Mindy's Hot Chocolate

There's the saying, third time's a charm. For Mindy Segal, the pastry chef and pride of Chicago, it takes doubling a 3-time event before the charm finally happens. For each of the past 6 years, Mindy had been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. While it is a great honor to be a 6-time nominee in itself for the coveted title, I think her fans (and Mindy herself) were probably beginning to wonder when will she finally be the recipient of the award. Year 2012 must be her lucky year. Chicago foodies celebrate her win for the award and may it never be the last. Her restaurant, named Hot Chocolate, is as befitting of a place where people come for dinner but they really should stay for dessert.


T does not like desserts. What? It is true. He is the type of guy who scrapes off all the frosting from his cupcake, tosses the frosting into the trash, and then eats his naked cupcake. He might as well have just eaten a muffin instead.

This place made him fall in love with dessert. I knew we were off to a fantastic start of dessert when despite finishing his entire medium rare steak for dinner, he commented that he had plenty of room left in his stomach for the dessert we were already planning to order. We had seen the dessert menu at the same time we were thinking about our entrees, and I highly recommend you do that so that you will have an idea of how much food your stomach can take in. Remember, the entree portions at Hot Chocolate are huge and the items trend towards the heavy side. Even if you are starving and can eat a horse before placing your orders, look at the tables around you and you will believe me when I say the entree portions, really, are huge. So please, please, be conservative when you order your appetizers and entrees so that you will have room for dessert. After all, isn't that the reason you came to Hot Chocolate for?

Rhubarb cocktail

Usually at dinner, T would tell me that he has no room for dessert and would just eat a bite or two of our shared dessert just to please me. But not that night, no. We each got our own dessert. Among the other items on the dessert menu, Hot Chocolate features a seasonally-changing dessert. When we were there, the kitchen was having a rhubarb special which came with 6 mini dessert courses at $20 per person. Each dessert course was a tasting portion of rhubarb cocktail, rhubarb galette, red velvet cupcake with rhubarb cream cheese, risotto with rhubarb jam, rhubarb+lemon curd, and rhubarb+vanilla sorbet. The very unique dessert creations were truly the ultimate way to taste every iteration possible for rhubarb. T finished his dessert before me, so that was pretty telling.

Risotto with rhubarb jam, rhubarb vanilla sorbet

R to L, clockwise: red velvet cupcake with rhubarb cream cheese, rhubarb+lemon curd, rhubarb galette, risotto with rhubarb jam

As one would expect from the name Hot Chocolate, this place does serve hot chocolate and in several ways too. The list includes half & half which comes with half dark chocolate and half espresso, and black & tan which has a base layer of hot fudge and covered with steamed hot chocolate. All hot chocolate drink orders come with piece of house-made marshmallow. There is a $1 split charge for hot chocolate drinks and it is recommended that you do it especially if you are there for other food and dessert. Pictured below is one person's portion of hot chocolate after splitting it into two for sharing. The hot chocolate is rich and velvety, and it will fill you up.

Hot chocolate with house-made marshmallow

Hot Chocolate gained its fame from its dessert. Heck, even the owner of this restaurant is a pastry chef and not the other way around where usually the executive chef that takes charge of the main menu takes the stage. With that in mind, we were not sure how the entrees would fare but they were definitely very, very good. I ordered the whole grilled branzino fish and to my delight, it was served whole with the head and tail. Saying that I loved it could very well even be an understatement. The skin was charred until crispy and the fish inside was moist and flavorful. I polished the bones clean. While many people prefer to eat their fish in fillet form, I give Hot Chocolate credit for being brave in offering the fish in whole form. After all, seeing fish served whole was a large part of T and my growing up in Asia where it is common practice at restaurants and at home. The whole grilled branzino at Hot Chocolate was served in the most purist and clean way with fresh cilantro, dill, shaved fennel, and capers on top. It was just like the way Jamie Oliver would do it.

Whole grilled branzino fish

When a non-steak restaurant can prepare their steak that exceeds expectations, you know the kitchen takes things seriously. As requested, his steak was prepared to a perfect level of medium rare just as requested. It was neither overcooked nor undercooked, but the meat inside was a perfect reddish pink with the jus threatening to ooze out each time he sliced with the knife a bite-size piece. Even at popular steakhouses, we have had to send our overcooked steaks back to the kitchen.

Medium rare steak with bearnaise sauce and grilled asparagus

After being closed for a few months due to remodeling, this place has reopened and the revamped Hot Chocolate is now a rustic place and perhaps a little grunge. It is no longer the romantic and dimly lit place it once was, but we are loving every bit of this new concept.

Sweet potato wedge with skin, duck confit, and bleu cheese

Mindy's Hot Chocolate
1747 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

2006 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2007 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2008 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2009 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2010 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2011 James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef
2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef

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