Hidden gem Free Rein serves elevated comfort food on Michigan Ave.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Dining along Michigan Avenue can be a challenge, especially if you don't want the usual tourist fare. But the Hungry Hound says a new hotel with a new dining room has turned things around, just south of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

Unless you're staying in the area at a hotel, or maybe walking down to Millennium Park, chances are you'll miss Free Rein, which is adjacent to the new St. Jane Hotel in the glorious landmarked Carbide and Carbon building.

Chef Aaron Lirette is a veteran of Acadia and Green River, and is now serving three meals a day from a menu full of elevated comfort dishes.

"It's very diverse. For breakfast and lunch you see a lot of the hotel guests coming down; for lunch, definitely local business people, which is great, and then dinner is kind of all over the place," Lirette said.

Beef tartare is on both lunch and dinner menus, seasoned with carrot miso dressing then some tiny dollops of smoked yogurt, it's topped with both raw and pickled carrots for crunch, as well as a togarashi-flecked cracker as big as a hubcap.

There's a lobster roll enveloped in herbed mayo, dusted with some smoked paprika and chives, nestled into griddled brioche buns and served with fries that have been doused in cheddar malt vinegar powder.

Be sure to try a handcrafted cocktail - and believe me, they take their garnishes seriously - because the saffron spaghetti is one of those dishes you're not going to want to share. Roasted garlic butter is added to a sofrito, containing cherry tomatoes; a pinch of chili flakes, a squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of fresh herbs finish it off, but not before a shower of fresh parmesan.

As we move into cooler weather, consider his chicken pot pie.

"We don't crust the puff pastry to the dish and bake it as one thing, we bake the puff pastry separately...so that's baked in-house daily, and then the pot pie mixture, which is kind of a truffle-chicken veloute with nice root vegetables is heated separately and we merge the two on the pickup," said Lirette.
Even though Free Rein is adjacent to the St. Jane Hotel, it really operates more as an independent, and in this part of the city, that really means having more creative license to do what they want to do.

In Steve's extra course video, he talks about the restaurant's modern take on a Black Forest Cake.

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Free Rein
224 N. Michigan Ave.
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