A few nights in Chicago (Unos, Architectes, Frontera)
First, thanks to everyone who provided advice, both in my previous thread (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/602579) and on the board in general. I've had three dinners in Chicago and will have one more (take out) before I head home. I just wanted to give my impressions and encourage you all to come and eat in Boston!
o Pizzeria Uno (29 East Ohio). I'm not sure if it's me and I just don't like the deep-dish thing, or whether Uno is bad or was just having a bad night or whatever, but it was bad. First came a large salad almost entirely composed of iceberg lettuce and cabbage strings. This was not unexpected but the harsh harsh Sysco-quality vinegar dressing was a disappointment. It did kill time and quench my hunger while I waited for the main event. The pizza itself, spinach and mushroom, was dry dry dry. The crust was more like crumbly soda bread than normal pizza crust, and there wasn't enough sauce to moisten it. Is that how deep-dish is supposed to be? I was raised on stuffed crust pizza from Zachary's in Berkeley (http://www.zacharys.com/) and was expecting something more along those lines. I was looking forward to the Chicago pizza and am disappointed. Please tell me to where to go next time for a better pizza.
o Café des Architectes (20 E. Chestnut). This was a recommendation from nsxtasy (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/600132) and was right on. What a value! On Sunday and Monday they have a $29 3-course prix fixe with a limited menu. Seriously, what other $29 prix fixe comes with an amuse? It was a good one too with a bit of cured fish (tuna I think?) on top of some micro vegetables with a tangy sauce. Yummy and totally unexpected.
The appetizer of cured salmon was fantastic, the highlight of the meal. A very generous portion of fish on a bed of potatoes and onions with creme fraiche under it all. The fish was tasty but not strongly flavored, and the potatoes were perfect, crispy on the cut side and moist, if a potato can be moist. The creme underneath was the bonus with just a hint of citrus. Delicious.
The chicken was advertised on the menu as breast, but I was delighted when two legs, two thighs, and a piece of breast showed up on the plate; they were small pieces, but it was a lot of chicken. It was very flavorful, but just a little dry; it definitely needed help from the delicious jus which was also just right for mopping up with the bread.
Bread pudding for dessert was tasty but nothing special. Not too sweet, though, which is often a problem. I'd be remiss as well if I didn't mention the fantastic French butter and the olive tapenade which come with the bread basket. I'm not usually a huge bread and butter fan, but the butter was extraordinary. Between that and the jus, I think I made my way through most of the bread basket. The bread itself, baguette slices and ciabatta-like rolls, wasn't too shabby either.
Finally, it was super quiet in there. The bartender said they were full for restaurant week last week, but I was the only one at the bar and there were maybe three occupied tables in the dining area.
o Frontera Grill (445 North Clark) This place, on the other hand, was hopping. I managed to find a spot at the bar in pretty quick order and ignore the people hovering over my shoulder during the rest of the meal. I had a very mediocre margurita (not my favorite drink, but when in Rome) and ordered the goat special. After a long wait it came, and my first though was "that's all?". Now it was a very tasty goat stew, if a bit one dimensional (salty). There wasn't much goatiness either to distinguish it from, say, a beef stew, but still very tasty. However, when I order a $23 main course special, there ought to be more than five bites in it. Also, if you're going to serve stew, you need something to soak up the left-over broth. I was yearning for some bread.
I left still hungry and unsatisfied, and made my way to Fox & Obel for some dessert. I bought a delicious key lime tart and devoured it with my fingers in the privacy of my hotel room. It could have had a stronger lime flavor, but otherwise was perfect, without the cloying sweetness that sometimes accompanies key lime.
o I haven't yet decided on my take-out plan for tonight, but I'm leaning more and more toward walking from here (McCormick Place) to Chinatown, grabbing some takeout, and taking the subway (L, CTA, what do you call it around here?) to O'Hare. Little Three Happiness perhaps?
Chicago style pizza has an inadequate ratio of sauce to crust & cheese compared to Eastern pizza. Either you love it or you hate it, if you grew up on pizza from the East. From your description, although it may be that there are better examples of Chicago style pizza than what you had, I think that you are in the camp who just don't "get" Chicago pizza (as am I).
Based on his post and the link to that place in Berkeley, I think he/she was expecting the type of pizza they serve at Giordano's, rather than the kind at Uno.
And FWIW, I grew up on pizza from the East. Chicago deep-dish pizza was a revelation. I love it, and I will never go back to "New York style" pizza. But I think it's great that there are so many styles of pizza, so everyone can be happy, no matter what kind each person likes!
Thanks for posting feedback!
To answer your questions...
>> The pizza itself, spinach and mushroom, was dry dry dry. The crust was more like crumbly soda bread than normal pizza crust, and there wasn't enough sauce to moisten it. Is that how deep-dish is supposed to be? I was raised on stuffed crust pizza from Zachary's in Berkeley (http://www.zacharys.com/) and was expecting something more along those lines. I was looking forward to the Chicago pizza and am disappointed. Please tell me to where to go next time for a better pizza. <<
The crust in our "pizza in the pan" is indeed crumbly; however, I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as "dry". In particular, the greased coating on the pan generally makes it very tasty, and of course the cheese and tomato sauce on top prevents it from being a dry dish overall.
I generally don't order spinach on the "pizza in the pan" served at Uno (and Lou Malnati's and other places) because it tends to dry out, sitting on top of the other ingredients. I enjoy spinach on the double-crust "stuffed" pizza because it stays moist, sandwiched with the cheese between the two crusts.
Perhaps on your next visit you might enjoy trying one of our places that specialize in stuffed pizza; Giordano's is the most widespread, with 40 locations in the area, and it's also my favorite, but you can also find excellent stuffed pizza at Edwardo's and Bacino's. I've never been to Zachary's, but in the photo on their website, it looks like a direct rip-off of our local stuffed pizza. (Take a look at the photos on the Giordano's website at www.giordanos.com ). And yes, the crust on stuffed pizza generally is moister than that on the single-crust pizza in the pan served at Uno.
Just like some people prefer deep-dish while others prefer thin-crust, some people prefer the single-crust pizza in the pan from Uno and Lou Malnati's, while others prefer double-crust pizza from Giordano's. (I like them both!) Sounds like you'll be happy with the latter.
>> o I haven't yet decided on my take-out plan for tonight, but I'm leaning more and more toward walking from here (McCormick Place) to Chinatown, grabbing some takeout, and taking the subway (L, CTA, what do you call it around here?) to O'Hare. Little Three Happiness perhaps? <<
That plan sounds fine. We most commonly call it the "el" (short for "elevated", and we use that name for the trains, regardless of whether it's a section that runs above ground or underground). The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) is the agency that runs the trains and buses in the city and nearby suburbs, and people do use that name as well as the "subway" to refer to the trains; all those terms will be recognizable by Chicagoans.
Little Three Happiness is a good place for Cantonese cuisine. If you prefer Szechuan cuisine, consider Double Li or Lao Sze Chuan. All are within a block or so of the Cermak/Chinatown stop on the CTA Red Line. To get from there to O'Hare, take the Red Line north to the Jackson stop; take the stairs DOWN from the subway platform to the underground tunnel that connects to the CTA Blue Line one block west, where you can catch the train to O'Hare. (Using this tunnel, you don't need the transit card or pass for the transfer.)
If you change your mind and want to consider something other than Chinese tonight, Cuatro is a lively place offering Latin fusion cuisine, and is just a few blocks from McCormick Place. www.cuatro-chicago.com
I just finished my lunch of leftovers from Double Li. Nothing earth shattering but very tasty, especially on an airplane. I went into Little Three Happiness and said I wanted to order takeout and was promptly given the White-guy takeout menu (you know: sweet and sour, egg fu young, chop suey, etc.). i went across the street and, as the only white guy in the place, got the full menu and even a glass of tea while I was waiting. Nice.
Thanks again for all the help!