Another 48 Hours in Chicago Trip Report: The Aviary, The Publican, Do-Rite Donuts, Southport Grocery, Julius Meinl, Next vs. elBulli, Sable, Doughnut Vault, Longman & Eagle, Wormhole Coffee, Big Star
The Aviary: We tried all 5 el Bulli cocktails on the menu, 2 Aviary originals, and two "snacks" from el Bulli, the bowl of chips and the lollipops.
All the cocktails were good, but the el Bulli ones were definitely on the sweeter side. If you prefer a drier or more spirit-forward cocktail, they probably aren't for you.
Our group's overall favorite was probably the white sangria in suspension, with tiny bits of floating fruit in it. My personal favorite was the pina colada with spherified rum and melting cotton candy on top. It arrived as a tuft of cotton candy, and when the drink was served, the server poured something on top, and it melted into the cocktail. The bowl of chips was the other standout: puffed coffee infused polenta chips, saffron tapioca chips, pork rinds, seaweed crackers, and lots of fun, salty goodness. Great service, as usual, too, and a really fun time. I can't wait to go back.
The Publican: This was a massive, epic, delicious, amazing dinner. We had a selection of oysters (with insanely good housemade crackers -- couldn't stop eating them), a big cone of spicy pork rinds, their full charcuterie plate, a pickle plate (corn, green beans, bread and butter pickles), pork rillettes with cherry preserves, fried cauliflower with pebre, nicoise olives, & fresno chile, a shredded Brussels sprout salad with burrata, fried clams with sweet potato and kale, and a suckling pig special. The full charcuterie plate was amazing. I loved their njuda, house made morteau sausage, awesome pork pie, and flavorful head cheese. The pork rillettes were probably unnecessary, but also incredibly delicious (and fatty), and I swooned over the cherry preserves on top. We stuffed ourselves. Big, bold flavors. So much meat and so much fun. A meal of epic proportions. No space for dessert. Leftovers were taken home. And we all definitely had some severe pork hangovers the next morning.
Do-Rite Donuts: I visited on a Thursday at 9am. They had no line, a much larger menu, and the doughnuts were much fresher. Also tried two doughnuts there. I liked the crumbly density of their old fashioned and the crispy crust that contrasted with the fluffy insides. Much more cake-like than Doughnut Vault. We loved the chocolate, too, which was also much more cake-like, with the same delicious crispy outside, and rich topping. Great Dark Matter coffee, too.
Southport Grocery: We sat outside and while the server seemed a little scatterbrained at first, service quickly improved. They were kind enough to bring out an umbrella to shade us from the sun, too (this was a freakishly warm March day, with temperatures in the 80s). I loved my sweet and savory French toast with maple-mustard sauce, swiss cheese, and ham. What a great combination of flavors! While the French toast itself was kind of boring and didn't have that great a crust on it, the combination of the other items put it over the top. Kind of like an exploded, sweet and savory grilled cheese sandwich. My husband ordered a Cubano sandwich, which was good, as well, but I preferred my dish.
Julius Meinl: We stopped in for a two iced mochas on a hot day. I love how they serve you your drinks on a silver tray and give you a little cookie as well. A pleasant place to relax, with free wireless internet.
Next vs. elBulli: This is a difficult meal to write about. Especially since the vast majority of people never got to eat at el Bulli when it was open, and so many people who want to simply can't get into the el Bulli menu at Next. It's difficult to convey the experience of the menu, but here goes:
Most El Bulli dishes focus on representing a technique or idea. The menu presented to us last week contained many of these dishes. The first foam dish, well, ever. Spherified olives with no pits. Coconut-filled doughnuts that exploded in your mouth. A ravioli made using a thin slice of cuttlefish as the wrapper. A frozen cheese balloon, hollow on the inside, that you ate with your hands, as it began to melt at your table. A carpaccio made out of thinly sliced mushrooms. An entirely liquid version of a Spanish tortilla. So many dishes demonstrating ground-breaking techniques for their time.
While my meal was not the most delicious meal I’ve ever had, it was the most thought-provoking. Dishes that were designed to make you question your assumptions about food, itself. Why are they serving me a tiny cup of smoky foam? Am I really expected to eat shards of minty ice? What the hell am I eating right now? Is this supposed to taste like this?
As a friend wrote to me afterwards, El Bulli was not about food that tasted good. It was a way of thinking about food. I’m not sure I’ll ever think about food the same way again, which has been Chef Adria’s goal all along. Overall, an incredible experience, and one that I am lucky to have tried.
Sable: A very brief visit after our Next meal, where I begged some Underberg bitters from the bartender, while some of my dining partners sipped amaro. Sorely needed digestifs! There may have been some beers in there, too, from Freddie, the bartender, who is great. I only wished I'd had room for a cocktail.
Doughnut Vault: It was crowded enough on Friday at 9:30am to sell out of chestnut, vanilla, and chocolate as I waited in line with about a dozen other people. The line was maybe 15-20 minutes long, even in the rain. Lots of people buying 2-3 dozen at once. Watched the last chocolate one walk out the door, only two people in front of me, argh. I tried two doughnuts. Their old fashioned buttermilk was good and light, but not as crispy and fresh as Do-Rite, though more fluffy. The raspberry jelly yeast one (a special) was pretty good, airy, and less chewy than Doughnut Plant in NYC. But the two I tried just didn't seem worth waiting in line for. I might feel differently if I'd gotten to try their chocolate glazed or chestnut glazed, and they were fresher.
Longman & Eagle: We had a mid-day brunch here, escaping the pouring rain. I loved the vibe and decor of the place. Our server was great and very friendly. My Sunny Side Duck Egg Hash with Duck Confit, Nichols Farm Spring Onions, Yukon Gold Potato, Black Truffle Vinaigrette was delicious. Rich, gooey, with nicely caramelized potatoes, and a generous helping of crunchy spring onions for contrast. My husband opted for the Fried Chicken, Waffles, Sweet Potato & Pork Belly Hash, Maple Syrup. On its own, the fried chicken was decent enough. The crust was flavorful but a little one note, and I wished it was a little crunchier and less flat. The meat itself was cooked perfectly, and juicy. And it tasted great with the waffle and some maple syrup and hot sauce. My husband was satisfied and while it wasn't the best chicken and waffles he'd ever had, it hit the spot.
Wormhole Coffee: This is was our first visit, post-renovation, and it seems like they've kept a lot of what we loved about the place. I had a vanilla latte, to stay, which was good, but not super-strongly flavored (they make their own syrups in house). We sat in the front by the window, on some kind of uncomfortable stools, until a seat on a couch opened up. We scored two seats by the NES, and whiled away some time, playing Zelda.
Big Star: Stopped in for a quick snack of two tacos: al pastor and pork belly, which hit the spot, but the meat seemed a little overcooked. The place was very packed, though, on a Friday afternoon, which might have had something to do with it.
Thanks, Chicago, and we'll see you in July!
Wow, Kathryn, awesome report and pix! I'm going in June and can't wait. Hoping to snag a rezzie at The Aviary. How far in advance did you book it, or was it part of your Next package?
On the prix fixe drink menu, there is an ingredient listed as "non" in some of the drinks? Is that what it says? I never heard of that...