The art of pastry baking is a careful ordeal. Each morning, long before the sun starts to shine on Lake Michigan, the team at Libanais Sweets is up making sure their specialties are crisp and flaky on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. They specialize in baked goods from around the world, including Eastern pastries such as baklava and European pastries ranging from éclairs to mille-feuille and tiramisu. In addition, the Libanais staff crafts specialties like chocolate lollipops, which are ideal for special events but can’t be used to bribe the rare bird that would prefer a broccoli pop.
The owner of Fondue Stube announced an early, voluntary retirement in 2010, but a barrage of encouragement and love notes scribbled onto lightly used napkins stopped the fondue guru from closing the establishment’s doors. Because of this outpouring, Fondue Stube has continued to flood West Rogers Park with its sizzling fondue and house-made dipping sauces for more than 33 years.
Chefs decant piping cheeses, oils, and chocolates into inviting cauldrons that forge the foundation of a sweet and savory dipping menu, which was lauded as the Best Fondue in Town by CBS Chicago. Once a friendly staff member deposits these potions and skewers at each table, guests are free to submerge morsels of crisp veggies, savory meats, and sunken battleships into the piping-hot pot.
Appearing only recently in a puff of heavenly aromas, Prince Creperie is the waking dream of Parisian chef Ezat Nada, who loves introducing the Northwest Side to an authentic enclave of Gallic fare. Globe-trotting taste buds can hit the savory Mediterranean for the zucchini, tomato, and feta-filled Crêpe Athens ($7.99) or backpack to Belgium for dulcet delights such as the Crêpe de Liége ($6.99), a sweet-stuffed envelope of raisins, pears, oranges, almonds, and pistachio ice cream. In addition to making its signature bread circles, Prince Creperie reanimates the morning's undead commuters with a bevy of breakfasts, including eight different omelettes and a spot-hitting side of Egyptian beans ($3.99), as well as a leafy litany of French salads that include Roasted Beet ($7.99) and Salade Quatre Fromage ($8.99). For extra fun, send each bit of food plunging down an interior waterslide of cinnamon coffee ($2), Moroccan chai ($2.99), or Tropical Storm smoothie ($4.99).
Chef Luis Perez boasts an extensive experience with food, with a childhood spent taste-testing his mother's traditional Mexican dishes and a decade mastering European bistro cuisine under Chicago chef Jack Jones. Like the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, the menu at Perez's Lincoln Square restaurant is a memorable meeting of France and Mexico, resulting in plates of smoked-duck nachos, mint-roasted lamb with brandy-guajillo sauce, and cremini-mushroom quesadillas filled with goat cheese. Surrounded by sunny yellow walls and flowing baby-blue drapes, guests dine on dishes that fuse savory and sweet, such as the almond-crusted trout covered in creamy coconut sauce or center-cut pork chops with plum mole. Desserts of caramel-covered flan and rich tres-leches sponge cake cap off these eclectic suppers, as diners raise toasts with glasses of BYO beverages.
Once inside Oceanique’s unassuming storefront, chandeliers and white-cloaked café tables give the restaurant the feel of an art-deco Parisian lounge. The setting is no accident: Chef Mark Grosz peppers his menu with the evidence of a culinary education acquired in France and under Jean Banchet at Le Francais. The eclectic dishes, which change daily, might pair butternut squash with salmon or drizzle rhubarb-mango chutney on foie gras. Beyond the signature seasonal fish dishes, they can devote full plate space to organic, ultrafresh produce, such as butternut squash and fiddleheads.
Even with its complex array of ingredients and tastes, the menu strives to remain approachable. Time Out Chicago writes that "while the multi-ingredient preparations border on overwhelming, Grosz somehow manages to balance flavors while completely flipping off subtlety." What results is a laid-back dining atmosphere lubricated by a choice of more than 800 wines and several vintage seawaters.