If you haven't done it, your home-owning friends are doing it -- moving westward where the houses are bigger and cheaper. It's time to stop teasing them about living in the cornfields and pay them a visit. Lucky for you, as the housing developments creep westward, so do the dining destinations. Not only have we hand-picked notables in the far west and northwest 'burbs -- or exburbs, you could call 'em -- but we'll also answer that burning question: Can you get a pom-tini in Woodstock? How about a wine flight in McHenry? The answer? Why yes, you can
McHenry was in serious need of an upscale steakhouse when the folks behind Seasons of Long Grove came to the rescue. This 1940s style steakhouse also features a cool, clubby bar featuring jazz, soul guitar and crooners every weekend. The bar turns out traditional and trendy martinis with a seasonal flair, such as the mango sunrise martini for the summer and a rich butternut version for the colder months. Request a seasonal wine flight with starters such as garlicky Gulf shrimp DeJonge or lightly fried jumbo calamari. The kitchen sends out plenty of entree salads, hand-packed prime burgers and ample sandwiches at lunch, but the grain-fed steaks -- Midwestern beef aged 21 days or more, broiled over a live Hickory wood fire -- certainly star in the p.m. hours.
Somewhere between designer cooking and your mama's kitchen lies a place like Pirro's -- a solid, satisfying Italian restaurant just off of Woodstock's historic square with just the right amount of 21st century panache and hometown comfort. Owner Terry Pirro, whose ancestors hail from the Old Country, worked hard to restore the original tin ceiling (circa 1897) and balance a compelling menu of traditional (veal Marsala, baked mostaccioli) and nouveau (pancetta, garlic and red pepper flakes sauteed in olive oil and tossed with fresh asparagus and Romano cheese over spaghetti). The elongated, spacious mellow dining room of exposed brick and soft lighting, has a weekend crowd that surges and ebbs hour by hour. Pirro schools his waitstaff in the fine wine list and has fun at the bar with spirits such as pom-tinis and the "Wrong Island," a Long Island iced tea made with top-shelf liquor.
StoneFire Restaurant & Pub
One of the few restaurants serving the mushrooming Yorkville population is StoneFire and it's far more interesting that you'd expect for a still-developing area where the main retail attractions are Menards and WalMart. As you scan the menu, try to ignore the fact the words "flame," and "flamed" are fire-red and italicized in every mention. Instead, focus on highlights such as the steak teasers appetizer, seared beef tenderloin bites served with roasted red pepper aioli and blue cheese sauce for dipping, and the caprese tower salad, a stack of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Dinner entrees include down-home favorites like meatloaf and fried chicken as well as more polished plates like lobster tail or maple-glazed pork chop with apple chutney. If you can, save room for the white-chocolate banana bread pudding. You won't find a cool club nearby to after party at, but with weeknight specials in the bar -- like $4 cosmos on Monday and $3 16-ounce Blue Moons on Thursdays -- drinks are half what you'd pay, in say, downtown Naperville. Call ahead for reservations -- because Yorkville dining pickin's are slim, this place is often packed.
Elburn and Burlington are being built up like mad -- but there's still not a fine dining establishment in sight. Head north to this Algonquin gem for drool-worthy modern American fare from Chef David Perlick. Inside, you'll find a soaring ceiling, contemporary furniture and exquisite blown-glass chandeliers that remind us of brightly colored sea anemones. Impressive small plates include seared lamb lollipops with apricot-huckleberry demi-glace, bacon-wrapped diver scallops and ahi tuna tartare with lemongrass ponzu (Foodie factoid: That's a Japanese citrus-based sauce). Beyond indulgent entrees include lobster two ways, sliced into medallions and blended in risotto; and crab-crusted salmon with chipotle-buttermilk remoulade and sweet corn hash.
Though it looks, sounds and feels like a sushi spot you'd find on the Near North Side of Chicago, the wildly popular Bistro Wasabi sits in unlikely Lake in the Hills, an area otherwise dotted with every big-box retailer and chain restaurant on the planet. The dynamic fusion eatery is owned by Jino and Maria Kim, who previously rolled their maki in Chicago's Tsunami, and demonstatively, know firsthand the attraction of sleek design, cool ambience and precision sushi. For starters, you can't go wrong with outstanding apps like sashimi ceviche with warm tortilla chips or sweet bundles of aspargus beef roll. And though there are 25 varieties to choose from, fanciful maki isn't all you'll find at this strip-mall surprise. There's also generously fat gyoza with lighter-than-air casing, fresh specials such as oysters on the half shell tweaked Asian, shrimp and scallops stir-fried hibachi style, a ton of teriyakis and the signature 14-ounce certified Black Angus steak.
La Petite Creperie
If La Petite Creperie inhabited this space when the structure was built as the sheriff's house (complete with a dozen jail cells) in 1887, crime may have been wiped out in Woodstock. The decor, awash in yellow, soft jazz and French tunes, expertly selected wine and fabulous food lull even the most hardened types into a state of gastro-bliss. Open since 2005, Nice native Frank Ferru helms this casual eatery, and has evolved a menu executed by chef Jose Aguilar, fully trained in French methods and cuisine. Ferru takes advantage of the county's farm heritage by incorporating locally grown organic and seasonal ingredients, such as roasted jumbo white mushrooms au Roquefort and a warm berry and creme anglaise dessert crepe. For lunch, expect Francophile fave sandwiches -- croque monsieur, hefty burgers topped with watercress and Roquefort -- and creative salads tossed with ahi or peppery steak. The dinner bell brings on substantial entrees such as beef tenderloin with frites and roasted duck. Don't leave without sampling crepe Suzette, heady with orange butter and Grand Marnier, or the menage a trois: a banana, caramel and chocolate-filled crepe.