Hello guys. Just got back from Chicago, where I ate more in 8 days than anyone should... Thanks for all the tips. Here are some quick highlights:
- Dinner at Grace = I loved it. Amazing meal, service and wine pairings. Curtis Duffy sure got it right. There are a few things here and there that I would change, but for the most part, a really great experience. Oh, the flora menu is better than the fauna menu.
- Lunch at Lou Malnatti's = Really cozy place. And I somewhat enjoyed the deep dish pizza. Thought it was going to be heavier. Had an amazing metropolitan beer. Actually brought some bottles back to Brazil with me.
- Dinner at L2O = Biggest disappointment of our trip. Dinner started off nicely but progressed to heavier / greasy dishes. And it was weird to eat at an entirely empty dining room for the majority of our meal. Didn't like it.
- Brunch at Publican = Really, really nice. Simple, good food.
- Dinner at GT Fish & Oyster = Cool restaurant. Noisy, nice people. Great oysters and we were lucky with some dishes, not so lucky with others. Overall, we enjoyed it.
- Brunch at North Pond = What a beautiful restaurant. Cozy and beautiful views. Wasn't very impressed with the food. Nice, but nothing I would order again.
- Dinner at The Aviary = Ok, not really dinner. We tried the Chef's Kitchen Table. 10 drinks with a few bites. This is the best experience we had in Chicago, by far. Amazing drinks, awesome bites and great service. We had a lot of fun. Can't recommend this highly enough.
- Lunch at Portillo = We had the italian beef sandwich and hot dogs. Liked the beef sandwich, really enjoyed the hot dog, Chicago style. Could have eaten 5 of those...
- Dinner at Alinea = I liked it a lot. Didn't like it as much I thought I would, but I liked it a lot. Didn't really care for one of the dishes, but the rest were either good or great. Some were really great. I would have liked it more if I hadn't seen every single dish on the other tables, before ours. And even though the service was really good, it wasn't all that friendly. With pretty much every other place we've been to, people were the nicest we ever met. We are from Brazil and travel once or twice a year to the USA, every year. Chicago has the nicest people ever.
- Lunch at Mercat a La Planxa = I liked it. We tried some good things like the potato soup and some ok things like the croquette. The rose wine sangria was amazing. I actually tried to get the recipe so I would try it at home. Got a list of ingredients...
- Dinner at TRU = Great dinner. They told us the menu had changed a few days ago. You now have a choice of a 7 or 14 tasting course menu. They still have some other little things on the menu like caviar. We actually had some osetra caviar, which was amazing. And the 14 tasting course menu had some really great dishes. And once again, amazing, super friendly service. Sommelier actually paired one of our courses with sake, which I like a lot. We ended up talking about this Sake Lounge and Karaoke place that they go. And we went there the next night.
- Lunch at Frontera Grill = Some really good dishes like the tamales. Others were good but not really special. Enjoyed it ok.
- Dinner at Murasaki and Girl and The Goat = Yeah, both places in one night... Tell me about it. We tried a bunch of sake and tried a few bites. they don't actually have a full menu at Murasaki. Really nice people again. Would come here every weekend to try the sakes. And we really enjoyed Girl & The Goat. Beautiful/busy restaurant. We had all kinds of goat. Noisy, casual, but with good food.
- Lunch at Purple Pig = I loved this place. We tried a bunch of stuff and liked every single dish. Pork is king here, obviously. Really, really tasty food.
- Dinner at Next = I liked it. The thing is, I had such high expectations for this place that it let me down a little. Don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot. Some of the courses were great. Some were not really that special. I really like the concept thought. I would certainly go to every single menu they put out.
I believe thats it... Lots of food in 8 days.
Overall, we had a lot of fun and had some really great experiences. The Aviary and Grace are at the top. Only real disappointment was L2O.
Once again, thanks everyone for all the tips! And congrats on such a beautiful city.
Wow, you really packed a lot of amazing venues in! You made it to several of my favorites. Thanks for sharing your impressions and glad you had an enjoyable time in Chicago.
Thanks for all the feedback, which is very helpful. Glad you had such a great time! Hope you can return.
Great report! You had a most fabulous trip! You are my kind of traveler! I too really enjoyed G&TG and really really always look forward every year to return to The Purple Pig.
Great report because you tried so many places. Thanks for taking time to write it up.
We are visiting Chicago in a few weeks, dining at Alinea (3rd time) one night and had hoped to dine at L20 the other night but they were closed, so we now have a table at Grace. Sounds like we dodged a bullet with that move.
We were probably going to try both the flora and fauna menus at Grace so I'm interested in your comment about the flora being better. I think we can mix/match so if I get the fauna can you recommend some items off the flora menu that I should substitute (I've heard the carrot dish is wonderful, for example). Which fauna items were especially deserving of being substituted out?
Anyway, thanks again.
Grace will allow you to mix and match some items (they really aim to please and despite being so new, they already have some of the best service you will receive anywhere). My wife and I both used the Fauna menu as a "base" but each picked 2-3 courses from the Flora menu that we swapped for the equivalent course on the Fauna menu. Our favorites from the Flora menu were the carrot (one of the best dishes I have ever consumed anywhere) and the maitake. On the Fauna menu my favorites were the kampachi, and the beef course. Keep in mind Grace is planning on completely changing their menu each season (so probably by late March there will be a totally new menu). Even within seasons they are constantly doing some smaller scale changes to the menu. I think you have selected what are currently Chicago's two best restaurants (Alinea and Grace); they are different enough from one another that it will be a very nice one-two combination.
Thanks Gonzo ... I know he changes items regularly but I think I read somewhere that Duffy feels some of the courses like the carrot dish may become items people expect as part of the experience and will likely always be on the menu, like 'black truffle explosion' at Alinea or 'oysters and pearls' or those little creme fraiche cones at Per Se & French Laundry.
Looking forward to visiting this restaurant. Four days ago I had never even heard of Grace restaurant and would have never learned of it in time for this trip if not for Chowhound :)
My favorites on the fauna were Buddha's Hand and the beef course. It is harder to pick from the flora since I enjoyed pretty much all of them, but the carrot, cauliflower and the maitake courses were all amazing.
I guess the only course I didn't actually like very much was the warm cucumber, from the fauna menu.
Overall, they are both great tasting menus. My wife and I just preferred the flora.
What a great review! Especially because you have visited most of the places I plan to visit next week! Grace, Alinea, L20, Purple Pig...
I am also interested in trying the chef's kitchen table at Aviary, and how did you get the table? I will be eating alone. Do I need a reservation or is it just walk-in? Any advise to minimize waiting time? I don't mind going there really late.
Chefs table needs to be reserved in advance via e-mail. It is a 3.5 to 3.75 hour event, so only two seatings per night (maybe just one weeknights, not sure). I have not heard of them taking parties of one for this, but perhaps they do. If not (or if they are booked) theymay be able to arrange a similar array of cocktails and bites for you, but not in the the main part of the lounge. Weekends the two time slots are 6pm and 10pm. I recommend having a light meal somewhere beforehand to help soak up all the booze, but not eat too much as their is moderate amount of snacks served with the cocktails.
Thanks for your very helpful tip!
I also do not know how I can thank you enough for giving me that information about Grace, which I had never heard of, before you told me.
I searched through the net and found some really touching life story about chef Duffy... I almost shed tears when I read it. I am looking forward to my dinner at Grace more than I am to at Alinea now, quite frankly! Thanks!
Chef Duffy will very likely be at the restaurant. From what I saw the night I was there, he invited everyone to visit the kitchen and is very interested in learning what you thought about the tasting courses. We talked for quite a bit and you can tell he is looking forward to making improvements wherever he can.
Grace and Alinea are very different, but equally great. You will certainly enjoy them.
I'm pretty sure the Kitchen Table is for 2 or 4 only. But you should probably make a regular reservation anyway, to avoid waiting.
I believe they'll do a shorter (7 course) tasting menu in the regular lounge. From my copy of the menu from Oct, it is 7 cocktails for 85, with bites for 125.
From their site:
The Aviary accepts a limited number of reservations daily at 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00 PM. You may email your request to email@example.com.
Please indicate your desired time, party size, and contact details including your cell phone number. If randomly selected, we will contact you by 4:00 PM on the day of the reservation.
We also reserve the chef’s Kitchen Table for a 10-course cocktail tasting menu, paired carefully crafted bites of food for $165. Parties of 2 or 4 may be requested.
Yup, what Gonzo said. It is definitely not a lot of food so keep drinking water. Oh and ask them about their ice. They have an ice expert working downstairs that is super nice.
I sent an email for my reservation about a month in advance. I believe they replied on the same day confirming it.