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uhockey reviews a quick trip to Chicago: 6/16-6/18: Including Next, Avenues, Naha, Longman & Eagle, M.Henrietta, Doughnut Vault, and more.

First of all, thanks to all the great Chicago hounds for their recommendations. As usual this site proves to be an invaluable resource for traveling well, dining well, and meeting fantastic people.

These reviews are my thoughts - I'm not a "pro," just a guy who likes to write and loves to eat. The blog is a hobby and my posts both there and here are intended only to help others enjoy similar great experiences (or to avoid the rare disaster.)

Reviews will be slow in coming as I tend to be wordy/thorough and also have to work - hence the delay in even getting started.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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  1. Doughnut Vault, Black Dog Gelato, Alliance Bakery, Mindy's Hot Chocolate, Atwood Cafe:

    Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/06/d...

    Having just returned from Boston a week earlier the turnaround time for yet another trip to the Windy City was short, but with NEXT reservations and a trip to the Rookery as well as Wright’s Home, Studio, and Walking Tour of Oak Park as the impetus for the trip and two of my very favorite people coming along for the ride I knew it would be a whirlwind of great memories. As the reigning champion on my list of favorite Breakfast/Brunch cities and resting near the apex of best dining cities overall the question of where to eat was harder than it should have been, but after much debate three breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners made the final cut along with a number of snacks in between.

    Having gotten up at my traditional “insane” hour according to my mother for a nice run our departure from her home in Northwest Ohio would precede sunrise by a few hours and making great time our arrival to Chicago would not only beat the rush hour traffic, but also leave us waiting outside our first stop before the doors opened…in a line of about ten that would subsequently grow to thirty or more at a relative newcomer to the local food scene; The Doughnut Vault.

    Located in a doorway off North Franklin and open from “Tuesdays-Friday starting at 8:30am until we run out. And Saturdays at 9:30am until we run out” The Doughnut Vault is the brainchild of Brendan Sodikoff who also owns Chicago’s “Gilt Bar” (and a pretty impressive resume including time with Keller and Ducasse) and although there have been some detractors calling his success yet another food fad, it is hard to argue with lines greater than twenty deep ever since opening in April and having never been “wowed” by a doughnut I took my place in queue as we watched the metermaids do their thing.

    With the line growing slowly the doors would open at 9:30 on the dot and as mostly locals and regulars stood at the front it would be no time at all before we found ourselves before a nice young woman dancing to cheesy 80s music and with a quick exchange of “What can I get you?”, “One of each.”, “Good choice - $14, cash only.” we were on the street again with a big box of doughnuts including a Gingerbread Stack, Old Fashioned Buttermilk, Vanilla Glazed, Chocolate Glazed, and Pistachio Glazed – all still warm – and all shockingly delicious despite my previous convictions about fried dough.

    Beginning first with the gingerbread stack – three “smaller” doughnuts (IE a normal sized doughnut like you might get from Dunkin) – these were the heaviest of the quintet and but despite the cakey texture they were anything but oily, instead similar to a coffee cake and loaded with spicy notes, cinnamon, and sugar. Moving next to the Buttermilk – another dense cakelike doughnut, smaller (and cheaper) than the others – something like a cruller but with tangy notes, a melt-in-the-mouth glaze, and not a bit of greasiness. Last but not least – the glazed trio – each at least twice the size of a “normal” doughnut yet nearly as light as a glazed Krispy Kreme with a wispy yeasty interior contrasting with a slightly crisp sugary shell first coated in the same glaze as the buttermilk but then with an additional layer of flavoring – each delectable but most impressive the Pistachio with subtle smoky notes and bits of crushed nut for texture; easily on par with the best baked breakfast goods I’ve had in Chicago and well worth both the $3 and getting out of bed early enough to avoid the line.

    With sightseeing consuming much of our first day a second snack stop on this trip to Chicago was another relative newcomer to the scene – this time in the frozen variety from Black Dog Gelato, a small shop in the Ukrainian Village that wasn’t necessarily “on our way back” from Oak Park, but a relatively short detour hopefully well worth it for those of us with an eye for esoteric ice cream flavors. Oft raved by local gourmands and sourced by local chefs for their dessert menus it was with luck that we not only found Black Dog to be unbusy, but also that we found free parking right next door.

    With twelve flavors on rotation and three young ladies working on cookies and house-whipped cream in the back it was without delay that we were greeted and with The Shins playing overhead our smiley server suggested to “let me know if there’s anything you’d like to taste” before we even made it to the counter; and taste we did, making it through ten of the flavors before we finally decided to order three small ($4.75) cups with two flavors in each and a clear predilection for sweet meets savory.

    Beginning with the one flop, at least to me, Mexican Hot Chocolate was simply one of those flavors that worked as a small bite but when served in quantity proved to be not only overwhelming but damned hot. Creamy and textural to be sure it was just too much on its own, but vastly improved when mixed with Salted Peanut – a mellow and smooth flavor somewhat akin to the inside of a peanut butter cup but far more buttery. Moving on to “safer” but delectable options, Butterscotch Bourbon Pecan and Pistachio would both taste very much like their namesake ingredients with the Butterscotch tasting largely like a southern-style pecan pie rendered into a silky dense gelato. Finally, amongst the more interesting and challenging flavors, Goat Cheese-Cashew Caramel and Sesame Fig Chocolate Chip would prove most delightful – particularly the sesame fig chocolate combination which was equal parts sweet and savory, smooth and crunchy but a bit less dense than I’d have expected from gelato – perhaps a good thing considering the amount of eating we did on this trip, but overall enough to make me say I appreciate what Black Dog is doing but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it at such a high price point.

    For our finally mid-day bite in Chicago – this one on day two – we opted for an older member of the culinary scene that I’d actually walked into once prior during the Renegade Art Fair but neglected to buy from due to the line; Wicker Park’s own Alliance Bakery. Again scoring free parking and making our way to the shop with ease as hipsters and families alike dined on the sunny patio a stop at the window was mandatory first simply to witness the masterful cakes ranging from Green Eggs n’ Ham to Macaron towers to three tiered wedding cakes.

    With the doors open letting in a cool breeze (and letting out the wonderful smells of butter and vanilla) we next made our way in to see what Chef Peter Rios and a team of youngsters (both in the kitchen and at the counter) had on display and after a few tough decisions we emerged from the shop to enjoy our choices on the patio.

    Beginning first with the French classics, my mother selected two Macarons – one Blueberry Cheesecake and the other Passion fruit chocolate – both textbook in texture with a crackling shell giving way to lovely filling, but the Passion fruit Chocolate so cloyingly sweet that between two of us the $2 cookie went unfinished. Thankfully the Blueberry Cheesecake fared much better.

    Moving next to two of the standards by which I judge a bakery my aunt’s and my selection were a Red Velvet Cupcake and the Dulce de Leche Bread Pudding. Beginning first with the cupcake, a $3.50 selection with good notes of cocoa and a tangy cream cheese frosting started out with a good base, but was unfortunately a bit dry – so much so that when my aunt took a bite the back half fell off landing directly on her chest; a comedic event to be sure, but not exactly the way a cupcake should be remembered. Moving next to the Bread Pudding which was served in a small tin topped with a sugar lacquered strawberry and powdered – it was dense and it was sweet, no more and no less but thankfully only $2.50.

    With sightseeing, breakfasts, lunches, snacks and bites shared with the family while dinners were either with friends (NEXT) or flying solo (Avenues,) both nights of the trip would see me reconvene with my mother and aunt after dinner for dessert – a sweet ending to an evening pizza for them and a third or fourth bit of indulgence for myself (but who’s counting?) – and on the first night our target after drinks and bites at Aviary would be a place my aunt had always wanted to visit and a place that had for too long flown under my radar; Mindy Segal’s newly renamed “Mindy’s Hot Chocolate” on North Damen.

    Described by optimists as an upscale café with great desserts and by detractors as an “overpriced urban bistro” with savories lagging far behind the sweets our trip to the four time Beard Award Nominee’s flagship admittedly came with a bit of warning – namely that the place can be wildly inconsistent, loud, and that after 9:00pm seating could be tricky – and after once again finding free parking (clearly our lucky day) we walked through the front doors to find two out of three to be true instantaneously; the place was deafening and our options for seating included the lounge or “about an hour for a table.”

    With a quick glance to the ladies and a brief browsing of the depleted pastry case we elected for the lounge not only because it seemed quite and comfortable, but also because the clock was pushing 10:00pm and we’d not yet even checked into our hotel and without hesitation we were led to a cozy corner with long leather benches and appropriately low lying tables complete with silverware, candles, and water glasses that were filled without hesitation. Greeted next by our server, Laura K, we were asked if we’d ever visited before and on stating we had not she explained to us that each “dessert” was generally composed of two to three different items and we were left to decide – a process that took no time at all as we’d already researched the online menu en route to Chicago.

    With orders placed and service appropriate but largely separated from the lounge throughout the evening the first item to arrive was a prerequisite given the restaurant’s name and although not quite as transcendent as that at Jacques Genin or LA Burdick the Black and Tan Hot Chocolate made of 1/3 hot fudge and 2/3 medium cocoa hot chocolate was certainly rich, creamy, and entirely too much for one person (especially after a full day of eating.) Sharing it around the three of us it was interesting to hear different impressions – all positive, but each catching different notes in the chocolate from vanilla to honey to fruit.

    Moving on to the proper desserts – each priced at $11 – my mother’s choice was the restaurant’s signature “Chocolate #1(64%)” featuring a warm chocolate soufflé tart topped with salted caramel ice cream and a tuille of housemade pretzel; an exercise in balance and every bit worthy of its acclaim. Beginning first with the tart – hot, molten, and bitter – sure the concept of a lava cake is played, but as long as it made with great care and better chocolate it really doesn’t matter, especially when it is matched with extra sweet yet subtly saline ice cream and a crunchy salty sourdough pretzel for texture.

    Moving on to my dessert, a seasonal option titled “My Honey Pie” and featuring “warm and luscious honey pie with honey-roasted peanuts, honey caramel, berry-rose syrup, graham cracker and ‘PB&J’ Ice Cream Sandwich this dish was another winner, but a case where one less ingredient could have been more. Beginning first with the pie – I love honey, I love peanuts, and I love caramel so it is needless to say that the warm gooey amalgam poured inside a thick buttery graham cracker shell had ‘had me at hello’ even before Segal crash landed a peanut butter and grape jelly ice cream sandwich directly into it. Already with a lot going on – fruit, honey, sweet, savory, hot, cold, gooey, and crunchy – the unfortunate aspect of this dish was not knowing when to quit, specifically in reference to the cloyingly sweet syrup whose perfume did nothing but distract from the pie’s nuance even though it was present in only a small quantity.

    For the final dessert, my aunt’s (and the one I’d have ordered had she not,) “O’Dan-A-Banana” featuring a ‘nilla puddin’ icebox cake with ‘nilla wafers, cocoa nib ganache, vanilla bean pudding, bananas foster sauce, and a chocolate phosphate was everything I’d hoped for when planning to visit Hot Chocolate and then some. Beginning first with the phosphate – it was a textbook old school chocolate soda with a bit of extra thickness from the cream and although sweet the slight sour from the phosphate proved a perfect foil to the other half of the plate; a cake that would have been more appropriately described as a horizontal mille-feuille with alternating layers of thick banana pudding diving crispy house made wafers doused with caramelized banana chunks in a hot boozy sauce plus a bit of extra chocolate for good measure – all in all the best dessert I’d taste on this entire visit to Chicago.

    With the bill paid and people still continuing to file in even as we exited the restaurant around 10:30 we thanked our server and again made our way to the street where a short drive would land us at our hotel exhausted, full, and happy to have experienced Segal’s intriguing concoctions even though not all were perfect and despite the fact that our ears were still ringing as though we’d just been to a concert as opposed to a restaurant (okay, slight exaggeration.) That said, having now experienced the scene at night I’d definitely not hesitate to return for brunch to see the savory side of the menu – and to try those brioche doughnuts the girl at the table next to us was eating.

    Moving on to our final non-meal bites of the trip, the second night’s dessert setting would feature one of Chicago’s elder restaurants – The Atwood Café located inside the classic Reliance Building – a fitting end to a day that saw us spend most of our time downtown browsing Chicago’s iconic architecture from The Rookery to The Watertower and a distinct opposite from the loud cutting edge scene of the previous night at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate.

    Making our way into the small restaurant by way of the hotel we were greeted first by tuxedoed door men and then by a friendly host named Patrick who would additionally act as our server for the evening. With the hour again past 10:00 we were told the main menu was no longer available and confirming that just desserts and coffee was our intent we were led to a nice four top in the middle of the heavily draped and upholstered room where we found both silverware and menus continuing the robust art-deco theme. With water poured and coffee offered and accepted by myself it was little time before our decisions were made and with a jovial “all the best choices” Patrick disappeared only to return moments later with both water refills and coffee warm-ups and once again ten minutes later with our dessert selections.

    Without a bad sounding selection on the menu, the first dessert – my mother’s – would be the most “plain” yet at the same time perhaps the most intriguing, a dish called Buttermilk Pie with Huckleberry Compote. Described as being fashioned after something the pastry chef’s mother used to make at a diner down south and somewhere between tangy custard and sweet panna cotta baked into a soft shortbread crust this simple pie was topped with pan reduced huckleberries bursting with their juices and a dollop of whipped cream that served more to smooth than to sweeten – all in all this was diner food dressed up and down-home delicious.

    Moving next to the more complex menu options, my aunt’s choice for the evening would be Red Velvet Cookie Dough with Goat Cheese Icing and Beet Puree – clearly another southern inspired dish, but this time reconstructed from the ground up with dollops of what literally tasted like chocolate chip cookie dough touched with cocoa and cream beneath inverted ice cream cones and resting atop a thick and tangy cream cheese. With the earthy flavor of beets both spread across the base of the plate and lacquering the inside of the cones this dish was far less sweet than what most folks would expect from Red Velvet (as popularized by the cupcake craze) but actually much more interesting though I must admit the texture of the cookie dough did get to be a bit much at times.

    Rounding up the trio with my choice, a choice that would have been a no-brainer on any menu in America for me, Fig Bread Pudding with Lemon Basil Sorbet and Chantilly Cream was every bit as good as anticipated…or at least the Bread Pudding and Chantilly Cream were. Beginning first with the pudding – to be fair it was less bread pudding and more a traditional English Steamed pudding rich with both creamy and fibrous bits heavily accented with notes of honey, cinnamon, and brown sugar, but semantics aside it was great, especially when paired with the light and smooth Chantilly plus drizzles of honey fig sauce on the plate. Loving the bulk of the plate and really rather indifferent to the sorbet I’ll only note that while it didn’t really “hurt” anything, the sweet and savory concoction certainly did not compliment the dish in any conceivable manner and would have likely been served with another dish while pairing something more fitting with the pudding.

    With no pressure to leave as Rat Pack standards played overhead we sat for a while enjoying our desserts while I sipped my coffee before Patrick would stop by again to make sure all was well and suggest we request the bill “whenever we were ready.” Another cup of coffee later and at this point not really making much difference in my fatigue the bill was next collected and paid with a sizable tip and after declining a cab since we’d driven we made our way to the streets which, save for the elevated train were largely quiet, and with my mother opting to drive I fell asleep almost the moment we got into the car - a well earned food coma if I do say so myself.

    -----
    Hot Chocolate
    1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

    5 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      Did you ever make it to Doughnut Plant in NYC, BTW? Searched your blog, didn't find anything. (I'm still waiting on your Shopsin's review!)

      1. re: kathryn

        Yes - it is in there - can't link here as it belongs on another board. Was highly unimpressed.by 2/3 options and Doughnut Vault is far better IMO. Hoping to get to Dynamo in SF soon.

        Shopsin's was awesome, and eventually it'll get up there - I have great notes from a number of meals that trip waiting to be written up in full.

        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

        1. re: uhockey

          My theory is that a city can be a doughnut town or a bagel town but not both; NYC doughnut makers lack competition/demand. The only doughnuts I like at Doughnut Plant are cake doughnuts (you can easily order very poorly there, which is a shame), for yeast-raised, I go to Peter Pan.

          Looks like Doughnut Vault does mainly yeast raised save for the Gingerbread Stack? And you can only order the entire stack? About how many people were in line in front of you? Sounds like once they start serving, the line moves quickly?

          1. re: kathryn

            Yes, may I ask what time you arrived to get in line, and how long after their 9:30 opening you were served? TIA!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              We arrived at 9:10, there were 10 in front of us - mostly locals and a number of them picking up doughnuts for the office. By the time the door opened there were ~30 in line but by the time we'd finished eating a few doughnuts while standing by the car (and watching the meter maids ticked a total of FOUR cars in the 35 minutes we were parked) there were only about 10 left in line and that was after a few more had joined - the average transaction time is ~2 minutes I'd say.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              The gingerbread stack is 3 doughnuts for $3.

    2. Longman & Eagle:

      Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/06/l...

      With our early time of arrival noted and my love of Chicago’s Breakfast/Brunch scene well established the first breakfast (following appetizers from Doughnut Vault) of the trip would be of the Michelin Starred Variety – the daily brunch Service at Logan Square hipster staple Longman & Eagle. Helmed by Chef Jared Wentworth and described with nearly every ubiquitous foodie buzzword from “Gastro-Pub” to “farm to table” to “nose to tail” yet continually garnering great reviews from all who’d been there I have to admit that going in I was a skeptic, but at the same time the menu looked great and by going early on a weekday I figured we could avoid the scene – a scene we almost avoided twice because despite the use of a googlemaps we still drove right past the scantily marked restaurant twice before noting the simple “&” over the door and finding a parking space just outside.

      With the weather mild and the doors open as tunes from Robert Johnston and Charlie Parker flowed into the streets we made our into the restaurant to find it largely empty – only two tables filled in the whole space – and wondering if they were even open for business yet we were greeted warmly first by the bartender and then by our waitress, a young lady named Gina who suggested we sit wherever we like. With the scent of pork heavy in the air and the bartender mixing up a whisky sour for one of the ladies at the table nearest the back door we opted for a nicely lit spot closer to the front and navigating heavily wooded and unfinished brick room there was unquestionably a slightly artificial feel to the space, but at the same time it wasn’t so much as to make it feel forced.

      Seated now with menus in hand and water filled adult beverages were offered and declined with myself and my mother opting for coffee (Metropolis) that unfortunately reached empty far too many times for a restaurant so unpopulated while my aunt opted for Orange Juice – at $3 actually a bargain compared to other breakfasts in Chicago. With the menu rather short decisions were made and within five minutes of seating our orders were placed allowing us to sit back, relax, and listen to everything from slave-era chants to late 40s big band while we waited.

      With a few more folks trickling in, mostly young men opting to sit at the bar and booze over breakfast, our first dish to arrive would be an appetizer shared by all and despite my mother’s insistence that she dislikes scones this was the second time in a row (the last at Bouchon) that she exclaimed the words “Best Scone Ever” as she took a bite of the house-made Cinnamon, Honey, and Apricot Scone topped with Clotted Cream. Beginning first with the scone itself – a heterogeneous biscuit dotted with pockets of butter, sugar, and dried apricots – it was marvelous, but what truly put this scone on another level was the smear of clotted cream and an ample drizzle of apricot tinged honey.

      With the scone devoured and our coffees finally receiving a refill at my request it would be another short wait before our main courses would arrive and when they did each looked wonderful but only one actually turned out to be so. Beginning first with mine; Croque Madame with Local Ham, Gruyere, Mornay Sauce, and Duck Egg was overall quite good – a prototype in its ingredients and balance but foiled slightly by the country style bread which was far too crunchy at first but became more pliable with the addition of some of the creamy Mornay served alongside and the rupture of the salted quivering egg. Served with skillet potatoes that were fine but nothing to write home about this was a competent dish, but not on par with other croques I’ve had (Michelin Starred or not.

      )

      Moving next to my mother’s choice, Fried Chicken, Waffles, Sweet Potato & Pork Belly Hash, Vermont Maple Syrup – let’s just say the waffle was good and the hash was great while the chicken was…well…even a bit too undercooked for my tastes and damned near raw compared to my mother’s preferences. Beginning first with the waffle – thicker than generally served with chicken but fluffy and full of yeasty vanilla tones that went great with the syrup. Next up, the hash – smoky and sweet, a touch of nutmeg and perfectly prepared. Finally, the chicken – great coating and crunch, but pink flesh and skin so fatty that it was actually wet – a disappointment that my mother (who “doesn’t like to make a scene”) refused to mention, but stated just last week was some of the worst fried chicken she has ever eaten.

      Last but not least my aunt selected the Bananas Foster French Toast with Banana Pudding, Bourbon Caramel Sauce, and Goat Cheese Semifreddo – a dish oddly similar to the dessert she’d order that evening at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, but actually even better. Featuring two thick slices of golden brioche with a supple interior (note to L&E, use this on the Croque) and an eggy custard wash resting in a puddle of warm pureed bananas and topped with savory cream cheese frosting plus boozy salted caramel this was the sort of sweet breakfast I’d have expected from a place like Bongo Room or M.Henry but definitely not from a gastropub – it was shockingly sweet yet surprisingly balanced and while dessert worthy also rather light on the stomach given the fluffy nature of the bread.

      Again having to request a refill, this time by raising my hand like a child in elementary school, Gina stopped by to inquire if we were “all finished” and entirely ignoring the mostly uneaten pink chicken proceeded to collect our plates before filling the coffee and leaving the tab. With the bill paid and a modest (undeserved) tip left it was exactly one hour after we entered the Longman & Eagle that we left and all things being equal I rather doubt I’ll ever be back – though I will admit looking at the dessert menu and having experienced the brunch the team does seem to have some skills with the sweet stuff.

      -----
      Bongo Room
      1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

      Hot Chocolate
      1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

      9 Replies
      1. re: uhockey

        Certainly no excuses for any bad meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but do you think brunch just might not be their strong point?

        However, undercooked fried chicken seems to be a major fault for any restaurant anywhere and it makes me hesitate to visit Longman and Eagle

        1. re: wreckers00

          I don't know - the brunch menu looked great (choice wise) which is why we went. The dinner menu looks good, as do the desserts - but who knows about execution (and the packed-ness of the room?)

          A lot of people seem to believe that undercooked chicken is a huge heatlh issue, but in reality it isn't THAT much bigger an issue than any other uncooked item provided it is stored and sourced well. Salmonella is surely an "issue" but moreso with commercially grown chicken farms than with naturally sourced product. The problem with undercooked chicken is that it simply doesn't taste as good as other undercooked meats.

          I think L&E could be great at dinner - but given Chicago's dining scene I don't think I'd chance it when there are so many other great places I could go instead.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          1. re: uhockey

            Truly uncooked chicken, unlike many other uncooked meat, can be dangerous since it can carry salmonella without being detected.

            Chicken can be pinkish but fully cooked (via sous-vide), those are safe. This practice becomes very common lately. I can't tell if L&E sous-vide their chicken since I never had their fried chicken; though I would not be surprised if they do.

            www.theskinnyduck.com

            1. re: theskinnyduck

              I'm well aware of both of the above facts and can tell you 100% without a doubt this was undercooked. Having had a number of sous vided chicken preps this was nothing (at all) like sous vide.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          2. re: wreckers00

            I loved the brunch and L&E. i thought they fully deserved their Michelin creds. I ordered the Sunny Side Duck Egg Hash and when it came to the table, I nearly swooned at the truffle fragrance. This is no rustic thrown-together hash. The dish is a neat ring containing hunks of duck confit, a brunoise of Yukon gold potatoes, fresh chopped spring onions and an exquisite, sweet black truffle vinaigrette swirled on one side of the plate. It was topped with two perfectly cooked fried eggs.

            Mr. CG had the strada, which was nothing like strada I might make at home for a company brunch. This was a carefully composed concert of brioche, homemade chorizo, tiny Spanish pequilla peppers, dates, and ros, an artisan, aged sheep’s milk cheese from Spain’s Basque region. While it is egg that holds it together when it bakes, this strata is also topped with a fried egg. It was sweet. It was savory. It was spicy. It was totally satisfying.

            We have also been there for dinner, had an excellent experience, highly recommend it and will be going back.

            I understand uhockey's service and chicken issues, but either it wasn't as bad when we were there or we enjoyed the food enough and were having so much fun we didn't care. More about our brunch experience here: http://foodbeest.com/2011/05/24/rock-...

            1. re: chicgail

              A) Glad you had a good time.
              B) Had no idea you had a blog. Must investigate further. :-)

              Service was bad - chicken was real bad, but the place does seem to have potential in some areas (and many reviews.)

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              1. re: chicgail

                FYI, the duck hash was my other choice vs. the croque but our server was far too preoccupied doing nothing to make a recommendation.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                1. re: uhockey

                  Really sorry about that. We've been there three times and each time our server was attentive and helpful and the food was awesome. I have to assume you hit an off-night and something going on that you didn't know about that just threw everything off.

                  And given our similar experiences many places, it's nice to know that a food blog is something else we both have in common.

                  1. re: chicgail

                    >> I have to assume you hit an off-night

                    Or an off-morning. :)

          3. Spacca Napoli:

            Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/06/s...

            …having admittedly never traveled to Naples but a seeker of great Pizzas both in Chicago and in a number of cities around the United States, many of which have been named to any number of “Best Pizza in the America” lists, it was with great interest that lunch would lead us to Spacca Napoli – the only Vera Pizza Napoletana certified restaurant in a city overflowing with great pizza. Owned and operated by Pizzaiuolo Jon Goldsmith and his family and reportedly designed to not only recreate the pizza of Southern Italy, but also their traditions and hospitality Spacca had long been on my list and with mother and aunt in tow after a long afternoon in Oak Park it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

            Having heard from others that since the expansion Spacca Napoli was vastly more accessible than it once was but waits could still be long due to the single oven our arrival at 2:00pm proved to be quite opportune as free parking proved abundant in the Ravenswood area and lunch service was just winding down as we arrived. With the air a bit warm and the patio umbrellas shading a few leftover patrons we made our way into the restaurant to the lovely smells of yeast and tomatoes and greeted by our hostess/server/busser Rachelle we were led to a small four-top in the middle of the surprisingly empty dining room.

            With menus presented and a wine list deferred Rachelle next proceeded to explain the daily specials and after a few quick questions waters were filled and we were left to our decisions eventually settling for two pizzas and two Italian sodas – one Aronciata and one Limonata, both bubbly and subtle without being overly sweet.

            With the oven belonging only to us it would be a mere ten minutes before our pizzas would arrive and sticking to the “less is more” approach both were lightly dressed and invariable delcious. Beginning first with the “Funghi” featuring Fior di Latte Mozzarella, Basil, and Mushrooms the cheese was as mild as one would expect from fresh cow’s milk mozzarella while the sauce was lightly sweeted with just touch of acid and spice that complimented the mushroom’s earthy finish nicely. While the toppings were good, however, where this pie really shined was in the crust – a light and supple yet slightly crisp and toasty ring of smoky flavor that remained slightly undercooked in the middle; about as authentic as it gets.

            Moving next to our second pizza, this one slightly more irregularly shaped with great pockets of air in the yeasty dough, the Bufalina – with Basil, Mozzarella di Bufala, and Olive Oil would prove even better than the Funghi for one simple reason – that ever so subtle funk from the intensely creamy cheese and the manner in which it so nicely blended with a thin pour of grassy olive oil. As I noted above, I can’t claim I’ve ever been to Italy, but if the Pizza there is better than this I need to start planning my trip.

            With pizzas mostly consumed and the rest packed up to go Rachelle would next appear with dessert menus and although tempting I had plans to visit Black Dog Gelato next and deferred while the ladies opted to try two selections, the first a rather flavorless but appropriately silky Panna Cotta served with a substantially more tasty pear-balsamic compote and the second a creamy block of house made spumoni complete with pistachio, rum, strawberry and chocolate ice creams plus a whipped cream and candied fruit center that although tasty in parts did not work for me in its entirety due to the subpar chocolate ice cream and overpowering notes of rum.

            In and out in under an hour I will note that while it may be unfair to judge our service considering the one-to-one server-to-table ratio I found Rachelle to be both friendly and knowledgeable as she manned everything but the pizza oven and although the space admittedly feels a lot more commercial/casual than New York or Philadelphia’s most well regarded pizzerias the pies themselves were absolutely genuine and delicious. As for the desserts – well – most of the “Best Pizza in America” locations don’t even serve sweets…and besides, the folks who ordered them actually enjoyed their choices.

            -----
            Spacca Napoli
            1769 W Sunnyside Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

            Olive Oil Restaurant
            1154 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091

            3 Replies
            1. re: uhockey

              >> Spacca Napoli – the only Vera Pizza Napoletana certified restaurant in a city overflowing with great pizza.

              It is true that Spacca Napoli is the only restaurant certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Americas within the city limits of Chicago. However, Parker's ( www.parkersamerican.com ), in the western suburb of Downers Grove, is also certified for their pizza napoletana, as you can see on the association's website at www.verapizzanapoletana.org

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I did indeed see that - will have to place it on my list with Burt's Place (Not remotely the same, obviously) for the next trip in November.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                -----
                Burt's Place
                8541 N Ferris Ave, Morton Grove, IL

                1. re: uhockey

                  Incidentally, Parker's is well-known for excellent seafood as much as it is for the pizza. (Until a recent name change, it was called Parker's Ocean Grill.) So feel free to order some great seafood along with your pizza.

                  As for Burt's, call ahead with your order, as he's been known to turn down people who just show up without calling ahead.

            2. Next "Paris 1906" and The Aviary:

              Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/06/n...

              To call the hype surrounding Chef Grant Achatz’s “NEXT” substantial would be the understatement of the year…or perhaps of last year since first the restaurant was named the “most anticipated restaurant in America” for 2010 and didn’t even start selling tickets (yes, tickets) until March of 2011. Beginning with the rumors, then the website, then there was the mailing list, and finally the trainwreck involving online ticket sales and scalpers charging $1000+/seat on craigslist I will fully admit that I’d been watching the developments from the start and like anyone else interested in the world of fine dining I was not only intrigued, but lucky enough to sign up early and avoid the hysteria purchasing a two-top for 6/16/11 with minimal difficulty on the first day of sales.

              To those who have read nothing about NEXT there is a pretty good chance they wouldn’t be reading some random guy from Ohio’s blog about gastronomy and as such I’ll spare the details – especially considering how much has already been written about the experience in nearly every foodblog east of the Mississippi. Located in the Fulton Market and largely unadorned save for a valet parking sign and a small sign in the window reading “Next Paris 1906” my friend Dave and I arrived on time and dressed in jackets and ties made our way into the small entryway where we were greeted by a pair of young ladies who collected or tickets and ushered us quickly to our table and with beverage choices pre-decided an equally quick greeting from our captain and a description of the menu’s theme would see still water poured and things get underway “toute de suite.”

              With the room long and narrow and the gleaming kitchen emitting a piercing white light both Dave and I noted that despite the theme the restaurant itself as well as the dress of the servers was rather plain – largely dissociated from the era and clearly capable of being reinvented regularly to fit the seasonal theme. With small spotlights overhead and era appropriate linens and service ware on the tables the feeling of NEXT was intimate without feeling contrived and as light era-appropriate French music played overhead the restaurant was energetic without being loud – a nice balance that harkened an era without feeling contrived.

              With the stage set and seeing a number of tables around us at various points in their meal already it was with a bit of surprise that our first course consisted of the Hors d’Oeuvres tray and not the gougeres or individual service of foie gras I saw many others receiving and even more a surprise when our tray contained only four items plus the foie as opposed to the six the four-top next to us had just received (including what I believe was rabbit boudin and salmon mousse.) A bit perplexed but expecting perhaps a second service we dug right in to the ornate arrangement beginning first with “les ouefs Benedictine” - a cod cream custard with truffles, followed by leek wrapped mushroom duxelles, sesame crackers with pork rillette and pickled onions, a liquid centered quail topped with pickled anchovies/lemon zest/tarragon, plus brioche stuffed with foie gras torchon and topped with apricots and pickled mustard seeds with ground black pepper. With each bite delicious and balanced I will note that the foie gras was particularly lovely and amongst the best tochons I’ve had while both egg dishes were entirely unique and full of nuance.

              With a second service never arriving we chalked it up to bad luck or a poorly timed seating and within minutes were treated to our first proper course of the menu, “Potage a la Tortue Claire.” With turtle soup a true classic dating back to the early 1900s and rarely featured on menus (Particularly in the United States) these days our bowl arrived with only mirepox present at first but was then shortly followed by a young gentlemen who poured the “snapping turtle consommé” tableside. With the broth clean and clear with breaths of alcohol slightly overwhelming the deeper meaty flavors it was good, but rather simple for me and while not as interesting as my previous experience with turtle soup at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, certainly more subtle and befitting a tasting menu.

              For our second course of the meal we would receive the night’s sole bread course – a small (literally only 1.5x the size of a golf ball) roll with crunchy crust and delicate crumb plus a creamy salted butter speckled with fleur de sel. We were informed this roll would be ideal for soaking up the juices of our next course, but given its size this seemed rather unlikely and I instead used it and the subsequently requested (requested, not offered) rolls as a delivery mechanism for the butter.

              For our second proper course, “Filet de Sole Daumont” would arrive perhaps 5 minutes after we’d finished the soup and realizing the speed with which we were being moved we opted to slow our pace a bit and talk at length between bites. Served with classic stylings on a bed of silky Sauce Nantua thick with cream, béchamel, and crayfish butter the plate itself would feature for distinct entities, each unique and each quite tasty and mostly well prepared. Beginning first with the center – a poached paupiette of sole that was light and flavorful but a bit dry the other flavors on the plate were more successful and included crayfish head and thorax stuffed with crayfish mousseline, a fried button mushroom stuffed with and crayfish tail meat, and a creamy fried morsel of sole roe. Complex and decadent this was precisely the sort of dish I expected when visiting Next and Dave felt it was the standout of the night by a considerable margin.

              For the third course, Dave’s least favorite and rather blasé both in taste and presentation from my standpoint as well, Supremes de Poussin was another classic looking dish but this time gussied up with modern technique. Served as two separate components, each involving chicken, the center of the plate was dominated by a diamond shaped slice of compressed chicken breast cooked sous vide and poached in butter topped with a creamy sauce of cream and what I believe was either chicken liver or foie gras – it was flavorful and texturally exquisite but certainly no better than any number of other (more substantial) chicken preparations I’ve tasted stateside and certainly not on par with those in Paris. Moving on to the other half of the dish – a portion Dave took one bite of before setting down his silverware and suggesting “if you like it, it’s yours” – we were served poached cucumber rounds stuffed with a chicken mousse and wrapped with pork belly. Soft and silky with a bit of brine and a touch of sweet I’ll note that while I ate mine I didn’t like it enough to warrant taking Dave’s and despite the fact that the food remained when our waiter returned the plate was simply collected and returned to the kitchen robotically without comment.

              With the earlier seated two top to our left having enjoyed a supplemental dish described as “lamb three ways” it was with a bit of disheartenment that our next course would be preceded with the delivery of service items indicating it was time for the shared main course entitled “Canetone Rouennais a la Presse” with “Gratin de Pommes de Terre a la Dauphinoise.” At this point approximately 50 minutes into the meal and wondering why, precisely, every table around us seemed to be receiving “extras” while we were being rushed through our evening the duck and potatoes would arrive to at least temporarily assuage the sting as both were not only good but downright fantastic.

              Beginning first with the duck – sourced from Rouen and brined whole for “seven to ten hours depending on size” prior to roasting and subsequent carving with the breasts finished in the pan while the extremities were confited – it was absolutely flawless. Crispy skin, rosy flesh, full bodied taste without a bit of gaminess and a great contrast between the supple lean breasts and crisp fatty legs…really flawless and only made better by a briny mineral tinged sauce produced by pressing the duck’s carcass rendering its natural juices with cognac and red wine. Not to be outdone in the decadence department the side dish of mandolined “twice cooked” Yukon Gold potatoes layered with cream, herbs, and aged cheese finished in the oven were by far the best ‘au gratin’ potatoes I’ve ever tasted and with Dave sporting a rather slight appetite I had more than my fair share.

              For our palate cleanser, at this point convinced there was no way we’d receive the bonus Sauternes Sorbet that I’d seen served to the gougeres table, Salade Irma would arrive featuring an edible nasturtium flower and its leaves, asparagus, radish, and frisee plus a light vinaigrette that although beautiful and elegant simply did nothing to add or subtract from the experience save for evoke a “well, that was pretty” from me and a “so, you can eat the flower – right?” from Dave.

              With palates theoretically cleansed dessert would arrive precisely 75 minutes after we were seated and entitled “Bombe Ceylan” it would be perhaps my favorite dish of the night save for the duck. With a base of dark cocoa shortbread topped with a chilly creamed center of coffee semi-freddo and topped with a dome of rum ice cream sprayed with dark cocoa and surrounded by crème anglaise and rum soaked cherries. With four layers of texture and the flavors all blending flawlessly to create what was essentially an edible cocktail I only wish there had been more – or that I’d have had the group for the kitchen table so I could have tried the soufflé as well.

              With the time now bordering on 90 minutes since our seating the Bombe plates were collected and within thirty seconds a tray of mignardises appeared with golden copies of the menu. Again shorting us our tray contained only three options (at least four were provided from what I could see a couple tables down as the tables adjacent to us were still enjoying their duck) – a beet gelee, salted caramels, and a unique pistachio butter cake with a texture something like a dry marshmallow – and with the tray collected we were thanked for coming and more-or-less led to the door where the friendly hostesses bid us a good evening.

              As Dave and I bid one another farewell he noted “wow, that was good – but fast” and concurring I suggested he could come over to Aviary with my family and I for a drink but he declined due to an hour long drive home. With promises to get together again soon I made my way next door admittedly feeling a little bummed about both the brevity and overall price to experience ratio at Next; I specifically wondered to myself whether the restaurant would garner the hype it does based on the food alone and deciding this unlikely I was left with the nagging thought that while I’d gotten what I paid for, others around us had gotten more for the same dollar and while I can’t say for sure why that was (perhaps they were ALL friends of the house?) those tables also hadn’t been rushed through their service as we had. With good and sometimes great food, average but scripted service, and an idea that far outstrips the actual experience I admit I’m still intrigued to return to NEXT, but only to the Kitchen Table where I can rest assured that the experience – food, duration, location – at least stands its very best chance of living up to the hype created mostly thus far by a ticket system.

              With my mood already a bit off the “greeting” at The Aviary was not exactly uplifting when I was stopped by a large bouncer-esque fellow dressed in Mad-Men Era costume communicating via Bluetooth to make sure my mother and aunt were inside before allowing me to enter (despite the space being less than 1/3 full.) When I was finally “okayed” I was told “have a nice time” and on making my way into the dark, chic, and genuinely sexy room with lavish drapes and comfortable couches abound swanky I was welcomed by a young lady who would lead me past the open “cocktail kitchen” to a space in the middle of the room where my family was seated enjoying bites and a couple of drinks. Greeted with a “wow, that was fast” regarding the duration of my meal at NEXT I told them a bit of the story but to avoid spoiling the mood decided to save my thoughts for later as a menu was presented.

              With low-volume electronica playing overhead and the menu in hand it was explained to me that the list was arranged something like Alinea, but in this case from sweet to dry with the birds to the left ranging further from the text for more complicated tastes. With a taste of my mother’s Hemingway featuring Grapefruit, Lime, Maraschino, and Rum – a relatively straight forward option – and my Aunt’s Pineapple with Mint, Sanbitter, Chartreuse, and Pineapple juice that arrived in an ornate slowly melting form becoming sweeter with time I opted to embrace my inner “Dude” and selected the White Russian with Milk, Ristretto, and Rum – another slowly melting cocktail with high quality rum blended with a half shot of Intelligentsia Espresso and foamed milk alongside sweetened “milk ice” forming an angular slant in the glass.

              With drinks to be enjoyed slowly due to both their price and their potency I additionally opted for three “bites” to go with my drink, but prior to receiving either drink or bite I was served a “cocktail amuse” described as a “Spicy Watermelon bite” with melon compressed in soju liquor and topped with soy pudding, sesame seeds, and micro cilantro – a tasty and refreshing burst of flavor that most certainly would not have been out of place at Alinea.

              Moving on to the bites – pricey at $4-6 each – I opted for a trio beginning with “Chowder – Croquette, Clam, Spicy Corn Pudding,” then “Foie Gras – Rhubarb, Pumpernickel, Lavender,” and finally “Brioche – Chocolate, Smoked Salt, Vanilla,” all three excellent with the first tasting like a liquid hush puppy in a golden shell, the second a bitter/sweet amalgam with the sapor of foie gras giving way to notes of lavender, and the third a chocolate square topped with smoky salinity and filled with what I can only describe as liquid French Toast – all wonderful, as expected from my previous two visits to the North Halsted flagship.

              With drinks consumed we debated whether to order a second round but having not yet even checked into our hotel and debating yet another dessert stop to finish the night we decided the better part of valor was to call it quits at a total of three drinks and nine bites – and a total bill of $106 – more than I’d ever anticipated spending at a bar anywhere, especially with my family, yet oddly a “value” that felt better than that at NEXT an hour prior if only for the novelty of it. If my tolerance were higher I would definitely consider going back for the kitchen table menu, but even as it stands I’ve no doubt I’ll be back to sample future creations on subsequent visits to Chicago – whether I return to NEXT or not.

              -----
              Alinea
              1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              27 Replies
              1. re: uhockey

                Definitely order the Blueberry next time you're at the Aviary. Easily shareable as well.

                Curious as to why you keep referring to the restaurant as all-caps NEXT. It doesn't stand for anything....unless you are intending to shout its name each time?

                1. re: kathryn

                  Prevents Word from detecting it as an error in grammar.

                  Saw too many Blueberries come out while we were there and really wanted to see how they could "dress up" a white russian as it tends to be my drink of choice if drinking. Will definitely be back, though.

                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  1. re: uhockey

                    Word, shmord. I'll just keep on picturing you shouting "NEXXXXXT!!!!" with an angry first!

                    Here's a recent menu, looks like 1/2 of drinks are only available as part of a 3 drink prix fixe now:
                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/57628994...

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Honestly, Michael, I'm a little surprised by your review for Next. We ate there and had a similar experience, perhaps with some of the extras that you didn't receive. However, while service was adequate it was never symbiotic with the moment or the mood, and although the food was excellent it was by no means extraordinary. I'm surprised that you would actually want to go back. Kudos for wanting to give Achatz and his team a second chance to make things right, and I've no doubt the kitchen table would be a far superior experience. But I firmly believe Next is a two-thirds version of Alinea, floating on hype and privilege more so than any genuine originality or competence. Furthermore, Achatz can't be in two places at once, and it would break my heart to go back to Alinea now and not have him make my dessert for me. The best Next could ever be is what Bouchon is to French Laundry. Bouchon is great, but it ain't no Laundry. Anyway, my point is, I won't be doing Next again. Apart from getting the tickets, it wasn't that special. One would be better off dedicating a couple hours to Aviary, getting bites to go with your drinks, and kindly asking the server if there's space available in Next towards the end of the night. If so, great. If not, nothing has been lost.

                      I know how much you cherish Alinea -- it's the main picture on your blog. So give Next another try. But you know as well as I that it won't blow your mind even if you get all the extras and the servers treat you like Christ. It will never be Alinea Deux.

                      1. re: grimaldi

                        I absolutely agree that it isn't and never will be Alinea - and I don't think it intended to be. I really like the IDEA behind the restaurant and still consider my first visit to Alinea my second favorite meal ever. The second trip to Alinea was also tremendous, but not quite as great in my opinion.

                        Next has become a "foodie" thing - it is cool amongst the FoodNetwork crowd in a way that Alinea / The French Laundry / Daniel / Vetri / and others will never be. To be honest, NEXT is barely fine dining IMO - it is more on the level with North Pond, BlackBird, etc as a "second tier" restaurant. BonSoiree was better. Everest was better. Vie was better. It isn't even close to the league that Alinea, L2o, Avenues, or Schwa.

                        The reason I'd go back for the kitchen table is because I like that sort of dining - being able to see the kitchen and interact with the staff - I'd do it for that reason and the execution of the food - but I'm not going back to be rushed through a dining experience.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                        -----
                        Alinea
                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                        North Pond
                        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                        1. re: uhockey

                          I agree with chicgail and grimaldi, and to a lesser extent uhockey.

                          "Next" is such a hyped-up phenomenon that the gushing reviews from so many folks (esp. on their Facebook wall) seem to reflect the disconnect between what the experience constituted [at least in my view] and what has to be justified on the basis of the effort expended (and "allure" thereof) to get in. chicgail referred to this phenomenon in her post too. When I ate there I was less than entirely happy as I have mentioned elsewhere on CH, and felt that the service and value were less than what should have been.

                          I ate as a solo diner at a two-top for their Paris 1906 menu, with email correspondence beforehand such that my dining on double portions was to be annotated as such in their vaunted service notes. In the event, I had to go back up to the FOH after the starters and actually remind them of this. I did request later single servings of the desserts and received same, but for the others I would say I still received a single serving of the comsomme and perhaps a 1 1/2 serving of the chicken. I did not enjoy the wine pairings as much as one might have expected and found the wine served with the duck to be off-putting. Like chicgail, I enjoyed the Hors d'oeuvres and the Salad Irma the best, liked the chicken and loved the cucumbers, loved the duck but hated the potatoes in the context they were served in - I thought they clashed badly with the duck. I disliked the fish course - far too salty and the sole was both too soft and also "lost" in the midst of all that other stuff. I was unmoved by the desserts and migniardises. Liked the coffee. Got no extra courses such as uhockey described observing at other tables.

                          Price: all in, $330 for a dinner for one that was short on the food and with fumbled service at the start, although it was good afterwards and I do give them credit for accommodating my eating as a solo diner and their plating the stuff on a single plate where feasible. They were also obliging in setting up a place for me at Aviary after dinner at my request, made during dinner.

                          1. re: huiray

                            I'm not sure how au gratin potatoes can possibly clash with duck.....or how the fish could be too salty while the cucumbers not.

                            Anyhow - at this point I think it is too early to know where Next fits in the grand scheme of things, but given its popularity I think it is here to stay.

                            I forgot about the coffee. That was good.

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            1. re: uhockey

                              To me, the potatoes just did. Far too cheesy, far too creamy, far too rich. The dairy tastes simply smothered the taste of the duck. Killed it. The particular savory taste and tang of the duck flesh simply disappeared when one ate it with those potatoes and the after-taste of the cheese and cream persisted until I gargled with wine and water.

                              It was the sauce for the fish dish that I got that was very salty. The cucumbers that I got were nicely savory, not too salty at all.

                              1. re: huiray

                                Clearly consistency isn't as strong as many seem to think - or our palates are very different.

                                If I'm right those potatoes were laden with aged comte and if that is the case - yeah, I'll have ALL my potatoes that way from now on.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                        2. re: grimaldi

                          I agree with all of you.

                          Our one dinner experience at Alinea is truly a silver box dinner (you know, put it in a beautiful silver box and take it out to remember it from time to time). So the anticipation for NEXT was high.

                          I worked like a demon to get "same night tickets" at NEXT for the Paris 1906 menu and was thrilled to have have the opportunity to pay $100 each for dinner, plus wine pairing (how crazy is that?). And while the overall experience was pretty extraordinary and the food was very good, very well prepared classic French dishes, I was expecting more. I was expecting knock-your-socks off awesome. For me it was "been there. done that." There were just two dishes we loved -- the hors d'oerves and salad, frankly.

                          But the restaurant team has done a brilliant job of creating buzz, demand and expectation that impacts how people experience the whole thing. Any time you have to work that hard just for the privilege of paying that much for dinner, you may find yourself justifying the cost and effort by saying how good it was.

                          I haven't yet tried to get Bangkok 2060 tickets. I waiting to see what people are saying. What I've heard so far is that the first course (perhaps as with the first course at Paris 1906) - which is street food served on newspaper -- is outstanding and the rest, maybe not so much. And I don't yet get how 2060 plays into it. I was anticipating that that would mean more molecular gastronomy a la Alinea,

                          1. re: chicgail

                            They announced that it is not "Bangkok 2060" as it was originally announced on the teaser trailer, but rather "Tour of Thailand."

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            1. re: uhockey

                              Too bad. It sounds like the meal could well prepared, authentic, but rather pedestrian when all is said and done. I will continue to wait and monitor the early reports.

                              1. re: chicgail

                                They're suffering from ratings inflation due to the fan-boy appeal.

                                LTH has a number of reviews - mostly mixed - but the appetizer seems the hit again and people are really polarized about the perfume dessert.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Did you post your Avenues review yet? Having long been a fan of the place, and perplexed at its under-representation on this list, I am interested to hear what you thought.
                                  I have not managed to get into Next as I cannot access Facebook at work, and am only allowed IE on my work computer. I could try for a same-day table at weekends, but getting a babysitter at short notice is not easy, nor do I feel good about canceling a booking somewhere else at short notice if we already have a babysitter lined up just because Next feels the need to have a funky booking system.
                                  I have pretty much resigned myself to not being able to go, so we will have to make do with Alinea!
                                  It sounds like Aviary is now pretty easy to get into. Leaving cost out of it, how easy would it be to make a full meal out of the bites there do you think?

                                  1. re: Chihab

                                    >> we will have to make do with Alinea!

                                    Too bad. LOL!

                                    1. re: Chihab

                                      > It sounds like Aviary is now pretty easy to get into. Leaving cost out of
                                      > it, how easy would it be to make a full meal out of the bites there do
                                      > you think?

                                      There bites there are REALLY small, each piece is about an inch-cube. We had a 10-course tasting with quite many bites, but they're like nothing.

                                      www.theskinnyduck.com

                                      1. re: theskinnyduck

                                        I think you've have to order 40-50 bites at The Aviary to even resemble a meal. They're more like the amuse you get at upscale restaurants.

                                        If you've eaten at Alinea and gotten an item (like the oxalis cube) on the teardrop shaped serving piece, then you'll have a frame of reference, as that's about how big they are.

                                        Compare:
                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryn/...
                                        To:
                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryn/...

                                        -----
                                        Alinea
                                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                        1. re: kathryn

                                          ...and, y'know, is a marvelous mechanism for GA & Co to make a lot of money.

                                      2. re: Chihab

                                        Avenues is outstanding and you need to go there before Duffy leaves.

                                        My "Top 5" meals in Chicago would be:
                                        Alinea, L2o (w/ Gras), Schwa, Avenues, Charlie Trotters.

                                        I'd rank all of the following above NEXT as well:
                                        Tru, NAHA, Bonsoiree, Girl and the Goat, Everest, Henri, Coco Pazzo, Blackbird, Vie, Cafe Spiaggia, Topolobampo.

                                        Please "make do" with Alinea.

                                        The review is not yet up - life gets in the way. :-)

                                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                        -----
                                        Alinea
                                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                        Bonsoiree
                                        2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

                                        Charlie Trotter's
                                        816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

                                        Cafe Spiaggia
                                        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                        Topolobampo
                                        445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                                        Coco Pazzo Cafe
                                        636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

                                        Girl and the Goat
                                        809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

                                        1. re: Chihab

                                          Avenues is a fine meal. Have one there before Duffy leaves if you can, but as others have said elsewhere one expects it will go on to showcase another chef in due course who will execute very good food.

                                          Next is a mixed bag, as posts up and down this thread have alluded to. Please don't feel that it is the end of the world if you cannot get there to eat.

                                          1. re: huiray

                                            >> Have one there before Duffy leaves if you can, but as others have said elsewhere one expects it will go on to showcase another chef in due course who will execute very good food.

                                            And Duffy's intention is to open his own place with aspirations at least as high as Avenues, so some time in the near future that will be an option as well.

                                            1. re: nsxtasy

                                              That is fine n' dandy, but I'd still recommend anyone visiting Chicago visit Avenues under Duffy's care - and when he moves, go there too.

                                              I need to return to L2o to see if it remains wonderful w/o Gras and I need to get to TRU under the new Chef, as well - but with that said and Schwa being what Schwa is (noisy, unpredictable) I'd say Avenues is the second best restaurant in the city currently.

                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                One last note on Next... the funny thing / or sad note (however you look at it) is that 7000+ people jammed the server when the tickets went on sale, and the resto only needed to sell several hundred tickets to sell out the Thailand tour. That means there were thousands of potential customers, and therefore hundreds of thousands of dollars that they will never take in. I realize Next is haute-cuisine and not a Cheesecake Factory, but lost revenue is lost revenue, and if I were a partner with Achatz I'd be pulling my hair out knowing all that money was lost to a competitor.

                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                  I have said before in this board that Avenues is a great restaurant. I rank it somewhere in my top 5 meals all time and ahead of Alinea. When I was there Duffy was in the kitchen for the first half and then his sous Nick Romero took over for the other half. Romero is a fine chef IMO and I wonder if he will be following Duffy in his new venture. He would probably do very well running Avenues though I imagine the restaurant might want to bring in a brand new team.

                                                  1. re: nextguy

                                                    I could be wrong, but I heard Duffy was bringing his sous, pastry chef and most of his team with him to his new restaurant.

                                                    Don't quote me on that though

                        3. Kanela:

                          Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/06/k...

                          When going for brunch in Chicago N. Clark St. is generally a good call – M. Henry, Over Easy, Orange, Ann Sather, Big Jones…let’s just say Lakeview and Andersonville aren’t hurting for their eggs, pancakes, and bacon – but having already been to the big names and wanting an eclectic weekday breakfast experience this visit to Chicago would bring us to a relative newcomer – the Greek offerings of Kanela Breakfast Club. Owned and operated by Chris Lardakis and featuring both name and theme inspired by his upbringing and a love of cinnamon I’ll admit I’d heard mixed reviews of both the food and service at Kanela, but in the end the menu and coffee sourcing won me over and with the early opening hour of 7:00am both the location and time matched our day’s agenda perfectly.

                          Arriving early with street parking plenty available we made our way to the surprisingly large café after a drive past Wrigley and given the early hour the space was empty save for two tables – one with patrons and one with Lardakis himself sitting and chatting with staff as they prepared for the day’s service. Greeted pleasantly by our server, Tara S. at the door we were asked where we’d like to sit and with a four top in the middle of the room selected we sat – two of us in sturdy wood chairs and one in the booth. With the restaurant largely modern (think exposed brick, wood, tile) yet restrained save for a couple of crystal chandeliers and a small coffee bar to the right we were next presented with menus, offered coffee, and left to make decisions while light pop music played overhead.

                          With a strong cup from Julius Meinl with caramel notes and a satin finish brewed quickly (and refilled consistently without need for request throughout our meal) Tara would return to take our orders and to give us her opinions on what dishes she considers must haves. Inquiring as to whether two appetizers and three entrees would be too much she informed us that it would “probably be fine” as the chef focuses more on quality than quantity – but that this would be “quite a bit of food.” With orders placed we again sat back and chatted while Lardakis returned to the kitchen and Tara took to writing the daily specials on the chalkboard.

                          With the restaurant largely empty it would be perhaps ten minutes before our first dishes would arrive – in this case a favorite of both my aunt and myself in the form of “monkey bread” that really wasn’t much like pull-apart monkey bread at all, but rather a dense muffin loaded with smooth pureed banana, notes of cinnamon and walnuts, and a nearly soufflé-like top with a slightly gooey crumb. Served warm it was excellent, but at $4 perhaps a bit overpriced for a muffin.

                          Moving next to the dish recommended strongly by our server, my mother’s favorite item of the meal was the Bougatsa. At $4 and essentially the same size/weight as the monkey bread this flat pastry featured dainty crisp phyllo encompassing what was described as “lemon-honey custard” but what instead tasted almost like meyer lemon curd given its density and subdued sweetness. Complimented with fresh strawberries and a wisp of whipped cream it truly was tasty, though getting more than a bite proved somewhat daunting as mom seemed to be guarding it with fork and knife.

                          With appetites primed and plates cleared as coffee was refilled once again it would be a short while before our main courses would arrive and with the ladies selecting sweets I opted instead to go savory for the second morning in a row by selecting the duck confit hash with sunny side eggs, charred scallions, and a sauce described as orange truffle vinaigrette. Served not really as “duck confit hash” but rather as duck confit + hash, the fowl itself was excellent and paired nicely with the acidic yet earthy sauce while the potatoes were buttery, loaded with herbs, and slightly smoky from the inclusion of the crispy scallions. Completing the plate with two nicely prepared eggs topped with just a drizzle of olive oil all the flavors married nicely while a side of 9-grain toast with butter and strawberry jam proved quite handy for sopping up the runny egg and vinaigrette.

                          Having already established my mother’s love for lemon her selection of the Kanela French Toast with apricot and sweet lemon crème fraiche came as no surprise and while I’m traditionally not a fan of citrus I personally thought this the best dish of the morning largely because the golden brioche with a pillowy custard center was so exquisitely done that it may rank amongst the best textured French Toasts of all time. While certainly never one to shy away from a breakfast too sweet, an additional surprise in the Kanela French Toast was the light accents of the accoutrements – the crème only mildly kissed with lemon and the apricot compote a smear on the plate. Surely the addition of pure maple syrup didn’t hurt, but it also wasn’t necessary to make this dish shine.

                          For my aunt’s selection she surprisingly selected what has seemingly become Kanela’s most highly acclaimed dish – the Bacon Waffle with Chocolate Bacon, Bourbon Caramel, and Bacon Dust – and like the French Toast it was quite impressive albeit a little bit heavy handed. Beginning first with the bacon riddled waffle, it was a nice balance of sweet and savory with the bacon largely serving as exclamation points of flavor in the golden dough. Topped with grated bacon and two strips of slightly chewy pork dipped in chocolate and resting above drizzles of salty caramel and bitter chocolate I actually think the dish may have been better off without the bacon dust if only to mellow the salinity – but then again, the chocolate did a nice job of creating a balance so perhaps simply drizzling a bit of chocolate on the waffle itself would have helped instead as the drizzle on the plate simply wasn’t enough to account for the whole waffle.

                          With dishes cleaned and coffee again refilled Tara asked if there was anything else we’d like and declining we were given the check followed by a quick visit from the chef to ask us how everything had been. With our compliments (and the bill) paid we made our way to the sunny streets just about one hour after our arrival and with that proceeded to our noon tour of the Rookery not full, but content and glad to see that North Clark Street’s embarrassment of Brunch riches has grown by one.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: uhockey

                            I was not impressed with the food at Kanela Breakfast Club. I see you note that your eggs topping the duck confit were "nicely prepared"; maybe they've learned how to cook eggs since I went. Mine were dreadfully undercooked, with the egg whites clear and runny. I also had the loukoumades (Greek donuts) which were just okay, nothing special. Overall, there are so many really excellent breakfast places around Chicago that I wouldn't go back to one that was disappointing and nothing special the way Kanela was when I went there.

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              Too bad - it wasn't m.henry/m.henrietta good nor BongoRoom good, but I liked it better than Jam, Toast, Yolk, Over Easy, etc. If you look at the pictures you'll note the eggs look quite nice - and - to be fair, you missed out on their 2 signatures so maybe results would be different (then again, I firmly believe that if a restaurant puts something on the menu it should be good, so there is no excuse if yours wasn't.)

                              I'd not rush back considering the quality of the Chicago breakfast scene, but in most other cities Kanela would be damned good.

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