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SC to Chicago, itinerary help, pls.

  • danna Dec 18, 2012 07:46 AM
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Hi all -

Here's my plan and the holes in it...

Fri late lunch - Portillo's (husband's heart's desire)
Fri dinner - L2O (seafood bliss for me)

Sat - waking up at Park Hyatt...is there worthy pastry very close by?
Sat lunch - I might be shopping in the Armitage/halsted area...where should we eat?If we're in Wicker Park, should we do Jam or Bongo or Longman and Eagle? What is the wait situation expected to be at these popular places? Any other fun neighborhoods for window shopping/eating I might be overlookng?
Sat dinner - i was thinking about le Bouchon for old time's sake. Is it worthy of one of my 2 chicago dinners this year? We don't want expensive or fancy after L2O the night before, but I do want great food. Should we do Longman and Eagle for dinner instead? What is the wait like ? Other casually fabulous neighborhood spots I need to consider? (husband has requested "not downtown") We aren't in love w/ the gastropub/comfort food/offal concept so Publican-esque doesn't thrill me.
Sun - we are unsure if we will drive to Madison on Sat after dinner or stay 'til sun morning. But in case we stay, please suggest a great brunch that opens earlier than 10. Downtown is OK on Sun.
Christmas Day - I have my fingers crossed that Tortas Frontera in ORD will be open.

Thanks so much!

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  1. Jam and Longman and Eagle are north of Wicker Park, they're in Logan Square. it's about a 15 minute cab ride or a few stops north on public transportation (Blue Line train). Personally, I'd pick Jam over Bongo Room. There are lots of good restaurants near the Armitage/Halsted area for lunch, what type of food and atmosphere are you looking for?

    For pastry by Park Hyatt, I'd check out Hendrickx Bakery. It's a tiny little Belgian shop that's quite delicious.

    1. One by one...

      >> Sat - waking up at Park Hyatt...is there worthy pastry very close by?

      Not really. As already noted, Hendrickx Bakery is close by, but I've been there several times and it hasn't impressed me at all. If you want to stick within walking distance, that's about as good as it gets. But if you're going to the Armitage/Halsted area, that's VERY close to the two best bakeries in the entire city, Floriole and Vanille Patisserie. Floriole has a variety of breads, pastries, and desserts, including caneles, croissants, pot de creme, panna cotta, etc; Vanille has entremets (individual-sized mousse cakes), French macaroons, and croissants. If you enjoy fantastic pastry, skip Hendrickx and go to Floriole and/or Vanille.

      >> Sat lunch - I might be shopping in the Armitage/halsted area...where should we eat?

      Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, which is a tapas restaurant. At lunchtime on weekends they serve from a brunch menu that also includes some of the tapas from their regular dinner menu. It's excellent. I'd suggest making a reservation; it's a large restaurant but they do a good business for weekend brunch. (I was there on a Saturday a month or so ago; they weren't busy when I arrived at 11:30 but by the time I left they were filling up.)

      >> If we're in Wicker Park, should we do Jam or Bongo or Longman and Eagle? What is the wait situation expected to be at these popular places?

      First of all, Jam and Longman and Eagle are both in Logan Square, which is several miles northwest of Wicker Park, where Bongo Room is. Bongo Room and Jam are both excellent, but in different ways. Bongo Room specializes in pancakes, such as their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce, so it's an excellent choice if you enjoy sweeter dishes. Tip: Their standard portion size consists of three GIGANTIC pancakes but you can also order one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at reduced prices, which lets you try several dishes. Jam is also excellent, but different; imagine a top chef opening a breakfast-focused restaurant, and that's Jam. Jam is terrific and has a nice assortment of excellent dishes - breakfast, lunch, sweet, and savory. Another good choice for brunch in the Logan Square area is Lula Cafe; see more below.

      At all of the breakfast-focused restaurants, you're likely to find waits of 20-45 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays between 9:30 and 12:30. There's really not much you can do about it, other than eating earlier or later than that window, or going somewhere that takes reservations, which our breakfast-focused restaurants don't. But 20-45 minutes isn't the end of the world, either.

      >> Any other fun neighborhoods for window shopping/eating I might be overlookng?

      There are fun neighborhoods all over town, including Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, North Center, Lincoln Square, and many more.

      >> Sat dinner - i was thinking about le Bouchon for old time's sake. Is it worthy of one of my 2 chicago dinners this year? We don't want expensive or fancy after L2O the night before, but I do want great food.

      Here's the question you should be asking yourself: Do you want to go to a place you're familiar with, or would you prefer to try a place you haven't been? Le Bouchon is one of our best French bistros. The food is traditional French bistro fare and is reliably consistent and extremely well executed. But it's not going to be anything you've never had before. Oh, and they accept reservations, so you don't have to worry about waiting forever to be seated.

      >> Should we do Longman and Eagle for dinner instead? What is the wait like ?

      Aside from the fact that I hated the food there - many of their dishes were oversalted or overspiced, although some other people like it - the waits are typically one to two hours on Saturday nights. There are many other places that accept reservations. If you're in the Logan Square area where L&E is, I recommend Lula Cafe, which serves excellent farm-to-table fare in a comfy bistro atmosphere. They recently started taking reservations (for dinner, not for brunch), including on Opentable.

      >> Other casually fabulous neighborhood spots I need to consider? (husband has requested "not downtown")

      One other neighborhood spot I'll also recommend is Deleece, in Lakeview. Very neighborhood-y, ultra-casual, brick bistro atmosphere, contemporary American food, not terribly expensive either.

      >> Sun - we are unsure if we will drive to Madison on Sat after dinner or stay 'til sun morning. But in case we stay, please suggest a great brunch that opens earlier than 10. Downtown is OK on Sun.

      Our breakfast-focused restaurants all open at 9 on Sundays, and you typically don't have to wait to be seated if you can get there by 9:30. Our best are not downtown (but if you want to stay within walking distance of the Park Hyatt, go to the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue). Jam and Bongo Room, discussed above, are among our best. Lula does an excellent brunch, although brunch is walk-in only. All three of these (Jam, Bongo Room, and Lula) are convenient to the Kennedy (I-90) which you will probably be taking to Madison. Another good place for brunch opened recently, called Batter and Berries on North Lincoln, and it's not terribly far out of the way.

      If you go to Madison on Saturday night, they have some great places for brunch on Sunday, including Marigold Kitchen, Sardine, and the Edgewater.

      >> Christmas Day - I have my fingers crossed that Tortas Frontera in ORD will be open.

      Good choice, but I don't know whether they'll be open. You could always call to ask.

      Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!

      2 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Floriole bakery is excellent, but it's almost 2 miles from the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood and would take about 1/2-hour on public transportation to get there (each way). You'd have to really want a pastry. And you might. Not bad at all with a car, although parking is tough.

        1. re: chicgail

          Since you say you might be shopping in the Armitage/Halsted area, Floriole is only 3/4 mile from that intersection, and even closer depending on where you are in that area. Vanille is about four blocks west of Floriole.

          >> parking is tough.

          Not during the day, only at night. I've never, ever had trouble parking near Floriole during the day. I've driven there 8-10 times, (not counting times I've walked from the el), including weekdays and weekends, and I've always found a space right on their block, or at worst around the corner, without having to circle.

      2. I'm with cupcake on this. Jam and L&E are far better breakfasts, especially if you prefer a savory breakfast. Both are superb. If you happen to be someone who loves VERY sweet pancakes - like red velvet or white chocolate pretzel, Bongo is for you. I have difficulty eating even one of those diabetes-inducing monsters, but that's me.

        L&E is outstanding for dinner, especially for the price, but as you know they don't take reservations so unless you arrive early, you might have to wait and that's unpredictable. The good news there is that you can sit at the bar and try different brews while you chat with a friendly and well-informed bartender.

        Le Bouchon has been a favorite for many years. It's a very authentic (and reasonable) French bistro.

        Other places you might consider are Telegraph in Logan Square (near L&E) or two new places in Wicker Park: Savory or the Storefront Company. Telegraph is a creative wine bar with very interesting food. Savory is an updated French Brasserie with an emphasis on Absinthe. Really, really good food. I haven't been to Storefront yet, but heard very good reports.

        In the Halsted/Armitage area, two of the best choices are Ba-Ba-Reebob on Halsted just north of Armitage for decent tapas and the Athenian Room on Webster for Greek food. There's also Nookie's Two on Halsted which is your basic diner.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chicgail

          Agreed on Telegraph. It's one of my absolute favorite places to go in the city, and not just because it's (literally) a stones throw away from my home. The wine list is really extensive, and not your standard stuff, but the staff is really great at answering questions you may have (and providing samples to taste test). :-)

          1. re: chicgail

            I visited Longman with some regularity over the summer and had some really excellent meals. The only thing that's held me back in the last couple of months is the no-reservation issue (easier to walk around and wait when the weather's warmer). But if you go early (by 6PM) you can usually get seated quickly. If they turn you away, Telegraph is pretty much around the corner (not as memorable but very good).

          2. Thanks all, for being patient w/ my geographical confusion, etc.

            To clarify, I was just looking for the best pastry option for b-fast pre-workout. hendrickx sounds like a plan I have high hopes of hitting Vanille later, hopefully for some goodies to take to Madison with me.

            I have actually been to Cafe BaBaReBa, so pls. hit me with more Halsted/Armitage recs. Don't much care for Greek.

            Thanks for the info on the L&E wait. My husband would die. Randomly, i was looking at Balena...what's the verdict on that? We can't get decent Italian in SC, so I wouldn't mind an Italian spot. We like seafood focused (you might have guessed from L2O) Italian that's not about the cream sauce.

            2 Replies
            1. re: danna

              The only other thing I can think of for lunch in that area is Toast on Webster, just east of Halsted. It's a very good casual breakfast/lunch place (much cleaner and more interesting than Nookies) but nothing all that special. The only other place is a tiny Mexican place (Taco Joint) that some people love. I can't personal vouch for it because I've never tried it.

              If you're looking for Italian, I would suggest either Antico on Leavitt and Armitage or Ripasso on Damen near North Ave. Both are very good. Ripasso features homemade pasta. Antico is very authentic Italian. Tip: entrees at Antico are very large. Mr. CG and I usually have a primo each and split the entre. We do not go home hungry.

              I don't know anything about Balena. Maybe someone else does.

              1. re: danna

                >> To clarify, I was just looking for the best pastry option for b-fast pre-workout.

                If you're just looking for a pastry for breakfast within walking distance of the hotel, then Hendrickx will do. If you're looking for a sit-down breakfast cooked to order, it's not that kind of place; you can instead consider the Original Pancake House, Meli Cafe, or Yolk.

                >> I have high hopes of hitting Vanille later, hopefully for some goodies to take to Madison with me.

                Here's more information that may be helpful to you. Vanille has two locations. Their main location is on Clybourn, four blocks west of Floriole, which makes it really convenient to hit both. They also have a booth at Chicago French Market in the train station downtown, and that booth carries a nice assortment of their products. The French Market validates parking with a $20 purchase; you'll find directions on their website at www.frenchmarketchicago.com The French Market is closed on Sundays. Vanille's Clybourn location and Floriole are both open on Sundays 8-4.

                >> We can't get decent Italian in SC, so I wouldn't mind an Italian spot. We like seafood focused (you might have guessed from L2O) Italian that's not about the cream sauce.

                Then Piccolo Sogno Due would be perfect for you. Here's some of the background. Tony Priolo, the chef formerly at Coco Pazzo, opened Piccolo Sogno 2-3 years ago, and it became well-known as among the very best Italian restaurants in the city. It got so popular that he decided to open a second restaurant. He brought in Todd Stein, one of the top chefs in Chicago for Italian cuisine, who had opened Cibo Matto and the Florentine. Together they opened Piccolo Sogno Due in River North (a ten-minute walk from the Park Hyatt). The main difference from the original Piccolo Sogno is that the menu at Piccolo Sogno Due has an emphasis on seafood. Other than that, it has all the characteristics of the original, including fantastic food, amazing bread service, very knowledgeable servers with personality, a high energy level without being overly crowded or noisy, etc. It's very popular so if you want to go there, make a reservation NOW, either by phone or on Opentable.com

              2. Walk a few blocks up to Cafe de Architechts for a great bread and pastry basket with your breakfast. I think you can just get coffee and the basket--it's the main restaurant at Sofitel Water Tower.

                1. Thanks all, and a few quick reviews:

                  L2O: We had the tasting menu, it was fabulous as expected, but I have a few criticisms. The last two savory courses were not very good. I disliked the steak and also the heavy treatment of the fish (turbot, i think) and the accompanying andouillette (sp?). Desserts put us back on track. Further, although all the other seafood bites were delicious, I would have enjoyed a few simpler presentations. Perfect seafood deserves to shine on it's own sometimes. But all in all it was a great experience, bread service divine, and I've never before had TOO MUCH foie gras.

                  Toast - My husband really enjoyed it, which considering the long meal he indulged me with the night before, made me happier than if I had liked it...which I didn't. Pesto scramble struck me as disgusting, pancakes were blah, even though they required a paragraph to describe. Cute place, though, friendly service, and really good toast. hmmm....maybe they were trying to tell me something w/ the name.

                  Balena - I really enjoyed this, although I'm not really sure it was worthy of a Michelin star. They gave us a great table upstairs near the window. The bread was good and creative and my pasta w/ crab and sea urchin was very good. My pistachio sundae w/ burnt orange caramel, orange marmalade, and pistachio nougat was very nice. so-so glass of vermentino that the waiter recommended. Husband reported very strong, very good bleu on his frise salad, my arugula salad was fine, nothing special. The grilled shrimp looked beautiful and were good, but not as fantastic as I had hoped.

                  Longman and Eagle - We were seated in about 5 minutes, shockingly on a Sunday around 11. I had a very good vegetarian plate of beluga lentils, roasted curried cauliflower, and golden raisins. (one starts to need veggies after too much of a foie gras and pancakes diet)

                  We stopped in la Boulangerie in Logan Square and I snarfed a passion fruit filled, caramel glazed pate a choux pastry. It was one of the best bites of the weekend.

                  After a quick jaunt to to Madison (note - Johnny Delimonico's is horrible) we returned in time to stuff in a Torta Frontera. I had the short rib one, it was good, but transformed into great w/ a dip in the salsa verde. Quacamole was pretty good, but not great as was the overly sweet lime aqua fresca. I'm counting down 'til lunchtime so I can eat the leftovers.

                  Thanks all for your help this trip and Happy Holidays !

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: danna

                    Thanks for providing feedback, which is always helpful.

                    Come visit again!

                    1. re: danna

                      So glad you enjoyed your visit. It's always good to hear other people's experiences of places we enjoy.

                      1. re: danna

                        Glad you enjoyed the trip; you had some nice meals there! Thanks for the reporting your impressions.

                        Just an FYI about Balena - they do not have a Michelin star. They are located in close proximity to a Michelin One Star venue (Boka) that is owned by the same group - but Balena is not starred.

                        1. re: Gonzo70

                          Balena received Michelin's "Bib Gourmand" designation for 2013. It's not the same as a star, but it is a form of recognition by the folks at Michelin. It is officially defined as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value”.

                          1. re: Gonzo70

                            Ah ha...that explains it... and it's presence on the Gourmand list (thanks nsx) explains my confusion. Apparently my pre-trip restaurant scene study was somewhat slipshod ;-)