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Dec 12, 2013 06:47 AM

Three Days in Chicago - Mott Street, Fat Rice, Siena Tavern, etc.

A bit of feedback on a recent culinary trip to Chicago - 11/29 to 12/1.

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  1. Dillman's -

    002 - Dillman's (1) 002 - Dillman's (5) 002 - Dillman's (6


    Separated from our Thanksgiving feast by nearly twelve hours plus a twelve mile run Black Friday began with the back-to-back “Jewish Deli” experience of Brandon Sodikoff’s new-school Dillman’s and oldschool South Loop favorite Eleven City Diner, the former a splashy new spot every bit as beautiful as the rest of the restaurateur’s empire with ample leather, chandeliers, and polish all around yet surprisingly empty for our 7:00am arrival – clearly a mistake on the part of everyone else who could have, and should have been there for a breakfast far superior to the traditional ‘diner’ in both comforts and cuisine. Clearly a space designed for the night as well as the day it was with a short explanation of the daily baked goods that we were introduced to the menu and with coffee plus tea freely flowing from large silver vessels it would not be long before the meal began with a trio of fresh pastry including a lemony yet toothsome pound cake, warm sugar cookie studded with oreos, and a superlative warm canele with an interior near liquid and a rival for the best in the country well worth its $1.95 price tag and difficult to resist ordering by the dozen. Amply impressed by the first round and hoping the best was yet to come it was with another refill or two of coffee as light music played overhead that our main courses arrived and with the latkes piping hot and crisp with handmade applesauce for garnish it was indeed the primary plates that wowed; for my aunt a duo of lightly sweetened cheese blintzes beneath brown butter and for myself two slices of custard-laden French Toast alongside light cream and warm maple syrup that redefined simplicity while easily ranking amongst the best in the city.

    1. Eleven City Diner -

      With traffic in the South Loop sparse as we made our way from Dillman’s it was with a bit of surprise that our arrival at Eleven City Diner was met not only by ample free parking but also by a largely empty restaurant despite the post-holiday bustle just a few blocks north. Large in size but somewhat limited in menu to “breakfast only” according to our curt but efficient server it was admittedly with a bit of convincing that I eventually persuaded her that a Monte Cristo is, in fact, a breakfast item regardless of its place on the menu and with all the ingredients accounted for it would not be long before our order arrived in all its grandeur – all three items large enough to share but delicious enough that you may not want to. Beginning first with the aforementioned “Moshe Cristo,” a decadent sandwich stacked high with deli meat cut to order and sandwiched between crispy challah it was with a light smear of strawberry preserves that this was taken to new heights while the Matzo, not a favorite of my aunt, barely required syrup given its toothsome, eggy sweetness though I gladly added plenty with marvelous results before tucking into the highlight of the meal, a dense $8 slice of Red Velvet Layer Cake rife with dark cocoa notes but rendered mildly sweet and notably tangy by what might be the best cream cheese frosting in the Windy City.

      1. Lao Sze Chuan -

        Gathering the family and making our way down through Pilsen to China Town it was again with good fortune that Black Friday had kept the masses at bay when we arrived at Tony Hu’s celebrated Lao Sze Chuan just after noon to find a six top ready and waiting as the immense menu of items both traditional and modern, tame and daring beckoned. Small and cramped but astonishingly friendly and efficient in service even as the kitchen was experiencing technical issues limiting their repertoire it was with some deliberation that we sat and pondered our options before negotiating a multi-course feast attempting to cover a large swath of the menu, the end result a bit of a mixed bag despite our best intents. Admittedly dining with a combination of palates both adventurous and decidedly not it was with rather run of the mill spring rolls and deliciously subtle shrimp mayo that the meal began and progressing then to a pair of sweet dim sum selections I think all were duly impressed by the execution until the large plates began to arrive, the spicy eggplant and pen fried noodles both showing a deft hand with the wok while the $30 “Peking” Duck proved a pre-carved disappointment of excellent flesh but regrettably flaccid skin and the Rabbit, although tender and intense with chili oil, provided so many bones in the rough-cut stew that it was actually unpleasant and onerous to consume no matter how delicious or authentic.

        1. Interurban -

          When Lao’s dessert selection failed to wow my mother and Cone was inexplicably closed it was my sister who piped up suggesting a Portland-esque food-window whose name she couldn’t quite remember known for serving homemade pop-tarts, a quick search indicating suggesting “Interurban” to be the place and leading us up to Lincoln Park where a fifteen minute emergency-flasher ‘parking space’ in front of the now closed Charlie Trotter’s landed us a variety of sweets ranging from classic to contemporary and delicious to dreadful. Friendly in service and largely focused on American kitchen classics such as cupcakes and whoopee pies it was in these items that the small bakery excelled, the cakes moist and the frostings flavorful, and moving onward to the chilled bread pudding which was subsequently warmed in the microwave the trend continued, the texture dense but smooth with sweet and salty in admirable balance, though the bacon was decidedly limp. Moving next to the pop tarts, more ‘toaster strudel’ and soft than toasty and crisp both of the items would prove amply fruity if not particularly rave-worthy and rounding out the selections with an upside down cake that tasted more like sugar than pineapple it was the spongy, flavorless canele that truly appalled – a veritable disaster on all fronts and particularly when compared to the textbook version at Dillman’s just 6 hours earlier.

          1. Fat Rice -

            Garnering considerable praise since opening its doors there was little doubt Abraham Conlon’s Fat Rice would play into my Chicago dining itinerary and planning advance while easily recruiting a friend the plan was to arrive just as the restaurant opened in order to avoid a long wait, our reward a corner seat on the edge of the bar with a full view of the kitchen where Abe and his staff worked with smiles and silence turning out plate after plate to a restaurant filled mere moments after it opened. Featuring stellar service and seasonal specials to accompany the more traditional Portuguese and Macanese menu staples it was admittedly with much deliberation that my friend and I weighed the options and with decisions eventually made it would not be long before the show began; a three savories and two sweets meal with enough food feed a small family and each plate a lesson in boldness and balance, tradition with creativity, but most of all the frequently misused/overused term “umami.” Sticking largely to the traditional Macanese items it was with creamy salted cod spread that the evening began and pairing the fish first with spice and brine but then scaling it back with mint this superb starter was only improved by the pillowy bread with light sweetness and a delicate crumb, a second roll proving equally amicable for sopping up the broth of the seasonal soup – a $34 masterpiece with nearly 6oz of foie gras scored and braised in an unctuous broth briny with pork and scallops yet intensely aromatic from the copious mushrooms. Moving on it was an obvious choice from the start that the signature Arroz Gordo would find its way to our table and although approximately 1/3 of the bowl went home with my friend it should go without saying that this is a dish well worth the price of admission, the complex flavors and textures running the gamut of the palate and the tea eggs, salted duck, and char siu pork particularly funky while the paprika from the linguica and chilies from the chicken tickled the back of the throat. Clearly not about to skip dessert after such a meal and unable to select just one despite being quite full it was on our server’s recommendation that we eventually opted for the restaurant’s two signatures and coming from entirely different places in terms of both taste and texture it should only be said that there is no ‘right’ answer as to which was better, the cake truly inspired in its construction and balance of sweet and savory tones but quite heavy while the more traditional serradura was a cloud with light sweetness up front and a mellow, tangy finish that lingered pleasantly at the end of such a heavy yet delightful meal.