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Little italy Long Weekend

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My wife and I will be spending a long weekend (arrive on a Friday, leave the following Tuesday) and are staying in Little Italy (Taylor and Loomis). We will have a car, and are familiar with Chicago public transportation. I have three categories of requests...

1. Looking for some good weekend dinner experiences, knowing that I will have to make reservations quickly. I used to travel to Chicago occasionally, but haven't been there in many years. We've eaten at Charlie Trotter's (now closed), Tru, Spiaggia, Mia Francesca, Arun's, Bin 36, Frontera Grill, Salpicon. I've also eaten at Avec, Blackbird, Lovitt (which became Schwa a while ago).

I'm happy going back to any of these, and bringing my wife to the places I've been but she hasn't. What would I be missing out on (that it would be a shame to miss out on) if I do that? We'd probably prefer somewhere where I wouldn't be out of place not wearing a suit and tie (does that rule out Les Nomades?)..

2. On Monday night, when many places are closed, what is there in or near Little Italy that we should go? Walking would be ideal. So would scratch cooking. Hole in the wall/dive is okay as long as the food is good.

3. I know Little Italy is known for its bakeries, gelato, etc. Any of those I shouldn't miss?

Places I've read about that intrigue me are Purple Pig and Sable. Also, we don't mind eating during non-prime hours if it means having a good experience. Places that allow BYO (loved the $0 corkage at Lovitt, now $2.50 corkage at Schwa) would be good to know about.

Thanks, Chicago hounds.

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  1. >> What would I be missing out on (that it would be a shame to miss out on) if I do that? We'd probably prefer somewhere where I wouldn't be out of place not wearing a suit and tie (does that rule out Les Nomades?)..

    There aren't a lot of places left where jackets are required for gentlemen - only around half a dozen - but yes, Les Nomades is one of them.

    Based on the places you've mentioned, my first question would be whether you're looking for a high-end experience (without the jacket requirement) - the kind of restaurant where there are lengthy tasting menus, etc? If so, places worth considering, with no jacket requirement but outstanding food, - include North Pond (with its exquisite location in the middle of the park), Naha (which, like North Pond, is owned/run by a James Beard Award winning chef), Goosefoot (which is BYOB), and Sixteen.

    There are plenty of chef-driven restaurants with outstanding food in a more casual setting. The best IMHO include Sable (contemporary American small plates, craft cocktails), GT Fish & Oyster (seafood small plates, craft cocktails), Piccolo Sogno and Piccolo Sogno Due (Italian), and Mercat a la Planxa (tapas).

    I would also add a visit to one of our restaurants offering creative contemporary Mexican cuisine; since you've been to Frontera Grill and Salpicon, I'd suggest Mexique (newly awarded with a Michelin star) and Mundial Cocina Mestiza.

    All of the above accept reservations, including on Opentable.com although some of them fill up well in advance so reserving as soon as possible would be a good idea. Purple Pig is another good choice, although they don't accept reservations and have lengthy waits (2+ hours) during prime dining hours; that's a great candidate for dining during non-prime hours (lunchtime or afternoon) especially since they serve the same menu all day.

    One more thing you didn't mention is our restaurants specializing in creative breakfast fare, which are also worth considering. The best include Jam in Logan Square, M. Henry and M. Henrietta on the north side, and Bongo Room (3 locations).

    These are just highlights, the best of the best, reasonably close to downtown and Little Italy; there are lots more great places around the city and suburbs. So feel free to ask more questions.

    I haven't had much chance to dine in Little Italy, although Davanti Enoteca has been near the top of my list of places to try for some time. Hopefully others here will help with that part of your query.

    6 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks for the input. I have eaten at North Pond. Long time ago. Didn't live up to the hype for me, but could have been an off night. Goosefoot may be farther than I'm willing to travel unless it is indded a destination type place. But it is BYO, so it has that going for it. Forgot to mention, I also ate ate Tournesol, which is now closed.

      Your tapas rec and Mexique sound intriguing. The Piccolo Sogno places are good fallbackss, too.

      More questions. Would my non-beer drinking wife enjoy Publican, or do I wait until a guys only trip? Is Blackbird still good? I ask because they have reservation slots available (as does Sable) where some other places do not. Finally, has anyone ever had any luck being on the reservation cancellation list at Girl and the Goat?

      1. re: Brad Ballinger

        I'm a woman, and love pork, fresh vegetables, charcuterie, raw bars, etc, but don't especially love beer. I really love Publican. The food at Publican is excellent. It is quite loud and for a party of two you end may up end at a communal table unless you specify otherwise.

        Girl and the Goat takes walk ins but the wait can be long. However, in addition to the walk in tables, the bar and lounge is also first come first served, so you could luck out there. Especially if you go early or late. Had a great dinner there about a month ago. Grilled broccoli with smoky blue cheese. Parmesan miso shisito peppers. Perfectly cooked diver scallops with pumpkin, pecan, pomegranate. Sugo. Pork shank with kimchee purée and buttermilk dressing. Good value as the portions are generous.

        1. re: Brad Ballinger

          >> I have eaten at North Pond. Long time ago. Didn't live up to the hype for me, but could have been an off night. Goosefoot may be farther than I'm willing to travel unless it is indded a destination type place. But it is BYO, so it has that going for it.

          Goosefoot has been getting a lot of acclaim. I wouldn't consider it a destination type place the way Tru and Spiaggia are, but I thought it was very good. And don't overlook Naha, which is thoroughly excellent - sort of like TRU but without the jackets. :)

          >> Your tapas rec and Mexique sound intriguing. The Piccolo Sogno places are good fallbackss, too.

          Of course, if you're going to cover Italian while in Little Italy, the PS duo may be superfluous.

          >> Would my non-beer drinking wife enjoy Publican, or do I wait until a guys only trip?

          I don't drink much. I thought it was okay - some dishes (notably the seafood) were excellent, others (like the hyped pork rinds) were nothing great, and desserts were uniformly dreadful. If she enjoys good seafood, she might like it (although GT Fish might be a better choice); if she enjoys desserts, not so much. It's also really noisy, like all Kahan's places. One tip - about half the seating consists of two looooong communal tables, and the other half is private two-, four-, and six-tops. If you have a preference - if you'd like your own table, or if you'd prefer the communal seating - state it in the comments on Opentable, or over the phone, when making your reservation, and they will do what they can to accommodate your preference.

          >> Is Blackbird still good?

          The food is still delicious. It's still rather cramped (especially the banquette tables on the left side of the room) and still quite noisy, and portion sizes are not always generous. It's not a place I'm dying to go back to.

          >> Finally, has anyone ever had any luck being on the reservation cancellation list at Girl and the Goat?

          I don't know; maybe others here can say. I've heard you can go early (like 5:00) and often walk right in without a reservation, if that helps. My reaction there was much like Publican - some good dishes (notably the pork face), some only so-so, and dreadful desserts (worst I've had in any restaurant). Of course, like the Publican, there are others who like it more than I did, so YMMV.

          HTH

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Well, Goosefoot is out. Nothing available within 8 weeks of when I'm going to be there. Next trip! I may consider Naha. May just reserve Blackbird because I can. Schwa's voice mailbox full.

            Four nights NOT ENOUGH TIME!

            1. re: Brad Ballinger

              Naha is quite nice, but I always agree with nsxasy on Mexique. Actually got to eat at Mexique the month it opened, it was terrific then and has since grown better.

              1. re: jbontario

                I really like both of them - Naha and Mexique - but they're very different types of places. Naha is for fine dining, for an elegant evening out where you'll be pampered and have creative contemporary American cuisine. Mexique is quite casual, a "busy bistro" type of place, somewhat noisy (not oppressively so) with a festive atmosphere, and the food is a creative take on Mexican cuisine with a French influence. Not surprisingly, Naha also typically costs twice as much. The commonality is that they both have delicious food in an enjoyable setting. Your choice! :)

      2. My sister lives in West Loop so I've become quite familiar with Taylor St over the last few years. For dinners, I really like the original Rosebud (old-school red sauce), Davanti Enoteca (modern italian sharing), and super-casual Pompei (order at the counter salads, pizza, pastas and brought out to you).

        For bakeries, I really prefer D'Amatos which is about a mile north on W Grand.

        1. Well, I've made one reservation so far. Friday at The Bristol. Sunday will probably be Purple Pig. Monday dinner hopefully something local in Little Italy. Saturday still up in the air.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Brad Ballinger

            Saturday night reservations at Mexique. Monday will probably be Davanti Enoteca. It's a national chain (albeit a small one), but it's on the same corner as where we are staying. Like I mentioned, probably Purple Pig for Sunday (arrive early), but we'll have a Plan B.

            We probably won't splurge for breakfast. We are staying in a vacation rental condo, and will use the kitchen for breakfast, and maybe even some lunches.

            Thanks for the recs. I'll report back.

            1. re: Brad Ballinger

              Great choices. I love Davanti Enoteca, and given where you're staying, it's a perfect choice.

              I am surprised no one has suggested El Ideas to you yet: Tasting menus with BYOB. Very casual, so no jacket needed. The chefs are continually interactive, including inviting guests to plate or deliver a course if so desired, and Bill in the front of the house is outstanding. More importantly, the food is creative, delicious, and fun. It is located in the proverbial middle of nowhere, but not far from your condo. The one downside is that as word has grown, reservations, especially for Saturdays, are quite difficult. We succeeded for a Friday in June after some e-mail exchanges and a stint on the waiting list, and it was one of our favorite meals of the year, and perhaps all-time.

              El Ideas
              Address – 2419 W. 14th Street, Chicago, 60618
              Email – reservations@elideas.com
              Phone – 312-226-8144
              Website - www.elideas.com
              Twitter - @ELideasChi
              Facebook - EL Ideas

              1. re: GourmetWednesday

                El Ideas looks spectacular. Appears to be much like Travail where I live (Twin Cities). Sadly, they are only open Tuesday through Saturday. And they are closed December 4-12. We arrive December 14, and I'll bet their booked. But I will give it a shot. I can always move one of the other two reservations.

                Like I wrote above, not enough days.

          2. Mid-trip report:

            The Bristol. The food was deserving of praises I've read about and heard from Twin Cities locals who have been. We had a salad featuring apples, fennel, hazelnuts for a starter, and the halibut collar for a second starter. Raviolo for a pasta, and their 1/2 chicken for the main. Halibut collar very rich and flavorful, raviolo sublime, chicken crispy and moist.

            The only downside to The Bristol were some service lapses that were remedied. And the manager also followed up with me by phone. Really appreciate that.

            XOCO. Stopped in here for a light pick-me-up. Got the seafood caldo and an order of churros with shot of chocolate for dipping. Caldo a bit on the salty side, and the shrimp were criminally overcooked and rubbery. Would never order that again. Churros were very good. Not heavy. Not too sweet, even when dipped. Would order those every time.

            Mexique. Really wanted to like it based on some of the love it has received on this board.. Didn't. My wife and I split an order of mussels with chorizo and a saffron white wine broth. Hard to go wrong with something like that, and we/they didn't. Enjoyed that dish very much. My wife got the salmon on a sweet corn porridge and more of the saffron buerre blanc. It was fine, but not memorable. I ordered skate wing. The preparation read like this would be very flavorful, and it was just sort of meh. One cross-slice of serrano pepper. Actually, the accouterments were all right. The skate wing itself was mush. If I was to return, I'd see if they did better perhaps with non-fish dishes.

            Still have plans for Purple Pig and Davanti Enoteca, but now I'm wondering if there's any type of hole-in-the-wall place (all ethnicities welcome) that would serve me better. Not really up for dropping what I dropped at Mexique to have an average meal.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Brad Ballinger

              Sorry to hear of your disappointments. At least the weather has been unseasonably mild!

              So let's try to get your trip back on track: Have you been to Hot Doug's? It would be a good lunch Monday or Tuesday. Get there by 11 to minimize your wait time. The gourmet "encased meats" get all the buzz, but my favorite part is the interaction with Doug at the counter.

              More off-the-wall would be Birrieria Zaragoza for roasted goat, tortillas, and salsa, in a family-owned space not far from Midway airport.

              I had a very good experience at Davanti Enoteca, as mentioned above, but it was solo at the bar at lunch, so I can't speak to dinner table service. If the Bristol didn't turn you off of small plates, I think it is still a good choice. If you want to try something else along Taylor Street, Rosebud as mentioned above is a classic. I also like RoSal's, a family run establishment that will feed you good, mostly old-school dishes--not innovative, but steady, comfortable, and you'll get your money's worth.

              We had a recent and amazing experience at Yusho's. Helmed by a former Trotter's Executive Chef, it specializes in very good Japanese-inspired small plates, and also makes tasty craft cocktails.

              If you have any more specific requests or ethnicities please let us know. In the meantime, I hope this redeems us a bit. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

              Hot Doug's
              3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618 (about 6 miles from where you are staying but not a bad weekday drive)
              Phone: (773) 279-9550
              www.hotdougs.com
              Open Monday - Saturday, 10:30 am - 4:00 pm, closed on Sundays.

              Birrieria Zaragoza
              4852 S. Pulaski Rd.
              Chicago, IL. 60632
              (773) 523-3700
              www.birrieriazaragoza.com
              Open Monday - Friday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Saturday 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM and Sunday 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

              RoSal's
              312-243-2357
              1154 W. Taylor St.
              www.rosals.com

              Yusho
              2853 N. Kedzie Ave.
              773-904-8558
              www.yusho-chicago.com

            2. Try Sun Wah for great Chinese food at good prices.
              Or tacos at La Chaparrita.

              1. Thanks for the additional suggestions. I checked in on this thread before heading out today, but didn't get to read these until back at the condo at the end of our dining.

                The Purple Pig experience late afternoon redeemed the city. And, actually, the veggie dishes (shaved Brussels sprouts, salt-roasted beets with goat cheese) outdid the roasted bone marrow and milk-braised pork shoulder. But all was good. The Sicilian iris dessert was a great concept, and was pretty good. Just a bit of of the deep fry oil could be detected in the taste. And, for a place that touts its wine program, they serve the red wines too warm.

                Will likely do Davanti Enoteca Monday night (I've eaten at Rosebud before). But will try one of the more recent recommendations for lunch.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Brad Ballinger

                  If you get a chance, either on this trip or on a future one, I'd encourage you to give Sable a try, especially since you were already considering it. Sable works equally well for lunch as well as dinner, since they serve the same menu all day. And with small plates, you can still try several things, ordering as much or as little as you like. I just ate there again for dinner tonight, and was reminded again how terrific all the food is there. www.sablechicago.com

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    With the wall to wall people at Purple Pig, I was ready to go to Sable, but my wife liked the electricity at Purple Pig. Next trip for Sable.

                2. Final report from Monday's meals.

                  We walked to Sweet Maple for breakfast. Sort of a retro vibe to the place. Meal was solid. I asked our server what they were known for, and she said the pancakes. So I got those. They were good, and I liked the pure maple syrup that is served standard. Were they thebestpancakesI'veeverhad? Not quite, but they were good. My wife enjoyed her scramble. And loved the biscuit.

                  Dinner a few doors down at Davanti Enoteca. I was worried when they were out of the first item we ordered, but they had everything else. Thumbs up for the warm kale salad (but it didn't need as much dressing) and the egg toast asparagus thing. Wild mushroom pasta lacked seasoning, which I remedied by asking for salt and pepper. Pizza was done well.

                  Earlier in the day, I got my Binny's fix taken care of. The South Loop location on Jefferson is HUGE.