Onward, Rogers Park’s Newest Fine Dining Option

Tom Lisy
Spring 2019

 

Rogers Park’s newest addition to the fine dining strip on the 6500 block of Sheridan Road truly is a fine dining experience. Not to be confused with Project Onward in Bridgeport (Google it, support it any way you can), our Onward is a pleasant addition to the Rogers Park dinner-scape. In several visits – once to the bar for appetizer’s and drinks and later again for dinners – we were well fed and well treated. In fact the ambiance and style of the place are worth describing even before getting to the food. For the first time in my years in our wonderfully proletarian neighborhood, I actually walked into a restaurant men’s room that had real cotton towels (not heated, unfortunately) instead of paper. I assume a similar perk for the ladies’ facilities. Even better, after each course, our waiter removed all of our used flatware and replaced it with clean utensils for the next course. On both of our visits to the dining room, service was unflaggingly friendly with both our waiter and the maître d’ attending to our table.

Our first visit was for appetizers only. We ordered off of the house cheese board and had the soup of the day which was an Alaskan king crab bisque. The cheese board featured an ample selection and the soup, attractively presented by our waiter, delivered on its promise by providing actual king crab in the mix. We ate and drank seated at one of the high tops in the bar area which was fairly crowded. Screens mounted on two walls broadcast sports events. We apparently stopped in on fight night.

Several days later, we returned for dinner. Seated in the dining room, we watched the room fill up as we progressed through dinner. The dining room décor is pleasantly simple with wood, stone and steel in a modern style with muted colors and a barrel ceiling. Volume increased as the room filled up, with little sound absorption ability in the design materials. We were seated in the southeast corner of the room and, oddly, both before and after the room filled up, we could clearly hear the conversation of the group seated in the southwest corner above all other conversations. In our later visit to the dining room, we sat in the northwest corner and could clearly hear the conversation of the group in the northeast corner above all others. It kind of felt like we were eating in the whispering booth at the Museum of Science and Industry. Although the corner booths are attractive and comfortable, some diners might prefer the center of the room.

In several visits – once to the bar for appetizer’s and drinks and later again for dinners – we were well fed and well treated.

On our initial dinner visit, the restaurant was still featuring its winter menu. We began our meal with a wonderful bread plate and the soup of the day, carrot bisque. The star of the bread plate was the perfectly fresh focaccia served with cultured butter. The carrot bisque was a bit bland.

The Strozapretti I ordered consisted of a house made pasta with a short rib ragout although the menu described it differently as a “short rib sugo with salsify, crispy brussels sprouts and horseradish.” The pasta was pleasantly al dente. My date chose from the small plates menu and had the Beef and Pork “Kofta” meatballs with “golden raisin, pine nut dukkah and spiced tomato” and a parsnip and beet salad. Other entrees on the menu included king salmon, duck, cioppino, steak and roasted cauliflower “with quinoa, black garlic soubise, pomegranate and Greek yogurt for the vegetarian minded diner.”

Dessert was excellent and there were lots of options. The cookie plate was well worth saving a few for home. The sorbet selection was varied and the three scoops I had were more than enough to cap off the evening.

The third visit to Onward was with a longtime friend from Memphis. As before, both food and ambience shined. Sharing everything, we ordered Spanish octopus with “panisse, marinated cucumber, and fermented chili,” Rohan duck with “parsnip puree, Tokyo turnips, miso-quince mostarda and sage” and the market fish, a sizable chunk of halibut in a soup of “miso dashi, manilla clams, Chinese broccoli and scallion.” We also sampled the chicken liver mousse with Fresno pepper jelly. The mousse had the consistency of whipped cream and was served on fruit bread toast points. Of course we also had the “gluten and dairy” bread plate again, although the focaccia may be on spring break. On this visit, we ordered from the new spring menu which featured saffron farfalle with “duck sausage ragu, San Marzano, fennel sofrito and baby spinach” in place of the Strozapretti. The excellent Spanish octopus replaced the “Kofta” meatballs. Dessert included the cookie plate again and vanilla bean cheesecake with raspberry topping and raspberry sorbet.

The ingredients are well thought out and really do complement each other. Don‘t be cowed by the exotic descriptions.

I mention the components of the dishes, as listed on the menu, because I freely admit that I had no idea what some of them were. It’s great if you do but for diners like myself, I assure you that the ingredients are well thought out and really do complement each other. Don‘t be cowed by the exotic descriptions. Craft cocktails, likewise, may feature a few strange liqueurs in the mix but are concocted to appeal to a wide range of tastes. If you ask your waiter for a cocktail recommendation they will happily take it back if you don’t like it. Also, on our visit with our friend, a few dietary restrictions were easily and cheerfully accommodated.

Food pricing at Onward is well within reason, showing that the management clearly understands the neighborhood it is serving. The menu offers both large and small plate selections. We noticed that some of the small plate items seemed to be almost as big as some large plates. Craft cocktail prices are in the low to mid-teens. The wine selection is varied but a little on the pricey side. Rogers Park has waited a long time for this restaurant.