Chef Angelo Cattaneo marinates talent and sautés skills with small, hands-on cooking classes. Add moxie to meal-enders with the Fantastic Desserts class on July 10 from 2 p.m.–5 p.m. ($60), where burgeoning culinary artists learn to create mango crème brûlée, raspberry tarts with honey ice cream, and flourless chocolate cake topped with peanut-butter mousse. Aside from teaching how to fashion a masculine apron out of chain mail, the Just For Guys class on July 23 from 2 p.m.- 5 p.m. ($60) will dish out tips on preparing mushroom soup, rib-eye steaks, and raspberry cheesecake. After class ends, students can continue their culinary education at home kitchens thanks to informative handouts on recipes and techniques. Additional classes will be added to fit demand.
Overlooking the Fox River, The River Room Restaurant appeases appetites of all sizes with a mouthwatering menu of succulent delicacies. Inaugurate a dinner with friends, coworkers, or a selection of porcelain dolls with the chilled shrimp martini, which drenches skinny-dipping crustaceans in a horseradish cocktail sauce ($7). The potato-crusted cod ($14) halts hunger with a flavorful barricade, and the chicken 'n' bacon alfredo ($14) entrances taste buds with the hearty harmony of an edible Sonny & Cher concert.
The faint melody of blues music and the aroma of smoking meat drifts out of the imposing white brick façade of the former American Bank & Trust building. It can inspire the occasional double take from passersby who don't know that the opulent space is now occupied by Gerald’s Smokehouse. Inside, where bank tellers once counted cash, there's now a meat smoker that roasts ribs.
Restaurateur Gerald Bester has striven to preserve the building's old-fashioned bits of grandeur. The former deposit slip column has been upended into a long table, and the bank vault serves as the centerpiece of the dining room and as a time-out room for fussy dining companions. Sunlight pours through the service window at the end of the bar. Mr. Bester has also updated the space by transforming the second floor into a VIP lounge furnished with flat-screen TVs, leather couches, and an outside smoking patio.
Mr. Bester, who has a background in entertainment and promotions, strives to lure in international musicians, comedians, and poets to the restaurant’s stage. “I knew from an early age I wanted to be an entrepreneur," he says. "Comedy, bands—I just wanted it all in one location, with good food and good drinks.”
In contrast to the oft-elaborate décor, Mr. Bester keeps the food casual, offering southern-style barbecue. His chefs smoke ribs atop beds of apple-pecan and hickory wood and serve the meat alongside heaping sides of fried green tomatoes and collard greens.
Savory scents beckon diners to the 14 hibachi tables inside OSAKA Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi. Like gymnasts tired of the same old floor routine, morsels of steak, chicken, or seafood tumble atop sizzling teppan grills as personal chefs prepare each meal. Alternatively, tables in the traditional dining room fill with fine pan-Asian fare, from pad thai and General Tso’s chicken to a wide selection of sushi. Osaka also boasts a full bar, a carry-out menu, and a private party room, and caters to families by offering kids their own exclusive bill of fare.
• For $20, you get $40 worth of Asian fare and drinks during dinner. • For $10, you get $20 worth of Asian fare and drinks during lunch. The skilled chefs at Meiji Cuisine, which serves Chinese and Japanese dishes, sear entrees over hibachi grills, roll fresh sushi, and craft Chinese specialties. Prepare for midnight Battleship games against an old sea captain with the War Bar dinner combination, a maritime medley of shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, and squid ($17.95). Hibachi entrees serve up Japanese-style grilled eats with a choice of vegetables and meats, including chicken ($16) and swordfish ($21). During lunch, sample maki sushi combos ($9 for two rolls, $11 for three) that include the eel cucumber roll, smoked eel wrapped in a blanket of eel sauce and lounging on a bed of sticky rice. Or feast on a plate of Chinese-style sweet-and-sour shrimp ($12.75), which leaves diners sweet on their lunch and sour on their afternoon return to work.