Snackers, rejoice! A slew of Chicago eateries have taken the time to create appetizers almost as interesting as their entrees. Actually, these pre-meal must-orders may make you want to skip the dinner part altogether.
Snack on seafood at sola
The warm fireplace may make you think sola presents just another modern take on American comfort food—but with entrees such as porcini-crusted salmon, miso black cod and spare ribs—sola's dishes are a far cry from fancified mashed potatoes. Its pre-meal fixins are just as creative as its entrees, and just as plentiful. The Hawaiian-inspired seasonal offerings include artichoke fritters, made with soy lime and white truffle-honey sauces and 'kalua' pot stickers, with Berkshire pork, mango kumquat salsa and cilantro oil.
Take on more than sushi at Japonais
Yes, Japonais is chic, and elegant and serves sushi on the river. But tasty small-portion treats file equally under its "claim to fame" heading. Seriously—sink into the tuna flatbread pizza and you'll be moaning "nigiri who?" You'll also want to be able to say you tried the much-served "The Rock" appetizer, consisting of thinly sliced marinated New York strip steak cooked before you on a hot rock. But there are plenty more New-Asian cuisine offerings in the Jeffrey Beers-designed eatery, including the seven-spiced smoked duck salad (served with Asian greens and honey yuzu dressing), baked East Coast oysters with a shrimp and bacon gratin and homemade steamed buns with braised pork and scallions with hot mustard sauce.
Make it a tapas-style meal at Vermilion
If "spice" was a food group, it would be a snap to get your recommended daily servings at Indian/Latin fusion hotspot Vermilion. The dozen-plus tapas appetizers infuse a bit of both worlds into each dish. While it's tough to choose between starters like Mysore lamb chops over a minty red onion salad and blue corn-crusted scallops served on a kali mirch calabaza goat cheese puree, we'll help you out by declaring that you must order the duo of coconut cilantro and tamarind shrimp. Though about half of the $8-$12 dishes are seafood-based, those looking for something meat-free should give the juhu ki pani puri a try. The traditional Indian flour shells, filled with spiced potatoes and a chili mint puree, literally explode in your mouth.
Don't look beyond wine and apps at Quartino
Pasta and meat dishes dot Quartino's dinner menu, but with appetizers dominating more than half the menu, why would you order anything but? Nibble your way through delish dishes such as the cheese fondue, served in a tiny fondue pot with calabrese bread. Cold small plates like calamari salad, as well as three types of bruschetta, ring in at $4; hot small plates like polenta fries and roasted baby octopus are just $6. Pasta fans can sample small plate portions of the gnocchi with arugalo pesto, and an assortment of olives is always available for snacking. Though you won't even notice you skipped the main dishes, you will feel empty if you don't order vino; one-fourth, half and whole wine carafes are available for as little as $4-$16, respectively.