HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
What's your latest food project? Get great advice
TELL US

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

uhockey Jul 22, 2011 05:14 PM

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

  1. uhockey Aug 7, 2011 05:42 PM

    That is all - thanks to all you great hounds as always. Will be back in November for more. :-)

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

    6 Replies
    1. re: uhockey
      k
      kathryn Aug 8, 2011 06:45 AM

      Thanks for the excellent report!

      1. re: kathryn
        uhockey Aug 8, 2011 08:31 AM

        I do my best to contribute as much as I take away from these boards - people like you (at least in NYC) are what help me see the highlights and miss the lowpoints in all the cities I visit.

        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

        1. re: uhockey
          naughtyb Aug 16, 2011 12:32 PM

          Hey uhockey,
          Have you gone by another name or written your blog under another name? Like epicurean something?? I remember reading your blog quite a long time ago about your trip to Las Vegas and remember enjoying it. I just dont remember it being under the name of uhockey. Didn't you eat at Joel Robuchon's "Mansion" in Vegas?

          -----
          Las Vegas Restaurant
          914 Main St, Antioch, IL 60002

          1. re: naughtyb
            nsxtasy Aug 16, 2011 01:30 PM

            I know of one individual who posts on various food forums under the username "ulterior epicure". I suspect that may be whom you're thinking of. Whether that is the same person as uhockey, I have no idea.

            1. re: naughtyb
              uhockey Aug 16, 2011 04:23 PM

              I've written under this same screenname since 1995 in various forums and contexts. I have indeed eaten at Robuchon and a number of other spots, all of which/are categorized on my blog under the same name.

              There are myriad blogs out there vastly better and more well traveled than mine - nsxtsasy names just one of them.

              My blog is generally cross posted here because I use Chowhound for ideas and like to give back to the community.

              Cheers.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              1. re: uhockey
                naughtyb Aug 17, 2011 10:54 AM

                I was just curious. I wasn't hinting at anything or trying anything subversive (not that you were accusing me of that either). I think nxtasy may be correct about the blog that I was thinking about but I know I have read your blog on more than one occasion because once I saw your picture on your blog, I immediately remembered you were in the medical field. By the way, I've enjoyed reading the blog and am curious where the hell you find all the room to put all the damn food you talk about!

      2. uhockey Aug 7, 2011 05:41 PM

        m.henrietta:

        Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

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

        Seeing as vacation was too short – as it almost invariably always is – our final day in Chicago would be restricted to only breakfast before beginning the drive back to Toledo and with my plans including a return to Columbus after dropping mother and aunt off I knew I wanted something hearty to last me through the day – a desire I had little doubt would be fulfilled by m.henrietta, the sister restaurant of one of my favorite brunches of all time. Featuring the same concept as its older sibling (local, seasonal, fresh, and organic) but reportedly with shorter lines and plenty of inexpensive/free parking just off the Loyola campus our arrival at m.henrietta would be surprisingly early despite my long morning run and just as promised we walked through the front door to find the restaurant approximately 1/2 full at 8:30am.

        With the sun shining through large picture windows and the space decorated quite similarly to its North Clark sibling we were greeted shortly after entering the restaurant by a young woman who invited us to taste some samples – a blueberry poppyseed muffin and a slice of chocolate pound cake both still warm and tasty – prior to being led to our table where another young lady named Katie would take over again welcoming us and subsequently filling waters while handing us menus and taking drink orders. With mannerisms a bit rushed as it appeared she was the only server currently staffing the dining room we were invited to “take our time – and check out the bakery case” as she stepped away.

        With the menu largely similar to that at m.henry yet featuring several seasonal variations it would not take us long to decide on our selections and despite the staffing issues Katie would return within moments carrying two coffees – a nutty blend by Metropolis – plus my aunt’s orange juice and when told we were ready to order she smiled stating “all the best stuff – great choices” before again returning to the front and subsequently returning less than ten minutes later with not only the first of many perfectly timed coffee refills, but also with a small order of the house-signature “amazing breakfast bread pudding” – a dish we’d experienced once prior at m.henry but this time perhaps even better with the brioche more dense and buttery, the custard sweeter, and the compliment of fruit a bit less overwhelming of the notes of cinnamon and vanilla.

        Making short work of the bread pudding and with the restaurant now beginning to fill up our primary plates would arrive perhaps twenty-five minutes after we entered the restaurant and with each of us opting for sweets over savories the selections were exactly what I’d hoped for beginning first with my aunt’s selection of the daily special “Peach Blueberry French Toast,” a two-slice stack of thick cut golden brioche with a lovely exterior crunch and custard soft interior stuffed with (and subsequently topped with) warm peaches, whole blueberries, vanilla crème, brown sugar, and toasted oats that was every bit as good as the bread pudding and perhaps even better given the textural variation created by the oats.

        Unable to get enough of the henry/henrietta family brioche and ever a fan of lemon in all forms my mother’s selection for the morning was another French Toast that would prove every bit as lovely as my aunt’s, but this time lacking the oats and instead described as “Lemon raspberry brioche french toast” served with two slices of dense and crispy Applewood smoked bacon. With the bread this time stacked three high and dusted in powdered sugar plus a dollop of warm house made lemon curd and sweet raspberry coulis I have to admit that although I am not a fan of lemon in general I quite liked the mildness of this presentation while my mother deemed it her favorite breakfast of the trip by far.

        With the French Toast as good as our previous visit my selection for the morning would be a seasonal variation of another dish we’d tasted before – the appropriately named “bliss cakes,” this time presented as two light and fluffy hotcakes layered with warm blackberries, vanilla mascarpone cream and topped similarly to my aunt’s French Toast with a brown sugar and oat crust with the whole stack floating in a pool of sweetened blackberry reduction that negated any need for syrup but instead left me wishing for one more cake or perhaps a slice of that brioche to soak up every last drop.

        With the restaurant now full (and a few more servers circulating) Katie again returned to clear our plates and asking us if there was anything else we’d like I requested a “to go” cup for my coffee along with the check – a wish that was happily granted and with the bill paid we made our way to the streets less than fifty minutes after entering m.henrietta all the happier for having visited and wishing for the umpteenth time that a place even half this good existed in Northwest or Central Ohio.

        1. uhockey Aug 7, 2011 01:18 PM

          Full review with pictures in the blog, text as below:

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

          For my last dinner on this trip to Chicago the choice came down to Graham Elliot, Ria, or Avenues – not a bad one in the bunch from what I’d been told, but with one standing far above the others amongst the palates I tend to trust and with rumors swirling (and subsequently confirmed) that Chef Curtis Duffy would soon be leaving The Peninsula to open his own restaurant I figured now was as good a time as ever to see what was happening at Avenues.

          Having already mentioned Duffy I have to admit I’m not really sure why it had taken me so long to visit Avenues given my frequent trips to the Windy City. A former chef at Alinea well known for his ability to work modern (“molecular?”) technique into his classical training I’d always been curious as to what was going on in the kitchen just off North Michigan Avenue, but between the confounded website menu and other great dining options in Chicago I always found myself compelled to look elsewhere until now, dining alone and with the option to sit at a Chef’s counter peering directly into the open kitchen where Duffy doesn’t so much cook, but rather directs like a maestro and educates like a professor.

          With reservations made well in advance it was a bit of a surprise to me when I arrived at the Peninsula and found that I actually had to ascend to the lobby and subsequently the seventh floor to visit the restaurant, but never one to stay at high end hotels when I’d rather spend my money on high end dining I must note that outside of the rare exception The Peninsula Chicago proved to be one of the most classy and well adorned hotels I have ever seen. With polished marble abound and gilded fixtures gleaming at each turn I made my way past the famous “Lobby at The Peninsula Chocolate Bar” (complete with full jazz quintet) to the door of Avenues just moments early for my 7:00pm reservation and greeted by a young woman who greeted me by name (perhaps I was the only party of one that evening?) I was led swiftly to the otherwise empty chef’s counter – to a seat perhaps 5 feet from Duffy and even closer to the rest of his team.

          With the swivel-top high-backed stool soft and supple beneath me and a counter of polished marble topped first with a bronze mat and then an artistic waxed menu featuring a photograph of one of Duffy’s previous creations before me it would be mere seconds before one of my three person team of servers would arrive to offer water (still or sparkling) and a menu of wines and cocktails. Deciding that a place with such unique presentations would likely do something equally interesting with their cocktails I decided to take a look and within seconds was left to decide between which of three sounded best – a rarity to say the least – and in the end a decision that a surprise comp at meal’s end for unknown reasons save for perhaps my praise for Duffy’s talents at meals end (and chuckling at his ongoing banter with the sommelier about pressure from management to “push the wine pairings” – an issue he was clearly a tad disgruntled about throughout the meal.

          )

          With the menu explained – chef’s tasting, vegetarian tasting, or any/all of the choices available ALC – and a small modification requested (no beef for the main course) ordering was a breeze and with greetings by a number of the chefs as they did their work plus an invitation to ask questions about any dish or technique it would be a short wait before things would begin – first with the aforementioned cocktail, a glass entitled “Toblerone” and without exaggerating a drink that tasted almost identical to the celebrated candy bar with notes of thick cream and honey muffling the almond and coffee tones of a blend of Frangelico, Bailey’s, and Kahlua.

          Sitting back and sipping my drink while browsing the dining room – a fairly dull but well spaced area with floor to ceiling windows, chandeliers, and flowers – I was a bit surprised that Avenues sat half-empty during prime dining hours on a Friday, especially with reservations near impossible to nab at other spots in Chicago’s upper echelon of dining, but given the economy and the packed Lobby I can only note that perhaps it was for the better as the server to diner ratio was seemingly one to one and throughout the evening I was never for want for anything from water to dish descriptions to conversation from my servers or the men and women in the kitchen – as a matter of fact I was even offered magazines to read while I waited between courses; an offer that was appreciated albeit largely unnecessary given the action before me.

          With servers circulating and each station churning out beautiful plate after beautiful plate my first taste of Duffy’s cuisine would arrive in the form of an amuse bouche every bit the size and complexity of any of the proper plates – a dish described as “Uni – Rhubarb, Licorice, Pea Puree” Beginning first with the urchin tongue the plate began with briny sweetness quickly balanced by green “Peas” that were actually liquid nitrogen frozen pea puree slightly muted by bitter notes that harkened faintly of licorice. With strands of poached rhubarb adding a fibrous component to the dish and a shrimp chip providing some crunch this plate would prove a sign of things to come with each of the subsequent presentations displaying a great degree of manipulation, nuance, and character yet at the same time superior sourcing, balance, and technique.

          Moving next to the tasting menu proper, the first course of the night is perhaps Chef Duffy’s most famous – a layered dish titled “Alaskan King Crab – Golden Brook Trout Roe, Kalamansi, Lemon Mint” with so many textures and flavors that it really must be experienced to be understood. Deliverd with the roe, mint, and other creams and textures atop a sugar chip with the supple crab, more roe, and refreshing cucumber broth below the diner is instructed to crack the chip and “explore” the dish – a great suggestion as truly no two bites are alike with some sweet, some briny, and all entirely delicious.

          With the first course now a lovely memory on my palate the next item to arrive at my table was the first of a number of “bread pairings” served with an ornately sculptured plate of Cows Butter and Black Salt, Olive Oil Emulsion with Mixed Herbs and Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Emulsion with Meyer Lemon with white Balsamic. Beginning first with “bolillo bread” – a bread something like a whole grain baguette with a crunchy exterior and open crumb I can only say that while this bread lacked in flavor and complexity compared to later offerings it did prove to be the best for highlighting each of the spreads – both the butter and the herbal olive oil excellent while the lemon emulsion was a bit too potent for my tastes.

          Moving forward and with courses arriving uniformly just about ten minutes after completion of the prior dish “Cortez Bay Scallops – Romaine Marmalade, White Poppy, Nasturtium” arrived first as a collection of bright and bold colors only to be completed tableside by the addition of the white poppy broth. With the scallops nearly raw yet sweet and smooth the most impressive aspect of this dish for me was again the balance – specifically that of the clean romaine lettuce notes punctuated by peppery nasturtium.

          Moving on to the next course I was given two choices for my bread pairing – both relatively straightforward but both archetypes of their respective genre – a dense butter roll and a fluffy salty pretzel roll, both excellent on their own but all the more so with a spread of extra butter and sea salt.

          Having declined the beef main I’d heard Chef Duffy relay my order to the kitchen with two specific differences compared to the other tastings ordered that evening and as it turns out the two differences proved to be two separate courses meant to replace the beef – the first of which was my third course, an item from the vegetarian menu that would prove to be the best dish in an evening of great dishes. Titled “Chestnut – Perigord Truffle, Quince, Garden Herbs” and served in a hand-blown double glass vessel looking quite like the start of a potted plant this amazing dish featured a creamy chestnut pudding at its base topped with large chunks of summer truffle, small micro herbs, and cubes of quince gelee. Ornate and again focused on multiple textures and flavors the dish was subsequently finished with shaved truffle powder and a mildly acidic vinaigrette just prior to service and with the flavors all melding into a sweet earthy porridge it was the scent of this dish that thrilled me the most – the scent of truffles that met you a good two feet away and perfumed the palate with each bite.

          Course four was another of Duffy’s more famous dishes, a service entitled “Grains, Seeds, Nuts” and featuring no less than six variations of those ingredients including a ‘veil’ of toasted Amaranth and Herbs paired with roasted sunflower seeds, sultana raisins, hazelnut-oil powder and sunflower blossoms resting atop a blend of texturally complex barley, quinoa and chopped hazelnuts. Again presented with a broth added tableside, this time ‘sunflower seed tea’ the aroma was something like a fresh field during summer in Ohio while the tastes and textures were light, complex, and lightly sweet.

          Progressing towards heavier proteins my next dish would feature “Hamachi – Lardo, Yuzu, Rainbow Chard” but that limited list of ingredients told nothing of the story of this dish – my second favorite of the night and one of the best fish preparations I’ve ever tasted. With the tender hamachi first grilled and then topped with a drape of melting lardo before rainbow chard and balls of yuzu were added the smoky centerpiece of this dish was further complimented with a dollop of carrot froth, sliced kumquats, grilled morels, poached rhubarb, and a buleed cardamom marshmallow all adding a significant degree of variability to individual bites. It was sweet, it was smoky, it was savory, and although complex (perhaps even ‘fussy’) nothing on the plate seemed extraneous or out of place with each component contributing to the overall effect.

          With compliments flowing forth after the fish my bread pairing for the last savory arrived in the form of half of a whole wheat waffle topped Lime salt – a tasty bite to be sure, though I’m uncertain as to how it ‘paired’ with either the beef on the tasting menu or my final savory, a fowl-fortified dish from the vegetarian tasting.

          Entitled “Hatomugi – Duck Confit, Artichoke, Idiazabal, Oxalis” and again finished tableside – this time with almond milk broth my sixth course was explained to me as an heirloom grass soup and like the previous grain and seed based dish it was sublime. Beginning first with the Hatomugi – it was toothsome like cooked barley (something I eat on a nearly daily basis at home) but with a more grainy/herbal flavor that melded beautifully with the smoked cheese and smooth almond milk. With the base set and the duck adding its characteristic gamey flavor the addition of a touch of acid from both the oxalis and fibrous artichokes simply served to bring everything to a peak on the palate.

          With my plates now cleared the palate cleanser for the evening would arrive on a branch described as “Sudachi – Togarashi, Nepitella Mint” and instructed to consume it in a single bite I did as I was told with the spheriphication bursting into a wash of spice, sour, and sweet all at once with the final effect being something like a citrus tinted apple.

          With the dining room now winding down and cleanup beginning at the prep-stations I was impressed to see that Chef Duffy also oversaw the preparation and plating of both desserts at Avenues, though given his predilection for sweetness in his savories perhaps I should not have been. Utilizing a technique I’d admittedly seen once prior – at Los Angeles’ Providence – the first sweet course of the evening was titled “Coconut – Pineapple, Freeze Dried Saffron, Vietnamese Balm” and with a capsule filled with pineapple jus bursting on light pressure from my spoon this dish wowed first in visual effect and later in flavor as the icy coconut capsule and pineapple broth formed a tropical backdrop to caramelized bananas and roasted cashews with top-notes of minty citrus and saffron filling the sinuses.

          A somewhat typical American in my love of chocolate based desserts I was excited to see the second dessert of the evening arrive in the form of “Sambirano Valley Chocolate – Brown Butter, Mandarin, Stevia” and I was even more pleased on tasting it as it proved to be even more texturally interesting than its predecessor. Clearly unwilling to settle for subtle presentations, this dessert centered on dense ‘noodles’ of chocolate ganache traversing the long plate and intermingling first with hazelnut cake and freeze-dried mandarin orange, then frozen blood orange sorbet followed by sliced citrus and chocolate cake, and finally flaked stevia and huckleberries – a veritable roller coaster ride that served not only to keep the presentation interesting, but also to highlight the myriad nuances of the chocolate.

          With desserts finished and the hour now just past 10:15 my final bites of the evening would arrive as yet another exploration of chocolates – this time “Chocolates from 3 countries” including Venezuela, Ecuador, and Madagascar. With each entirely unique I meant to ask if any had been used to form the previous dessert course as the Madagascar particularly had a lovely floral bouquet that seemed similar while the Venezuelan bite leaned more towards lighter caramel tones.

          With the bill in hand Chef Duffy made his way over to chat for a bit and thanked me for coming in – a humble man and very appreciative of my compliments for a great meal it was here that he noted the cocktail was on the house and thanking him again the bill was paid with the cocktail price added to the tip as a thanks for the great food and lovely service. With a copy of the menu gathered and bid farewell by the team (both in the kitchen and the front of the house) I made my way back out to the lobby where the chocolate bar was still hopping and met my family outside the hotel to tell them what they had just missed out on – a meal that blew “NEXT” out of the water and rivals L2o (under Gras) and Alinea for best in the city with a Chef every bit as capable as his pedigree would suggest…a chef whose next venture will not take me nearly as long to visit.

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

          Avenues At the Peninsula
          108 E Superior, Chicago, IL 60611

          Graham Elliot
          217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

          9 Replies
          1. re: uhockey
            n
            nextguy Aug 8, 2011 06:17 AM

            Great write up as usual. It is surprising that many of the items you had were the same as I had back in late December. Chef is probably saving his stuff for his new restaurant.

            Just a side note, back in December prior to finalizing my Chicago eating plans you recommended I should eat at L2O even though Gras had just left. L2O is probably still a good choice (haven't read too many recent reviews though) but I am so happy to have dined at Avenues under Duffy instead, not knowing at the time that he too would be leaving his restaurant.

            1. re: nextguy
              uhockey Aug 8, 2011 08:29 AM

              I think part of being in that setting - at a hotel - requires some menu consistency.

              I think having his own space will be truly exciting as many of the courses were every bit as(or perhaps more) exciting than Alinea.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

            2. re: uhockey
              huiray Aug 8, 2011 06:41 AM

              Nice write-up. I like the scallop dish and the crab dish/glass the best. The hamachi is further down for me.

              The crab & roe glass is like gazing into a tiny little aquarium. I am also reminded of those "seascapes" one used to make back in the day by dropping various big crystals of certain chemicals into a solution of 'complementary' chemicals to form lattices, stalagtites, stalagmites, pillars, traceries and fanciful rock formations of different hues and textures...

              1. re: uhockey
                danna Aug 19, 2011 06:45 AM

                Great review. I'm trying to help a vegetarian friend headed to Chicago for the first time in Oct. I did a fair amount of research before my trip last year, but I never pay any attention to what's veg friendly or not. I take it from your post that Avenues might be a great place for a veg head to get a fabulous tasting menu?

                Also, What's the scoop on Duffy and Gras? I fell in love w/ L2O last year...is Gras back? Thanks!

                -----
                L2O
                2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                1. re: danna
                  k
                  kathryn Aug 19, 2011 06:52 AM

                  Duffy's last day at Avenues will be September 17.
                  http://tastingtable.com/dispatch_detail/chicago/4532/Avenues.htm

                  Laurent Gras left L2O in late November last year (2010) and is based out of NYC now:
                  https://twitter.com/#!/laurentgras
                  http://laurentgras.typepad.com/
                  http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                  -----
                  L2O
                  2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                  1. re: danna
                    d
                    danimalarkey Aug 19, 2011 08:07 AM

                    Two of the better vegetarian restaurants, for me, include Green Zebra, in West Town, and Mana, in Wicker Park. Neither place is upscale and operate at a vastly different level than Avenues or L20. While Green Zebra has a tasting menu, it's 5 courses. On the other hand, they serve killer vegetarian food.

                    Charlie Trotter's offers a vegetarian tasting menu but it tends to highlight a single ingredient. A friend of mine went and was stuck with a 2+ hour dinner focusing on tomatoes. She wasn't the biggest tomato fan before that dinner and did not walk away with a different opinion.

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

                    Green Zebra
                    1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

                    1. re: danna
                      uhockey Aug 19, 2011 10:29 AM

                      As Kathryn mentioned, no Duffy or Gras by the time you visit.

                      Alinea can accomidate vegetarians so if you could get in (unlikely at this point) it would be worth it. Additionally I know L2o can do Vegetarian, as can TRU but I haven't been to either under their current chefs.

                      Green Zebra is RAVED by vegetarians, so I'm sure it is quite good though I've not been.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

                      Green Zebra
                      1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

                      1. re: uhockey
                        danna Aug 19, 2011 11:05 AM

                        I've never been to Green Zebra either, but having been to Spring and having a fantastic meal, I recommended GZ to another of my veg friends and she was WOWed in a major way. So that's my first rec to my other veg friend, but she has 4 days, 3 nights of eating and I'm trying to think up at least one more blow-out for her (as well as some casual spots)

                        I won't be back til Christmas (if then)and am so sorry that Gras is not coming back to L20.

                        Thanks kathryn for the blog link for Gras, i particularly enjoyed the entry where my chef-hero is standing next to my cycling-hero (hincapie) in my favorite city I don't have to meet the TSA to travel to (charleston).

                        -----
                        Green Zebra
                        1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

                    2. re: uhockey
                      k
                      KateBChi Aug 19, 2011 10:30 AM

                      Great review! I was there last night. The menu is strictly tasting only now with ala carte not an option. This is always a problem for me because my SO hates 9 plus course tastings. We had been there a few months ago and were able to order from a 3 course menu and they comped us a dessert. Somewhat disappointed that the set up had been changed (our last experience was wonderful) we ordered the fish centric tasting menu and were happily surprised that the food was paced perfectly for us. We were not going to be tied to this table for 4 hours (YEAH)! Another thing that I found odd was that the restaurant was half empty but we had a difficult time getting reservations and couldn't get them at our requested hour. The week before I called twice for same day reservations (different days) but was told they were fully booked. When we entered last night it was exactly half empty as it was a couple of months ago which seemed off.

                      Many courses were similar to what we had last time. An uni amuse with the frozen pea and rhubarb that was slightly different but still quite good followed by that glorious King crab dish that uhockey described above. I was really happy to see that dish again. Simply beautiful to look at and an absolute delight to eat. The Cortez Bay Scallops came with a coconut broth and was beautifully prepared.

                      I liked the first bread course with the fleur de sel butter but was not wowed by the two gelled olive oil spreads. The next bread was a pretzel bread which I didn't try in the interest of potentially finishing my dinner but really liked the next two. One was a muffinish kind of thing (I forget what they named it) and the last a repeat from the last visit a crispy waffle bread dusted with powdered sugar.

                      The grain dish I had was called "hatomugi" with idiazabal, marigold and oxalis. It was a bunch of wierd grains with sheeps milk cheese and broth. It worked for me but it may have been the heaviest dish on the menu.

                      The first of the mains was the hamachi, grilled, topped with lardo, served with yuzu, rainbow chard, carrots, kumquats and various emulsions and foams. The first bit was strangely smokey coming from something under the fish (rainbow chard?) but ultimately it was absolutely delicious and I ended up loving the kumquats something I did not like before they got into Dufy's hands.

                      The next main was the wagyu beef with smoked coconut, white shoyu and African blue basil. This was the least satisfying dish of the night. The meat was aggressively over seasoned. I assume because when you mix it with all of the other components than the seasonings balance out but WTF!!! The first bite into unadorned wagyu was salt hell and I love salt, some would say to a fault.

                      The palate cleanser was as described above and just plain fun.

                      Our first dessert was white peach sorbet served over tallegio cheese with kaffir lime and lemon verbena with crunchy bits underneath. I am still not sure what I think of this dish. The sorbet was a bit too sweet for me and it worked with the tallegio cheese and crunchy bits but wasn't quite right. My SO loved it however and he has much more of a sweet tooth than me.

                      The second dessert dish was a hard chocolate sphere/container filled with liquid chocolate, sassafras and cherry served with shaved fennel. We both liked this.

                      The farewell chocolates as uhockey described were absolutely heaven. I brought some home and the purple topped one is going into my mouth even as I type!

                      I note that in the original review you mentioned considering going to Ria as opposed to Avenues. I posted about two tasting menu experiences (quite positive except for long waits between courses) at that restaurant. I have now eaten there dining ala carte and was very underwhelmed. So much so that I doubt we will ever be back. Good choice going to Avenues

                    3. uhockey Aug 5, 2011 07:57 AM

                      NAHA:

                      Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

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

                      At NAHA, Chef and owner Carrie Nahabedian cooks in her own kitchen; she does this at both lunch and dinner. She also answers her own e-mails and at least when I called to make reservations she answers her own phones – impressive for a Beard Award Winning Chef in the middle of one of the best eating cities in the country, and all the more so when you consider the fact that her restaurant has been inducted into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame and recently been awarded a Michelin Star. With these things in mind it seems unfortunate that it took me so many visits to the Windy City to finally commit to NAHA, but on our most recent visit I decided to remedy all this and after a morning tour of the Rookery we arrived at the venerable decade old space for a late lunch.

                      With reservations made months in advance after contacting the restaurant to find out if some dinner menu items could be prepared during lunch service (“Absolutely – but our lunch is excellent as well”) our stop at NAHA would be the first time we would pay for parking during our visit, though a valet of only $8 in downtown Chicago admittedly seemed like a steal. Greeted at the door by the hostess who held the door open as we entered the otherwise empty lobby our reservation was confirmed and without delay we were led to a white tableclothed four-top in the middle of the heavily wooded yet surprisingly “light” feeling room where a number of tables were filled with businessmen engaged in conversations. With well padded chairs pulled out and pushed in as we sat it would be moments before our waiter, William, would arrive to offer beverages and menus plus the description of a couple of daily specials.

                      With water poured by the ancillary staff and my menu largely decided by my aforementioned requests it would be a few moments before my mother and aunt would make their decisions and having explained to them Chef Nahabedian’s long standing focus on what is local/regional and seasonal choices ranged between classics and summertime specials – all deemed “excellent choices” by William who returned shortly after orders were placed with beverages for my mother and aunt – a house made Passion Fruit Iced Tea and a tart Pink Lemonade that seemed to be kissed with grapefruit, both really quite tasty and refilled frequently throughout the meal along with my water.

                      Sitting back and enjoying the feel of the room with large windows peering out onto a beautiful Chicago afternoon to our right and remarkable found object paintings to our right it would be a short while before our bread plate would arrive along with a locally sourced salted cow’s butter. With the plate featuring three slices each of Stone Ground Wheat, Rustic Italian, and Golden Raisin Fennel Bread we were told that each option was baked in house and on tasting each was quite impressive and served warm proved quite irresistible, particularly the sweet aromatic flavor of the fluffy fennel offering.

                      With the restaurant moving at a leisurely pace our first course of the afternoon would arrive approximately half an hour (and two plates of bread) after our seating and with mom and aunt opting for salad and soup respectively the first dish to arrive was “Salad of Beets with Sylvetta Arugula and Great Hill Blue Cheese, Summer Peaches, Cracked Hazelnuts, and Honey Comb Vinaigrette.” With menu titles short on neither words nor descriptors this salad was delivered precisely as titled and with crisp butter arugula serving as the canvas this dish was a flawless balance of earthy beets, intensely sweet peaches, pungent cheese, and crunchy nuts all tinged with a semi-sweet vinaigrette – for collection of minimally manipulated ingredients it was exemplary.

                      Moving next to my aunt’s soup – one of the daily specials – she received “Creamy Heirloom Tomato Soup with butter croutons, blue cheese, and herbs” a relatively straight forward tomato soup with a velvety texture punctuated by the crunch of the croutons and the melting chunks of cheese that she loved but I found rather pedestrian save for the bites enjoyed with the cheese.
                      Eschewing the logic of ordering a light appetizer my first course of the afternoon would be one of my requests from the dinner menu and arriving large in both portion and flavor the “Hudson Valley Foie Gras and a "Tarte Tatin" of Golden Delicious Apples, Crimson Raisins and Caramelized Fennel, Quince Jam, Candied Olives and Minus 8 Ice Vinegar” was outstanding. Having had more Hudson Valley Foie than I’d care to admit, this steak was a peerless preparation as the slightly charred exterior gave way to the well prepared interior with minimal pressure from my fork and its pairing with the bread pudding-esque tarte was lovely both in texture and in flavor as the aromatic fennel highlighted some the more savory tones of the liver. Moving past the primary portion of the plate I additionally enjoyed the bitter/sweet interplay of the black olives and the subdued acidity of the vinegar-quince-pan jus reduction as it went nicely with the foie and nearly equally well when soaked up with the house bread.

                      With another delay of perhaps twenty to twenty five minutes as a group of ten arrived for a celebratory lunch our main courses would once again arrive via our ancillary servers as it appeared William was the only waiter/captain manning the dining room. Beginning first with the selection I did not taste, my aunt’s, her choice was “Our Famous” NAHA “Half Pound” Angus Burger on a Housemade Sea Salt “Crusted” Ciabatta with Stone Ground Mustard, Glazed Onions, and “Hand-Cut” Crisp Idaho Potato Fries with Cabbot clothbound cheddar – a burger she loved and fries that were crisp yet fluffy and perfectly salted to pair with a lovely housemade ketchup.

                      For my mother’s selection, also from the lunch menu, the Naha BLT of Slow Roasted Bacon, Watercress and Olive Oil Cured Tomatoes on a Whole Grain Pretzel Baton with “Duck Jus” Onion Rings was the plat du jour and while I’ve never been one to be wowed by a BLT it was overall a very good example largely due to the sweetness of the tomatoes and the intense saltiness of both the smoky pork and the dense roll. With the onion rings plated alongside the sandwich I will note that although their texture was excellent – a crisp and flaky exterior giving way to an almost caramelized onion – I personally did not appreciate any duck flavor, though I did appreciate the lovely accompaniment of garlic/basil aioli both on the bites of sandwich I tasted and on the rings.

                      For my main course I again turned to the dinner menu and at a price of $30 the Lacquered Aged Moulard Duck Breast and Wood-Grilled Ramps, Mountain Huckleberries, Young Turnips and Broccoli Rabe scented with NAHA Prairie Flower Honey and Port was every bit worth the price in size, preparation, and quality. Beginning first with the duck – rosy red flesh, clean and meaty, and medium-crisp skin perfumed with notes of honey – it was quite good and every bit on par with that at NEXT the previous evening, though not as tender as some of the aged breasts I’ve enjoyed on recent trips. Moving on to the accoutrements I will always admit my fondness for sweet protein preparations and this one was no exception with the lovely huckleberries, honey, and port the prevailing flavors over the lighter aromatic undertones of the earthy vegetables – particularly the lovely crispy ramps.

                      With mother full and aunt nearly so the decision regarding dessert was left up to me and having heard great things about Craig Harzewski’s offerings I figured it would be a shame to miss out and we therefore opted for two choices to be shared around. Told that it would be about fifteen minutes before desserts would arrive we were offered coffee and on declining sat back and waited until our choices would arrive – the first a lovely “Breton Butter Sable with Vanilla Crème Brulee, Blackberry Sorbet, and Lemon Thyme.” An ornate dish to say the least and cleverly presented in a landscape-esque form the brulees themselves were strewn like rock formations around the dish with caramelized sugar laid atop while the sorbet appeared like a crash-landed meteor at 12 o’clock. Centering the plate with the dense and buttery cookie and completing the picture with dollops of lemon-thyme gelatin plus whole blackberries this was essentially a “choose your own adventure” sort of dessert with the best flavors in my opinion being those inclusive of the sable, brulee, and whole blackberries.

                      For our second dessert, my personal favorite of the duo, “Bittersweet Chocolate Pave with Salted Caramel Peanuts, Milk Chocolate Beignet, and Chocolate Cream” would prove to me a much simpler presentation yet an equally complex taste experience with the dense pave made with “70% Cocoa Amadei” topped with shards of similar and the beignet and mousse formed using a 45% Cocoa whose origins were not named. With the chocolate tones clearly intense, the most impressive aspect of this plate from my vantage was actually the use of the intensely salty peanuts to temper the bitterness of the pave and the buttery crumbles at the plate’s center which tasted quite like the sable from the previous dish.

                      With the restaurant now empty save for the celebratory table and ours we were asked if there was anything else we’d like and declining the check was brought along with a small plate of mignardises - Chocolate Cheesecake Squares and Mango Gelees, both good though not particularly memorable – and with the bill paid we made our way to the lobby where Michael Nahabedian was sitting at the bar talking with a friend and asked us how we’d enjoyed our afternoon. With pleasantries exchanged and a copy of the menu in hand we next made our way to the already waiting car and within moments were back to seeing the sites of downtown Chicago and happy to have finally experienced yet another example of Chicago’s rich and ever growing list of top notch modestly priced places to dine.

                      -----
                      Naha
                      500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                      Olive Oil Restaurant
                      1154 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: uhockey
                        huiray Aug 5, 2011 12:54 PM

                        Sounds like a lovely lunch overall. Glad you tasted their foie gras and duck!

                        I myself love NAHA's foie gras apps (all usually circling around some variation similar - if not the same - to what you describe so far as I remember) and tend to get double portions when I drop by for dinner. (Some years ago they could be generous, such as when I had a duck entree with duck livers and the kitchen - and at my waiter's instigation - was extremely obliging and gave me a big honking piece of foie gras. But that was in the past.)

                        I have had both good and not-so-good dishes there, but on balance I consider it a good place. It can get very expensive especially if you have wine pairings. They do have a very good selection of wines, as I'm sure you noticed. I see from their menu (I just looked) that they have veal lollipops back on the lounge menu. The last time I had those (in a different preparation then) as an additional app for dinner, it was definitely not a good dish - to me.

                        They are much better now, but I still get a little irked by their liberal sprinkling of double quotes all over their menus. I mean, really. Now don't you go and adopt this mannerism of theirs in your reviews... :-)

                        1. re: huiray
                          nsxtasy Aug 5, 2011 02:21 PM

                          >> It can get very expensive especially if you have wine pairings.

                          That's true. Granted, it's not as expensive as Alinea or our other 6-10 high-end restaurants. But you'll still go over $100 per person for dinner including moderate alcohol, tax, and tip, and even more with wine pairings or other expensive alcohol. And their lunch menu, while less expensive than dinner, may be the most expensive of any restaurant in the entire city.

                          1. re: nsxtasy
                            uhockey Aug 5, 2011 02:53 PM

                            As a non-drinker I'd have no touble getting out of there under $100 for lunch or dinner - hence the "modest" price comment. But yes, I don't think there is a more pricey lunch I've had in Chicago.

                            As for the quotes comment by huiray - it is even more prevalent than "TFL" and Per Se! :-)

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            1. re: uhockey
                              nsxtasy Aug 5, 2011 02:58 PM

                              >> As a non-drinker I'd have no touble getting out of there under $100 for lunch or dinner

                              Not necessarily. At dinner, the median appetizer price is $17, median entree is $37, and desserts are $12. That's $66; add a non-alcoholic beverage and tax/tip and you're over $90. That's with just the average priced items, and could hit easily exceed $100 if you order any of the more expensive items like the $24 foie gras appetizer or the $49 steak. And for those who do drink alcohol, it's not hard to exceed $150, even with moderately-priced alcoholic selections. There are only around 10-15 restaurants in Chicago where you'll spend more than that, on average.

                              >> I don't think there is a more pricey lunch I've had in Chicago.

                              I would consider your lunch atypical in price, because most folks don't special order dinner dishes at lunchtime. (Nothing wrong with that, it's just not typical.) But on their regular lunch menu, appetizers are $12-15, and entrees are $16-26 with most $20+, both of which are more than any place else I can think of. And AFAIK they don't offer a special lunch deal like Blackbird's 3-course $22 prix fixe.

                              1. re: nsxtasy
                                uhockey Aug 5, 2011 03:26 PM

                                "I would consider your lunch atypical in price, because most folks don't special order dinner dishes at lunchtime. (Nothing wrong with that, it's just not typical.) But on their regular lunch menu, appetizers are $12-15, and entrees are $16-26 with most $20+, both of which are more than any place else I can think of. And AFAIK they don't offer a special lunch deal like Blackbird's 3-course $22 prix fixe."

                                Agreed on all accounts - and no, there is no lunch special.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: uhockey
                                  huiray Aug 5, 2011 03:35 PM

                                  Indeed.

                                  The last time I had lunch there I seem to remember walking out with a $70 or $80 tab, something like that.

                      2. uhockey Jul 29, 2011 08:48 AM

                        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
                          nsxtasy Jul 29, 2011 09:43 AM

                          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
                            uhockey Jul 29, 2011 10:00 AM

                            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.

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            -----
                            Over Easy
                            4943 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

                        2. uhockey Jul 24, 2011 05:12 PM

                          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
                            k
                            kathryn Jul 24, 2011 05:47 PM

                            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
                              uhockey Jul 24, 2011 06:06 PM

                              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
                                k
                                kathryn Jul 25, 2011 11:00 AM

                                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
                                  g
                                  grimaldi Jul 25, 2011 03:47 PM

                                  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
                                    uhockey Jul 25, 2011 04:50 PM

                                    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
                                      huiray Jul 26, 2011 06:27 AM

                                      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
                                        uhockey Jul 26, 2011 08:40 AM

                                        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
                                          huiray Jul 26, 2011 08:49 AM

                                          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
                                            uhockey Jul 26, 2011 02:37 PM

                                            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

                                            1. re: uhockey
                                              huiray Jul 26, 2011 11:29 PM

                                              http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

                                              1. re: huiray
                                                uhockey Jul 27, 2011 03:30 AM

                                                Indeed. :-)

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                    2. re: grimaldi
                                      chicgail Jul 25, 2011 05:18 PM

                                      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
                                        uhockey Jul 25, 2011 06:07 PM

                                        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
                                          chicgail Jul 25, 2011 08:42 PM

                                          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
                                            uhockey Jul 26, 2011 03:41 AM

                                            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
                                              c
                                              Chihab Jul 27, 2011 01:57 PM

                                              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
                                                nsxtasy Jul 27, 2011 02:08 PM

                                                >> we will have to make do with Alinea!

                                                Too bad. LOL!

                                                1. re: Chihab
                                                  theskinnyduck Jul 27, 2011 02:18 PM

                                                  > 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
                                                    k
                                                    kathryn Jul 27, 2011 02:46 PM

                                                    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/5892043881/
                                                    To:
                                                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryn/...

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

                                                    1. re: kathryn
                                                      huiray Jul 27, 2011 03:49 PM

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

                                                  2. re: Chihab
                                                    uhockey Jul 27, 2011 02:45 PM

                                                    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
                                                      huiray Jul 27, 2011 03:46 PM

                                                      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
                                                        nsxtasy Jul 27, 2011 04:01 PM

                                                        >> 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
                                                          uhockey Jul 27, 2011 04:18 PM

                                                          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
                                                            g
                                                            grimaldi Jul 27, 2011 04:56 PM

                                                            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
                                                              n
                                                              nextguy Jul 28, 2011 05:20 AM

                                                              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
                                                                w
                                                                wreckers00 Jul 28, 2011 07:25 AM

                                                                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. uhockey Jul 23, 2011 01:14 PM

                                      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
                                        nsxtasy Jul 23, 2011 01:29 PM

                                        >> 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
                                          uhockey Jul 23, 2011 01:38 PM

                                          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
                                            nsxtasy Jul 23, 2011 01:56 PM

                                            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. uhockey Jul 22, 2011 05:18 PM

                                        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
                                          w
                                          wreckers00 Jul 23, 2011 07:49 AM

                                          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
                                            uhockey Jul 23, 2011 01:17 PM

                                            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
                                              theskinnyduck Jul 23, 2011 08:35 PM

                                              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
                                                uhockey Jul 23, 2011 09:00 PM

                                                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
                                              chicgail Jul 24, 2011 05:49 AM

                                              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
                                                uhockey Jul 24, 2011 08:50 AM

                                                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
                                                  uhockey Jul 24, 2011 08:52 AM

                                                  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
                                                    chicgail Jul 24, 2011 04:16 PM

                                                    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
                                                      nsxtasy Jul 24, 2011 04:44 PM

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

                                                      Or an off-morning. :)

                                            3. uhockey Jul 22, 2011 05:16 PM

                                              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
                                                k
                                                kathryn Jul 24, 2011 07:01 AM

                                                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
                                                  uhockey Jul 24, 2011 08:48 AM

                                                  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
                                                    k
                                                    kathryn Jul 24, 2011 08:57 AM

                                                    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
                                                      nsxtasy Jul 24, 2011 09:21 AM

                                                      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
                                                        uhockey Jul 24, 2011 10:06 AM

                                                        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.

                                              Show Hidden Posts