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Zurer Chowhound convergence in Chicago

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All the Zurer Chowhound posters converged on Chicago last weekend for a "family" reunion and culinary adventure. Mike's (SF chowhound) sketch comedy troupe "Killing My Lobster" (can't get away from the food references) was in town for the Chicago Comedy Festival so Jim, Diana and Jonathan came in from DC to join Chicago chowhound Seth for the festivities. We also took a trip to Spring Green WI to visit Taliesin, a long but worthwhile expedition. But enough about non-eating activities...

Thursday dinner: Echo in Wicker Park. A new American small plate place (bigger than a tapa, smaller than an entree), the menu was incredibly appealing. About 2/3 of the dishes delivered on the promise....especially noteworthy were the Tuna Tuna Tuna for two, scallops in a foie gras broth, grilled ostrich and a wonderful brie flan/custard. Desserts were generally a disappointment. It isn't cheap--the bill came to $475 for eight of us, with three bottles of wine @$25 each. [Echo is a I-Dine (Transmedia) restaurant, so I am looking for a 20% rebate on the bill.]

Friday snack: On the way back, we stopped for the local specialty, cheese curds--both fresh (sort of like bland American cheese with some texture) and fried (much improved, a cross between a "tater tot" and "mozzarella en carrozza".

Friday dinner: After a long day on the road, we hit Tampopo on N. Lincoln for a ramen experience. The out-of-town crowd was not too impressed (I prefer my "pho") but maybe it was because it had been a long day.)

Saturday lunch: We needed a place convenient to the John Hancock building open for lunch on Saturday so we hit the always open and dependable Bistro 110 on Pearson and we had a very good lunch---the mussels were exceptionally good, the quiche lorraine very light and well prepared, the "vraie" Nicoise had grilled tuna rather than canned and no olives but was tasty. The only misstep was the roasted mixed vegetables--sort of blah. A cherry tart and a creme brulee were both well received.

Saturday dinnner: Blackbird. A fuller report is demanded, but let me just say it was terrific. The service was professional and relaxed; the menu very appealing; there were some wines on the list that were good at around $25 a bottle; and the food was fabulous. Some highlights--seared halibut, foie gras, salmon tartare, mussel soup, rack of lamb....The one wrong note was a soggy and undistingushed soft-shell. The waiter took it off the bill after he asked how it was and I told him what I thought.

Dessert were also top notch, especially the apple charlotte and the chocolate semi-freddo. We had a very nice Alsatian Pinot Gris--'99 Dopff & Irion Tokay Pinot Gris--followed by a less memorable wine--'98 Chateau de Jau Cotes Du Roussillon

We all agreed that it is one the best meals we have had in a long while and we gave the most precious Zurer accolade--almost as good as Kinkead's. We would go back in a heartbeat.

Sunday morning: The tradional breakfast at Wishbone...everyone seemed to be happy but me; my breakfast burrito was definitely subpar. Perhaps it was bad ordering on my part.

Sunday lunch: We were able to arrange an excursion to Lem's. The 75th Street location reopens on June 7, so we were "forced" to try the State Street operation. We arrived at about 2:15 pm and had to wait for about 15 minutes for the ribs to be finished. We polished off two slabs and a small mixed order of links and tips at the counter....the ribs were very impressive and we really liked the tangy sauce. We could use a location in Washington DC. Seth said that he thought the 75th Street location turned out a slightly better product; we will check on our next visit.

So that is the story of Zurer Chowhounds in Chicago...a good time was had by all. I hope that Seth and Mike weigh in with their impressions.

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    Chris Armstrong

    I too was in the windy, cold, rainy city this past weekend. And I too was in town for the comedy festival.

    Thursday afternoon: Pho 777. Great Pho. Terrific tripe and tender brisket, flavorful non-greasy broth.

    Thursday evening: a mediocre burrito somewhere in the vicinity of Southport and Belmont.

    Friday morn: coffee from Intelligentsia, quite good, a little "dirty" tasting, but that's their signature taste, I guess.

    Fri afternoon: the best food I've had in months. Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park. Extraordinary. Go now, if you've never been. Thanks Zim, for the recommendation.

    Fri Evening: a sandwich, compliments of the staff of Donny's Skybox theater. Essentially the worst food I've had in years. Cold cuts in Chicago are always disgusting, and I've never had a well-proportioned cold sandwich in the Midwest.

    Sat Morn: Ann Sather brunch. Average and overpriced. I wanted to go to the little grill on Ashland just north of Belmont. Same food, minus the amazing cinnamon buns, for $2.50.

    Sat afternoon: ribs from some scary place along the Green line near Central Avenue. I went exploring. It's nice to know that parts of Chicago are still nightmarish. New York is never so sketchy, not even in the middle of the South Bronx. Ribs were bad, but I couldn't finish them because a homeless man PUT his HANDS in my LUNCH on the train ride home.

    Sunday morning: brunch at Salpicon on Wells. It was pretty good. I'd have preferred a less foo-foo, more authentic Mexican spot. The margaritas were perfect, and they had to have had the best selection of Tequilas in town.

    Sunday dinner: Lou Malnati's pizza. Great sauce, great topping, great proportions. A soft, tasteless and undercooked crust. An almost transcendent pizza, though, and certainly better than most that I've tried.

    Monday morning I realized I hadn't had any hot dogs yet, so I tried a couple in the Old Irving Park neighborhood. Both were lackluster.

    Maybe next time I visit I'll have better luck chowhounding. I know the good stuff is out there.

    -Chris

    1. I can chime in a bit:

      At Blackbird both my mussel soup and roast pork loin were delicious. Mussel soup had exremely clear sharp flavors and the mussels themselves were excellent. The pork was cured before it was roasted, and sat on a mince of smoked pork shoulder and cabbage with some nice fingerling potatoes. An appropriately Chicagoan nouveau dish.

      Bistro 110: I thought the quiche was almost light enough to be considered a souffle. Two thumbs up, in the local parlance.

      Echo: I would add that the vegetable risotto was delicious and both scallop preps stood up well... Lamb carpaccio was touted by the server, but undistinguished. Curried vegetables were quite good. Unfortunately I can't discern a pattern - what was on was excellent, and what was off was quite disapointing. As more 'hounds chime in on this place, we should be able to come up with a good set of choices, or at least some things to avoid.

      My red beans and rice at Wishbone were fine, but not standouts. Seth's southern benedict was excellent - Biscuits and gravy plus a couple of poached eggs. The cheese grits delivered as per usual. I am frankly not exactly sure why my father would order a breakfast burrito at a soul-foodish spot. In point of fact he seemed somewhat addled on the whole topic of burritos for the weekend. Perhaps Seth can fill in the details - I stayed out of it.

      -MZ