Trip Report: Yusho, Topolobampo, Aviary, Girl and the Goat, Big Jones, Next, Drawing Room, Purple Pig, Antique Taco
Yusho: I like to think of this spot as if David Chang from NYC was obsessed with yakitori instead of ramen in his early days.
Grilled (pickled?) quail eggs with charred kombu were the perfect combination of umami and acid. Their chicken wings with thai chile pepper, bonito salt, and lime were charred on the outside, tender on the inside. How do they cook them so perfectly? How are the flavors in such harmony? All other chicken wings should be ashamed of themselves.
I also loved the crunchy chicken "skin" chips with mustard and togarashi. Ingredients I never would have put together. The duck breast was also fabulous. Meaty, tender, and the umami-filled mushrooms put it over the edge. Again, perfectly charred on the outside, but just the right temperature on the inside. The maitake mushroom was a revelation. Runny egg, frisee, dashi gelee. Rich flavors, and the grilling brought out the mushroom's natural sweetness. The beef tongue served with crispy, crunchy kale and pork belly with kimchee dishes were also wonderful. Everything we ate here was fantastic. This restaurant was spot on. Perfect technique, flavors, concept, the entire way.
We made a reservation online very easily, and the restaurant didn't seem all that busy on a Tuesday night. The cocktail program is also very good. We loved the Living Proof (rum, umeshu, forbidden fruit, citrus, falernum bitters) and the Resurrection (bourbon, bonal, Boker's bitters, elixir vegetal).
I look forward to returning to Yusho in the future.
Topolobampo: We had a light lunch here. Shared the Ceviche Fronterizo: Lime-marinated Hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green chile; on crispy tostaditas. Nice quality albacore, one of my favorites. The olives added a nice, unexpected zing. I had the Mariscos con Sabor a Yucatan: Orange-glazed Viking Village scallops, fresh Florida shrimp & tender young squid, in velvety escabeche (roasted green chile, caramelized onion, sweet spices, olive oil, cava vinegar). Fluffy achiote tamal, creamy sikil pak (pumpkinseed & amaranth "hummus"). The seafood was cooked perfectly, and the squid seemed especially tender. But really they were a delivery device for the excellent escabeche sauce. My husband had the Ensalada de Carnitas: crispy duck leg carnitas, Living Waters young greens, orange vinagreta (black pepper, árbol chile), shaved kohlrabi, spicy pickled kumquats, toasted chile threads. This salad was good, too, and the duck leg was very flavorful, but it wasn't as interesting as the other dishes we shared.
If we lived in the neighborhood, I can see eating lots of ceviche at the bar, while drinking tequila and mezcal cocktails, but maybe not having too many meals here. I had a great mezcal cocktail with vanilla, lime, pineapple, called the Oaxacan Gold.
The Aviary: A favorite that we always return to. We tried a handful of drinks, including a tiki flight (the zombie with fennel foam instead of absinthe was the favorite), a rob roy served in a plastic bag filled with lavender air, their horchata (spiked with rum and tequila) served in a styrofoam cup. I find that I always have a good time at the Aviary.
Girl and the Goat: Another favorite that we always return to. This time, I oohed and aahed over the wood fired broccoli, tossed in blue cheese. The hiramasa crudo with crisp pork belly, chili aioli, and caperberries was also perfect. Refreshing, with a bit of fat from the pork and heat from the chile peppers. We tried a CH recommended dish for the first time, the diver scallops with foie gras vinaigrette, klug plums, sweet onion, and brioche crouton. A wonderful melding of flavors, with sweet and meaty scallops.
The crisp braised pork shank with spring onion kimchee and buttermilk dressing was also genius. Served with pita bread, the combination of the white dressing, spicy kimchee, and pork reminded me of halal cart food in NYC! Spicy and creamy sauces, mixing together. However, no halal cart serves pork... :)
And we stuffed ourselves with the goat belly with bourbon butter, lobster, crab, and fennel. The sweet bourbon butter was delicious, I joked that this was our dessert. And it kind of was, since we had no room left.
Big Jones: We tried to have a light lunch here the next day, knowing that Next - Sicily was that night.
I adored the pickle plate, which contained pickled ramps, radish seed pods, okra, fiddleheads, cucumber, red onion, green strawberries, beets, and chow chow. The pickled ramps were excellent and the pickled green strawberries were delicious and quite surprising. We also shared their boucherie plate with boudin noir, pate, headcheese, andouille sausage, and their tasso. My favorites were the headcheese and pate. Yum! They do have a nice in-house charcuterie program.
For mains, I had the shrimp burger with chow chow and spicy mayonnaise, which fell apart immediately, but was spicy and delicious, and filled with a generous amount of shrimp. The voodoo greens were a little too acidic for me (but this style of side usually is) but I was surprised to see big, meaty chunks of pork in there, rather than the token tiny bits of bacon here and there. My husband got the pork shoulder with tart mustard sauce, which was also excellent and had both nice flavor and good texture (not too fine).
A very satisfactory lunch, and I look forward to returning to try some of their other dishes, like the boarding house lunch special. I think I understand all the accolades now!
Next (Sicily): I loved the antipasti (charred artichoke hearts were divine) except for their eggplant caponata. Seemed too acidic and light on the eggplant, with a bit too much parsley. Both pasta dishes were very good but not noticeably better than pastas I've had in NYC (Babbo, Scarpetta, Locanda Verde, Maialino, dell'anima, etc).
However, the slow cooked pork in tomato sauce that had been cooking sous vide for 9+ hours was divine, and even though I usually don't care for swordfish, theirs, served with mint pesto and roasted mint was excellent. The desserts, I didn't care for really, either, as I'm not a huge marzipan fan. It seemed very, very sweet. I did enjoy the meal, but couldn't finish dessert. The petit fours also seemed rather sweet. Not my favorite of their menus, but still a quite good meal.
Drawing Room: Loved the furniture, decor, and service. Hated the club and club music next door. The room isn't very well insulated from the adjacent nightclub.
Drinks were excellent, particularly the Sun Also Rises (sloe gin, absinthe, Peychaud's, lemon, prosecco) and Hands Down (Ardberg, green chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino, lime, Campari).
I'm curious to see how the bar will evolve over time now that Charles Joly is heading up the program at the Aviary.
Purple Pig: We were seated right away on 11:45am on a Friday, but the room soon filled up, as did the patio. I suppose the word is out! We shared a nice rabbit salad filled with lots of herbs (the parsley and mint were especially good) and black truffle vinaigrette. Next up with a "jowl" JLT with pork jowl, a slice of heirloom tomato, and lettuce, on bread, with a runny egg on top. The best breakfast sandwich ever? We finished the meal with fried sweetbreads, served with apricot jam and fennel. A winning combination, that I never would have thought out! I always seem to find at least one item on the Purple Pig menu that surprises me, in a good way.
Antique Taco: I think I might like this place over Big Star now. It's quieter and my last Big Star visit felt like the kitchen was taking shortcuts or being a bit sloppy.
I tried two tacos off the menu. The Grilled Ribeye tacos with House Steak Rub, Heirloom Salsa, Cilantro, Onion, Queso Enchilado were very good. You could really taste the quality of the steak they were using. While it wasn't the most tender cut, it was flavorful. I really liked the Pork Carnitas tacots with Adobo Rub, Tamarind Glaze, Bacon, Spinach, Onion, Avocado, Queso Fresco. It sounds very messy on paper, but I found it to be a good mix of sweet, spicy, cheesy, and meaty. The tamarind glaze was a good foil to the other items, like the spinach. An unconventional taco, sure, but delicious, and it seemed like they were putting a lot of thought and care into the food here. I'd love to come back and try more things, or some of the drinks.
Previous trip reports:
Great report (as always) kathryn! Glad to hear wonderful things about Yusho. We had reservations for Yusho when we were in Chicago for Memorial Day, but cancelled them last minute due to the 96 degree heat (didn't want to travel so far in the heat). Next time we're in Chicago, I'll try for Yusho again.
Almost glad I didn't get the season tickets for Next since the Sicily menu doesn't appeal to me. Look forward to hearing about the "next" menu--Japan (I think?).
Next is hardly overrated; in fact I do not believe it has yet received the accolades it deserves! The ticket system is not a media circus, but the way of the future for ultra popular small, high end venues. Already at least three other Chicago high end restaurants have recently switched (or are in the process of switching to) a similar system. I have made it to each menu at Next other than Paris and they have all been outstanding food, creativity, service and experience.
Then we will simply disagree. My experiences (plural) at Next have not been uniformly outstanding IMO. Also, when eating as a single diner, even with doubled portions or a massaged menu, it is not worth the money. $250-350+ for meals of this-and-that with patchily successful dishes (to me) on several menus is not really my idea of value-for-money. The ticketing system, the frenzy surrounding it and the sheer difficulty in getting tickets resulting in what looks so much like this cult-like status accorded to it are not desirable nor admirable in my view. That other places are beginning to copy it is very regrettable. The saving grace is that these other places (like at Beverly Kim's new job place) are not likely to be as mobbed by crazied fans as is Next - so more reasonable access is likely and you probably do not have to scramble for tickets within two minutes of the bell. :::Shrug::: To each his own.