Salud's elderflower margarita.
It doesn't make much difference what I'm eating; I'm a big fan of alcohol with my dinner. Sure, I get into the appropriate pairings with wine and different types of liqueurs, but as long as there are cocktails to wash it all down, I'm a happy camper. If there's one thing, though, that excites me even more than drinks with dinner, it's drinks before dinner. If you're like me, check out these restaurants where the cocktails are just as popular as the appetizers.
Elderflower at Salud Tequila Lounge
Salud Tequila Lounge in Wicker Park sure knows how to make a girl hungry with its Mexican-inspired cuisine. The camarones de mango description alone (read: grilled shrimp over a mango reduction with chunky guacamole) is enough to kick your hunger in full swing. But before you delve into the slightly charred and skewered crustaceans, order up an intoxicating Elderflower margarita. This unconventional spin on the festive cocktail brings together Chinaco Blanco tequila, Agave nectar, fresh lime juice and St. Germain liqueur to create one sweet floral sensation, $9. Because the drink's flavor profile is strong enough on its own, you'll never see the rim salted or sugared; just a simple lime garnish does the trick here.
Persian Martini at Aperitif 21
The Persian martini.
There's nothing like heading straight to the source for a pre-dinner tipple. The recently opened Aperitif 21 in Lincoln Park offers plenty of specialty cocktails, but the staff here recommends its signature Persian martini with vodka, cranberry juice, pomegranate molasses and lemon. Served in a traditional cocktail glass, the drink gets garnished with a lemon twist. A few sips in and you'll be ready for a little something edible. Try the spinach and artichoke-stuffed mushrooms (four to one order, $6.95) and then follow up with the Persian-style lamb kabobs, $13.95. Each kabob gets skewered with grilled tomatoes and served with a housemade yogurt-mint sauce and your choice of white or dill rice. Carb-conscious types can nix the grains and opt for a salad.
Simone's Champagne Cocktail at Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar
This River North bistro will having you cooing oui oui over its fancy aperitifs. Cyrano's suggested drink is a champagne-based concoction with Grand Marnier. The cocktail is served in a traditional flute and garnished with a slice of lime and an orange rind, $8.50. The crisp texture and citrus flavor of the Simone are just the thing to make you crave fish. That's when you know it's time to move on to Chef Durand's smoked salmon plate or fresh nicoise salad.
Campari at Spacca Napoli
If you're a stickler for tradition, you'll feel at home with the pre-dinner drinks at Spacca Napoli. This authentic Italian eatery in Ravenswood offers two classic liqueurs, both popular choices in the heyday of aperitifs. The first, and a favorite with many of the restaurant's patrons is Campari. Try it neat or on the rocks. Sambuca is another palate teaser here and is served in a similar fashion. Pair either of these with an equally classic slice of pie like Spacca Napoli's margherita pizza with tomatoes, oregano, garlic, basil and olive oil. If you've still got a little room, try the restaurant's tiramisu or baked ricotta desserts. Or just wait it out and whet your appetite all over again with another round of drinks.