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May 3, 2012 03:48 PM

Pre-NATO Weekend Help for Cdn. Visitors

My wife and I will be flying in with another couple from Calgary over the weekend of May 17th-20th.

Sort of a short notice seat sale thing, we'll be seeing Jersey Boys at the Bank of America Theatre on the Saturday, so I'm trying to plan our eating itinerary.

Needless to say, I pretty much can't get reservations at most of the popular places.

We'll be staying at the Hampton's Inn & Suites on Illinois and Dearborn.

We won't have a vehicle, but will take a cab to wherever. Seems to be lots of places mentioned in this board around there.

We are flying in late Thursday May 17th, so we probably won't be at the hotel until around 9:30 PM.

Thinking of going to Pizzeria Uno or Lou Malnati's for deep dish. Other options include Sunda or Rako Akor for more Asian fusion. Any opinions on this?

Friday we are keeping open, so not sure where we will be for lunch. I suspect we'll be by the Art Institute, so options around there will be nice.

Friday dinner is completely open - what should we do? We are pretty open to all cuisines and pricing, so if there is something hot and unique we should be going to (that doesn't take reservations), please let me know!

Drinks at Aviary and Churros at Xoco may also be on the agenda. Also heard interesting things about Nacional 27.

Saturday is fairly booked already for us doing other things. For dinner, I'm thinking of Frontera Grill and getting there at 5:00 PM. I think that should give us enough time to make the 8:00 PM Jersey Boys at Bank of America Theatre.
Do you agree?

I did make one reservation at Mercat a la Planxa for 5:45 PM just in case. Is there anything else around there worth trying? We probably won't do Italian this time around.

Sunday we're going to try for brunch at Publican.

We'll putz around a bit before heading for an early evening flight back home. If we are lucky enough, hopefully Tortas Frontera is in the same terminal as our flight back home.

Any help is appreciated!

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  1. One word of caution with Uno's or Malnati's on that Thursday night -- deep dish pizzas can take a long time to cook. If you're not getting to your hotel until 9:30, it may be a long time still before you eat. I would consider Purple Pig that night -- crowds tend to die down later in the evening.

    If Friday night is completely open, I'd suggest heading out of the downtown/River North area and into one of the neighborhoods for a change of scenery. I think Longman & Eagle (Logan Square) is great and they don't accept reservations. Lula Cafe or Yusho, both nearby, are very tasty, too (and will likely have reservations available). Or stick closer to Wicker Park and consider the Bristol or Hot Chocolate -- as well as tacos and whiskey at Big Star.

    If you show up at 5pm on Saturday for Frontera, I would expect a long line and you will likely not get seated until 7 or 8. If you really want that first seating, 4pm would be a better idea. Or just go with Mercat.

    Tortas Frontera is only in Terminals 1 & 3 -- American Airlines and United -- so unless you're flying one of those airlines, I wouldn't necessarily count on grabbing something from them.

    3 Replies
    1. re: danimalarkey

      Thanks for the tips - the Purple Pig is definitely something we could do.

      Longman & Eagle is an excellent idea which had not occurred to me. I will definitely look at that. I'l check out the other places you've listed as well.

      On the Saturday evening, is there a decent place around Bank of America Theatre for drinks/people watching? Or do we have to go back to River North area?

      We're flying a new route for WestJet (Canadian airline), so I bet we're in Terminal 2. Darn!

      1. re: ybnormal

        Roof at the Wit Hotel is a rooftop bar with lovely views, night and day. About a 5-7 minute walk.

        1. re: ybnormal

          Near the Bank of America Theatre, I think The Gage is solid. Right off Michigan Avenue, it gets an eclectic crowd. They even have some outdoor seating.

          Also, details were just announced today about security plans before/during the NATO summit. It ain't pretty. Just assume everything will take longer (public transit, cabs -- even walking, probably!).

      2. Hey, are you sure you want to come that weekend? The whole city may be shut down for the NATO protests?

        5 Replies
        1. re: foodiewoodie11

          Adding on here---our building management has just sent out a memo that we can have no construction done that week and no packages delivered, that guests may be barred from the building, that 50,000 demonstrators and 80 motorcades are expected, that the Chicago police force will be doubled with outside police, that access to some streets may be stopped, that public transportation will be a mess, etc etc. They sent out this memo after meeting with Homeland Security. I have already rescheduled a dinner plan and a meeting and may hide under my bed all week. Just saying. BTW there was a particular warning to expect trouble getting to and from the airports and any time public transportation is disrupted it can be really hard to get a taxi.

          1. re: Querencia

            It seems as if all El routes will run as normal so I'd suggest to visitors to ride the El to/from airports and all dinner plans if possible. It will be less of a headache and no worries about traffic.

            1. re: PHXeater

              I guess I'll have to see what it is like when we get there. We'll probably hang around the Hamptons Inn and go for supper around there and use the El to go to Jersey Boys on Saturday then. I wasn't sure if Mercat was walkable to the Bank of America Theatre.

              1. re: PHXeater

                The L will be running, but it may be a bit more crowded with bus routes being altered. Also be aware, over 2000 journalists will be in town, more than likely arriving at the same time as you will, and probably staying in your part of town. I'm sure getting a walk-in table on Friday or Saturday is going to be a bit tougher than usual.

                What night is your Mercat reservation? That is going to be one of the areas I'd avoid as well as Chinatown. The Logan Square/Wicker Park/Andersonville suggestions are all very good places.

                I truly look forward to hearing about your trip!

                ps Try an Italian Beef sandwich, it is a local thing!

                1. re: delk

                  My Mercat reservation is on the Saturday - I think I'm going to cancel that one just so I can avoid being in that area. I've made a reservation for Hot Chocolate, and there seems to be openings for Yusho as well. We'll just hop on the L and go to Jersey Boys.

                  The Gage afterwards seems like a doable thing after Jersey Boys as well. There is a part of me that wants to go to the Roof on the Wit Hotel, but that'll probably just make me feel old :-)

          2. Hi! I'm a fellow Albertan - but an expat, lived in NYC for 10 yrs and now Chicago. i would absolutely recommend Lou's over Uno's. The location in River North on N. Wells is pretty good, normally 30 min wait. Re: Aviary, make reservations, by email! I would add Slurping Turtle to your asian options- it's in the same area, lots of tapas type sharing dishes and pretty reasonable considering its Takashi. Xoco is prepared to wait awhile to be with Frontera. Def. go to the Publican! Another good option near your hotel is Tavernita!

            Agree w. the Gage rec...also Bar Toma on Mich Ave is good!

            Safe travels!

            11 Replies
            1. re: trinyc1979

              Thanks for the tips! I will definitely consider Slurping Turtle, and I was quite curious about Tavernita as well.

              Foodwoodie - it's a Canadian long-weekend - and both of us couples had baby-sitting for the weekend. Hence trying to go to places that have nothing to do with kids! We'll take all the NATO stuff in stride - if nothing else I'm sure there are other parts of Chicago that are great to visit!

              1. re: ybnormal

                Speaking of other neighborhoods to visit -- in case you want to get out of the downtown area itself and all of its NATO-related craziness -- Andersonville is home to plenty of great options. Big Jones (Southern/coastal soul food), Hopleaf (amazing beer selection, very good Belgian-ish food), Vincent (Dutch) and Great Lake (home to, according to some, the best pizza in America -- but it comes with wildly unpredictable service). To the south a little is a great, cheap place for Chinese BBQ called Sun Wah. And, again, miles and miles away from motorcades, street closures, etc.

                1. re: danimalarkey

                  Danimalarkey is giving good advice to our NATO-week visitors---Chicago has wonderful neighborhoods away from downtown in case downtown gets crazy. 1) D mentioned Andersonville (N Clark between Foster and Bryn Mawr)---used to be Swedish, is getting kind of Middle-Eastern so has restaurants, bakeries,and delis of both ethnicities plus a lot of galleries, art shops, boutiques, great bookstore and shoe store. 2) Devon moving west from Western Avenue is Indian/Pakistani with dozens of restaurants, shops selling saris, jewelry, wedding finery, religious items. 3) Argyle between N Sheridan and N Broadway is a Vietnamese commercial strip with restaurants and shops. 4) Armitage around Halsted is all boutiques and restaurants. 5) North & Clybourn is for shopping with branches of many downtown stores. 6) Take the 22 Clark or 36 Broadway bus from downtown and get off anywhere from Fullerton to Devon and walk---both streets are lined with shops and restaurants. All neighborhoods are well-served by public transportation: go to RTA Trip Planner. Since this is Chowhound I emphasize that these neighborhoods offer hundreds of restaurants. All the Chicago action isn't downtown.

                  1. re: Querencia

                    I really appreciate the advice both you and Danimalarkey have provided. I think this might be a good excuse to check out the Flor store (none of these in Canada) at North Clybourn and see what we can find to eat around there for lunch.

                    1. re: ybnormal

                      Franks and Dawgs has good creative sausages. It's not Hot Dougs, but not bad and much smaller lines.

                      1. re: chicgail

                        Franks and Dawgs seems pretty interesting - we might try that!

                        Is there a decent Italian Beef sandwich place around N. Clybourn/Lincoln Park?

                          1. re: trinyc

                            We had a great time! Fantastic weather, friendly people (except for maybe the guards at the Art Institute), and of course, terrific food! Even the NATO stuff didn't deter us.

                            Our major problem was so many places to try and not enough time (or stomach) to do it.

                            Check out my visual representation of food for our trip:

                            Prepare for a long post!

                            We got in late Thursday evening and stayed at the Hamptons on West Illinois - a great location by way, although some may be turned off by the fire station next door. But there are so many good places to eat around here!

                            THE PURPLE PIG
                            One of the major advantages of a city like Chicago is the plethora of choices you have for late-night eating - something sorely lacking in my home city of Calgary.

                            We get to the Purple Pig at 9:30 PM - a bit of a line-up, but we get seated in 5 minutes. As a side note, I love the patio, especially the neat heat lamp at the entrance!

                            Its not huge place, but it is packed and noisy. The wine list is excellent, and my friend chooses a really nice Malbec to share.

                            Our server is great - she knows how to recommend things! However, I am bummed out when she says that the bone marrow dish isn't available. Seems they have had a problem sourcing it the last few days, and they only source it from one provider - deemed the best available.

                            Oh well - lots of other things to choose from! We start with the Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg.

                            A terrific start - the pig's ear is crunchy and delicious, and goes splendidly with the crispy kale and egg. And it is served in a wonderful pig bowl

                            The next dish is Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese & Pistachio Vinaigrette. Probably my least favourite dish of the night, since I'm not a big beet fan (although my wife is). However, it was still a good dish - just one I don't think I'd order again

                            Something for me was next - Foie Gras & Membrillo (Spanish quince marmalade). Very, very decadent, but a can't miss for a true Foie Gras fan. Our server also kept bringing us more toast (which was in itself fantastic).

                            Fish dish is next - Prosciutto Crusted Cobia with Venus Clams & Sea Beans. The Cobia is superlative - it is moist and yummy, and the lemon sauce is out of this world. Our server brings us even more toast to mop up the sauces!

                            Time for some meat! The Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes was next. Incredibly tender pork over some of the best salty mashed potatoes ever. My wife and friends were fawning over the mashed potatoes.

                            Where's the chicken? Here's the chicken! More to the point - Chicken Thigh Kebabs, Fried Smashed Potatoes & Tzatziki. Another well executed dish - impossibly crispy chicken skin over wonderfully moist thigh meat - with perfectly crunchy fried potatoes on Tzatziki - crazy! I could've ate two of these.

                            Dessert time! Not sure where we got our appetite from! First dessert was the Sicilian Iris {Ricotta & Chocolate Chip filled Fried Brioche}. A beignet-like dessert, it was very good.

                            I think the next dessert was my favourite. Lemon Panna Cotta {with Pistachio Croccante} was like no other Panna Cotta I've had before. Just the right amount of lemon, but with the pistaschio croccante, the texture was fantastic.

                            The next dessert was a classic: Panino con Nutella {A Sweet Sandwich filled with a Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, Marshmallow Cream & Bananas}. Yep - as good as it sounds. If only my childhood breakfasts were filled with these...

                            Finally, last but not least - Soft Serve Ice Cream {Caramel Flavor}. A restaurant that serves self-serve ice cream without a D Q in its name? Gotta try it! Do yourself a favour and ask for the Caramel. A fine way to end a great meal!

                            When we finished the ice cream (and Panna Cotta) we got a terrific surprise looking in the bowl - the picture of a pig -

                            The service was terrific, with both the server and manager coming by to make sure everything was OK.

                            A fantastic meal and a fantastic start to our long weekend here.

                            After the feast from last night, we were ready for some exploring. We took the Wendalla Architecture River Tour, which was a great way to see the Chicago skyline.

                            We got done the tour right in front of Trump Tower.

                            My friends insisted on buying lunch at Sixteen in Trump Tower. A nice place with a nice view - only about 2 tables occupied though. Nothing spectacular on the menu, but nice enough. With only 2 tables, service was really attentive!

                            We had some nice salads and my wife and I shared the Lobster Roll. Again, we were full from last night!

                            We walked to Millenium Park after lunch, with one important diversion to Intelligentsia Coffee - we are fortunate it is so close. I'm not a coffee drinker, but my wife and friends are. I can safely say they enjoyed the coffee - they were agonizing on which bags of beans to take back.

                            We spent a lot of time at the park and the Art Institute - you are fortunate to have this here!

                            FRONTERA GRILL
                            I hoofed it over and stood in line at 4:45 PM for Frontera Grill (only a block from our hotel). My wife and friends show up at exactly 5:00 PM. We get seated at the bar and only have to wait about 10 minutes before we get paged and seated at our table.

                            In the meantime, we ordered some Frontera Guacamole and a very refreshing agua fresca. They make their own chips, which were very addictive.

                            I had a hard time ordering though, for some reason. I think it was the menu format - not to my liking. In any event, I ordered a bunch of dishes to share. We started with the Red Chile-Mango Salad - that was a very tasty salad.

                            We go for the gusto and order the Oyster and Ceviche Platter - which includes a dozen oysters (Shigoku, Royal Miyagi, and some oyster from Mass. which I can't remember) Frontera Ceviche (Albacore Tuna), and Tropical Tuna Ceviche (Hawaiian Big-eye Tuna), and a basket of tortilla chips.

                            The oysters were good, and the Tropical Tuna Ceviche was great - I didn`t care for the Frontera Ceviche.

                            Next was the Chicken Tamal - a take on a tamale. I didn`t really care for this as well - too strong a sauce.

                            However, the next dish was stupendous - lamb shank! This was the chef`s choice for Friday, and it doesn`t appear very often. It was huge! It was so incredibly tender and flavourful, I have to say that it was the best lamb shank I`ve had. I hate to see the size of that lamb! My picture doesn't do it justice on how
                            big it was - I should've put my hand there for perspective.

                            This was followed by the Mole Trio - Mole poblano enchiladas (2), lamb in black mole, roasted vegetables in green mole de flores (poblanos, squash blossoms, pepitas). The lamb in black mole was our favourite - and I guess we were lucky with this as well, since it hadn`t been on the menu for 3 years.

                            The Mole Trio was served with fresh corn tortillas - they were good, but not as good as the tortillas from La Tarasca (more on that later).

                            Finally, we share a dessert - Tres Leches de Coco: Coconut tres leches cake, honey Manila mango sorbet, coconut crunch, mango salsa with Bayless Garden herbs. A surprisingly light dessert, but full of flavour.

                            Again, service was prompt, and the server was very helpful. We get done dinner just before 7:00 PM - and, of course, the place is packed.

                            Now that I've tried Frontera Grill, I have some mixed feelings about it. It is not the best Mexican I've had, although some of the flavors and dishes were executed really well. Some of the best Mexican I've had was from a hole-in-the-wall place called La Tarasca in Centralia, Washington. And I still think they have the best tortillas in the US or Canada.

                            Our server was quite good as well.

                            But I have no regrets trying Frontera Grill, and I would still come again to try different things.

                            I had a 10:00 PM table reserved at the Aviary. I am so glad we came! It is such a unique experience, and we had such a good time being entertained by the cocktails and the people watching.

                            Some of our favorites:

                            The Chai, served in a really cool round container with a spout.

                            The Raspberry - not so much the cocktail, but how it got created. This is the cocktail that uses the vacuum infuser - such a cool experiment!

                            The Pina Colada from the el Bulli menu - terrific presentation, especially when the cotton candy gets disintegrated by the pineapple liquor. And the balls of rum that explode in your mouth is really neat.

                            The Popcorn - favorite drink of the evening in terms of taste. It tasted exactly like hot, buttered caramel popcorn. It blew our mind! Too bad we had to order it off the prix fixe menu to get it!

                            We only got the "Chips" for nibbles, so I will have to come back here and try some more things to eat.

                            All in all, a great way to end an evening! I think we all vowed to come back here the next time we're in Chicago!

                            This was our sleep in day - thank goodness!

                            And there is nothing better than Churros and Chocolate from Xoco for breakfast!

                            If I had gotten up a bit earlier, I could've moseyed over to Doughnut Vault.

                            Today was a shopping/exploring day. One of the stores we went to, Flor, happens to be right beside Franks 'n Dawgs. How lucky is that!

                            My wife and I shared the Chicagoesque and Tur-Doggin. Big fan of the Tur-Doggin! Same with the Triple Truffle Fries and the Dang! Root Beer. Dang! Those were awesome!

                            Walked over to Sur La Table afterwards, and did more shopping at the Water Tower.

                            Found an Argo Tea outlet for an energizing Jasmine Teamosa. Wish we had one of these in Canada (you'll be hearing that a lot from me)!

                            Since we had Jersey Boys to go to, and everyone wanted Asian, I used by backup reservation that I made at Sunda for dinner, only a block and a half from our hotel.

                            I've always been a bit leery of Asian fusion, but happily Sunda did not disappoint us. I know that there were some half-hearted suggestions for this, but I can safely say that the four of us had a grand time here.

                            It is a spacious restaurant with modern decor and romantic lighting - the perfect setting for our night.

                            There is a vibe to the place that we really enjoyed. The hostess and server were very friendly, and our server helped us out tremendously.

                            Again, we share our dishes. Our server insisted we try the Crispy Brussel Sprout Salad - it was like nothing we've had before. I needed convincing since I don't normally like Brussel Sprouts. I glad to be proven wrong - it was the best brussel sprout dish I've ever had! My wife still thinks about this dish even though we're home.

                            Next were the Pig Sticks - braised pork belly with sweet soy. Hey - its pork belly! Can't go wrong with that!

                            Rock Shrimp Tempura with Candied Walnuts and Creamy Honey Aioli. Don't miss this dish either! Extremely tasty!

                            So much for the appetizers! Onto the sushi!

                            My only disappointment for the night - they didn't have any Otoro or Chutoro! Arghhh! I settled for Unagi instead.

                            We tried the Sunda Signature Sushi - Seared American Kobe Beef Tartare on Sunda's Signature Crispy Rice. Melt-in-your-mouth tender Kobe Beef - wow!

                            A couple speciality rolls next. Spicy "Tail of Two Tunas" - Yellowfin & Super White Tuna with Pickled Jalapeno, spicy mayo and fried shallots. It was excellent.

                            Finally, we ended with an indulgence for my beef loving friend - the Lobster and Wagyu roll - creamy lobster, scallions, jalapeno, wagyu sashimi, and truffle-foie aioli. The wagyu just disintegrates in your mouth.

                            Good thing we only ordered one main dish to share - we were getting really full. We got the Miso Bronzed Black Cod, with just a hint of red curry and glazed eggplant. A winner of a dish. Even the eggplant was exceptional. Served with side of Dry Braised String Beans with lap cheong and walnuts - that was crazy
                            good too. Who doesn't enjoy Chinese sausage?

                            Unbelievably, we still had room for dessert. Our server described a "ridiculous" dessert - tempura ice cream made with carrot cake batter. Well, if its ridiculous, I gotta try it. Our friends shared the Black Sesame Ice Cream on granite. Both were good, but I give the nod to the Black Sesame Ice Cream.

                            We were definitely full now! We had to leave to catch the 8:00 PM show, but it was with a little bit of regret that we couldn't hang around longer. The manager also came by to make sure everything was OK, so the service really was terrific here.

                            I regret that we didn't try any cocktails here - they looked really interesting.

                            It may not be the best sushi I've ever had, but the entire package made it one of our best meals here.

                            It was only a 5 minute cab ride to the Bank of America Theatre from here - and I highly recommend seeing Jersey Boys. How can anyone not have a good time watching it?

                            We checked out out Gage after the show for some late night nibbles.

                            Sort of interesting - there were so many police and security around, I felt really safe. Not many people except for theatre-goers wandering around though.

                            I think the Gage was hurting because of it, since it wasn't that busy.

                            We shared some Moscato D'Asti, and our friends had a nice tawny port. We got a cheese plate and some duck fat nuts, and some fries with curry - a little different, that's for sure. The cheese was good though - all local cheese.

                            Still a nice night for a walk!

                            We were leaving Chicago in the evening, so we had lots of time left to explore. This was the only time that the NATO effect had any bearing on our trip. I had a late reservation at The Publican, but between the hotel concierge and impending traffic detours, my friends didn't want to chance getting back to the hotel to pick up our luggage before the airport. So, with some regret, I cancelled it, and we went instead to my backup reservation at Perennial Virant by Lincoln Park.

                            In the end, this worked out better. It gave us a chance to walk around Lincoln Park and the surrounding neighborhoods and explore the upper end of the Mag Mile.

                            Perennial Virant was fine - we had the Smoked Salmon breakfast, a Golden Beet Salad, and a sticky bun (warm and gooey). All were good, but I probably have to try this place again when I'm a bit hungrier (and more awake!


                            And it was only pure happenstance and good luck that I picked up the last B&N Nook with Glowlight! I can't get these easily in Canada!

                            Turns out we leave from Terminal 3 at O'Hare, so we gladly loaded up for our flight at Tortas Frontera. I loved the Pepito! And we got looks of envy for our Tortillas and Salsa!

                            Finally, we also bought 2 jumbo bags of Chicago Mix popcorn from Garret Popcorn - this stuff is really good! Again, something I wish we had in Canada!

                            All-in-all, it was a fantastic trip - beautiful weather, great food, and good company. And thankfully it looks like Chicago got through NATO OK as well.

                            After Aviary, I think I might have convinced my friends to try Alinea and El Ideas next time out. Logan Square is on my radar too!

                            And I know - I missed a lot of Chicago unique foods - like deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches.

                            Just have to save it for next time.

                            Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions and help! We are seriously tempted by another seat-sale for summer back to Chicago!

                            1. re: ybnormal

                              Your detailed report is much appreciated.

                              1. re: ybnormal

                                Great report- you covered a lot of ground! I'll have to get your Calgary recs (my sister is moving there in July!)

                                1. re: trinyc1979

                                  Anytime! I'm sure I'll have more questions that need answering next time I'm in Chicago!