In like a Lion

What to order at Alpana Singh's latest, Seven Lions, in the Loop

Just hours after her first restaurant, The Boarding House, landed on the semifinalists list for the James Beard Awards, restaurateur Alpana Singh opened the doors to her new project, Seven Lions. And if our early visit is any indication, Singh's star is seriously on the rise.

The elegant, chandelier-studded restaurant occupies a sweeping space across from the Art Institute and steps from Millennium Park. With its slightly sophisticated vibe and a breezy menu of American favorites, Seven Lions seems to be jockeying for position as a pick for tourists and suits alike, a balancing act that's proved difficult to achieve in the Loop.

"This area is so dynamic," Singh says, "We want to be a good neighbor to everybody, whether you're lunching with coworkers, celebrating a big night out or visiting Millennium Park with your family."

Chef Chris Curren's menu echoes that sentiment—it's heavy on modern American comfort foods with broad appeal. A few dishes, such as the short ribs ($28) with winter vegetables and the cheeseburger ($13) are satisfying in their simplicity, though there are more than a few cheffy flourishes, too.

Inside the restaurant

Take, for example, the fried chicken skins and pickles ($9). You've had both, but Curren's versions are thrown together in the same bowl, smattered with tangy pickled mustard seeds and paired with a Sriracha honey mustard dipping sauce that packs just the right amount of heat. The combination of briny pickles and crispy cracklins balance each other so effortlessly it makes us wonder why he didn't combine the two ages ago.

Equally creative standouts include the Brussels sprouts and burrata toast ($11), playfully decked with pine nuts, radicchio and sweet apple saba, and the black cod ($28). The flaky fish plays well against hearty ricotta gnocchi, while roasted acorn squash and maitake mushrooms round out the plate with deep, earthy flavor.

Singh, who is a certified master sommelier, keeps the American theme consistent with the wine list: From a 2009 Turley Zinfandel ($160) to a 2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc ($65) and many California wines in between, the list proudly focuses on domestic labels.

And do save room for something sweet. Pastry chef Karianne Soulsby is responsible for one of the most fun dessert menus we've encountered in recent memory, the highlight of which is the Breakfast "Cereal" Bowl ($8)—crunchy toffee corn puffs in subtly sour vanilla bean yogurt panna cotta with a sprinkling of fresh berries and caramelized bananas on top. "I was looking for a crunchy corn garnish when I came up with this snack idea," Soulsby says. "I loved it so much that I thought it should be the focus of the dish, not the finish."

In addition to dinner, Seven Lions is already serving lunch and brunch, too. We see you, caramelized apple-and-pear Dutch baby pancake, and we're coming back for you.