Tidbits from our Chicago Honeymoon
Hello Fellow Hounds:
My wife and I returned last night from our honeymoon in Chicago (6 nights, 5 days). Let me preface my post by saying that we had a great time, and that we found your city to be beautiful and friendly (except for some of the aggressive drivers). I plan to post a full review of our meals at a later date (no time to do so yet). But here are some brief impressions:
Tuesday night: Dinner at Everest. We loved our meal here, and it was my favourite of the entire trip. Highlights were the Lobster roasted in Alsatian gewurztraminer, butter, and ginger (Lornna's main!); the Colorado rack of lamb served with perfectly cooked minted couscous; and the desserts (Lornna had the chocolate fantasy, which was one of the best chocolate desserts I have ever tasted; I had the wonderfully light Grand Marnier souffle). Oh, and the wine list was mindblowingly thorough; our sommelier told us that Everest has the largest selection of Alsation wines of any restaurant in the world! We enjoyed one of the best rieslings that I have ever tasted, the '97 Trimbach Cuvee Frederick Emile.
Wednesday: Breakfast at Ann Sather's next to our hotel; very mediocre and forgettable, but the cinnamon buns were good and fresh. Lunch at Rhapsody (we spent the day at the Art Institutue). Food there was fairly good but menu was all over the map, too eclectic for the kitchen to excel at anything.
Dinner: Topolobampo. Lornna's favourite meal of the trip. Fantastic food, and one of the most knowledgeable servers I have ever encountered! Ingredients were fresh, local, seasonal, delicious. Tomatoes were featured in the current tasting menus, as they should be at this time of year. I had the most perfect tomato salad. Great desserts, beautiful corn-based items. One comment: the food was not at all hot spice-wise. Very mild. I can see why some would not like it for this reason--after all, it is Mexican food. I can forgive this though when the kitchen is clearly using such killer ingredients.
I had the Mole tasting menu. My favourite course was the roasted Crawford Farm lamb in Oaxacan black mole (made from more than 30 ingredients!) Lornna had the slightly more expensive Celebration Menu. Her favourite course was dessert, which consisted of 3 beautiful chocolate itmes (crepes, tart, and ice cream).
Thursday: Lunch at Oasis was pretty typical middle eastern fast food. Good hummos, though.
Dinner: Cafe Spiaggia. We LOVED our meal here. I had a tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad that featured one of the best tomatoes I have eaten in recent memory! The prices were reasonable. The slow-roasted pork served over garlicky greens and creamy polenta was delicious! Lornna's gnocchi were delicate and light, unlike some of the dense, clumsy gnocchi I have tasted in lesser Italian restaurants. Only food complaint I have is that Lornna's wood-oven roasted octopus was a bit on the chewy side (crispy and charred on the surface, a bit chewy inside). But that is always a hazard with any octopus-related food item.
Friday: Breakfast at Orange. Disappointing. But my oatmeal was actually pretty healthy-tasting. Lornna's eggs (a scramble) were bland and boring.
Dinner: Deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's. The "Lou" with sausage as an extra. This was my first Chicago deep dish pizza, so I have no point of reference. We enjoyed it for what it was, and it gave us lots of fuel for the Flaming Lips concert that night. I prefer thin-crust pizza made with higher-quality ingredients. This stuff tasted slightly goopy to me, but I can get into that too! Still, I wish that Spacca Napoli had not been closed the week we were in town.
Saturday: Dinner at Sola. A disappointment. Good appies, good desserts, but the mains were not well executed. My scallops were huge, but were cold, as was Lornna's lamb. And the wasabi crust on my scallops did not come through at all (taste was bland). A very popular place, though (packed, and with outdoor seating packed as well).
Sunday: Brunch at erwin was my favourite breakfast meal during our trip to Chicago. I had a really good scramble there, and our server bought Lornna a mimosa!
Dinner: Gibson's. My sweetie and I were divided on Gibson's. I was quite disappointed. Even though I had been warned that the sides were not good, I was not prepared for the Caesar salad that was presented to me, with soggy, unappetizing romaine; cheap parmesan, and crummy croutons. Lornna's house salad looked awful (but she liked it). The mashed potatoes were pretty good, though. The sauteed spinach and mushrooms with garlic were good too.
The real point was the meat. I chose Gibson's after reading through various reviews on Chowhounds. The steak was good, no doubt. It had quite a char on the outside, maybe a bit too much of a char for my taste. It was cooked to order (medium rare). Lornna and I both got the W.R. centre-cut, a bone-in, 22 ounce ribeye. I'm getting older, I guess, because I had a hard time packing back all 22 ounces. It became more of a chore than a pleasure about half-way through the meal. I would have ordered a smaller ribeye had they offered one on the menu. Lornna loved her steak, though.
We skipped desserts, which looked huge but boring.
I wonder if I would have preferred the steak at David Burke's. Maybe, maybe not, but I am guessing that I would have much preferred the salads and that perhaps they have better desserts.
Overall, a great trip, and we had wonderful food, especially at Cafe Spiaggia, Topolobampo, and Everest. Without a doubt the most memorable week of dining of my life.
Glad you enjoyed your trip here and thanks for the excellent detailed write-up. Sounds like you hit a great variety of places. I'm glad you decided to ignore the naysayers and dine at Topolobampo. I'm not surprised that you enjoyed your meal. As for the lack of spice, I think this is a bit of a misperception about Mexican food -- not everything is spicy or meant to be. Most of the moles are rich, smoky and earthy, but not spicy.
But if you see a dish with habanero, serrano, jalapeno, chipotle, then you know you're in for some heat. I appreciate Topo's dedication to authentic Mexican food and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.
With respect to Cafe Spiaggia, I think so many people tend to overlook this place and I'm not sure why (perhaps it's Spiaggia or bust). But the food is consistently very good, as are the views of Michigan Avenue.
Again, great report and glad to hear the honeymoon was a hit.
I completely agree about Cafe Spiaggia. The thing I love about Cafe Spiaggia is that it is not treated as the younger stepsister to Spiaggia but rather is allowed to flourish in its own right. Service is always dependable, knowledgable, quirky, and relaxed. The views, while not quite as good as Spiaggia, are still nice. Decor comforting.
The food is outstanding and a great value too. My usual game plan at Cafe Spiaggia is to split an appetizer, pasta, and main course with my companion and have them serve it as 3 courses. Nice touches: they split the courses for you. Free parking in the building too!
Standouts include the wood roasted trout with gigantic white beans, artichokes, and other roasted vegetables. And, as the op said, the caprese is outstanding. I also always opt for one of their lightest pasta dishes...typically there is one with just olive oil, peas or some other green, and lemon perhaps.
Love the Cafe!
That rack of lamb at Everest was the only redeeming food feature of that restaurant for me. Had it not been for our bad service that alone might have rescued our evening there.
Thanks for the report, Your take on Orange, and Gibsons reflects my opinions, and experiences I have had at these spots. Neither are places I would recommend to people coming into Chicago for a visit
I also like your thoughts on Topolobampo, and Lou Malnatis. I have never been to Topolobampo, I have eaten at Frontera, but know I have to try Topolobampo soon.
Im glad you enjoyed your trip to Chicago
Thanks for your report. It always helps to get feedback to put some perspectives on our opinions.
I agree with pretty much everything you've said. I've had some of the very best food ever at Everest, and the setting and service are always exquisite. Cafe Spiaggia does a great job; I agree with the comments from others, above. Topolobampo, yes (and BRB's comments about spiciness are right on). Gibson's will make you happy or not based on the steak or the scene, not the appetizers or desserts. I've always liked Orange for breakfast, shrug. And I haven't experienced the problems you have with your mains at Sola, but I think a good restaurant should be not only good, but consistent.
Again, thanks for the report.