Since opening in 2013 Summer House Santa Monica has consistently been considered the darling of Lincoln Park. Diners flock to the bright and airy restaurant for its California-inspired cuisine, relaxed beach-side feel, and magnificent Vitamin D room... oh, and let's not forget about the gigantic cookies (seriously, they're the size of a child's head!). I discovered the awesomeness of the restaurant shortly after their opening during what was one of the worst winters on record. While I usually enjoy winter, the ridiculously brutal temperatures had me desperate for some semblance of warmth and happiness; thankfully, Summer House was there to provide a brief respite. After the snow finally melted and life came back into the city, the restaurant's popularity only increased - the combination of the relaxed, but still luxe environment, and delicious food quickly placed the space on every Chicagoan's must-visit list.
Seeing as I already had some hardcore love for Summer House, of course I jumped at the chance to stop by with Ashely (whose love for SM eclipses mine!) to sample their new lunch menu. The seasonal chef-driven menu highlights simple dishes made with local ingredients, many of which are prepared on the five-foot wood-fire grill (meant to emulate a home hearth). Keeping with the restaurant's goal of minimalism, Chef Jeff Mahin takes advantage of what's seasonally available to create his fresh, California-inspired flavors, including one of the newest menu items, the English Muffin Burger with avocado and pico de gallo.
For those of you who love open air dining, there's an area with a retractable wall that spills out onto Halsted St. (prime people-watching!).
Designed to feel like a California beach house, the restaurant is flooded with heaps of natural light, lush ferns, and cheerful art. While I'm so not designed for the Vitamin D Room (I have the most sensitive skin ever - I swear I go through almost an entire bottle of sunscreen each time I visit!), I still can't stay away from it. No matter the season, it always feels like the most joyful version of summer in the main dining room.
Another bonus is that they have an open kitchen; not only does is add to the airiness of the restaurant, but also, it's perfect for those of us who love to get a bit of the behind the scenes action (plus, I'm totally nosy!).
Yes to cocktails, cookies, sun, and fun!
We kicked off lunch with a round of cocktails; as much as I think about trying some of the other cocktails, I cannot force myself to stray from my favorite, the Palm Fizz. Made with aromatized wine, apples, lemons & prosecco, and garnished with fresh rosemary, this fragrant, refreshing (not to mention pretty!) cocktail always hits the spot.
For our first round of appetizers, we chose to share the Local Burrata, served with tomato jam and grilled bread. Summer House's burrata is one of my favorites in the city - the sweet creaminess of the cheese is perfectly balanced by the crusty bread and slight kick from the tomato jam.
Look at that beautiful burrata ooze!
We then moved on to the Ahi Tuna Tostadas with watermelon, Thai chili, avocado, crema, cilantro, and lime. My goodness, where have these exceptional little bites of heaven been all of my life?! I absolutely love watermelon paired with tuna and this dish did not disappoint. Sweet, spicy, creamy, crunchy, tangy... these fresh tuna tostadas had it all! Ashley should consider herself lucky she got any of these at all. ;-)
Come to me, my pretties!
For her entrée, Ashely chose the Asparagus & Mushroom Orecchiette with brown butter, Parmesan brodo & herbs. She was excited to find such a simply prepared and filling vegetarian pasta; she especially loved the abundance of asparagus ('tis the season!).
Ashley paired her pasta with a side of the Roasted Cauliflower with jalapeño and Parmesan. I have to admit that I wasn't clamoring to try this side, as I'm really not the biggest fan of cauliflower; however, I was pleasantly surprised by crunchy, spicy dish (i.e. I actually ate some and enjoyed it!).
For my entrée, I chose the crème de la crème of the menu: Avocado Toast with poached eggs, ramp, and marscapone. Now, I know that avo toast is all the rage right now and you may be tempted to skip over it for a less trendy dish, but trust me: this is a must-try. The smooth, creamy avocado paired perfectly with the crusty housemade bread and the addition of the marscapone added a new level of decadence.
I was also impressed by the lovely side salad filled with crunchy watermelon radishes.
We love our egg porn!
We planned on snagging a few cookies to go in lieu of dessert, but our server talked us into staying a bit longer and sampling a few of his favorites - I'm so glad he did! While I loved all three of his selections, I absolutely fell for this Apple Oatmeal Cookie. Huge chunks of apples, crunchy top/soft middle, a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon... it was basically an apple pie in cookie form!
Chocolate Chunk Cookie
Of course, even after our dessert extravaganza, we still had to make a stop at the fantastic dessert bar on the way out the door!
Along with the fab Apple Oatmeal Cookies, I had to scoop up a few of these Fruity Pebble Treats. How could I resist a dessert made from my favorite childhood cereal?!
You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Summer House Santa Monica: 1954 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL. In addition to their regular dinner and brunch hours, the restaurant is now open weekdays for lunch.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.