Birthday Dining Round-up!

August 19, 2013

Warning: This is a long and droolworthy post

Every year when it comes time to celebrate my birthday, I definitely feel the pressure to plan celebratory meals that will suit the occasion. With so many amazing restaurants in the city, it's hard enough to narrow down a list of must-try restaurants, but I was able to do it this year.

I wanted to dine al fresco on my bday, so for lunch the BF and I went to a cute cafe in our new 'hood. Baker & Nosh is a bakery and cafe in Uptown, serving homemade baked goods, and a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches. We both ordered some of their gigantic sandwiches which came on freshly baked bread. I had the roast beef with pickled onion, arugula, and horseradish mayo on sourdough, while the BF tried the BLT which was also served on sourdough.

We were celebrating afterall, so we also grabbed a huge square brownie. One bite of this decadent dessert and I was in heaven. This was the best brownie I have ever tasted. Ever. It was flaky on top and super rich and fudgy in the middle. You could tell it was made with high quality chocolate. And a lot of butter. And Love. If anything, go for the brownie!!!

Fudge Brownie at Baker & Nosh
I wanted to grab a cocktail before my big bday dinner with the BF and knew I had to at least try to get into The Aviary. Grant Achatz's Aviary is not the easiest place to get into, but after dining at his amazing restaurant Alinea last September,  I wanted to check out another one of his restaurants. About a month ago, I noticed on their website that they take reservations, so I emailed and was shocked when my request was granted so easily.

Ambiance at The Aviary
Prix Fixe Menu at The Aviary
We arrived at 6:30 pm and were seated inside the gorgeous main dining room. The ambiance was upscale and full of soft, neutral tones, just like Alinea. We ordered off the a la carte menu since we were just grabbing a pre-dinner drink.

Menu at The Aviary
I tried the Tropic Thunder which came in an interesting clock-like glass container. This drink had tequila with lime, pineapple, orange peel and hibiscus flowers. The drink was meant to be poured into a tiny glass and sipped while the flavors stewed together in their container. The longer it sat, the redder the liquid became from the hibiscus flowers.

Tropic Thunder
The BF ordered 90 Miles from Mexico with grapefruit, cherry, and tequila. It was served in a glass with ice that lined the entire inside. It was extremely refreshing and cold!

90 Miles from Mexico and Tropic Thunder
We also were treated to a "foie gras Snickers bar" which had foie gras instead of the nougat you'd find in a Snickers. Needless to say, it was decadence at its finest!

Foie Gras Snickers Bar
Unfortunately, we were unable to tour the kitchen that night, but we had a great experience!

Kitchen at The Aviary
Outdoor Seating at The Aviary
After dinner, we headed south to Pilsen for dinner at Nightwood. I had heard a lot of buzz about this modern American restaurant and was excited to check it out.

Entrance to Nightwood
The restaurant had a cozy patio, but we opted to sit inside at the chef's table. We were lucky to grab a seat at the table which afforded us a front row seat for watching our dinner being prepared.

Kitchen at Nightwood from the Chef's Table
The menu at Nightwood is constantly changing to reflect ingredients that are fresh that day. I loved the hand-written menus, especially since they had my birthday written on them :)

Daily Menu at Nightwood
We started off with some wine and appetizers including an outrageously fresh cantaloupe with queso fresco, and handmade ravioli with sausage.

Amazing Foccacia and Artichoke Tapenade
Burrata Ravioli, Sweet Peppers, Sausage
Cantaloupe, Habanero, Sea Salt, Queso Fresco, Green Coriander
Since we were at the chef's table, we were able to watch the pastas being made by hand. The BF ordered the handmade spaghetti with bacon, chili, and tomato which was hearty and cheesy.

Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Bacon, Chili, Tomato
I was already stuffed by this point so I chose the trout, which actually ended up being a huge portion. It was glazed with honey and chili and came with a side of corn and green bean salad, as well as a yummy aioli.

Trout, Sweet Corn, Bacon, Green Beans, Onion, Honey, Chilis, Fava Bean Aioli
For dessert, we ordered a plate of cookies which included white chocolate peanut butter, chocolate sandwich, oatmeal, and double chocolate varieties. To top it off, we tried a scoop of homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream. I was really unimpressed with the desserts we had, but I'm pretty sure that we ordered the wrong thing. Nightwood is known for their desserts so I think I'd have to try some other options before I completely write them off.

Dessert Menu at Nightwood
Plate of Homemade Cookies
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
I also had a birthday dinner with friends at one of the best outdoor dining destinations in the city. Irazu is a Costa Rican restaurant that's been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Since my friends and I made up quite a large party, we tried Irazu's family style dinner. We had an awesome appetizer called Chifrijo with fried pork, rice, beans, pico de gallo and avocado, as well as a cabbage salad. Though not pictured, we also had ridiculous amounts of steak, chicken, roasted veggies, plantains and rice and beans. Irazu is known for their oatmeal milkshakes which they can make with regular or soy milk. Those were included in the family style menu and everyone loved them.

Chifrijo: Fried Pork, Black Beans, Rice, Pico de Gallo, Avocado & Lizano Sauce
The food was outstanding and the service was even better. If you're looking for a venue to host a large lunch or dinner outing, this is your spot. Not to mention, it's BYOB with no corkage fee!

Cabbage Salad with Beets, Cucumber, Avocado, Radish, Tomato & Cilantro
I told the BF that all I really wanted on my bday was a cake from my favorite Chicago bakery, Sweet Mandy B's. He came through with a gigantic 12 inch chocolate cake with buttercream frosting that we ate at the end of our meal at Irazu. We were eating cake for days after and I'm already wishing everyday was my birthday so I could have this cake again. Seriously, it's that good.

Sweet Mandy B's (and Mandy T's!) Birthday Cake
As you can see, a lot of food and beverage was consumed in celebration of my birth and I would highly recommend all of these places! From the brownie at Baker & Nosh, to the Chifrijo at Irazu, it was a memorable (and filling) few days! 

Where do you like to celebrate your birthday?

Baker & Nosh
Baker & Nosh on Urbanspoon
The Aviary
The Aviary on Urbanspoon

Nightwood on Urbanspoon

Irazu on Urbanspoon

Sweet Mandy B's
Sweet Mandy B's on Urbanspoon


  1. Nightwood. Sigh. That burrata sausage ravioli is outstanding. It's my go-to celebration restaurant, too!

    1. It was great! What else have you tried there?

    2. I'm partial to the fried lemon slices, anything they do with scallops, and, of course, their burger is spot on.


  2. Amanda, I had to comment because brownies are my thing (obsession), so your comment about Baker and Nosh really got my attention. Have you tried the brownies at Blue Sky bakery on N. Lincoln? Not only does the bakery have an incredible mission (they employ homeless and at risk youth) but their brownies are the best I have ever had. If you have $2.50 to burn, I highly recommend venturing to North Center. And if you get there right after it opens, you should also try one of their scones hot off the racks (the cheddar and chive was also divine). Just my two cents!

    Oh also, Happy Birthday :)

    1. Hey Meg! I've actually never heard of Blue Sky but now that I don't live too far away, I need to check it out! Thanks for the reco :)

  3. Oooh, I LOVE Baker & Nosh! Their brownies, bread, and donuts are all amazing.

    I definitely need to get over to Nightwood!

    1. They have donuts?! Oh man, I'm definitely going back!


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