First time in Chicago - trip report
I posted earlier about how to narrow down the food choices in Chicago; I visited the first time over July 4th weekend. Nearly all my meals were cheap-eats recs from this board. I'm doing this trip report in parts.
I've just skimmed the recent post on Giordano's and I am relieved to hear I am not the only one who is not crazy about this place. My first meal upon arriving in the city and I was super excited to try stuffed-crust style. I got an individual-size sausage.
Why is it so dry? The bottom and sides are thick and crunchy-dry like a cracker. Maybe it's just my preference but I want pizza to be juicy, cheesy, with parts of sauce, filling, cheese and bread in each bite. This one just did not turn out that way. Is it because of the individual size? There was hardly any sauce and because of the stuffed-style, the sauce couldn't help to make the other elements more moist. There was a space in the crust that was really soft and chewy, but that didn't make up for the let-down.
A couple days later, I tried Bacino's at the Taste and it wasn't much better for me. I think a lot of it is that second crust separating the sauce from the cheese and toppings. Though the crust definitely wasn't as crunchy/dry. I liked Lou Malnati's, the deep-dish style, much better. Plus their flat sausage-patty style meant that you could bite into the sausage, instead of there being nuggets of sausage that come completely out of the pizza when you try to bite through one.
I would definitely go back to try deep-dish again. Stuffed crust, not so much. But that's just my preference for what I want in a pizza.
Speaking of Taste, yup, it was pretty hot. But I made sure to get there right at 11, so we were out before it got packed. Why oh why did people recommend the beer-battered artichokes to me? They were tiny tiny pieces frizzled to a dark brown crisp. There were maybe 2 larger chunks in there, those weren't bad. But most of it just tasted like burnt batter. AND their mayo-based dipping sauce was still FROZEN. What a waste of 9 tickets.
The best deal was the ice cream at Bobtail. Nobody was at their stand because it was set away from the other booths and they give you two huge scoops. Good thing I had it next-to-last, because it totally stuffed me. My friend had the chocolate ice cream cake, but as is typical of ice cream cakes the bread was dry. For the ice cream, I had strawberry and vanilla. I don't usually like strawberry ice cream because of that crazy pink color and typically artificial flavor. While I appreciated Bobtail's concept of fresh strawberries mixed into a tasty sweet cream base, I did not enjoy having to bite into large pieces of frozen fruit. They cut whole strawberries in half and didn't macerate them in sugar/lemon juice first. It just didn't blend well and the strawberry flavor didn't carry into the rest of the ice cream.
Did anyone try the merlot choc chip? I didn't want 2 big scoops of red wine ice cream, but I was curious about it.
I knew I was forgetting something...Oberweis.
The ice cream wasn't bad, I think. I was at the Wicker Park store and ordered a sundae and I was appalled at how skimpy she was with the toppings. I paid at least $2 more to have a hot fudge sundae (rather than just ice cream) and she gave me literally one squirt out of the can. That just depressed me. I went back and asked for more whipped cream with a big smile on my face (which usually notes to servers that I really want a lot) and she added one more squirt. That depressed me even more. Is that normal there? Do they instruct their servers to be extra frugal with the whipped cream?
So don't even ask me what the ice cream tasted like, because the service kind of ruined it for me.
Cafe des Architectes at the Hotel Sofitel. Beautiful setting, polite service and tasty food but my favorite was the bread basket that comes with every meal. Wonderful croissants, pain au chocolat, and there was other bread but we were too full to make it that far. And they serve it with those super-cute mini pots of Bonne Maman jam, my favorite. The crepes were light and pillowy, so good. I had the ham and gruyere filling. It comes with a roasted tomato topped with bread crumbs and yummy garlicky oniony roasted potatoes. And coffee and juice are included, so this ends up being a great value for such a fancy looking place. The American tourists dressed in their cheesy Americana plastic jewelry on this fourth of July morning were really out of place in this European setting. The service was very French in the length of time it took to get our server's attention, but not snooty at all. $33 for two before tip.
3-berry zabione french toast could have used more berries and more thorough dunking in the egg batter, but still good. I suppose they saved me a few calories by keeping it lighter. I sat at the bar to avoid a a wait and I think I was served by the owner. I love that they offer free Intelligentsia coffee if you have to wait. And the women's bathroom was so cute that I took pictures. shh! I wouldn't say this meal was to-die-for, but it seems like a good local place and the service was solid and friendly.
Cafe Iberico was recommended for cheap eats, and that it was. Not the best tapas I've had, but by far the cheapest. The mussels were good. Grilled octopus was in desperate need of seasoning. Jamon iberico with manchego was fine. Potato stew with sausage was not what I expected, it might have been better and less mushy with skin-on potatoes. I think we had something else but I can't remember what it was! All of that plus 1/2 pitcher of sangria was a mere $23 each including tip. We sat at the bar, but this place is huge and the wait seemed about 15 min on a Saturday night at 8:30pm.
I had meant to go to local places since Intelligentsia has branches in L.A., but I absolutely fell in love with the decaf I had during breakfast at Flo (more on that later). So I had to visit their store on Randolph for an iced mocha and a few bags of ground. That mocha was so tasty and dark chocolatey! I can see why people get serious about the coffee there. When I tried to ask for a certain dark roast ground for a french press, the guy looked at me like I was crazy. "You want to use that for a french press?!?" I'm like, what... ?
Coffee and pastries at Cafe Selmarie, up in the Lincoln Square neighborhood
Turns out they serve Intelligentsia here too. Still very tasty. BUT you can easily turn your iced mocha into a decadent dessert by agreeing to the whipped cream on top. It's housemade, thick heavy whipping cream piped out of a pastry bag and drizzled with fresh chocolate sauce, also piped out of a bag. The whipped cream was so thick I couldn't drink it, I had to scoop it out with my straw. (drooling)
I took some day-old pastries back home with me on the plane so I'm sure they weren't at their best but they were darn good. Beware, they didn't have their full selection of pastries :( because their baker is off on Mondays.
I felt like I was eating in someone's home. I just loved the woman who was serving us, so sweet. She gave my friend a free salad because it didn't come with her pierogi. I am not a Polish food expert, I've only had it twice at a place in L.A. called Polka. But Podhalanka is just so homey and c-h-e-a-p. Three of us had dinner for $20 total!
I have to say I prefer the pierogi I've had in L.A., though I don't know which is more authentic. Podhalanka's pierogi were smaller, less flavorful and slightly wet. I couldn't really taste the cheese pierogi, it was too lightly seasoned for my taste. If I had time, I would have liked to try pierogi at a different place for comparison.
The sauerkraut was excellent, very well seasoned, as was the stuffed beef roll that I had. It came with a mountain of mashed potatoes, which I don't really eat, but I'm sure someone who likes mashed potatoes would love it. Our server had recommended it, saying she had just eaten that for lunch.
I'll have to do more pierogi research, but all in all I would recommend this place.
1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642