Current Visit Impressions
I was back in Chicago visiting family for the past two weeks and planned quite a bit around restaurants. Here's my take on a few new places I visited and return visits to some favorites.
Girl and the Goat - This was my first visit and it was great. I just wish I could go back more often. We tried probably 14 of the courses and there weren't many misses. There were some more memorable than others, but none that missed. We had an 8pm reservation on a Tuesday and didn't get seated until 8:30. They were very nice and gave us two types of bread free for having to wait. The courses that were the highlights were chickpea fritters, escargot ravioli, hiramasa crudo with pork belly, and sugo. The sugo was so good that we ordered a second plate after polishing off the first. I won't go into much detail, but this is food the way I like it. Perfectly seasoned, well thought out and not something you'll see at other places. The desserts were great as well. They weren't too sweet and had a great touch of savory. The blood orange sorbet had a great cracked pepper after taste to it and the pork fat doughnuts were pretty spot on as well.
Blackbird (lunch) - I think this could be the best deal in the city. The prix fixe three course menu for $22. Hard to beat in my opinion. I had a fennel soup with lamb bacon. Great start to a meal on a spring day. I had the roasted chicken main which was fantastic. It was a roasted dark meat rolled in it's skin and roasted along with some chicken sausage. It was perfect. I'm blanking on dessert, but that's because the chicken is what's really sticking out in my mind.
Next Restaurant - I was lucky enough to book the kitchen table on day 1 and it was great. I know this has been written about to death, but it was a great experience. Having Chef Beran press a whole duck table side was something else. That lamb course was everything everyone has said, but the sauce it was sitting in was unbelievable. The caviar course was plentiful that we were all fighting over the dish when we ran out of bellinis. They also served one of the lightest chocolate souffles I've ever had. The wine pairings were excellent, but I will say that I was expecting a bit heavier pours. We were all full at the end of the meal, but I would happily do that again. It will be interesting to see how they do 14 courses for a Thai menu.
Aviary - I went to the Aviary the night before Next to make sure I got in during my visit which was a good idea because they were slammed at 10:30 on Saturday, but we waited 20 minutes around the same time on Friday. Two of us went through quite a few drinks and bites as well. The drink of the night was definitely the roobios. Aside from the great tableside presentation, it tasted like an orange drink, but a heck of a lot stronger. The truffle negroni was probably the best negroni I've ever had. I could have smelled that drink all night. However, the slice of truffle at the end wasn't the ending I was hoping for. The Pineapple was probably my third favorite. Had a great spiciness to it, but was sweet. The dark and stormy was well made, but nothing outside of the ordinary other than being bottled in house and served in a brown paper bag. The ginger wasn't all I was hoping for. It was good, but as the ginger started to melt, it separated and set on top of the vodka side car like a broken vinaigrette. Just a bit off putting towards the end. The bites were great as well. The wagyu and potato were the favorites by far. The foie gras was a bit cold and too sweet for what I was expecting. The chocolate wasn't my cup of tea either. All in all a great lounge that I'll happily go back to.
Big Star - Made a few trips here. By far one of my favorite places for lunch, dinner or just drinks. You can't go wrong with their guac or queso fundido. The al pastor are spot on and I was really liking the fish tacos as well. They had a nice heat to them. I also tried the Sonoran hot dog for the first time. While it's a disaster to eat, it is completely worth it. Try a fork and knife if you can figure that out. The dog had a good heat to it as well and the toppings helped cool it down some. Plus they have Mexican Coca Cola. Something I don't think you can find anywhere else in Chicago.
Beer bars during Chicago Craft Beer Week -
Revolution Brewing - Great new bar with some well crafted beers. We had some small bites as well.
Map Room - Always a favorite. Friendly staff and great beer list. Tried to stay local with the IPAs and wasn't disappointed. There was a deli meat spread put out for people to take what they wanted which was nice.
Piece - Ended the night was a small sausage pizza and a few more beers. Great Chicago thin crust pizza.
Xoxo - Stopped by for breakfast before catching a train to the suburbs. The ham/cheese/pepper empenada was a great bite to eat on the train. I kept the salsa it was served with for chips and salsa later that afternoon. The Aztec hot chocolate is everything it's cracked up to be. And it's great to dip the churros in. I also grabbed a torta from Frontera Tortas at O'Hare on my way out of town and while it wasn't as good as ones I've had a Xoxo (probably because of the wood oven versus the salamander) it was still well above all the other food in the airport.
I also got my fill of Chicago style dogs and thin crust pizza. Two things I haven't found anywhere outside of Chicago.
I'm sure there are a few places I'm forgetting, but those were the memorable ones. I'm already looking forward to my next trip back, even though it won't be for probably another year.
The Map Room
1949 N Hoyne Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
2323 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Sounds like a fun trip. I will say, however, that you could probably find Mexican Coke in hundreds of places in Chicago. Mexican food is just that prolific there.
Did the menu change at Next?
Chef Beran pressed a whole duck table side? Were you at the kitchen table?
Here's what I was served, less than a month ago:
Potage à la Tortue Claire
Filet de Sole Daumont
Suprêmes de Poussin
Caneton Rouennais à la Presse
Gratin de Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise
He mentioned "booked the kitchen table day 1" and all three of those courses are part of that experience.
Totally jealous as I simply don't know enough people in the city (or people willing to travel) to have booked it.
Love the comments on Blackbird and G&TG - agree on both entirely.
It was definitely worth it for the Paris menu. The kitchen seemed giddy at times over the extra courses for the kitchen table. It will be interesting to see how they do a kitchen table for the Thai menu. I've eaten at my fair share of very good Thai restaurants over the past year and will be curious to see how they do 14 or so courses and not leave the diners feeling stuffed to the brim.