Normally when a restaurant has a long menu that looks like it was designed to please everyone, we get a little bit concerned. Having this kind of broad-range variety sets off Cheesecake Factory warning bells. The food might be fine - but it’s probably not great. The Warbler has one of these menus, but luckily, there’s no need for alarm. Everything at this restaurant is fresh and interesting, and most importantly, it all tastes good.
Your options at this Lincoln Square American spot run the gamut from chicken wings and nachos to salads, flatbreads, pastas, vegetable small plates, and mains like a burger and a piece of salmon. But unlike at a chain restaurant, where your food might taste like it was put together with Ikea-style instructions rather than actual recipes, everything here is delicious and thoughtfully prepared.
The flatbreads are a good first example. A lot of places put these fake pizzas on their menus, and all too often they turn out to just be flavorless baked dough with uninspired toppings. The ones here are excellent, though, with balanced topping combinations and a crispy crust that will rival the one at your favorite pizza place. There are also a number of well-made fresh pastas on the menu, from a whole wheat bucatini cacio e pepe with a fantastic texture to a carrot and mascarpone-filled tortellini that’s complemented by an intensely flavorful onion butter sauce.
As good as these things are, you still you have a lot of other things to choose from. You can’t go wrong with the vegetable small plates, like ponzu-glazed cauliflower or roasted eggplant with creamy buckwheat, and your entree could be anything from a kind-of-healthy piece of salmon to a cheeseburger that’s simple and just works. The fact that all of these things are equally good means that whether you come with your pescatarian co-worker, your vegetarian acupuncturist, your brother who hasn’t ordered anything besides a cheeseburger in 17 years, or all three, no one will have a bad time. Except maybe you, since that combination of people seems a little awkward.
All that being said, as good as the food here is, no single dish is necessarily worth traveling for. The important thing is the big picture - that this is a restaurant where you could throw a dart at the menu and count on hitting something you’d enjoy. So while you might not drive across town to come here for one thing, it’s worth it when you want the option to be able to order anything and not settle for it being mediocre.
Some restaurants force you to give up quality for variety. Not The Warbler - when you decide to come here, you won’t feel like you’re choosing between someplace with lots of options and someplace with food you actually want to eat. You will probably feel like it’s difficult to pick from the 34 things on the menu, but the good news is that you basically can’t fail.
The mussels come in a tasty, buttery beer broth. But what makes this appetizer truly stand out is the housemade bread on the side. It’s a sliced country loaf, with great flavor and a thick crust that’s perfect for softening in the broth.
Definitely order one of the flatbreads. This one has bacon, egg, provolone cheese, tomatoes, jalapenos, and pesto. All of that is great, but it’s the crispy crust that we like the most.
Someone at the table (maybe you) will probably want to order a vegetable small plate. Luckily, the ones at The Warbler are good. The fried cauliflower has a sweet ponzu glaze, and cashews and pickled onions to balance the sweetness out.
We’ve eaten enough roasted broccoli that we’re not exactly excited when we see it on a menu. But The Warbler manages to make it interesting. This version is served with mango, cashews, roasted garlic, fresno chilies, and pickled mustard seed. It might seem overly complicated, but everything works.
You’ll find the cinnamon-spiced eggplant hiding out on the salad section of the menu, and it’s absurdly good. The roasted eggplant is on top of creamy barley, with grilled lettuce and toasted buckwheat. It has a great texture, and the flavors go really well together.
There are six pastas on the menu, and all are made in-house. Specific preparations can change with the seasons, but one staple is the whole wheat bucatini cacio e pepe. And it is delicious.
The tortellini have a carrot and mascarpone filling, and a very concentrated and flavorful onion butter sauce.
Cedar plank salmon isn’t innovative, but if you want fish, this is a good option. It comes with jasmine rice (seared so some bits are crispy), broccoli, fried fish skin, and a citrus puree.
This cheeseburger is uncomplicated and really good. It has two patties, American cheese, arugula, tomato, and mayo.
Everything you want a skillet cookie to be. A warm, not-too-sweet chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. Order it.