Your New Chicago Winter Hideout

January 24, 2014

As soon as I stepped inside Summer House Santa Monica and was greeted with an enormous array of homemade baked goods, I knew it was love at first sight. Summer House, a California-influenced American restaurant recently opened in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. The space actually houses three destinations in one, Summer House, Stella Barra, a casual pizzeria, and a coffee shop/baked good area in between the two. As the newest Lettuce Entertain You restaurant to join the Chicago scene, I knew I'd be in good hands.

Hello my pretties
Get in my belly
Chef Jeff Mahin is responsible for the array of California-inspired dishes at these restaurants, as well as decadent doughnuts at Do-Rite Donuts on Randolph. Both Stella Barra (which I hope to check out soon) and Summer House are spinoffs of Mahin's existing restaurants in Southern California.

I stopped by on a busy Saturday night with three girlfriends, Adrianne, Lauren and Sarah, to enjoy some wine, gossip, and fabulous food. The restaurant itself is huge! Upon entering you immediately feel like you're nowhere near snowy, below-zero Chicago. The whole place makes you feel like you're dining in a house on the beach and the entire ceiling in the main dining room is retractable, which will be quite useful in a few short months.

We were seated and immediately ordered a few appetizers after looking over the menu and the specials. First, we tried the burrata which arrived on top of a bed of tomato jam and arugula and was served with homemade bread. The jam had a subtle kick and the bread was perfectly crusty.

Specials of the night
Burrata: tomato jam, arugula
The second appetizer we tried was the spicy calamari which completely blew my taste buds away. I love spicy food and this dish did not disappoint. The calamari was coated in a light tempura batter and was served with a spicy mayo on the side. The texture and the sauce were amazing! So much flavor packed into each and every bite. I squeezed a generous amount of lime juice on top and that really brought out the flavors of the sauce.

Spicy Calamari: tempura batter, spicy mayo, chives, lime
For my entree, I knew I wanted fish but I had a hard time deciding between the sea bass that was on specials menu and the rainbow trout. After much persuasion by Chef Mahin himself, I knew I had to go with the rainbow trout. Man, was I glad I took his word. This generous piece of fish was served skin-on atop a bed of creamy potatoes in a brown butter. The strong aroma of sage and walnuts were great pairings for this comforting dish. The night we went to Summer House it was snowing like crazy and wind chill temps were barely above zero. This was the just the type of dish I needed to forget about all of that. Lauren also ordered the rainbow trout and loved it as well.

Pan-seared Rainbow Trout: walnuts, brown butter, lemon, sage, potato and st. nectaire cheese
Sarah ordered the roasted 1/2 chicken which was HUGE. She had plenty of leftovers! This dish also included tons of roasted root veggies. I tried some of the chicken and it was extremely delicious and tender!

Roasted 1/2 Chicken: potato-polenta mash, root vegetables
Adrianne ordered the handmade bucatini pasta with forest mushrooms which was recommended by our server. You could immediately smell the decadent aroma of truffle as soon as they brought the pasta to the table. I tried just one strand of pasta and was blown away by the amount of flavor. If you know me, you know how much I love homemade pasta!

Bucatini with Forest Mushrooms: truffle, chicken brown butter brodo
After we devoured our entrees, it was time for dessert. We knew we had to try a cookie after getting a sneak peek of the amazing assortment of baked goods upon entering the restaurant. We ended up ordering three very different desserts that appealed to all of our flavor preferences.

Tempting dessert menu
First, we tried the trifecta fudge cake which was topped generously with hot fudge. I expected this to have more of a lighter texture but it actually reminded me of a flourless chocolate cake because it was pretty dense.

Trifecta Fudge Cake: peanut butter fudge, hot fudge, salted bittersweet chocolate
Next, was one of the signature cookies that we saw in the front of the restaurant. They were out of the chocolate chip cookie topped with chunks of rice krispie treats (womp) so we tried the bacon chocolate chip variety. This cookie is baked with bacon fat (the best kind of fat) and is topped with generous bits of bacon. To spice things up (literally) we ordered ours topped with peanut butter curry ice cream. Not only was this ice cream homemade, it also was insanely delicious and unlike any flavor combination I've ever tried. Something about that sweet and spicy ice cream worked well with the chocolate and bacon cookie.

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookie with Peanut Butter Curry Ice Cream
Lastly, we tried the lemon & meringue dessert which I thought I would hate. Turns out, the flavors of this dish were so complex it ended up being my favorite. The dish offered a nice balance to the heaviness of our other two desserts as well. The meringue was extremely light but it was the caramelized orange sorbet that rocked my world.  The candied grapefruit segments scattered on the plate didn't hurt either.

Lemon & Meringue: meyer lemon curd, almond meringue, brown butter graham crumbs, candied grapefruit, caramelized orange sorbet
Overall, my experience at Summer House was a very pleasant one. I'm giving Summer House 4.5 ghosts out of 5 for their attentive staff, perfectly prepared dishes, warm and beachy atmosphere, and their fantastic baked goods! The only complaint I have is that it's difficult to hear others at your table because of the noise. However, I'd expect the acoustics to improve once that retractable ceiling opens up!

Summer House Santa Monica
1954 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60614
Summer House Santa Monica on Urbanspoon


  1. I love their cookies! Picked up a few to take home after dinner at Stella Barra too!

    1. I was super tempted Anne! I thought I'd get some for the BF but, let's be honest, I would have ended up eating them all myself!


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