Honey's, open just about seven months, sits in darkness beneath the Green Line tracks in Chicago on Lake Street. Honey's has virtually no exterior signage, so it's possible that when you first come to visit, you might walk right past it (we did). Despite Honey's discrete, underplayed street presence, when you enter the restaurant, you're greeted by a beautifully designed and elegant interior; the contrast is both comforting and a little startling, making you feel as though you've uncovered a stylish oasis in this somewhat shadowy urban setting. The understated wood-lined entryway leads into a bar with leaping white arches and neatly arranged racks of liquors, beyond which is the dining room, set with white tablecloths, lit with low light, lined with comfy banquettes, each table set with a single calla lily.
Ambiance, of course, will take you only so far, so it's good that in addition to a creatively conceived and comfortable space, Honey's consistently presents drinks and dishes that made us very happy.
Usually, I avoid cocktails with egg white, which always seem more like dessert than an opening beverage. Our server, Jose, suggested Bae of Bengal, with Oola gin, yellow Chartreuse, hibiscus and… egg white. This drink was an excellent way to kick off dinner: just lightly creamy, which played against the herb-inflected gin and the slightly bitter tea.
With fresh oysters, we almost always prefer to go commando, without cocktail sauce or mignonette, just the fresh creatures from the deep on a half-shell. Our half-dozen Ichabod oysters from Massachusetts, however, came to the table dressed with pomegranate and parsley, looking just lovely and, most importantly, the dressing enhanced but didn't overwhelm the delicate sea-smack of the oysters. At $18, which is about what you'd pay for a half-dozen simply shucked oysters elsewhere, this is a good value, and we found many of the dishes here to be fairly priced, a few dollars higher than average, perhaps, but reasonable given the quality and care of preparation.
Cauliflower is a vegetable that, more often than not, needs help. Unlike fresh asparagus or tomatoes, which pretty much don't need more than their beautiful selves to attract eaters, cauliflower can use some work to make it look good enough to eat. Spit-roasted cauliflower ($13), arranged with smoked giardinera and black garlic mustard, is a beautiful stand-in for the usual (yawn) opening salad, the smokiness suiting the winter season and the whole ensemble looking so damn good. Honey's chef, Charles Welch, was formerly at Chicago's mk and Sepia, restaurants that also reinforced deliciousness with good looks.
The firm and flavorful sturgeon ($31) is spread with chermoula, a North African marinade/condiment of preserved lemon, coriander, black pepper, garlic and cumin. This savory combination pulls through the theme of Mediterranean cuisine that includes the North African coasts of places like Morocco and Libya. Welch draws upon the full Mediterranean tradition, which at too many restaurant menus seems limited to Spain, France, Italy and Greece.
For dessert, kunik ($10), a mold-ripened goat's cheese, with phyllo spiked with honey (get it?), is a thoughtfully savory end to the meal. And if you've ever wondered how good de-caffeinated coffee can be (which is the only kind I can drink after 6pm), finish with a cup from Sparrow, a local roaster who turns out consistently superior brews.
Honey's is an easy, 20-minute ride from Oak Park on the Green Line to Morgan, then west about two blocks. For Oak Parkers who want to enjoy an elegant dinner in the city without having to drive or worry about parking. Honey's is well worth the trip.
1111 W. Lake, Chicago