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Long - Maybe Annoyingly So - Report On Our Recent Trip

mariacarmen May 3, 2013 01:11 PM

We were in Chicago a total of 6 full days. With all your help, here’s how it went:

Sable – we were starving, due to a self-imposed, bone-headed move, which took up most of our time after we landed at 3:00 p.m., so we’d not eaten a thing that day before our 8 p.m. reservation, except for a fine cocktail at some bar nearby. We had: Deviled Eggs - truffle oil, black trumpet mushrooms; espresso-rubbed NY Steak with smoky bacon and Brussels sprouts; shrimp and grits – laughing bird shrimp, three sisters cheddar grits, with a Louisiana hot sauce drizzle; Butter Lettuce & Apple Salad, radicchio, bacon, blue cheese, grapes, smoked cashews & almonds, sherry-apple cider vinaigrette; and the Dark Chocolate Souffle Cake with Peanut Butter Sauce, and Salted Caramel Ice Cream. The deviled eggs were superb – creamy and redolent of truffles yet light and fresh. The salad, recommended by our server, was good and fresh too, but not a stand-out. My shrimp and grits were absolutely wonderful – we both thought they were the hit of the evening. The simple Louisiana hot sauce combined with the creamy butteriness of the grits was perfect. My BF’s steak was very good (New York is my least favorite cut and they did a fine job), his Brussels sprouts were even better – so smoky from the bacon. We enjoyed the dessert, although the soufflé was more cake-like. Overall, we liked this place. We understand Chef Terhune was on the premises but didn’t see her. Service was a tad rushed, I felt, but friendly, and one of the hostesses came over and talked to us extensively about our plans for this trip. And then for some reason, another server brought out our dessert and said they were comping it – I’m not sure why, we hadn’t complained about anything. Very nice of them! The only thing I didn’t like is that it had the feeling of a hotel restaurant – which, of course, it is. Just a little sterile for my taste, and full of suits. Nothing terrible about that, and again, the service was warm and more than competent.

Purple Pig – Hands down our favorite place of the entire trip. So good we went back again later in the week! (it helped that it was only three blocks from our hotel.) Both times the food was near perfect, all the way through. We took the advice given here, and arrived at 4:00 p.m., got seated outside right away (it was about 62 degrees the first day, 73 the next time, so it was great) and avoided the interior which was playing very loud music. The patio was great. We had (first trip): Burrata Pugliese, Grilled Kohlrabi, Apples, Mustard Greens, Crispy Speck & Beer Agrodolce; Deviled Egg with Arugula & Capers; Fried Manchego with Membrillo Sauce; Pork Neck Bone Gravy with Ricotta and toasted bread; and the Pork Secreto with Roasted Red Pepper, Leeks & Pickled Watermelon Rind. (second trip): the asparagus, with Arugula, Treviso & Hazelnuts, fried Chorizo Stuffed Olives with a yogurt roasted garlic cream; fried pigs’ ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers and a sunny-side fried egg; and Pork Osso Bucco with soft Polenta and Gremolata. Suffice to say that everything was excellent-to-perfect – except maybe two items, which were simply good, not great: the fried deviled egg (breading and frying masked the point of a deviled egg – it didn’t taste like much, but it had a nice fried/creamy texture contrast; and the fried Manchego – this tasted more like any fried mozzarella stick appetizer – again, the breading muted the flavor of the manchego. Other than those two, everything was outstanding – great depth of flavors, wonderful contrasts, good balance between richness and tart… I couldn’t even pick a favorite. The secreto was amazing, especially as a cut I’d never had. The pork neck sugo had the deepest, richest flavor – and was probably something I wouldn’t have ordered, but our waiter recommended it. the pig's ear! wow - like the nicest, crispiest chicharron, perfect with the tartness of the pickled cherry pepper and the bitter kale - rich and tangy all at the same time. The osso bucco was to die for, ordered extra bread to scrape every bit off the plate. We finished off with a dense and deep dark chocolate almond cake with an orange marmalade and almond brittle. Honestly, we are very jealous this place isn’t in San Francisco. Quality food, fresh ingredients, great preparations, friendly, warm and expert service, in a casual yet special setting, and a fantastic bargain. Ridiculous, to go to the same restaurant more than once in a city full of great restaurants? We’re only sad we didn’t go again.

Yusho’s – the utter opposite of the Purple Pig. Nice, cute place, hipster, great music, nice service, but uniformly terribly-bland-to-just-plain-bad food. All of it. Two items in particular: the gobo root was hard and stringy, as though we were chewing wet twigs (and we both love gobo); and accompanying the one dish which had a bit of flavor, a special of kalbi-like ribs (good enough sauce, but oddly served off the bones, and then they brought the de-meated bones over to us in a small bowl to gnaw on, almost as an afterthought), came some rice-flour “kind of like gnocchi” (or so the waiter described them) noodle things, or rice stick things – their consistency was like very thick, undercooked and hard, chewy penne pasta. Who tastes either of these dishes, as they’re prepping them, and thinks they’re good? who says, yeah, that’s what I’m going for - inedible! and serves them?? Everything else was merely flavorless. The fried chicken wings – described as being stuffed with basil and chiles and other things that presumably have flavor – were utterly tasteless. Even the fried skin – which was not super crispy – was bland, and only saved by the bonito salt and lime. Dish after dish was a disappointment. I guess we should have said something, or returned the first bad dish (the gobo), but we didn’t. We also had the duck skewers with hon shemeji mushrooms – bland duck, weird flavor on the mushrooms, which were also dry and kind of shriveled up; the okonomiyaki was not pancake-like, but rounder, almost orb-like – and suffered for it – dry bottomed, flavorless. The shrimp inside (4 small chunks) were actually very well cooked and had good freshness. But we actually asked them to give us something hot – anything – to add some flavor to this dish. The “poser” ramen – perfect name. The most insipid broth I’ve ever tasted. The pig’s tail, while nicely crunchy, had no taste. The egg, instead of being perched prettily atop so you can see the creamy center, was buried under the noodles. The noodles were just ok. The cucumber was fine. No hint at all of Thai chiles. We were completely baffled by this restaurant and the raves it gets. Has the chef never had Japanese food? Korean? Any Asian? I’m sorry to be so harsh, and I don’t want to insult those who like this place, but I cannot imagine it was just an off night. A local posited that maybe many haven’t had a lot of “real” versions of these knock-off dishes? It seems incredible, but we just don’t know how to explain it. We were bummed to have wasted our time and money to get here, not to mention calories and taste buds.

Al’s Beef – great – messy, juicy, lovely. Glad we tried this! I got the mini – which was the perfect size.
Wildfire (the BF’s choice) – very meh. Not horrid (seriously not as bad as Yusho), but predictably mediocre. I didn’t mind as I was still on the high from our lovely Purple Pig late lunch.
Malnati’s – wonderful deep dish pizza – way better than what we have here in the Bay Area – Zachary’s, which everyone loves (I do too). We split two individuals – one the spinach mushroom, the other the sausage and pepperoni. GREAT. Loved the crust on these, and have been craving it already. I know we can have it shipped frozen….

Bavette and Boeuf – Lovely. We started out with oysters, and split a classic rib-eye, Chicago cut - not bone-in. We’ve decided we don’t need a three-inch thick, approximately 22 ounce steak. Ever. It was very, very good, perfectly cooked, but not The Most Amazing Steak we’ve ever had. We each ate only a quarter of it, took the rest back to the hotel for another day’s late night snack. The iceberg wedge salad with a gorgonzola/dill dressing was delicious, and the bacon – literally, the best bacon we’ve ever had, was to die for. It’s house cured, slightly maple-y, and fatty, chewy perfection. If they had brunch, we would have gone back just for that bacon. We also split a stuffed potato with sour cream, grated cheddar (could have done without) and more of the heavenly bacon. We also shared the elote-style corn – corn off the cob with chile, lime and parmesan – just wonderful – a dish we hope to recreate at home. I really wanted to get the creamed spinach, because I saw it on a table and it looked great, but the BF wanted to serve room for dessert; there was just no way, we were beyond stuffed. I’d recommend this place to anyone. The service was warm and spot-on.

Topolobampo. I’m probably going to annoy a lot of people. I liked it. Did it seem like food I’d never had before? Not really. It was good, even very good, but not outstanding. We were not blown away. I know the quality is there, which is why I expected a better experience. I got to see Rick, tho, that was exciting! I won’t go into the details of each dish – nothing truly disappointed, everything was fresh... and we had quite a large variety from which to try, since at this one dinner there were four of us (so we had a nice little amuse bouche, on the house, 2 starters, 2 ceviches, and 4 entrees, and split everything). We did feel as though we were being pushed to order more – although they forgot our oysters, and we didn’t ask for them again – especially alcohol, by our server, but overall service was friendly and efficient. I just really wanted to love this place a lot more. It definitely affected our decision to not look for Bayless' airport place on our way out of town.

Variously, we also had slices at State Street Pizza Co. (next to Rossi’s, where we did most of our dive-bar drinking) just because it was close, and open (quite tasty), a Chicago dog outside the Aquarium (nothing special, of course), a charred Chicago dog at Downtown Dog, with the day-glo relish (very good). We even grabbed a breakfast sandwich from the ubiquitous Corner Bakery one morning and it was fine, fit the bill (fast fuel for a long day of walking. we hit 5 museums and innumerable art galleries in our time here - fantastic art scene!) Sadly, we ended up canceling brunch at North Pond because we had to rearrange things for our other sightseeing events. A 2 p.m. brunch would have cut into too much of the day. I believe we never even ate breakfast except that one bfast sandwich.

As for drinks, we hit Richard’s (loved it!), and again, Rossi’s (very close to our hotel but also divey and cheap); and a few pubs throughout our sightseeing activities – Miller’s particularly stood out as a friendly, locals kind of place; Bar Zinc, for a couple cocktails waiting for our table at Malnati’s. Fado Pub – not impressed (it’s a chain.) At least one other I can’t remember.

My BF’s quibble is that he couldn’t get a cup of coffee (on the street) after 9:00 p.m. to save his life. He’s a late-night coffee drinker. Not a fan of Starbucks (his favorite is Peet’s), but even those closed early every night.

But we had a fantastic time in your beautiful, beautiful city. And you people are The. Nicest. Ever. Seriously. Time and again we were astounded at how helpful and pleasant everyone was. Doesn’t say much about our City, I’m afraid. I vow to be nicer.

Thanks very much for all your help. If I can return the favor, please do ask.

  1. mariacarmen May 3, 2013 11:10 PM

    Oh! and i totally forgot we had lunch one day at Smith and Wollensky - just on a whim, passing by, on the way to the Art Institute - i had a great lobster BLT - only thing was I wish it had been a nice chunk of lobster as opposed to lobster salad, but it was still really good. with that cute little pot of herbed bread, and home-made chips which i could not finish. BF had a great bacon cheeseburger on the $10 lunch deal (which i think ended that day). Not a place I'd normally gravitate to, but we needed to eat, it was on the way, and the lobster BLT reeled me in. and we got to sit at a lovely table in the shade, just inside the patio doors, with a warm breeze floating in over us.

    1. c
      candidcio May 3, 2013 06:20 PM

      Thanks for reviewing Bavette and Boeuf. It doesn't get a lot of mention here and I think it is top notch. I ate there last night. The seafood platters are an event - and delicious. The steaks looked great too. Service was on point (thanks Johnny). I think it belongs in that second tier of great restaurants (below Alinea).

      1. NavyMom89 May 3, 2013 04:51 PM

        Enjoyed reading your reviews !And it wasn't too long at all, love reading long posts, lol.

        I went to Chicago last April 2012, as my son graduated from Navy boot camp, but I was so nervous about being in a strange city I didn't get to explore all the great restaurants What a pity for me. Ha.

        My sailor and I did get to Giordano's famous stuffed Pizza place (and every other sailor's family's too, seems all the sailors want pizza after boot camp). WE had a HUGE Veggie that was sublime and something I've never seen before here is Texas. What a pity that, as well.

        Anyway enjoyed you're write up, you should have a blog..

        1 Reply
        1. re: NavyMom89
          mariacarmen May 3, 2013 05:30 PM

          you are so nice! thank you NavyMom! i started a blog awhile back but kind of dropped it - life stuff happening at the time.

          I totally debated between Giordano's and Malnati's! i bet they are both good. You'll need to make it out to Chicago again sometime and try all the new restaurants!

          thanks again.

        2. nsxtasy May 3, 2013 02:03 PM

          Thanks so much for posting your experience here. All posts are very helpful - especially the long ones (which are not annoying at all)!

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