonzola sauce, stuff ravioli with tender veal, and toss linguine with shrimp, scallops, and mussels. Imported red and white wines complement all of the above dishes, as do Italian-inspired cocktails like the classic negroni and the Hemingway, named after Ernest's long-lost Sicilian twin, Ernesto.
Fresh ingredients play a starring role in the kitchen at Sammy’s Pizza and Pub, where chefs craft each neo-Neapolitan pizza crust by hand. From there, diners take meal matters into their own figurative hands, customizing each golden-brown circle with a choice of premium red, alfredo, olive-oil, or pesto sauce, and toppings such as meatballs, spinach, capers, and shrimp. Cheese options include a cheddar-mozzarella blend and a vegan-friendly version milked from fresh ears of corn. Those forgoing sliced sustenance altogether can opt for one of the menu's savory sandwiches, such as a house-made meatball grinder, featuring meatballs made from a blend of ground beef and pork and seared in red wine.
The choices don't end there, however, as the eatery's dining room has been cleverly split into two sections. Couples and sophisticated singles can admire the carefully erected towers of glasses filled with Boulevard beer and top-shelf liquor on the restaurant and bar side, and families find suitable midmeal entertainment in a game room that keeps bored tykes from playing with their dinner or sculpting it into a new imaginary friend.
At Room 39, the dinner menu doesn't start with appetizers. Instead, the top of the carte features a short profile of a local farmer, followed by a list of all the small family farms that provided ingredients for the night's dishes. This choice signals the commitment of chefs and co-owners Ted Habiger and Andy Sloan to making local, sustainable food a part of fine dining. At both of the restaurant’s locations, they construct elegant New American dishes, such as blueberry-goat-cheese pancakes at breakfast and housemade pappardelle with bolognese at lunch. They're also no slouches with seafood—their spicy sautéed shrimp was named one of the best restaurant dishes of 2007 by Food & Wine magazine. Behind the bar, craft beers flow from local breweries such as Boulevard, Free State, and Tallgrass, as well as classic cocktails from local negroni wells.
While technically and metaphorically a chain restaurant, Houlihan's bedazzles its chain with glitter and winsome intrigue, boldly preparing every last bite of its savory fare by hand. Hosts of diverse ingredients culminate inside one open kitchen where professional food handlers slice, sauté, marinate, and arrange food to its tasty and aesthetic best, allowing each meal to display its individuality before being broken down into individual nutrients for absorption in the body. Casual dining is elevated by meticulously designed restaurants that pepper a patron's experience with a playlist of hand-picked tunes and customer-designed coasters that give a voice to condensation-catchers.