Next This restaurant’s pioneering online ticketing system inspires feverish mouse-clicking and a robust aftermarket. Its short-term themed menus—they’ve explored “Child- hood,” “El Bulli,” and, currently, “Sicily”—have proved an ingenious way to sustain suspense and keep reviewers banging down the door every three months. Grant Achatz, Chicago’s reclusive superstar chef, is behind Next—as well as the gorgeous adjoining cocktail lounge the Aviary and the Michelin three-starred Alinea—but Dave Beran is the man in the kitchen, turning out one boundary-pushing dish after another (the El Bulli tribute involved 30 courses). The Sicily menu, available through late September, is rustic; Achatz and Beran’s usual gizmo-based cooking makes way for silky pastas, artichokes grilled on a humble Weber, and simple seafood that shines (953 W. Fulton Market; 1-312/226-0858).
Pump Room Maybe you’ll spot Oprah Winfrey celebrating a birthday in the back banquette, or actor Kelsey Grammer unwinding after a day of shooting his Chicago-set TV series, Boss. Or maybe you won’t recognize a face but everyone will look vaguely familiar, as if they’ve stepped out of the pages of Vanity Fair. Both in its mid-century heyday as a playground for Sinatra, Bogart, Gable and their ilk, and in its latest incarnation as an Ian Schrager–owned hot spot, the Pump Room is the kind of place that leaves you a little breathless. And though the mod-American food overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been treated as an afterthought in most reviews since the restaurant reopened a year ago, it is now quite memorable under new executive chef Moosah Reaume (1301 N. State Pkwy.; 1-312/229-6740).
Slurping Turtle If you have time to wait and don’t mind a bit of broth on your tie, there’s no better noodles downtown than at chef Takashi Yagihashi’s casually chaotic new dining room. Slurping Turtle was conceptualized with multiple locations in mind, and it’s easy to envision its future as a mini-chain with a cult-like following. The industrial decor—tall concrete-block walls, undressed tables, and exposed ductwork—can become loud as crowds descend each lunch hour and dinnertime, but the precisely balanced broths laced with pork, seafood, and vegetables; the beautifully plated sashimi spreads; and the piping hot, quickly served bites from the bincho grill make up for the decibels (116 W. Hubbard St.; 1-312/464-0466).