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Mar 11, 2007 05:00 PM

My Chicagoan Vacation

I was in Chicago this past week Mon-Wed. with my mom and best friend. We live in Fort Wayne, IN and come to Chicago several times a year, but don't usually stay overnight, so three days was a treat.

We arrived Monday afternoon and headed straight for Hot Doug's. After waiting about a 1/2 hour, we each ordered a char-dog and a specialty dog- I had the Gyro sausage. We also split a large order of fries. Now, I'm probably biased because I've never had a Chicagoan dog before but the char-dog was so delicious, especially at $1.50! I was licking the extra relish off my fingers. The specialty dog, not so much- my lamb sausage was dry and overwhelmed by big, chalky chunks of brined feta and I couldn't even taste the creme-fraiche tzatziki. The fries were delicious. I was also happy with how they seated everyone according to when their order was placed- no fights broke out in an extremely busy place!

After Hot Doug's we drove over to Sam's Wines and Spirits where I picked up some vin santo, ice wine and limoncello. I also purchased a Valpolicella and a Barbera d'Asti. Their staff was really helpful, and they had some great deals on wines- I don't think I spent more than $15 on any of the five bottles I bought, save the ice wine. You would not believe what a god-send this place was, considering where I come from- there isn't a place in Fort Wayne where you can get anything but mediocre wine, and you can't get it shipped to you, either.

On Tuesday we stopped at Vosges haut chocolate and had some lovely hot chocolate. I really enjoyed all the samples they had laid out, but I couldn't bring myself to spend $2.50 on a little truffle I'd gobble up in about 30 seconds. My hot chocolate, the Parisienne, was not overly sweet (which I really liked) and my friend's Bianca was interesting with lavender flowers and lemon peel floating in it.

Tuesday night we went to the Celtic Knot Pub in Evanston to hear some Irish music and we split three appetizers: phyllo-wrapped brie triangles, chips and curry sauce, and mushroom "popems." I was really, really disappointed. The brie triangles were really sugary, a little burnt, and a little rancid, and the mushrooms were soggy and tasted overly of worcestershire sauce. The chips were forgettable (in fact as I was eating them I was thinking of Hot Doug's lovely fries). The only saving grace was the music, the Guiness and cider and the lovely company I was with.

Finally, Wednesday we ate a late lunch at Tucci Bennuch after realizing we had spent too much time at the Art Institute and missed the lunch hours at Frontera Grill and Cafe Spiaggia (our top picks). We were the only ones in the dining room for our meal and the service was great and so was the food- I had the Chopped Salad and my mom had the gnocchi with prosciutto and peas. My salad was delish and her gnocchi was really, really tender. The also brought out an amuse bouche of fried (!) lasagna and I have to say, their marinara is awesome.

We had a great time in Chicago, even though we had a couple of misses- we ate dinner at the Basil Leaf Cafe Monday night and it was a weird, expensive experience. I can't recommend it, and I wish I would have listened to my instincts and kept walking: the dining room was pretty much empty at 8:30. Also, on Tuesday we couldn't find this restaurant, Fiesta Magica, on W. Armitage so we ended up eating at Uncle Juilio's Hacienda. Um, it wasn't bad, but I felt like I was back in Fort Wayne eating "Mexican" food again.

There is so much food I look forward to eating the next time I'm in Chicago- hopefully this summer. I was at the DittyBops concert at the Steppenwolf on Wed. and they mentioned a new organic pizzeria opening in April, and I HAVE to go to Frontera Grill. Thanks for the great experience, Chicago, and thanks to everyone here at Chowhound-- if it hadn't been for this board I would've never went to Hot Dougs, Vosges, or Sam's.

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  1. Next time you come through look up Discount Wine Warehouse on Elston. Not far from Sam's and far better value. They don't sell a bad bottle.

    1. How can the Basil Leaf be an expensive experience ?? If you're talking about the place around 2500 N. Clark their entrees are very reasonably priced (in the 7 to 14 range), and can easily be split between two people. For 2 you can easily make do with a 6 or 7 dollar appetizer and an entree. They are also BYOB friendly.... how did it turn out expensive for you ?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chicago Mike

        I had a glass of Chianti (6), a cup of soup (4) and a plate of rigatoni bolognese (14) + tax and tip- about 30. Other than the wine (which was delicious) and the two pieces of bread I ate (also delish), my meal was disappointing and I was sorry to have spent so much. Comparing it to other memorable meals I had- which cost a lot less (the most memorable being $7) or about the same- I say the Basil Leaf Cafe was an expensive mistake.

      2. Well I would have to agree with you on Basil Leaf. My fiance and I went there on Tuesday night and no, the pricing was not bad, my entree was 15.00. BUT, for 15.00 I would expect to get more than 3 ravioli and NOT a bowl full of spinach in place of the missing pasta. I do not like that place because of that, but also because the service is very slow. It took us over 20 minutes to get our check, with the place being sooo small, it's not like tables can be overlooked. Plus, it was not busy. There was just no excuse for the inconsistencies. I won't go back there either or recommend it.

        1. Wow...sounds like you had a great Chicago experience. Try Second City sometime for a fun evening. Andys for Jazz. If you are downtown again, try the Atwood cafe. Great location at State & Washington. Good service, Interesting and food with big portions. Not cheap but an enjoyable experience. Many folks go here for pre-theatre meals so you may have to reserve. After 7:30 or 8 you may have more luck but why not make a reservation? Check out a sample menu here: