SR Dinner Date: Deer Path Inn
The holiday season in Chicago is a time to partake in traditions. For us, a lot of those traditions have tended to revolve around food.
When we were young, our grandmothers would take us for a fancy lunch in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s on State Street, followed by a sometimes-terrifying visit to Santa’s lap.
During our dating years, we would have a big Italian dinner with her parents in the city on Christmas Eve, try to stay awake for Midnight Mass, and then have another big Italian dinner with his parents in the suburbs on Christmas Day.
Nowadays, we dress the kids in their Sunday best and take them to the country club for the annual Santa Brunch, trying to explain why Santa Claus is spending his precious days before Christmas on the North Shore instead of the North Pole.
But one of our fondest traditions these days is to get a little dressed up, get together with good friends for a relaxing dinner out, share a little holiday cheer, and escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays for at least a few hours. Call it the Christmastime Double Date.
It’s an added bonus if the restaurant of choice is one that fully embraces the traditions of the holiday season. So we recently joined one of our favorite couples and paid a visit to The Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest.
The Deer Path Inn practically drips with tradition. Modeled after a 15th century English manor, this historic building has been a North Shore institution since 1929.
We pulled up to the valet stand right behind a Bentley—this is Lake Forest, after all—and were warmly greeted by the doorman and hostess. We then met our friends in the English Room—a beautiful wood-paneled dining room with beamed ceilings, leaded windows, and oil paintings throughout.
Seated beneath the watchful eyes of a pack of fox hunters in the painting behind us, we started with a round of cocktails, including the aptly-named Sheridan Road—a vodka concoction with hints of pomegranate, raspberry and lemon.
We then shared a quintet of appetizers: roasted portabella mushrooms with spinach and goat cheese; Maryland crab cakes with a seaweed salad; grilled octopus with tomatoes and capers; a platter of grilled vegetables with prosciutto and Parmesan from the chef’s table; and dangerously garlicky escargots. We chose a citrusy 2008 Domaine Vincent Sauvestre Chablis from the impressively deep wine list to accompany this tasty assortment.
We perused the wide-ranging dinner menu, featuring steaks, chops, seafood, homemade pastas, and pasture-raised poultry. We chose a variety of entreés that seemed appropriately hearty for the season: roast duck à l’orange served with cranberry wild rice; grilled marinated lamb chops, served medium-rare; ravioli di zucca filled with mascarpone cheese and butternut squash, topped with cranberries, walnuts, and a touch of cinnamon; and the filet of Dover sole, a house specialty, sautéed with lemon butter sauce and almonds.
Our knowledgeable server brought us a bottle of the 2006 Valtiglione Barbaresco, a deep ruby red wine with aromas of cranberries and chestnuts and a soft, silky finish. While the wine list is particularly strong in California cabernets, we found this regional Italian to be a perfect choice for our meal.
For dessert, we shared slices of the pecan pie, blueberry pie, flourless chocolate cake, and the consensus favorite, the pumpkin cheesecake.
After dinner, we ventured downstairs for a nightcap in the newly-renovated The Bar. If the dining room is a little subdued, The Bar is the opposite—a lively English-style parlor filled with young Lake Foresters and featuring a creative drink list and a sushi bar. It was a great way to end the night.
We know the holidays can be a stressful time: running around for gifts; navigating your social calendar; dealing with the lousy Chicago weather. A double date with friends at The Deer Path Inn can be the perfect stress-reducer, and a wonderful place to eat, drink, and get ready for a Merry Christmas.
The Deerpath Inn is located at 255 E. Illinois Road in Lake Forest. For more information, or to make a reservation, call 847-234-2280 or visit dpihotel.com.