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August trip report

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Had a fun trip to Chicago in August. Though I did not post, many of our meals were ideas from reading this board. Other meals were to hang out with friends; all of us came for a wedding.

Thursday
Dinner at Topolobampo -- The room is louder, more casual, and less spacious than I imagined. We both had tasting menus--she had the Classics, I had the Yucatan; always switching dishes half way, so we could taste both. Though these were two separate menus, it was surprising that both first courses and dessert courses failed to impress, and the middle three courses all delicious. We had:

Topolo Classics:
Ceviche of razor clam and bay scallop
Smoked Sable, Summer Salad
Halibut & Lobster, Green Sesame Pipian -- the lobster terrine was a bit overcooked, but still a very nice dish
Ribeye & Foie Gras in Mole Negro -- we had foie at two other restaurants during this trip (we came from California), and this was both of our favorite. Steak and mole were delicious as well.
Chocolate, Oaxaca

Yucatan: Earth, Smoke & Fire:
Heirloom Carrots, Guero Chile Escabeche
Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, Merida Style
Tikin Xik -- my favorite on this menu. A beautiful dish with perfectly cooked fish.
“Pork ‘n Beans”
Cocnut "Horchata"

Friday

Lou Mitchell's -- Chicken & Waffles, and Corn Beef Hash. Did not like the fried chicken, waffles were ordinary. Scrambled eggs that came with the hash was good; hash itself was just okay. Good value, but unremarkable.

Giordano's, on Lake -- The restaurant required us to order the pizzas before getting on the waitlist. Considering the wait was an hour, it worked out okay. My wife has never liked deep dish pizza, but she liked these. I did too. We could not imagine having deep dish pizza again the following day, but for what it's worth, the foursome that went to Gino's the next day preferred Gino's.

Saturday

Lunch at the Purple Pig -- Showed up right before noon and didn't have to wait. Had the foie gras & membrillo, "JLT", beef tendon chips, and octupus with green beans, potatoes & salsa verde. The others showed up first, and none knocked us out, but the octopus was a stand out dish that I will remember for a long time. The long braised octopus is the most tender octopus I can recall ever eating; it was one of those stand out dishes that I will remember for a long time.

Xoco -- A quick hit after lunch. There was a long, long line, but doing takeout avoided the line. Had the iced chocolate with mint, chocolate cappucino, lavender flan, and a cookie. Thought the desserts both good, but unexceptional. I really liked the chocolate cappucino, but my wife preferred the hot chocolate she got at Topolobampo a couple nights ago over either of these drinks. The iced chocolate had very good flavor, but it had lumps in every sip. I don't know if the texture of a hot chocolate is simply impossible for a cold chocolate drink, but that made the drink less successful to me.

Sunday

Brunch at North Pond -- We were informed that the front room overlooking the pond is only available for reservations, so we sat in the back room. No pond view makes this a pretty ordinary setting IMO. One of the appetizers, a fettucine with broccoli and dill, had a very mushy texture. When we informed the server, he noted that it's fresh pasta, as if we didn't know. The other first course with shrimp and tomato was ordinary. The beef and arctic char entrees were better. The best was probably a lemon tart with blueberries.

Dinner at the Red Apple -- A fun time with a cuisine I'm not familiar with. Really liked the sauerkraut and potato pancakes. The herring, pierogi, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, and pigs feet were all pretty good. Others, such as the stroganoff, apple pancake, salmon, chicken, ribs, etc, rest ranged from decent to poor. That just comes with the buffet territory, and I'm happy to have been there.

Monday
Lunch at Naha -- Both first courses on the prix fixe menu, a tomato soup and cannelloni, were exceptional. Delicate, yet full of flavor. The soup came with a small grilled goat cheese sandwich. The tagine of chicken thigh and loup de mer were both very good as well. The "Sundae" dessert was another knockout, featuring a beer ice cream and various textures of chocolate, peanut, and hazelnut. The lemon and almond tart was good, though North Pond's had slightly better flavor. Overall, we much preferred the Naha prix fixe over the brunch at North Pond.

Dinner at Yusho -- Had a couple cold oysters, the gobo root, a foie gras special, octopus, beef tongue and 2x fried chicken. As a fan of burdock root, I still felt that the pieces were cut into too thick and too long pieces, making it difficult to eat. The foie special was tasty, though we both preferred the foie at Topolobampo. Loved both the beef tongue and octopus. The octopus in particular had an very savory sauce made with egg yolks, and nicely balanced with acidity. The 2x fried chicken was significantly bigger a dish than all the others; the two big pieces were both white meat. Though extremely crispy, this was our least favorite dish. We were originally interested in ordering more dishes as we went along, but the chicken stopped us from doing so.

Tuesday

Garrett's Popcorn -- Went midday to the Madison and State store, and didn't have to wait at all. Thought the caramel corn by itself was too sweet, but the Chicago Mix was perfect. Eventually--after a lot of sampling--we bought a whole bunch of Chicago Mix bags happily back to San Francisco.

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  1. Cannot for the life of me understand why people recommend or go out of their way to eat at Lou Mitchell's. It was good in the 70's when no real competition existed, but it's run-of-the-mill roadside diner food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      Agree with you completely on the quality of food. It wasn't our choice, but a group brunch. The place was packed though. By the time were were done around noon, there were three or four parties waiting for tables. Blackbird was my original reservation, but had to cancel, and didn't find the time to go back.

      Forgot to mention, we were staying at the Blackstone on Balbo and Michigan, and wanted to grab a quick bite at Mercat a la Planxa one afternoon. Though the restaurant is said to open throughout the day on its website, the hotel front desk told us it was closed between 3 and 5pm, so we didn't make it. That will be yet another restaurant to visit one day, when we get a chance to go back to Chicago.

      1. re: ferret

        Nostalgia is the reason I visited Lou Mitchell's during a recent Chicago visit. Unfortunately the food was very disappointing and expensive for a mediocre to bad meal.

      2. Thanks for the write-up.

        Several of these were on our short list of 'possibles in addition to Alinea' for the next trip to Chicago and your insights will help us make better informed choices :)