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Reviews From My Chicago Trip

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We just got back from our Chicago trip. Here is the run-down of our dining experience, which was overall better than I expected since every restaurant in Chicago seems to get mixed reviews online. To provide context, we (my husband and friends who we went with) all enjoy upscale and trendy dining, but we do not expect every place or every meal to meet a Norman's or French Laundry standard.

Thursday:

When we got into town, we had a snack at Fox & Obel - truffle parmesan fries with truffled bernaise sauce. Very tasty.

I had dinner with a friend who lives in Chicago, who I hadn't seen in seven years. She said she prefers the pizza at My Pie, but in the interest of an authentic Chicago experience for me, we went to Gino's East. With the pizza taking 45 minutes to prepare, it gave us a great opportunity to catch up. We had deep dish spinach and cheese, which was extremely good, very rich flavors. I liked that the crust seemed to have a little bit of corn meal in it. This made for interesting taste and texture. We also split a pineapple and cheese thin crust. The thin crust one was bland and tasteless, and the pineapple chunks were far too big.

Friday:

For breakfast, the wife of our friend couple and I went to American Girl Cafe. Even though we didn't have kids with us, we had a great time, and the food was surprisingly exceptional. They brought cinnamon buns to the table, which were very tasty, but I have had softer. I had the best french toast I have ever had. It had caramelized apples on top, with just a hint of marmelade in the sauce, and fresh whipped cream. I didn't even have to put syrup on it - syrup would have actually detracted from the flavors. The accompanying breakfast sausage was typical. My friend had the most amazing quiche either of us had ever had, with its fluffy, whipped texture, and outstanding breakfast potatoes.

We had lunch at Bandera, which was also exceptional. We started with queso and chips. This was the most unusual queso I have ever had. The conistency was like fresh, homemade pimiento cheese, and had the faintest taste like that (which normally I do not like), but there was something unique about it and we ate the whole thing. It was quite good. For entrees, we both ordered the spinach and chicken enchiladas. The enchilada was very good, spinach was fresh, and had two sauces - a red and a green. It was accompanied by cilantro rice, which I always love, and cucumber salad in a champagne vinegarette, which was our favorite part of the meal.

For dinner, we ate at Trattoria No. 10 before seeing Wicked (which was fantastic!). I had rigatoni with chicken, caramelized onions, walnuts, and goat cheese. DH had tortellini with kobe beef cheeks. It was only a step above Olive Garden, but that was good enough for being right by the theater.

Saturday:

DH and I had breakfast at Grand Lux Cafe. I have had dinner at the one in Las Vegas before, so I was excited to try breakfast there. I had chicken tenders with waffles, with a pecan honey butter. It was exceptional. DH had a belgian waffle with blueberries. The waffles were truly great, tasted like beignets (which GLC also serves, but we did not have any).

We skipped lunch because breakfast was so big. For dinner, we were on a dinner cruise with my husband's firm. It was typical banquet food - london broil, cilantro salmon, pumpkin ravioli - and was all good.

Sunday:

We had breakfast at Orange. Neat place off the beaten path. I had one of their custom juices - cucumber/watermelon/pear. It was heavier on cucumber than I expected, and was not cold, but it was still good, and I appreciated the novelty of it. I had coconut infused french toast kabobs with strawberries and pineapples (yes, I love french toast or anything with cinnamon for breakfast). Not as good as the french toast at American Girl Cafe, but for me, the novelty of new foods can make up for (a little) falling short on taste. DH had the pan seared oatmeal/apple bake. He enjoyed it because he likes oatmeal. It was a little earthy for me.

This was my first trip to Chicago, and I'm looking forward to going back!

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  1. "in the interest of an authentic Chicago experience for me, we went to Gino's East."

    "We also split a pineapple and cheese thin crust. The thin crust one was bland and tasteless, and the pineapple chunks were far too big."

    Huh? In Chicago an authentic pizza is topped with sausage...pineapple on a pizza is pure heresy; it's like putting ketchup on a Chicago hot dog or mayonaise on an Italian Beef.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Vinny Barbaresco

      OK, but a deep dish spinach pizza is definitely authentic. Not all Chicago pizza needs sausage.

      1. re: SuzMiCo

        DD spinach (invented by Edwardo's in the 70's) is a tasty and acceptable "loophole"...however we're talkin' about freakin' pineapple...which in my book a is a cardinal sin...say two hail marys and go directly to Lou Malnati's.

    2. The friend I went with is a vegetarian.

      1. Funny I was just in Chicago for the first time too, and also loved it. I also went to Orange (on Sat), but found it kind of disappointing. It had a fun, zany crafts kind of atmosphere, but the food ended up being more quirky than tasty. I also had the french toast kebob and found it surprisingly unappetizing; the bread chunks were so dry and hard that they were inedible, and roasting strawberries and pineapple just made them taste overripened. My boyfriend had 'cinnamon roll' pancakes which were better, but still somewhat overpowering on the cinnamon flavor and the texture was pasty. The fresh squeezed juice was the best part. (I wasn't too keen on cucumber slices in the water though.)

        I loved more of the traditional Chicago eats, like Giordano's deep dish pizza which was really filling and tasty. The freshness of the ingredients helped elevate it from your regular Pizzeria Uno chain pie, with the bright and tart tomato sauce and the pleasantly rubbery and white fresh mozzarella inside. I just wish there was more meat in my combo pie.

        I also enjoyed an Italian beef sandwich at Al's Italian on Taylor Street. Rough, no frills, and totally tasty with its unique spices.

        I went to Szechuan on Michigan Ave for dinner, and found it disappointing (although the crab seafood soup was great). I don't think I ordered the right dishes, as they have more authentic options, which I wasn't able to get this time.

        I finally ate at Grand Lux Cafe as well and despite the fact that it is just upscale Cheesecake Factory, the food was surprisingly well prepared. I had a clam spaghetti that was spot on and had tons of fresh clams. The other dishes also were huge yet flavorful. And the room is magnificent.

        All in all, Chicago has a great vibe.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jeanki

          My husband and I ALSO were just time Chicago visitors this past week and I must say, having lived in NY and LA, found Chicago restaurants can certainly hold their own with both coasts:

          Thursday dinner was at Avenues. Quite an upscale way to begin our dining adventure. The food was exceptional but we found the service to be just too fussy. They escort you to the restroom via a series of servers who guide you by the elbow (I had three for my excursion). When we were seated, the wait staff asked me if the ecru cloth napkin was to my liking or if I'd prefer a darker shade. Everything was a ritual and presentation. That being said, the food WAS phenomenal (pea velouté and lamb for me, scallops with candied prosciutto and tenderloin for my husband, plus a dessert that consisted of, among others things, "popcorn glasss and blueberry air." We had the three course tasting menu - couldn't handle a ten course menu that late in the evening but many people came in at 10PM and had that AND then after dinner drinks - including one gentleman who was eating alone.

          The next day we had lunch at Frontera Grill and dinner ata Topolabombo. Duplicative, I know, but it was the only day we could fit the two of them in during our stay. Liked Frontera better. The highlight was the ceviche trio there.

          Dinner on Saturday was at Aigre Doux. Probably our most consistently delicious meal and the most reasonably priced. Tasmanian crab roll, garlic soup, pork tenderloin/belly and wasabi tuna pizza (very wonderful).

          Sunday we ate at La Spiaggia. For a place thata requires jackets for men, it did not seem to be as formal or as upscale in looks as the other restaurants. We were heavily influenced by the wait staff to order three courses and not two, telling us that the portions were very moderate in size. We split the difference and had two appetizers, shared a pasta and two entrees (so many of the dishes contained truffles, which sad to say, are not to my liking - I had a guinea hen studded with truffles that aI just found to be too unctuous.

          Ended with a lovely brunch at North Pond with their three course menu. We felt like Hansel and Gretel finding an enchanted cottage in the woods.

          All in all, a great eating town, we were able to walk to all the restaurants (and work off the calories!) from the W Chicago City Center and I thank you to all your suggestions for places to eat. We took all recommendations and used them!!!!!