If New York is the sibling that we were forced to share a room with growing up, then California is the cousin we only see during the holidays. And we’re pretty fascinated by its lifestyle of sunshine, organic vegan bone broth, and float therapy meditation - even if we don’t always relate. California is a big, complicated state, and occasionally has earthquakes no one seems to worry about. It’s unpredictable, but also a lot of fun. The same goes for Pacific Standard Time, a California-inspired restaurant in River North.
This restaurant is huge, loud, and always busy. There are so many seating sections it’s like eating in a furniture store, and the combination of wood and tile floors, tall windows, and high ceilings make the whole space sound like a mall food court in December. In other words, don’t come here for a quiet date night. But if you’re with a group who likes sharing a bunch of tasty food, you won’t mind the Water Tower Place acoustics.
We’re not exactly sure what qualifies as “California-inspired food,” but if Pacific Standard is any indication, it’s not just kale and avocados-as-nature’s-mayonnaise. That said, this restaurant does serve some very enjoyable vegetables, along with a broad range of other dishes. Broccoli is too often the menu equivalent of Ambien, but this one is made interesting with a tasty cashew, mushroom, and onion puree. There’s excellent puffy pita cooked in a wood-fired oven, which comes with things like eggplant and roasted peppers (one of our favorite things to eat here). That same oven also makes the pizza, which has a perfectly charred and chewy crust, and comes with a side of housemade ranch - an unexpectedly Midwestern touch that shows how well our California relative understands us.
But like when that cousin casually mentions at Thanksgiving they’re leaving tech to become a beekeeper, some dishes at Pacific Standard Time are confusing. There’s an oily hummus and marinated tuna dish that doesn’t work at all, no matter how much you like those two things separately. The corn salad’s combination of roasted corn, apricot, peanuts, and stracciatella cheese tastes OK, but the peanuts take over the whole thing. Despite these misses, we appreciate that Pacific Standard’s food is never boring - even though we don’t always get where it’s coming from.
You wouldn’t go to California without first checking the weather, or binge-watching Shark Week just in case you have to go surfing. But no matter what, any place with that much sunshine is going to be a spot you want to check out. And we think you should do the same for Pacific Standard Time. Maybe just schedule some time in the float tank before you get there.
This is a fantastic vegetable starter. The broccoli has mushrooms, onions and cashews, and a flavorful puree made with those things to tie it all together.
This seasonal dish is a good representation of what you can expect here. Roasted corn, peaches, stracciatella cheese, and peanuts are tossed in a fresno vinaigrette. The peanuts aren’t ruining the party, but they don’t belong there either. Plus, they’re pretty hard to chase around with your fork.
The roasted eggplant and red peppers are topped with basil on a bed of a creamy cheese. It comes with puffy pita bread that looks like a balloon, and you’ll want to sleep on it so you never have to be apart. In other words, order extra.
We’re not sold on this combination of hummus, marinated tuna, green chickpeas, urfa pepper, and mint. The dish as a whole is very oily, and while individually the tuna and hummus taste fine, together they don’t work. But it does come with the pita, so all is not lost. Again, order extra.
They have three pizzas on the menu, and you need to get at least one when you’re here. The crust is perfect, the sauce is flavorful, and it comes with ranch. We’re sold.
What makes this mushroom pizza stand out from the 1,763 other ones we’ve eaten in our lifetime is the addition of a spicy seafood sauce (a.k.a. xo sauce). It almost edges out ranch, but not quite.
Four small dumplings come in some parmesan broth with different vegetables, depending on the season (like corn or peas). It’s tasty, but at $15 it’s not quite worth the price.
This is another skippable pasta. The pappardelle is thin and fragile, and comes with a turkey bolognese that belongs in a Lean Cuisine.
As we mentioned, there’s a large bar in the center of the restaurant. And these fried chicken wings coated in a sweet fish sauce are the ideal thing to order if you’re sitting there by yourself. But probably not while having a business dinner, unless you want to risk ruining important documents and/or your entire future with your sticky sauce hands.
Medium rare skirt steak, with roasted shishito peppers and fried polenta with a hot yellow pepper paste. It’s spicy and delicious.
The fish comes with mushrooms and jalapeno in a fennel puree. The cod is cooked perfectly, and jalapenos adds a welcome amount of heat.
You should absolutely get dessert here, and it should be the olive oil cake. It’s dense and crispy on the edges, and topped with peaches, lemon curd, and a creme fraiche ice cream. It reminds us of a very non-boring pound cake, and we’re pretty sure that frying stuff and then putting ice cream on it is 100% Midwest.