Your last 5 meals in Chicago?
We will be in Chicago for a week in November and are looking to eat. We have a farm to table restaurant here in Sacramento. We also have a new banquet space which may be a pub when it grows up.
So where would you eat your 5 last meals in the city. We are staying at the Drake.
Great question. I think my last 5 meals would be at:
Sweets & Savories
David Burke's Primehouse
I feel like all of them, in some way, are unique to Chicago. There are a couple of sushi places that I love, but there is better sushi to be had outside Chicago. I feel like you can get great Italian food in just about any major city, so I would skip that. I've never been a fan of Chicago-style pizza (with the exception of Burt's) so I would skip that too (just a personal preference, many would have a differing opinion).
In my opinion, here is what makes my choices unique and special:
Alinea - If Alinea isn't unique, I don't know what is
Avec - Unique Meditteranean style small plates with a tremendously interesting wine list. The food here just speaks to me.
Sweets & Savories - A classically trained chef doing contemporary cuisine in an unassuming little restaurant. The value here is simply unparalleled (I just went to an outstanding 7 course white truffle dinner here that cost me all of $65).
Sun Wah - Sure, Chinese BBQ can be found in a lot of places, but the thought and care that goes into the cooking at Sun Wah is hard to find elsewhere.
David Burke's Primehouse - Again, you can go to a good steakhouse just about anywhere, but I've never found a steakhouse that takes dry aging their meat as seriously as Primehouse. The restaurant is an ode to the technique, so if you're a big steak fan you owe it to yourself to give it a try.
I highly recommend Blackbird for contemporary American. I've had so many outstanding meals there that I've lost count. Its next door stablemate, Avec, would make a nice evening out. if you don't mind uncomfortable seating at communal tables.Here's a link to the Blackbird web site - http://www.blackbirdrestaurant.com/ (Avec can also be accessed on the homepage). I'd also have lunch at the Frontera Grill for Mexican. If you sit at the bar, you can choose from the Frontera or Topolobompo (a bit more upscale). It's too crowded to try to eat here at dinnertime, but quite civilized at lunch. There are lots of negative comments to be found about this place, but none from me. It was named the Best Restaurant in the country by the James Beard Foundation in 2007, so it probably can't be all bad. The Milanese on the Frontera menu is always a winner. The margaritas are outstanding.
I wholeheartedly echo nastasy's vote for Cafe Spiaggia and Aigre Doux. Cafe Spiaggia was wonderful with a beautiful view of Michigan Avenue. It is small and classy with top notch service. I would add to that list Terragusto and North Pond. Alinea was an experience and over-the-top - way OTT. I will admit the food was way too innovative and experimental for my taste buds. I felt like I was eating someone's science project. Charlie Trotter's was OK. Sort of a let down actually since I was expecting French Laundry caliber.
What kind of food do you like? Do you enjoy fine dining and creative cuisine? Ethnic storefronts? Cheap eats? As is clear from the responses so far, different people would answer these questions differently.
If I had to choose five "last meals" within the city limits, I would probably choose five different types of restaurants:
1. Fine dining - Alinea or Everest
2. Contemporary American - Aigre Doux
3. Italian - Cafe Spiaggia (across the street from the Drake) for mid-priced, or Spiaggia next door for high-end
4. Seafood - Hugo's (two blocks from the Drake)
5. Deep-dish pizza - Giordano's
1) Tank Noodle - Chicago
2) Sun Wah BBQ - Chicao
3) Johnnie's - Elmood Park, IL.
4) Cajun Connection - Utica, IL.
5) David Burke's - Chicago
1)Vietnamese for some Pho, 2)Chinese BBQ for some duck, and other bbq goodies, 3)an Italian beef or a combo,4) the best gumbo around, deep fried gator, crawfish, boudin, and etouffee, 5) a prime dry aged slab of beef.
The above are the places I would miss if I left Chicago.
Sorry, but forget Everest, et al. These places remind me of client dinners for work. They are fine places but Chicago really shines in its neighborhood joints. I can't stick to just five, so here goes. I would go for the small or inexpensive, wanna lick your plate, one-off, ethnic places, like.:
1. RoSal on Taylor Street (mom and pop Italian spot that is actually pretty well known)
2. Bari Grocery (Grand St.) Yes--it's a grocery. Italian sub (eat in the car or back at your hotel) but remember to stop at D'Amato's bakery for bakery pizza slices and cookies or cannoli or cheesecake, next door to Bari.
3. India House on Grand/Clark. Very good lunch buffet. The food is not overly spicy or greasy and the service is gracious. I espcially like the cheese cubes in tomato cream sauce, raita, tandoori chicken, samosas, breads, tikka masala, frozen mango dessert--all divine.
4. Greek town: Yes, greektown is goofy and touristy but the food and libations are yummy and you'll have a good time. Love the spinach/feta pie, chicken lemon rice soup, salads, flaming cheese and crusty bread, roast lamb and kebabs, and baklava and rice pudding at Greek Islands or Athena or fresh seafood at Santorini.
5. Head over to Twin Anchors on Eugenie and Sedgwick, a neighborhood corner bar with a dining room in back, Frank Sinatra on the juke box... a crowded joint with great bbq ribs and chicken. Fun, happy neighborhood spot. Excellent cheesecake, too. Bar's Motto: Absolutely no dancing allowed. What the? The waitresses are strictly old school too, hon. You'll feel at home.
If you need to eat near the Drake, I have two other suggestions:
Go to Rosebud on Rush and order nothing but the pappardelle pasta with marinara and a regular italian salad and you will write to thank me as you sop up the last of the lovely salad dressing and marinara sauce with your crunchy, crunchy bread. But if it's deli you crave, head on over to the Seneca Hotel just behind the Hancock building for a little known delight. In the hotel basement is a deli in the finest Jewish tradition from bagels and chicken soup to thick corned beef sandwiches, roast chicken, and kugel. Eat in or take away, bubula. Not a tourist spot. If you love beef, here's an exception to the no-chain-restaurant rule: go to the Capital Grille at lunch and order the Rib Eye Sandwich and tell them you want half mashed potatoes and half creamed spinach instead of whatever else they offer. This is the best sandwich on earth (aged steak, topped with grilled red onion sauteed in a touch of balsamic vinegar, layered with a bit of melted asiago, all on wonderfully crunchy-yet-tender bread, AND with a side of horseradish cream sauce. Good Lord...
I would honestly like one of my last meals to be a sammich. A combo, or an italian sub, I could DEFINITELY see as someone's request for one of their last meals. yeah, it's gotta be a GREAT sammich, but trust me, there are some delis (Bari included) that make a GREAT sammich.
A stunning dinner prepared by a world class chef has its place, but there is more to this city than that. SO much more.
If I had to plan out last meals, I would seriously consider a few of the Indian / Pakistani dives up on Devon. Most notably, Khan's BBQ for broasted chicken, Chicken boti, and aloo gobi with paratha.
By the way - I do believe that it was Wolfgang Puck who said that most of his Chef
cronies (all of whom you would know the names of) have these discussions. On the topic of best meal ever, a lot of them include sandwiches. Puck's favorite meal, is a sandwich consisting of toasted white bread, mayo, and slices of overripe tomato sprinkled with sea salt. Don't quote me on this being Wolfgang Puck, but if it was not, it was a chef of equal or "better" caliber - like Trotter. I'm recalling this from my head, but these things stick in my head pretty well.