Last Minute Trip to Chicago This Weekend - Are There Any Must Try Dishes I'm Missing?
[ Background ]
I am a Los Angeles born as raised ChowHounder who is surprising my good friend and client who recently moved to Chicago for his birthday this upcoming weekend (04/26/13 - 04/29/13). This was a very last minute decision so availability issues were expected. My friend and I (plus our two girlfriends) love all types of food. From hole in the walls to Michelin and San Pellegrino rated establishments, we really don't discriminate. We just want our food to be memorable.
For this trip I'm looking more for amazing dishes than tasting menus. I understand tasting menus are a great way to capture the essence of what a chef can offer but I've wined and dined clients for the past 11 years and in my mid 20's, I remember spending an average of $45K per year on food and alcohol and it all began to taste the same. If 50% of the dishes on a tasting menu is memorable, that's a huge success in my book. Sadly though, this percentage is usually much lower and with the amount of money spent on tasting menus, that doesn't make sense to me. So now, I prefer outstanding dish(es) at restaurants versus tasting menus but I welcome all suggestions and comments.
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[ Gratitude ]
I want to give a shout out and thanks to all the local Chicago ChowHounders who have commented on this board. I spent a good time reading various threads and the expressed opinions were extremely helpful. In particular, a big thank you to the contributions of nsxtasy, camusman, Gonzo70, and HoosierFoodie.
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[ Trip Details and Eatinerary ]
I am staying at Hotel Felix (111 W Huron Street) and will have transportation for half of the trip.
Frontera Grill @ 11:30 am (I have reservations for Frontera but I'm going a little before opening to see if there is a wait for the bar. Ideally, I'd like to order from both Frontera and Topolobampo menus.)
- Ceviche Trio
- Mole Trio
- Blue Agave Margarita
- Oaxacan-Style Carne Asada (possibly)
Friday Mid Day Snack:
Lou Minalti's @ 2:30 pm
- Minalti Chicago Classic.
El Ideas @ 7:30 pm
Bongo Room @ 8:30 am
- Chocolate & Caramel Pretzel Pancakes
Hot Doug's @11:30 am
- Foie Dog
- Paul Kelly Dog
- Duck Fat Fries
Saturday Post Lunch Activity [If not in induced food coma]
Pastoral Event (Chicago French Market) @ 1:00 pm
Saturday Mid Day Snack:
Au Cheval @ 4:00 pm
- Bacon Cheeseburger
- Foie Gras & Scrambed Eggs
- Fried House-Made Bologna Sandwich
- Foie Terrine
- Pork Porter House & Foie
Saturday Dinner: [Not Decided Yet]
1) ING Restaurant (Waiting on Response)
2) MK Restaurant
North Pond @ 12:30 pm
- 3 course pre-fixe
Sunday Mid Day Snack:
Girodano's Pizza @ 4:00 pm
- Double Crust Stuffed Pie
Sable @ 8:30 pm (love the half size portion options)
- Cherry Wood Short Rib
- Chicken & Waffles
- Shrimp & Grits
- Sweet Corn Creme Brulee
- New England Lobster Roll
- Mike Ryan's cocktails.
Black Bird @ 12:00 pm
- Prefixe Lunch Special (although knowing me, I'll want to get other dishes too.)
Tortas Frontera (Terminal 3, K4) @ 3:00pm
- Shrimp Torta
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[ Other Considerations ]
I'll try to go to Portillo's for the Beef Sandwich and their dogs if time and appetite permits. I'm also going to pick up some Garretts as well.
I really wanted to try Aviary's Cocktail tasting menu but my friend doesn't drink (maybe that's why he's at 4.5% body fat while I'm at 9%) and the two girls are lightweight when it comes to libations.
Here are the list of restaurants that were eliminated due to unavailability, a no-reservation policy, or uninteresting menus:
GT Fish & Oyster
Longman & Eagle
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[ Question ]
So, am I missing anything crucial "must-try" dish?
I think your plan sounds great and covers some of our very best places. The only thing I would caution you on is that it may be overly ambitious; even if you have a huge appetite, it would be difficult to eat so many different things in a day. In particular, going to Au Cheval, which has one of the heaviest menus in the city, in between lunch and dinner is going to be pure overkill.
You mention Bongo Room at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. Just so you're aware, all three locations don't open till 9:00 on Saturdays, and you will get seated immediately at 9:00 at any of them. (Waits to be seated start appearing around 9:15-9:30, so don't get there later than 9:00, either.)
Also, if you go to Hot Doug's at 11:30 a.m., there's no way you'll be at the French Market at 1:00. At 1:00 you'll probably just be approaching the front of the line and ordering your food.
>> am I missing anything crucial "must-try" dish?
I was going to say Garrett's popcorn but then I re-read and found a reference to it. If you don't hit Garrett's during your trip, you can stop by their store in ORD Terminal 3 on your way home.
>>> The only thing I would caution you on is that it may be overly ambitious; even if you have a huge appetite, it would be difficult to eat so many different things in a day.
I think the only day that would push my boundaries would be the tentative plan for Saturday BUT I will have eating companions and we tend to share quite a bit so I think it should be doable.
>>> In particular, going to Au Cheval, which has one of the heaviest menus in the city, in between lunch and dinner is going to be pure overkill.
Believe it or not, I am as excited about going to Au Cheval as I am about El Ideas. Ever since California banned foie (even though some restaurants will still serve it), I've been missing it. 4 of the 5 dishes I intend to try at Au Cheval have foie in it. Again, these dishes will be split so I think it's doable unless dinner is super early. If ING doesn't have any openings, I already have rezzies set for MK at 8:30 pm but I could push it back to 9:30 pm.
>>> (Waits to be seated start appearing around 9:15-9:30, so don't get there [Bongo Room] later than 9:00, either.)
I'm going to show my GF your comment to validate why we're waking up so early on Sat morning. =)
>>> Also, if you go to Hot Doug's at 11:30 a.m., there's no way you'll be at the French Market at 1:00. At 1:00 you'll probably just be approaching the front of the line and ordering your food.
The Pastoral event was something that intrigued me but it's not very high on my priority list. However, waiting 90 minutes for Hot Doug's may be pushing it for me. At the same time, I do want to try it. Gotta think this one through.
>>> you can stop by their [Garrett's] store in ORD Terminal 3 on your way home.
Nice! That ties in well since I'm flying American on the way back and already have plans to go to Tortas Frontera. Thanks for another useful tip!
Actually another thought. I love Hot Dougs, it's awesome, but there's also a much closer and much easier to get into dawg joint called Franks 'n Dawgs. I like Franks just as much or maybe even more now--actually their fries options are better at Franks than at Doug's. I personally find duck fat fries to be more a gimmick, blind taste test at table once really didn't find regular versus duck-fat to be really that different. Frank's has some super yummy (in my not-so-humble opinion) waffle fries with toppings. I really like the Lamb-borgini and the Brunch dog. Check out the menu here.
I did remember reading that Franks 'n Dawgs and Portillo's were other local CH favorites. That menu does look interesting but Hot Doug's foie dog was what initially attracted me. My GF and I may still make the trek out there but I believe nsxtasy or someone else on the board said if the line at Doug's gets up to the alley, that is the unofficial 90 minute mark. I'm still not sure I want to wait that long so if that predicament presents itself, I'll most likely head back and go to Franks 'n Dawgs or Portfillo's.
Kind of agree with nsxtasy here. I am just going to push you on one thing since Au Cheval is one of my favorite meals in the last year. Just go there for an early-side dinner on Saturday and linger and enjoy. Their beverage program is great and you'll want to sit and really get into that porterhouse--it and the cheeseburger are my favorites--and I would hate for you just to scarf down so you can shower and go to MK or ING (which are both nice but not something I would slide in just to do it). After you've enhjoyed au Cheval you can walk back thru loop to River North and grab a drink or two on the way.
>>> Their beverage program is great and you'll want to sit and really get into that porterhouse--it and the cheeseburger are my favorites
Yes, I heard great things about the pork porterhouse w/ foie and the cheeseburger at Au Cheval. Hopefully I'll have 4 diners with me so I can hit all 5 dishes on my list but if it's just me and the GF, I'm going to have to only order 3 dishes. If it comes to that, I'll eliminate the Bologna Sandwich and choose between the Foie Gras & Scrambed Eggs or the Foie Terrine dish.
>>> I would hate for you just to scarf down so you can shower and go to MK or ING (which are both nice but not something I would slide in just to do it).
Definitely noted. Right now I have reservations for MK at 8:30 pm but I believe a 9:30 pm slot was still available as of yesterday so if Au Cheval ends up being too heavy, I could push dinner back further out.
I haven't heard from ING yet but I did want to try Cantu's dishes since ING seemed a lot simpler and less involved than his MOTO restaurant.
iNG can be booked via Open Table. I just checked and they seem to have ample availability for Saturday. iNG is really a lot of fun and the miracle berry experience is really cool. Be sure to inform the GM (Trevor) you are visiting from out of town and inquire if they might be able to give you a tour of Moto at some point (it is next door to iNG); they have a really interesting indoor garden at Moto and when they are not too busy they do their best to accommodate tour requests. The current menu at iNG is a lot of fun; it is called Wonder Years and is adult versions of childhood foods - many made healthier by use of the miracle berry. iNG has a fun, casual, vibe but the food is generally really good and the staff there is outstanding.
I wish I read your posting earlier or checked Opentable myself. (*Face Palm moment) I called them yesterday and Dan returned my call first thing this morning. MK is now officially off the eatinerary and iNG is now my Sat dinner. And yes, I heard a lot of good things about the mberry.
>>> they have a really interesting indoor garden at Moto and when they are not too busy they do their best to accommodate tour requests.
Thanks for the great tip! I did mention to Chef Cantu (also emailed him directly) that I was coming from out of town but I'll ask the staff if the tour would be possible.
Although I wasn't necessarily planning on having two tasting menu nights on this trip, I guess that's just how it works out. I'm looking forward to both nights.
A word of caution...Au Cheval. Just two weeks ago I had the burger and this was my reaction. 1st bite...hmmm nicely salted. 6th bite....this is a lot of salt. Last 1/2 of burger...I can't feel my tounge. If your friend thinks GAGT oversalted their food, just wait. I see a lot of comments about AC overusing the salt shaker. Just sayin'. I imagine it helps them sell more beer!
>>> Last 1/2 of burger...I can't feel my tounge... I see a lot of comments about AC overusing the salt shaker. Just sayin'. I imagine it helps them sell more beer!
Yikes, you must have felt like Bloat City afterwards. That would be a great marketing ploy if they made the burgers extra salty to sell more beer.
Out of curiosity, how did you order your most recent salty burger there? Single/Double and was bacon or eggs added as well?
Yaki, good on ya for all the work you did into putting together this itinerary. While I might quibble with a couple of your choices, I'm a believer in the karma of following through on your own plans unless there are strong objections. (None here.)
Please report back, and I hope you have some great meals!
>>> I don't see an Italian beef sandwich on the list, or a traditional Chicago dog
Under the "Other Consideration" header, I mentioned Portillo's for their beef sandwich and dogs but after speaking to a few other locals, they told me I may be disappointed in the foie dog at Hot Doug's if I'm going specifically for that dog. That combined with the weekend wait makes me now contemplate about replacing Hot Doug's with Franks N Dawgs or maybe even going with Portillo's to knock out two Chicago specialties. I'll have to play it by ear.