Terry Opalek's Romantic Dining Picks
by meg mathis
Terry Opalek, along with his partner, Michael Frontier, began selling his signature almond-filled McCall’s Classic toffee at a holiday craft fair years ago. Fast-forward to 2013: Terry’s Toffee (1117 W. Grand Ave., 312-733-2700) is celebrating its 10th anniversary and is one of the city’s most well-known sweets brands. More than 80 specialty markets nationwide carry Terry’s 15 award-winning flavors, including three Opalek says are particularly perfect for Valentine’s Day (“They’re all really sexy and romantic,” he says): Chai-cago Spice, McCall’s Classic, and Lavenilla, a blend of lavender and vanilla in white chocolate containing 31 percent cocoa butter. A foodie himself, Opalek shared with us his favorite spots for celebrating Valentine’s Day.
New Lakeview hot spot Bar Pastoral—the cozy new cheese and wine bar from Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine owners Ken Miller and Greg O’Neill—features cuisine from Top Chef 10 alum Chrissy Camba. “I really like the atmosphere,” says Opalek. “The crowd is great—different ages, gay and straight—and the space feels intimate and casual. You can dress it up or dress it down.” For a romantic night out, he says, “It’s a great place to go and not be committed to a long evening, but it’s also perfect for grabbing a quick nosh and, if the date’s going great, saying ‘Okay, we want to go get dinner somewhere.’” Opalek adds, “I love that they have a wine bar separate from the cheese bar, and the staff is very attentive and knowledgeable in explaining all the accoutrements of the various cheese platters. I love cheese, and their presentation is really beautiful. The Roquefort was my favorite, and they serve it with a nice salted butter. One of our other favorite bites was an amuse-bouche of brioche topped with Dijon mustard, pickled banana peppers, and pork pâté. [Michael and I] both loved it.” 2947 N. Broadway, 773-472-4781
“NoMI is spectacular—one of the most elegant rooms I’ve been in. It’s the place to celebrate an anniversary or a really special occasion. The food is impeccable: simple, classic, and across-the-board appealing.” 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030
Antica Pizzeria Ristorante
“This is a really comfortable Andersonville neighborhood place with a sexy feel to it. I love their pizzas—especially the one with arugula, speck, and roasted pistachios—and their pastas are all made in-house.” 5663 N. Clark St., 773-944-1492
“Chalkboard has a completely different vibe than any other restaurant in Chicago. It’s very intimate, and it feels like you’re in somebody’s cottage with candles lit and soft, inviting colors. Their fried chicken is the best in the world.” 4343 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-477-7144
May St. Cafe
“It’s out of the way, but I think there’s some romance in the fact that you have to drive this kind of strange distance to get there; you’re not going to a neighborhood where there’s restaurant after restaurant. It’s a little adventure. They have the most incredible lobster, which they serve with chipotle butter and an assortment of oven-roasted vegetables. I always order the large size, and I could lick the plate when I’m done.” 1146 W. Cermak Road, 312-421-4442
“Sushi is a sexy thing to eat. The Santa Fe roll is one of the things I love, and the room is very comfortable and beautifully lit with candles.” 5951 N. Broadway, 773-561-5111
“This is a great to-go place in Rogers Park with the best Mexican food if you want to stay in for a romantic meal and not cook. Michael loves their chicken bollito. The proportions are great; it’s the right amount of everything.” 6922 N. Clark St., 773-338-5425
Michigan Avenue celebrates with cover star Harrison Ford at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.