Chicago 5/7-5/11/2014

Here’s a recap of a recent trip to Chicago.  The main reason for choosing Chicago was to see the last Chicago taping of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me with Carl Kasell, but I of course took the opportunity to explore some of the local food.

Thursday 5/8, Lunch at Frontera

Rick Bayless is well known for his expertise in authentic Mexican cuisine, so when I saw on the ever-reliable Eater 38 that he had a restaurant in the city I was visiting, I had to go.  I also have been a fan of Frontera chipotle salsa on my fish tacos, and I didn’t connect the dots that this was his brand.  Frontera and Topolobamoo are sister restaurants in the same location.  We chose to eat outside at Frontera.

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My travel and dining companions included one who I would describe as the typical meat and potatoes type of person, but who lives in Texas, so I figured he’d be ok with the Mexican selection, even if it had a bit more flair than what he was used to.  Our selections were as follows:

  • Frontera Guacamole – Cilantro, lime, green chile, tomato. Just made tortilla chips
  • Mole Poblano Enchiladas – Just-made tortillas, Gunthorp free-range chicken, mole poblano (dried chiles, nuts, raisins), grill-roasted onions. Black beans
  • Street Food Trio – Two pieces each: sopes rancheros, huarache, enchilada potosinas
  • The last item appears to no longer be on the menu but I believe these were duck carnitas tacos topped with a tropical salsa

I really enjoyed this meal.  Probably the best Mexican I’ve had.  I think my favorite was the sopes, but I had a lot of fun with the street food trio.  I shared this and the duck carnitas with one of my dining companions.

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Thursday 5/8, Dinner at Vivere (Italian Village)

This wouldn’t have been my first choice, but we ended up being a little short on time and had to get to a show at the Chase Bank Auditorium across the street.  Vivere is the fancier more contemporary of the 3 restaurants at the Italian Village.

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We were all pretty full from our late lunch and this was an early dinner, too, so we kept the meal on the lighter side (or as light as carby pasta can get).

  • Erba e Spinaci Tortelli Ripieni di Spalla di Maiale – Hand made spinach herb Tortelli filled with braised pork shoulder, smoked Scarmoza cheese, San Danielle Prosciutto, garlic thyme cream sauce
  • Tagliorini Zafferano alla Calabrese – House made saffron pasta sautéed with garlic and olive oil, spicy Calabrian peppers, calamari, baby Gulf shrimp, Bay scallops
  • Agnolottini di Fagiano – Our classic homemade Pheasant filled pasta, butter, sage, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Tagliatelle alla Bolognese – Hand made pasta ribbons, traditional Bolognese meat sauce

Nothing really stood out to me here, but none of us were very hungry, so the meal was mostly to keep us from getting hungry later that night.  Some of the other options also sounded good, but we barely made a dent in what we ordered as was.

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Friday 5/9, Lunch at Au Cheval

Final spot from the Eater 38.  In an effort to appease the more meat and potatoes palates but still enjoy gastropub fare, we headed to Au Cheval, which a friend of mine who had recently been to Chicago also spoke highly of.  We arrived right at peak time for lunch, so while we waited, we stopped for a drink at a place within a block away called The Little Goat.  This is one of Stephanie Izard‘s restaurants, who was a Top Chef winner.

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While the beer list was great, I was slightly torn because the menu looked great, and I could have easily eaten there.  We decided to stick to the plan and headed back to Au Cheval when we were done with our beer, and while I was not disappointed, I’d be interested in trying one of Stephanie Izard’s restaurants on a future trip to Chicago.  The food was described as upscale diner, but the location was definitely hipster.

 

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Our selections for food were as follows:

  • fried house-made bologna sandwich
  • salad (no longer on the menu, but I think it came with house-made ranch that was delicious)
  • toasted open-face ham & cheese fondue with fried egg
  • single cheeseburger with bacon

The menu descriptions didn’t do the food justice, but this was comfort food to the extreme.  They basically found every way to amplify the richness of already heavy foods, and it was amazing.
IMG_3777 IMG_3778 IMG_3779 IMG_3780The group also went to Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab and The Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock tower for two very lovely dinners. Both had classic food executed perfectly.  Definitely a success of a trip, and it left me wanting to return to explore more.

 

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