9/17-9/19 Chicago Trip Report (Long)
First off, let me thank gomexico, ms. mika, and nsxtasy for their very helpful suggestions.
Thursday 9/16, we were supposed to arrive by 9PM, and we were planning on catching a late snack at The Purple Pig or Quartino, but had to settle for lousy airport bar food at Logan as our plane didn't even leave Boston until 9:30. Got into the Trump around midnight. Very nice place, first time I've ever seen a bathroom mirror where one small part of it was a television!
Friday 9/17. A light room service breakfast, and then out and about walking around until our 11:30 lunch at Topolobampo. I loved how many folks were lining up for Frontera Grille so early as well. We were seated and got our comped guac, very nice, and I had the Topo margarita (it's 5 o'clock somewhere!). I had the chile relleno de chorizo (wow!), and my wife the trio of ceviche, with both tuna ones being phenomenal, and the calamari shrimp one just slightly less so. My wife had the crispy eggplant entree which was very nice, and I had the pork shoulder and belly entree, which was also great. For dessert we split an unbelievable chocolate cake with red peanut mole buttercream, with spiced Mexican chocolate ice cream, candied anchos, and red peanut mole drizzle. It was one of the most memorable desserts I've eaten anywhere in the past few years. Starting with the room service breakfast, and Topolobampo lunch, I also had nothing but excellent coffee in Chicago. A sad rarity in some places I've visited.
After walking down to the Navy Pier, and checking out some stuff, (the Aeroballoon ride was very cool!),and taking a boat/architecture tour we went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner at David Burke's. After a nice cool walk to the restaurant, we were greeted, and seated immediately (sometimes a problem in Boston). My wife had the arugula salad with amazing truffle smoked tomatoes, and I had the Waygu beef sashimi which was also phenomenal. My wife got the 35 day dry aged sirloin (great steak), and I had the 55 day dry aged rib eye, which was hands down the finest steak I have ever eaten in my lifetime. Perfect in every way. The asparagus side was wonderful, but the awesome sounding potato hash with chorizo, dates, and goat cheese fell flat. The cherry semi-freddo dessert we split was very nice, as was the excellent coffee.
Saturday 9/18 Busy day planned for the art museum. Went to the Sheraton for breakfast at LB Bistro. Didn't opt for the buffet, (I'm not big on the concept), we none the less had very nice breakfast, especially my wife's chorizo omelet. Again, excellent coffee. I am also glad there was a ton of chorizo on menus everywhere. It's not only rarely seen on Boston restaurant menus, it's hard to find in stores. We do have easy access to excellent Portuguese chourico, but they are not the same. Off to the Art Institute, where I was blown away by just how many well known works are there, including as a film buff, the painting of The Picture Of Dorian Gray, done for the film version in the 60's. We wandered around Millennium Park. Cloud Gate really is a treasure. Rarely have I seen a public arts work, where everyone walking around it, looking at it, touching it, was happy, and smiling, something we need more of.
We walked over to the Planetarium and had a couple of hot dogs at the cart in between the Field and Shedd. I have to say, the Chicago condiment combination is really great (and that's really what it boils down to, as the dog itself was good, but I've had better). They are my second favorite street dogs after the ones in Toronto. There, you put on your own toppings, from a selection of about 20.
Dinner Saturday night was at Naha. This was suggested to us by some friends. My wife went with two apps, the burrata, which was beautiful and creamy, though I have better balsamic vinegar at my house than they used on the dish, and the risotto with braised oxtails which both of us thought was great. I had the gnocchi which had chorizo, both slightly different than those on the online menu. For my entree, I had the duck breast which was perfectly cooked and came with a nice date sauce that truly elevated the dish. For dessert we split the Mediterranean Pave of almonds and blueberries with sweet corn ice cream (the highlight) and more great coffee. We were also given great wine selections (we asked them to pair one glass each with each course), and a comped glass of dessert wine each with dessert. This, unfortunately was due to how long it took us to eat due to something being up in the kitchen. We were seated at 8 when we arrived, got a cocktail, ordered by 8:25 or so. At 9:30 we were still waiting for the entrees, which arrived at 9:40. Dessert came quickly with the comped wine, an obvious unsaid apology from the waiter. I understand sometimes stuff happens, but it always sucks when it happens to you.
Grabbed a cab out to Quenchers to catch the Jon Langford show. Nice divey looking bar, and then you look at their beer selection, and it's pretty out of sight. Had a nice Allagash White. The band was great as usual, and we hopped back into a cab to the hotel.
Sunday 9/19 Went to breakfast at The South Water Kitchen (well really brunch). Had a great tomatillo Bloody Mary with a bacon garnish (Hey it's brunch!), and a very nice meal. Onto the Shedd Aquarium which was very nice, and well laid out, then to the Field Museum. Now, a small aside is necessary here, as I must confess to being a lifelong dinosaur freak beginning in my youth in the early 60's. I have but one book from my pre-teen years in my library, and it's a slim volume on dinosaurs which is partly illustrated by the dinosaur murals which grace the walls of the Field. Not realizing they were there, I literally gasped. My entire day was now a success. After trudging around the enormous Field for a while we cabbed it over to Wrigley to see the area, and buy some souvenirs. We stopped into Cubby Bear's across from the park for a couple of beers, where we watched the good part of the Pats/Jets game, and had some surprisingly excellent jalapeno/cilantro french fries. They were thin, crispy, and very tasty. We were surprised, as we just wanted something quick to nosh on, but didn't want a meal, and didn't have much hope for more than crummy bar fries. I'd check them out (when the Cubs aren't in town, of course, man it must be a madhouse there on game day).
Sunday dinner was Girl and the Goat time. We'd read a lot about the place, and are big Top Chef fans, so we were eager to try Stephanie Izard's well reviewed place. Stephanie was there, furiously expediting orders all evening. We loved the decor, with the burnt wood giving the restaurant a pleasing warm odor, that permeated the evening. I really like the small plates concept, as it means you get to try more different things. Everything we had was wonderful, but I'll list them in preferred order after the amazing pretzel bread. I'd be happy to pay for bread in other restaurants if it was all this good, and whodathunk thousand island dressing would go go with bread?
Our least favorite were the Ham Frites, though we both thought they would be fried ham strips, not fries dusted with ham powder (which were very good, but not quite hammy enough for me), with a nice smoked tomato aoili and very nice smoked swiss sauces. next was the pan fried shasito peppers, with parmesan, they were great, and there were a ton of them, great for parties of four or more. They range in heat intensity from pretty mild to hot as hell (never a problem in my book), so they may not be for the tame.
Next up was the pig face. I liked it much more than the wife, but it's right up my alley, and I'm a complete sucker for almost anything with an egg. Next was the Yellow tomato vanilla bean chilled soup, which was deceivingly complex and excellent. The goat, pork, and veal sugo over house made pappardelle with cape goose berries was phenomenal, as was the goatballs and escargot, a combination I never would have thought possible, never mind delicious. Finally our favorite dish was the sautéed shrimp with peanut pork ragu, shitake, and spaghetti squash. Simply divine. The cocktail program there is excellent and well administered. Dessert was a shared corn cake conconction whose names escapes (and which I can't find on the internet!), and more excellent coffee.
All in all we had a wonderful time in Chicago, and truly wonderful meals. The only thing I feel needs a final comment was the dress code thing. Yes, all four places we went to are listed as business casual, and only one of which, Topolobampo, I went to in jeans, and a button down shirt, as it was lunch, and we were out and about. But, there were many patrons at Topo, and Frontera in nice jeans, as well as a few in shorts. At the other places I wore my non-fading black jeans which were fine, though at least 30% of patrons at Naha, and Burkes were in jeans, it was more like 60% at Girl and the Goat. I don't wish to start a dress code war, but I saw nothing wrong with the way anyone was dressed in any of the places we went, and obviously the restaurants themselves didn't either, as if they did they would not have allowed those patrons in. While you would certainly not feel out of place in any of the places we visited in a suit and tie, I can't say that you'd feel out of place at any of them with a nice pair of jeans, and button down shirt either.
626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610
500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610
Yes, thanks for the report!
Oh, and just a comment on the attire thing. I'm sure none of us wants to be the "attire police"! All I really want to know when I go to a restaurant is, what do most people wear? I don't want to look conspicuous, for overdressing or underdressing. Terms to describe the attire can be interpreted differently, but here's what I generally expect. If a place says that it is "business casual", I normally assume that few people wear jeans and they would be out of place; if a place says that it is "smart casual", I normally assume that nice jeans would be appropriate, as would non-denim slacks and even non-denim shorts. I would avoid ripped jeans, t-shirts, and the like at a place that says "smart casual", but anything goes if a listing says "casual". I also generally assume that a place may be a bit more casual for breakfast, lunch, or brunch, so nice jeans might be seen at lunchtime at a place that is normally "business casual" at dinner. Again, these are NOT rules; they are simply what I have learned is what I usually see based on these terms.
As it turns out, that is exactly consistent with what you describe. You claim that all four places you went are "business casual", but that is not true. The current Opentable listings for David Burke's Primehouse and Naha say "smart casual" and the Girl and the Goat says "casual", and that's what you observed at all three of those places. Topolobampo says "business casual" but you went there for lunch, when attire may be less casual than at dinner. I ate dinner at Topolobampo earlier this year, and I could not see whether or not others were wearing denim jeans, because as you know, the restaurant is somewhat cramped. It is also somewhat of a special case, because it is a "restaurant within a restaurant", occupying one dining room inside Frontera Grill, which is well known to be more casual than Topolobampo.
Again, I am only passing along what I have observed and how it fits with the listings for those restaurants. Hope this information is helpful.
Like I said, I intended no offense by the dress remarks, just reporting what I saw. I got the idea they were all "business casual" from this remark you posted in my other thread,
"Burke's, Naha, and the Girl and the Goat are all "business casual" type places. I agree with the above comment that jeans would be a bit too casual. Khaki "Dockers" would be about as casual as I would recommend" - nsxtasy
500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610
re: ms. mika
It really was a phenomenal trip. I forgot that we also did the Willis tower observatory, and saw the walk through maze and stained glass museum at the Navy Pier. There are so many other places to go to in Chicago that we would be interested in, that we'll definitely be back to visit again.