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Another Chicago Trip report LONG

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CHICAGO TRIP REPORT 9/11-9/17/2011

Let me thank all the Chicago Chow Hounds for their great advice and help in planning a great food journey.

Coming from Central CA and having never been to Chicago I was really impressed with your city all the way around. Great skyline, buildings, parks really friendly people you name it we enjoyed it.

Now to the food.

Cafe Spiaggia - Sunday dinner. We really liked this place. There was a little snafu with the seating, we were in the far back room next to a large group with several toddlers who were being wheeled in and out by Moms, as they started crying and fussing. As soon as one settled down another would start up. But we were moved and given a comped prosecco for the trouble. Starters were good, sardines for me and arugula salad with stellar peaches for DW. I got monk fish wrapped in prosciutto, great flavors but fish was a bit overdone which made it a bit tough but monk fish is pretty firm so I was still happy. She had a sweet corn pasta with banana peppers. One of the best pastas I have tasted in a long time. The peppers were pungent but still had a real hot bite to them. The silky chocolate dessert on a shortbread base was the best sweet we had on the trip. I thought the quality/price ratio was extremely good here.

Next day wandered Millennium Park and went into CAI. Mostly admired all the great architecture in the area.

Did Intelligentsia Coffee for my morning fix. Their espresso blend was very fragrant and had an almost fruity character vs. a chocolate flavor profile. Why are there so many Starbuck’s and so few places like this? It was busy so hopefully enough coffee aficionados to keep them going.

Monday Lunch - The Gage. Ended up here by fortunate accident. It was directly across the street from Millennium Park. It was packed with business lunchers, but were able to sit at the bar. Small but very nice beer selection which was great for the hot humid weather. Shared a pulled Pork sandwich on pretzel roll and a wild mushroom sandwich. They did a good job and the sandwiches were very large and excellent fries. What makes pretzel dough different? Very different texture chewy but still soft.

Monday Dinner - Fox and Obel picnic makings in the room. We had a room on 37th floor with both city and lake views so just soaked that up. We obtained very nice midwestern cheeses, bread, olives, wine etc. Very nice store very much worth the slight detour.

Tuesday Lunch - Had seminars so lunch was a body function not an adventure.

Tuesday Dinner - Sable. This experience was a 50/50. Liked the room and the vibe very attentive but discreet service.. Had some vermouth cocktails which were great and will try to make them at home for aperitifs. The 50/50 comes in the food. First round was the bacon wrapped dates and pretzels and artisanal cheese wiz. Loved the dates, we see this on CA menus but better bacon in the land of pork. Chicago knows how to make pretzels, something we rarely see in CA. The highlight was the scallops and curry-tomato chutney. Perfectly done scallops and the chutney was great they should sell it in jars for take home. Next were the disappointments. The sliders were completely dry with almost no root beer glaze on them, bummer as that was a dish everyone seems to recommend. The wild mushrooms were way over salted. I know Sable is a place that people say you need to know what to order so maybe just a bad night on those dishes.
Still had a great time.

Wednesday Lunch - Pizzeria Uno. This was a conundrum. I was by myself and when I saw how big a small pizza was I ordered an individual one. This was a mistake I would not repeat. The individual came out without a metal pan and seemed dry with very little sauce and cheese on it. When I looked at others having larger pizzas they seemed to ooze with ingredients with the cheese stretching across the table when people served it. Oh well, will have to try again someday. Liked the Goose Island Honker Ale though.

Predinner - POPS champagne bar. Expensive if you go French but that is always the case. Lots of small unknown producers. Lots of good Cavas and other bubbles that are more reasonable. My favorite was an Italian rose from Piemonte. So if you can’t get a reservation for a Bayless place till late like us great place to warm up for the main event.

Wednesday Dinner - Topolobampo. We have had dinner at Red O in LA where Rick Bayless designed the menu and trained the chefs and has an ongoing consultant thing. We thought it was good but not a WOW, more of a hip LA scene at the time so I was a little bit wary of Topolo especially with a late 9:30 reservation. We loved it! We have always wanted to get there not only because he is a great chef but he seems like such a sincere nice person and a pioneer of true Mexican cuisine. Great guacamole amuse and I live where all the avocados are grown. Great spicing and it had a good kick to it. Serving it on thinly sliced jicima and cucumbers instead of chips makes for a much lighter appetizer, will steal that idea. Chayote with pepito mole sauce. WOW! I could do shots of the sauce. So many flavors involved. Mains were lamb leg with black mole, game hen tamarind chile sauce. Both perfectly executed. Lamb really tasted of lamb which sometimes in upscale places they seem to not want to scare anyone off with the gamy lamb flavor. I tried to make one of his moles once at home and it was arduous so doing it so well on a large scale is very impressive. Desserts were homemade ice creams that still use the Oaxacan flavor profile. Stuffed, stumble to hotel.

Thursday

Lunch - Power bars yuck! Actually late breakfast at hotel then did a Kayak trip down the Chicago river amongst the glass and concrete canyons. This was a great afternoon. Perfect weather and a very different experience. We have kayaked many times in wilderness areas so this was a first, only had to dodge a few floating bodies, just kidding. Learned a lot about Chicago architecture and history.

Dinner- Naha. Seem to be stuck on the same few blocks, Sable, Topolobampo, Pops and now Naha. The one thing Naha needs to do IMHO is use less ingredients on the plate let the star ingredient shine more. All the dishes seemed to have 2-3 too many things on it. Greek salad, no lettuce just chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon feta, and olives a nice rendition not too much on this one. The execution of the Foi gras was done superbly but with an apple tart tatin, apricots, currants, anise hysop, and black currant gastrique just too much. Just needed a little restraint for it to be great! I had the skate which was cooked perfectly but again too many side flavors to remember. 3 different kind of squash, cubes, puree and spaghetti squash, plus sauces. Looking back at the menu on the website each dish is a paragraph. This was the only place the service was brusk if not surly. There were 3-4 large groups in the room so maybe they were a little pushed.

Friday _ Last day almost over.

Lunch - Xoco. We had Cubs tickets and I am usually disappointed with ball park food and we were so impressed with Topolobampo we had to get more of those flavors before we left. Chorizo torta and seafood sopa. Excellent beer selections with little signs telling you what dishes they would match with. I want this place in my hood. Love the way they handle the crush where no one orders at the counter till there is a seat available in the dining area. Otherwise there would be loads of people with food and no tables to sit at. Genius!

Dinner - Tru. A different section of town! This is truly a first class experience. Room, service and wine selection. We did the 3 course prefix which was plenty of food for us. Lots of extra courses included especially the little desserts. Duck consome with foie ravioli. This had a an oriental twist with the broth flavored with soy/miso? Not sure but had the flavors of double boiled chinese soups. Heirloom beet salad with apple gelee, caviar, and horseradish. The prettiest dish I have seen in a while, she said it was great but not being a great fan of beets, I did not try them but she did let me have a tiny taste of the caviar and sauce. Yum! Prime beef ribeye grilled foie gras, wild mushrooms. Great take on Tournados Rossini. Wagyu beef short ribs, parsnip jalapeno puree, Sou vide short ribs then sauteed for crisp exterior totally lush interior. Parsnips are not my favorite thing but he added jalapenos into the mix and gave it a real kick. A very nice surprise. Desserts too much to remember. Chocolate for sure, excellent. Plus several trays of extras. And a muffin to take home for breakfast! I am going to cringe when the bill comes but it was mostly for wine! There was a bottle of Burgundy that had special memories attached from a trip there 10 years ago, It has gone up in value since then! Best bottle of the year so far.

Well that’s all folks.

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Pizzeria Uno
29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

Intelligentsia Coffee
53 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604

Cafe Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Naha
500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

XOCO
449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

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  1. Nice report and mostly nice choices. Heading to Chicago and Los Angeles in back to back weeks in November and getting all my ducks in a row for the restaurant planning. As I figured, I'll leave Sable offf the list.

    Also - don't worry about Intelligentsia - they're doing great - and you've got at least one out in Los Angeles now (along with the fantastic LAMill)

    http://endoedibles.com