Trip Report: Girl & Goat, Aviary, Sable, La Scarola, Grahamwich, Food Walking Tour, Garrett's, Weber Grill, Gino's East... more (long)
Just got back from a wonderful trip to Chicago. My first visit and won't be my last. Loved it! Saw my beloved Red Sox play three games against the Cubs and was shocked to find Sox players staying at our hotel. Great way to start! Because this is Chowhound I will refrain from commenting on Chicago's amazing architecture and terrific museums and instead will focus on the food. I have a lot of pictures so I will make several posts on this thread rather than cramming them all into one.
Sable at the Palomar
With a brunch reservation for Father's Day we didn't plan on eating another meal at our hotel's restaurant, but boy am I glad we did. Got back late from one of the ball games and were starving so popped into Sable for a late night snack. Root Beer Glazed Short Rib Sliders with Crispy Onions, Mini Lamb Burgers with Feta, and House Smoked Ribs with Cider-Cherry Glaze were all delicious and went well with our beers and Kir Royale, but the one dish that hit a Grand Slam was the Chicken with Waffles and Bourbon Maple Syrup. You could inhale this dish it was so good!
For our brunch we enjoyed Blueberry Pancakes that were happily light and not dense and leaden the way many places make them. Berries, bacon and a croissant were all fresh and tasty too. Great job Heather Terhune. Throw in the modern and chic decor, gracious service, and Sable was a winner.
OMG was this stuff addictive! I only knew about it from a post here on Chowhound. Glad I went. They gave out free samples of the Chicago mix of Caramel Crisp and Cheddar corn. I was hooked and brought it to snack on at the ball games and also sent a large can to my daughter in Boston. She loved it.
PIX: Sable and Garrett's Popcorn
Thanks for the report! FYI there is a Garrett's by Penn Station in NYC.
Did you try any cocktails at Sable?
If you like chicken and waffles, you should try it at Roscoe's in Los Angeles if you ever get out there, or Amy Ruth's in Harlem. I actually found Sable's version to be only OK. Too much waffle in the chicken to waffle ratio, when they are that small, and the sauce was a bit too sweet. What makes a stellar chicken and waffles is the combination of fried skin, chicken meat, fluffy waffle, maple syrup, melted butter, and hot sauce, all in one bite.
Thanks Kathryn for the tip about Garrett's in NYC! As for the chicken and waffles, I had never had the dish before. I understand it's traditionally soul food. I didn't take Sable's as a traditional version, rather as Chef Terhune's modern riff on it, and for that it was successful. I'll try the traditional someday though, thanks for the Amy Ruth's tip.
At Sable I had a Kir Royale. The guys had beer. The cocktail menu did look fun though.
Dinner at Girl & The Goat, drinks at The Aviary (both in same neighborhood)
I admire both Stephanie Izard and Grant Achatz, so I wanted to try their spots. Not disappointed in the least.
Loved the decor at G&G, a cross between industrial modern and rustic country, which the menu resembles as well. For starters we shared Pig In A Blanket Bread, served warm with a side of mustard dipping sauce. Nice beginning, although I would have liked a bit more pork in the bread. For our main meal we enjoyed Kalbi Beef Ribs, Grilled Pork Ribs, Roasted Goat (which neither my husband nor I had ever tried before, and loved it) and Ham Frites. The frites were dusted with ham powder making them taste like they were cooked in bacon fat. So delicious. We finished with a luscious dessert of Chocolate Cake, Mousse, and Blackberry Sorbet.
Stephanie Izard deserves all the accolades she gets. In the semi-open kitchen you can see her working hard on the line expediting orders. Still, she takes a quick break here and there to happily pose for pictures and talk to customers. Her gracious staff encourages interaction. Kudos to you Ms. Izard for showing others how things should be done.
I won't spoil the surprises you will have in store at The Aviary. Just suffice it to say: Go! Cocktails like you've never had before. I had a Strawberry Daiquiri. Sounds ordinary? It wasn't!
PIX: Girl & The Goat and The Aviary
Grahamwich, Fox & Obel, Weber Grill
Jonesing for a quick breakfast, we were happy our hotel was very close to Grahamwich. My husband loved his coffee which came in a disposable cup with a French press in it. I guess this concept has been around for some time, but it was the first we had encountered it. He makes French press coffee at home so it sang his song. Whoever supplies Grahamwich with its pastries should be commended. The croissant was the real deal, crunchy on the outside, a pillowy cloud on the inside. My husband also enjoyed Graham Elliott's signature Grilled Cheese, especially the tomato marmalade component. I also got a side of bbq chips that were scrumptious. Service was very friendly even when they were in the middle of a huge lunch takeout order.
Before taking an architectural boat tour we found ourselves near Fox and Obel and were impressed with their pastries. I purchased a fruit tart which we shared later.
Our hotel was also very close to Weber Grill. We had a quick lunch there. My husband had a sirloin steak which he said was perfectly grilled. I had soup and a salad which were fine. A couple next to us were eating pork chops which looked really thick and delicious.
PIX: Grahamwich, Fox & Obel, Weber Grill
Dinner at La Scarola, drinks at the Hancock Tower
I deliberately kept our final evening open not sure what we would like to do for dinner. We were both in the mood for Italian so I asked our helpful hotel concierge for a recommendation. My desire was: "Old School Chicago. Food like your Italian grandma would make." He said that made it easy, there was only spot for us: La Scarola. OMG was he right!
How do I love thee La Scarola, let me count the ways.
Decor is unpretentious with a splash of Italian kitsch - a painted mural infused with pictures of the owners and their friends, a street sign that proudly announces the intersection of Frank Sinatra and Bill Conforti way, and photos all over the walls of the owners, friends and celebrities.
The place will likely be packed - even on a Monday night when we went and you may have to wait a little bit but they will do their best to accommodate you. (Our concierge had made a reservation for us, highly recommend it). Two women waiting next to us in the bar area started yelling at the owner to hurry up and seat them already and he yelled back at them and then they hugged. "That's how you talk around here," the lady said to me with a laughing nod.
And I see why. It's a friendly place plain and simple. You may start out as a stranger but you will likely leave as a friend.
The menu is huge and it scared me a little. Usually when I see a large menu it's in a diner and the food is mediocre. I was in a mood for Eggplant Parmesan and they had it. My husband was in the mood for Beef Lasagna. Could such standard basic Italian fare be good here? YES! Great in fact. We started with bruschetta and got a large four piece serving. You also get a bread basket so be warned.
Our entree portions were huge as you can see in the photos. What you can't see is how delicious they were. La Scarola's red sauce is perfect. Just what you would want - bright, tomatoey, not greasy, not overcooked. The eggplant parm was the best I have ever had at a restaurant and my husband ate every speck of his lasagna even though he was bursting at the seams. I've enjoyed old-school red sauce Italian in Boston's North End, Philly and New York, and La Scarola was the best of its ilk, hands down. I highly recommend this place.
While I was freshening up after dinner my husband started chatting with one of the owners, Armando Vasquez. Such a character this guy. Love him. When I returned he sat us down and offered us shots on the house. Nice. We had a long and very enjoyable chat. I can honestly say I have never had such an overall joyful experience than our dinner at La Scarola.
Afterwards, we cabbed to the Hancock Tower's Signature Lounge for a farewell drink. We hadn't been in any of the city's tall buildings yet so this was it. Lovely room, packed. Gorgeous views of the city, especially in the ladies room! Not kidding. I had non-alcoholic Raspberry Fizz and my husband had a Skyscraper drink. Both quite good.
PIX: La Scarola and Hancock Tower. My husband and Armando in one of the pix. Pictures of the city from the Signature Lounge did not come out well. Very blurry. You'll see.
Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour
I wanted to get a closer look at a Chicago neighborhood and opted to take a food tasting and cultural walking tour run by Food Planet Tours. Food Planet runs two other tours (Bucktown/Wicker Park, Chinatown). I liked the selection of food for Near North which covers the Old Town area. Tickets are sold online and advance purchases are recommended as the tours do sell out. You get enough food for a satisfying lunch. It is not only about food, the guide also points out historically interesting spots along the way.
Our food stops were:
Ashkenaz Deli - Hot Pastrami Reuben
Lou Malnati’s - Deep dish pizza slice (with sausage)
Tea Gschwendner - Iced herbal tea
The Spice House - A quick taste of spices of your choice
Old Town Oil – Samples of balsamic vinegars and olive oils
The Fudge Pot – Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee
Delightful Pastries – Marzipan and Passionfruit Macarons and a savory Pierogi
My husband’s favorite stop was the first one, an old-fashioned Jewish deli which apparently is a rare find in Chicago. He loved making his own sandwich and especially liked the thousand island dressing with beet chunks in it.
My favorite stop was The Spice House where owner Tom Erd gave us a 10-minute lecture about pepper and cinnamon. He was so fascinating I could have spent the whole day with him. He teaches at a culinary school and is considered a leading expert in spices.
Two small flaws I had with the tour: I thought it was a half hour too long. It ran nearly four hours. Could have spent less time at the tea place. Also, the pierogi at the end was weird. We had just had buttercrunch and macarons and then wham… a pierogi. I didn’t eat mine, gave it to my husband.
Overall, I thought this was fun. You get coupons for all the places on the tour and on our way out of Chicago we bought some amazingly rich cinnamon and other spices at The Spice House, fruit vinegars at Old Town Oil (Both places ship so I didn’t have to carry those items home in our luggage) and a few jam filled kolaches at Delightful Pastries for the road.
PIX: Food Tour
So who has the best Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago?
My husband and I conducted our own narrowly focused test of two spots: Lou Malnati’s which was on our food tour, and Gino’s East.
Lou Malnati’s was good. The tomatoes were good quality canned San Marzanos, cheese was plentiful and not greasy, and crust was edible.
Gino’s East was very similar, but there was more of everything. More tomatoes, much more non-greasy cheese and a higher and yellower crust (I suspect food coloring?).
At both joints a lot of crust was wasted. Diners tended to eat the crust of the first slice and hardly any of the others. Tables had plates full of uneaten crust on them. So basically, most people are eating some crust initially but just the sauce, cheese and toppings thereafter.
Our conclusion: Flip a coin. If you think more is better, you may prefer Gino’s. Overall, we prefer good East Coast thin crust pizza to deep dish because you tend to eat the crust well after the first slice. When it is cooked in a wood fired or coal oven the crust has some terrific flavor. With deep dish you are focusing too much on just the sauce, cheese and toppings.
A final anecdote. This happened in Gino’s East. My husband ordered a medium pizza for the two of us for lunch. It was waaaay too much, especially since I told him at most I only wanted one slice. Since we had a busy afternoon planned to visit the Museum of Science and Industry (wonderful by the way) we didn’t want to carry leftover pizza around. While deliberating what to do with our largely uneaten pie, a party was seated next to us and the “matriarch” asked the server if they served breadsticks. He said, yes they could serve breadsticks. “But are they as good as the Olive Garden’s?” she asked. He said he wasn’t sure but they were good. She then asked if their thin crust pizza had cheese on it because one of her kids did not like cheese. He said they could make a pie without cheese. She then asked if they had chicken nuggets because another kid didn’t like pizza at all. Yes, they had chicken nuggets. I was wondering why they had come to this particular place for lunch… So while she was still looking at the menu, I asked if she would like the remainder of our pie because we had ordered too much and couldn’t eat it. She took it and thanked us and said it would save them from ordering a deep dish pie which only a few of them wanted to try. Glad to help. She said they were from Texas and I realized they probably weren’t even that familiar with pizza. Us silly visitors. Miss you already Chicago, had a wonderful time!
PIX: Lou Malnati's, Gino's East