Chef’s Table events are a way for a small group of foodies to gather in an intimate setting for the chance to sample the best of a restaurant’s menu. These events are limited to 25 participants, and a lucky 25 recently had the pleasure of visiting a small restaurant that has some of the best seafood in the city.
Dive Bar, located at 3445 North Halsted Street, opened just over a year ago and has quietly become one of the best spots in Chicago to sample fresh, well-prepared seafood. And here’s a bonus . . . they have a superb cocktail program that perfectly complements their menu.
Dive Bar has not set out to become a “rum bar,” but they happen to have one of the most extensive and interesting collections of rum in the city. Most of the cocktails are rum-based and I was tempted to ignore the cocktails, thinking they would all be too sweet. Luckily, I decided to take the advice of the bartenders and sampled three tropical cocktails that were all superbly well-balanced and not at all sugary.
Drinks are served in funky, unique tropical containers and garnished with a variety of fun flowers and fruits. You will feel like you’re at a Caribbean beach bar! I sampled the Dive Bar Mojito, Summer Lei, and Walking The Plank. Check out their drink menu for details on these and other amazing tropical concoctions. Of the three, my favorite was the Walking The Plank, complete with floating, flaming, 151 shooter!
For the Chef’s Table event, the participants were invited to sample bite-sized portions of several chef favorites. What they actually sampled was a huge assortment of items, far more than bite-sized, with a few surprising twists along the way. For the event, Dive Bar brought out a feast!
- Boom Boom Shrimp – crispy, breaded, and tossed in a creamy spicy sauce. This is a “nibbler” on their menu. The light breading was crisp but the shrimp were not at all overdone. The spice has just enough kick without becoming too much.
- Tuna Nachos – crispy won ton chips, guacamole, sweet and spicy aioli, pineapple salsa, seared tuna. These are not your typical nachos. First, the won ton chips are lighter and crunchier than tortillas. Second, the pieces of tuna are perfectly seared (rare). Finally, the combination of flavors lends this one a light kick, but not so much that it overwhelms the flavor of the fresh tuna.
- Kale Salad – chopped kale, cabbage, mint, cilantro, scallions, chopped peanuts, peanut vinaigrette. Who would think that one of my favorite items at a seafood restaurant would be the kale salad? This was the best kale salad I have tasted. The mint lends a unique and delightful flavor, but everything combined created a perfectly-balanced experience. The coolness of this salad is an excellent accompaniment to any of the spicier options on the menu. Try it and you will thank me.
- Lobster Roll – served with curly sea salt fries and sriracha ketchup. I moved to Chicago 9 years ago after a decade in coastal New England. Obviously, I have high standards for lobster and particularly for lobster rolls. It is not hyperbole when I say that this is the best lobster roll I have tasted in Chicago – hands down. There is just enough remoulade to hold things together. So many lobster rolls hide a lack of lobster behind masses of mayonnaise. Not this one! There is ample lobster here, and you can taste all of it. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fries. Wow! Whatever they do in the kitchen to create these curly fries, it works. I normally don’t bother with fries, but I ate all of them this time.
- Fish and Chips – this is a house specialty and for good reason. The fish is delightfully crunchy on the outside and inside hot and juicy, but not dried out. So often, fish and chips gets soggy or the fish is overdone. Dive Bar has developed a process that gives you the best of everything – crunch, flavor, and succulent hot fish. Check in advance, but they often have “all you can eat” for this item on Fridays.
- Steamed Mussels with Red Thai Curry – one of the most popular items on the Dive Bar menu is a series of “boils” featuring clams, mussels, shrimp, or crab. The food is steamed and then tossed in the sauce of your choice – red Thai curry, ragin’ Cajun, or lemon pepper. Or, if you prefer, you can get it plain and steamed. For our Chef’s Table we sampled the mussels with the curry. The sauce was one of my favorite items of the evening, verging just on the edge of a satay. The mussels were excellent, but the sauce elevated this one to a special place.
- Steamed & Fried Chicken – once more, who would think that chicken would be a favorite item on a seafood menu? But Dive Bar is becoming justifiably famous for this chicken. It is double brined for 48 hours with special seasoning and buttermilk, steamed, and finally flash-fried until tender and crispy.
- Bourbon-Infused Seared Salmon – a full half pound of salmon is seared and then served with a bourbon, soy, orange marmalade. This one is listed on the menu as “heart healthy” so feel free to indulge without guilt.
- Coconut Cream Stuffed French Toast – this is an item on their Sunday brunch menu consisting of challah bread stuffed with coconut cream cheese and flaked coconut, dipped in almond-infused egg mix, then served with sliced strawberries and bruleed bananas. Yes . . . it is as good as it sounds.
You can check out the rest of the menu HERE.
Dive Bar is very small, and the kitchen is open and in full view. You will be amazed at how fast, how efficient, and just how passionate the kitchen staff can be while preparing your meal. One of the things that sets Dive Bar apart, in my mind, is a clear passion for good food and a superb attention to detail. The next time you are anywhere near Lakeview, take a detour over to Dive Bar and you are sure to be impressed.
Dive Bar is located at 3445 North Halsted Street. You can reach them at 773-770-4618. For more information, visit their website or follow their social media conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.