Peru is the cradle of modern cuisine—a fact that Ay Ay Picante's owners, Don Jaime Bardales and Doña Chamuca Bardales, haven't forgotten. Native to the nation are now-common staples such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes, avocados, and chilies—all of which blend with traditional spices throughout the Peruvian chefs' extensive board of fare. The signature ceviche, for instance, marinates tilapia in lime juice and rocoto chilies. A marinade of fish sauce similarly enlivens the grilled shrimp and salmon kabobs. But the global influence of Andean cooking makes itself known in the fried-rice dishes, which bring out the flavors of peruvian peppers and mushrooms with a dollop of soy sauce and garlic. This blend of customary and contemporary has garnered respectful nods from both WTTW's Check, Please! and ABC7's "Hungry Hound".
History doesn't just influence the menu at Ay Ay Picante. It also influences the very walls of the dining room. As diners sip BYOB beverages, they can examine pre-Columbian murals from the Peruvian Nazca culture. These hark back to the giant images the Nazca created in the desert sand, which can only be seen when flying in an airplane or soaring between a human cannon and a landing pad.
With live jazz music, USDA Prime steaks aged at least 21 days, and the freshest of seafood, Pete Miller's Seafood & Prime Steak is a living tribute to the colorful life of Harold “Pete” Miller. Miller grew up an avid hunter, studied History in college, and earned a Purple Heart as a marine in WWII. He even spent time slinging hats, before eventually settling on becoming a music salesman—a profession that would ignite his love of jazz and lead him to the rhythm-rich city of Chicago. Once settled, he discovered the Davis Street Fishmarket in Evanston where he became a regular, albeit outspoken, patron. He incessantly offered recommendations and recipe suggestions, eventually inciting the chef to hand him an apron and shout, “Do it yourself if you think you know so much!” Miller accepted the challenge and kicked off his culinary career with his usual flair and spontaneity.
Today, the pair of restaurants proudly carrying his name keep his legacy alive, hosting live jazz almost every night of the week, just like he would have wanted. In addition to the regular dinner menu, which features the likes of whole steamed lobsters and bone-in fillets, there’s also a bar menu that boasts more casual eats, such as burgers and sandwiches dressed in khaki slacks. The Wheeling location’s 250-seat patio features a granite bar with room for 50 people, as well as three huge fireplaces.
The Elliott family has specialized in creating sumptuous seafood, juicy chops, and pillowy piles of pasta since 1939. Elliott's Seafood Grille & Chop House's stately menu takes tonsils on a tour of succulence with the New York strip, 14 ounces of prime protein, aged a minimum of 21 days to ensure your fork can finally act like a knife for once in its life ($28.95). Elliott's will add horseradish, garlic, peppercorn, or blue cheese to any steak or chop for an additional $2 with a signed waiver promising you will use a breath mint. Appetites indulge in the aquatic awesomeness of stuffed Atlantic salmon, with roasted red peppers, portobello mushrooms, ricotta, and romano cheese, baked in white wine ($19.95). Patrons needling for noodles can try the farfalle with pine nuts and pesto ($11.95) or the penne di lucca, a splendid blend of sausage, spinach, sweet roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and the ability to smell time ($15.95).
For Chef Rob, cooking fine cuisine is a family affair. He learned his skills at the knee of his Sicilian grandmother, who taught him everything he knows about how to run a kitchen. Today, he still hones his recipes in a similar setting, cooking furiously as his wife and daughter stand ready to dutifully taste his creations. After finishing his at-home experiments with the daily haul from the local market, he heads to Wilmette Chop House to begin preparing food for that night‘s hungry customers.
During the dinner rush, Rob welcomes many of the same faces that he laughed and joked with at the market that morning. He oversees a grill filled with filet mignon, lobster tails, and his signature double-cut bone-in smoked pork chops. These delicious proteins come out hot on the heels of fresh-baked bread, acquired from Heavenly Hearth Bakery just around the corner. To wash down Chef Rob’s creations, bartenders mix up the restaurant’s signature cocktail—the Thin Mintini. In addition to describing the drink's refreshing taste, the beverage’s name also hints at the building’s history; the venue once served as the original bakery for the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Not content to cater only to two of the five senses, Rob also retains the services of professional musicians at his piano bar on most evenings, who wow audiences and reviewers with their skill at the keys and with catching food tossed at their mouths.
Executive Chef Matthew Lyon and his crew of culinary wizards craft artful plates of contemporary American fare that's chock-full of local, sustainable, and hormone-free ingredients. While employed with Wolfgang Puck Catering and local French restaurant Ambria, Chef Lyon honed his spatula-twirling skills and embraced farm-to-table-fare practices. He now applies eco-conscientious techniques to Eclipse, where all meals—including artfully plated portions of free-range chicken breast and truffled lobster—dressings, and marinades are made in-house with fresh ingredients plucked from nearby fruit hats.