We know, we know: summer in Chicago is scathingly short, and doing anything
indoors seems like a waste of sun-drenched moments. We're still researching ways for you to hold meetings, wash dishes and catch The Daily Show
outside, but in the meantime please accept these suggestions for superb alfresco dining. The restaurants included here are a little fancy (most entrees will cost you upwards of $20), but we think summer in Chicago provides a perfect excuse for splurging. You can earn the money back next winter, when you sure as heck won't be sipping martinis by the river.
Enjoy fresh fish with a breath of fresh air at Kaze Sushi
This summer Kaze's savory fare swims outside to an enclosed curbside patio where guests can expect a dressed-up sashimi experience: White tablecloths, flickering candlelight and five-star service elevate Kaze to a glitzier-than-usual sushi joint. Take advantage of the elegant atmosphere and order one of Kaze's sophisticated, seasonal cocktails. The Kazetini ($8) packs a summery punch with sake, vodka and fresh cucumber. Seasonal dishes include white tuna drizzled with banana-wasabi puree and veal tenderloin wrapped with mango, mozzarella and basil. Call ahead to reserve your al fresco sushi station.
Sample ceviche under the sun at Carnivale
Celebrated restaurateur Jerry Kleiner practices a method of interior design that playfully asks: why whisper what you can bellow from the rafters? This summer, Kleiner's trademark panache spills outside onto Carnivale's outdoor patio. Perched above street-level, the alfresco balcony sits 35-40 guacamole-guzzlers in hip, metallic patio furniture (think silver wicker) from the Asbury Collection. Gargantuan flowerpots overflow with bushes, small trees and a rainbow palette of flowers. Seasonal specialties include the hamachi ceviche ($10), sushi marinated in citrus juices, ruby red grapefruit and olives. Starting in early May, the patio will be open for lunch and dinner. Patio reservations are not accepted.
Soak up the statuary at the Art Institute's Garden Restaurant
When alfresco weather strikes, the Art Institute's Garden Restaurant provides patio seating in the shady, tree-studded McKinlock Courtyard. Diners can enjoy a classy meal at tables topped with green umbrellas that skirt a fountain burbling with mythological creatures. The patio, open for lunch daily, serves seasonal fare with fresh-as-the-modern-art-wing ingredients: Menu selections may include Jonah crab cakes with papaya salsa ($11) or a seared tuna and Asian greens salad ($16). On summery Thursday evenings, order one of 30 by-the-bottle wines and linger over a live jazz performance that keeps the patio open till 7:30 p.m. Patio reservations can be requested.
Enter a French country garden at Bistro Campagne
Lincoln Square's Bistro Campagne earns high marks in European-style rusticity. In the warmer months, diners head outside to the restaurant's garden to relax at tables covered in white linen. The countryside stage is set with a gurgling mosaic fountain, colorful roses that climb the brick walls, fragrant pine trees and strings of white fairy lights. The delightful background enhances the flavors of Chef Michael Altenberg's straight-from-the-bistro fare: butter-drenched escargot ($8) and steak et frites ($19). An extensive wine list includes everything from champagne to rouge. The patio is sat on a first come, first served basis.
Relax in a seventh-floor urban garden at NoMI
Located on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel, NoMI offers breathtaking views of the city skyline. The urban eye candy becomes all the more enjoyable in summertime, when NoMi's garden patio allows diners to take it all in en plein aire. The terrace has an 80-guest capacity but achieves an intimate, serene vibe through an assortment of Zen-inspired elements: six tall birch trees, a stone reflecting pool and green slate floors. When daylight fades, candlelight provides a romantic setting in which to get starry-eyed over Chef Christophe David's sushi and seasonal, French-inspired fare. Guests are given the garden treatment on a first-come, first-to-nab-the-patio basis, so there's no need to call ahead.