Life's Too Short to Miss Estate Ultra Bar
Location location location. In Chicago's restaurant and nightlife scene location is paramount. That is, unless the restaurant itself becomes a destination. With its amazing view, creative cocktails and a chef who's taking small plates to a new level, Estate Ultra Bar is setting the stage to become the next "it" spot.
A small group of media was invited to try Chef Chris Turano's cuisine in the recently opened spot. Located in the former "Life's Too Short" I barely recognized the place when I arrived. What had been a slowly dilapidating hodge-podge of Key West kitsch was now a subdued structure that looked almost like an office building instead of one of the city's newest restaurants.
At 8,000 square feet the interior is, to put it lightly, spacious. There are televisions everywhere but it doesn't seem like there are televisions everywhere. That could be because I was seated facing the Chicago River and a glance to my right rewarded me with the Chicago skyline.
Location, location, location.
Building on this spot was no easy task. The reason Life's Too Short shut down in the first place was because it was literally sliding into the river. The new owners spent about $1.5 million to shore up the bank and make sure their flagship venue was literally built on solid ground.
Their food and drink program also has a strong base. The menu focuses on shared plates and we tried several of them. We started off with roasted olives, cheese and charcuterie, and oysters. As much as I like to eat I've had one oyster in my life, so that should tell you what I thought of it. Until this dinner. Oh, what have I been missing all my life!
In quick succession we then tried peppadew peppers stuffed with goat cheese, cavatelli pasta with beech mushrooms, rock shrimp with chili garlic-honey dipping sauce, and watercress salad with haricot vert, red globe grapes, and goat cheese.
My personal favorite from that round was the deviled eggs with house-smoked bacon, chive, creme fraiche and tobasco (notice there's no picture?).
Our next round included wagyu frites, which was grilled wagyu steak with a house made steak sauce and herb tossed french fries (also no picture...), lobster mac, and diver scallop salad with watermelon and jicama.
Our dessert was the icing on the cake. In addition to the churros, which were much, much better than the ones you get at festivals and fairs, there were cake pops. While cake pops are like the new cupcake, one of them really was a cake "pop". The dark chocolate with dark chocolate frosting and the red velvet were both delicious, but the standout was the cheesecake coated in Pop Rocks. Hello, childhood friend! I haven't had Pop Rocks in (ahem) decades, and their sweet and noisy crackling made me feel like a kid again!
What did not make me feel like a kid were their cocktails. Hoo boy these were good. We were greeted with their Summer Snow, which is Lamberti Prosecco Rosé with pomegranate, cranberry and strawberry syrup. I'm not a sweet drink fan and this had just the right amount of sweetness without being, as several of us said, cloying. Next they brought us all a "That's What She Said", a cocktail of Svedka Citron, St-Germain, lemon and honey and topped with soda. While this one was a little too sweet for my taste, I could see drinking a pitcher or two out on their patio. I was quickly becoming a fan of Mixologist Dan De Los Monteros.
Then I tried the Old Fash Estate. I was intrigued by the cinnamon and vanilla syrup and the cherry bark vanilla bitters mixed with Jim Beam's Devil's Cut. When it arrived I was pleasantly suprised that the glacier ice cube had a whole mint leaf frozen within! The cinnamon was just right and, just like the Summer Snow, gave the cocktail a touch of sweetness without being overwhelming.
The final drink was the Thin Mint. Take a Girl Scout cookie and put it in a martini glass and call it a night! Somehow the blend of Plymouth Gin, Ghirardelli White Chocolate, Marie Brizard White Mint Cream Liqueur and half & half tastes just like a Thin Mint. Well done, Dan, well done.
Beer lovers will note they have an interesting while limited selection that includes Leffe Blonde, Emmett's, Goose Island and Duvel as well as Bud, Corona, and the like. They also don't have a whole lot of wines by the glass but what they do have offers some good choices for each varietal.
Estate is open now daily for lunch and dinner, and when the weather warms you'll be able to dine on their patio. Soon they'll even have docks and, the icing on their cake, the largest rooftop in Chicago.
Location, location, location.
Photo of Life's Too Short credit Kymberly Janisch