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updated: 1/29/2014 9:50 AM

Celebrated chef crafts gilded plates at Guildhall

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  • Short ribs seasoned with star anise and cinnamon braise for 12 hours before being plated for diners at Guildhall in Glencoe.

       Short ribs seasoned with star anise and cinnamon braise for 12 hours before being plated for diners at Guildhall in Glencoe.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Sweetbreads get a crispy breading and are served with a frisee salad at Guildhall in Glencoe.

       Sweetbreads get a crispy breading and are served with a frisee salad at Guildhall in Glencoe.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Guildhall Affagato dessert, served at Guildhall in Glencoe.

       Guildhall Affagato dessert, served at Guildhall in Glencoe.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Water chills on ice at Guildhall in Glencoe.

       Water chills on ice at Guildhall in Glencoe.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Diners can reserve a special table in the kitchen at Guildhall in Glencoe where they can watch chef Christian Ragano and his crew in action.

       Diners can reserve a special table in the kitchen at Guildhall in Glencoe where they can watch chef Christian Ragano and his crew in action.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • A variety of artisan cocktails and craft beers are available at the bar at Guildhall in Glencoe.

       A variety of artisan cocktails and craft beers are available at the bar at Guildhall in Glencoe.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Guildhall opened in downtown Glencoe in 2013.

       Guildhall opened in downtown Glencoe in 2013.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Archways and soft colors set the tone at Guildhall in Glencoe.

       Archways and soft colors set the tone at Guildhall in Glencoe.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
By Thomas Witom
Daily Herald Correspondent

Guildhall Restaurant & Bar has proved a hands-down favorite among local dining-out devotees ever since its debut in March 2013 in downtown Glencoe.

And as word gets around, patrons from the North Shore and beyond are beating a path to the door of this 150-seat American bistro.

A recent visit confirmed that the buzz is justified.

The venue, once occupied by a hardware store, now features pale, muted colors and large framed still lifes hang in the main dining room. Archways help define the various seating areas into which the space is divided.

A full-service zinc-topped bar draws from a well-stocked wine cellar ($10-$17 a glass, $29 to a heady $445 a bottle) and a wide selection of domestic and imported beers, including six artisanal brews on draft. Bartenders also create handcrafted cocktails like the highly quaffable Sazerac, which combines rye whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters and lemon.

But the real excitement comes from the culinary handiwork of executive chef Christian Ragano, who spent nearly a decade at the venerable NoMI plus a stretch at Tru (both in Chicago) and is not timid about experimenting with flavor. Ragano draws on his experience to present an approachable, seasonally changing menu; think sustainable, organic fare. Most a la carte entrees are priced in the mid-$20s.

Dinner started with bread service -- excellent pain d'epi (baguettes transformed into connected forms that resemble stalks of wheat). A delicate smoked honey butter accompanied.

While not everyone shares my enthusiasm for veal sweetbreads, I find them hard to resist. There's no faulting Guildhall's rendition of this typical bistro appetizer, which involves a crisp cornflake breading and a tiny salad of frisee and diced vegetables.

Also noteworthy was the roasted heirloom carrot salad composed of winter spinach, baby carrots, a carrot-cardamom purée and toasted pecans and dressed in a bourbon-sherry vinaigrette.

Among other starter options available were Peekytoe Crab Salad on toast; oysters Rockefeller; and Tarte Flambee Forestiere, an Alsatian tart of Gruyere, onion, creme fraiche, wild mushrooms and bacon.

Several main-course choices tempted, including fresh Orecchietti Bolognese with wild boar; duck breast with red wine and tamarind braised cabbage and rye dumplings; and a signature dish, wood-roasted chicken accompanied by a Provençal fennel ragout and kalamata olives. But the short rib ($23), braised slowly for 12 hours according to our waiter, proved most enticing, owing partly to its creative star anise-cinnamon seasoning. The fork-tender meat pleased at every bite as did its plate-mates: parsnip purée with a light horseradish accent and a small serving of roasted baby root vegetables.

The restaurant also goes the extra mile with desserts. I can recommend its namesake Guildhall Affogato, cherry-pecan biscotti "drowned" in a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso.

Reservations are a good idea, particularly on weekends. And be prepared to experience the clamor of lively conversations during peak periods. Service, however, is under control thanks to a highly trained, well-coordinated waitstaff.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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