Most of our Chicago trip was filled with acclaimed restaurants to which we have not been, at least for a number of years. Although we tried mightily to get “tickets” for Grant Acwhatz’s unique Next restaurant (next after his remarkable Alinea, which we consider the best in the country), we eventually gave up. We did, however, still manage to do a number of other wonderful places.
This trip’s fine dining stops consisted of:
- Moto was intended to be the culinary highlight of our Chicago trip. In some ways, it certainly was. As is discussed in detail in Joyce’s detailed review, the service was superb, many of the presentations were works of art and a kitchen tour portrayed an operation that runs like a precision timepiece. But, while a few of the 13 of the dishes (such as the initial tasting sampler, the abalone and the oyster) were true standouts, many of the courses seemed more focused on impressing the eye, than the palette. Many of the wine pairings, while they generally worked with the courses, were less than inspired. Next time, we will gladly save a bit longer, and revisit Alinea.
- Aria. Nice experience, it was too bad that we couldn’t take full advantage of it. We returned late from an architectural tour and had reservations for a relatively early, 13-course dinner at Moto, one of the city’s premier restaurants. So, we had to make do with a lunch consisting of a small bowl of bacon-touched miso soup (which was a bit bland) and two very tasty Asian-themed appetizers–spicy tuna tartar and pork and shiitake Chinese dumplings. But even with our need to keep to a limit ourselves to a small lunch, we couldn’t resist the delicious naan bread (especially with the yellow curry dipping sauce).
- Terzo Piano, in the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, makes for a wonderful and very convenient break after a grueling morning of browsing through the museum’s masterpieces–especially if you can get a table on the covered deck, with a beautiful view north toward the Frank Geary bandshell, the Aon Tower and the towers to the North. We had a mushroom flatbread with goat cheese (pretty good, but with too much salt and pepper) and a very good saffron spaghetti and shrimp in a delicate, but flavorful tomato confit.
- Girl and the Goat. Although we couldn’t get reservations at this super-hot restaurant, we were able to walk-in at 4:30! Although we wouldn’t normally eat dinner this early, the retiming worked well, since we had to be back in the loop for a 7:00 theater. Besides, the restaurant was packed, with people waiting for tables, by 5:30. We had three small plates and a order of pretzel bread. The Skunka Bay salmon with lamb sausage, grilled blueberries and chi churro, and the barbecued pork ribs with hoisin sauce were both quite good. The Tempura soft shell crab with lump crab in a coconut broth with chili aioli and sugar snap peas, sounded very interesting, but the tempura batter overwhelmed the crab and the broth was lacked taste. Our server, however, was wonderful and the buzz surrounding the restaurant was infectious. Overall, a good time, complemented by a nice Cote de Nuit.
- Blackbird. We have enjoyed this award-winning restaurant a couple times before and were happy to join some friends for a return visit. Unfortunately, none of us were particularly bowled over on this visit. Joyce and I began with the corn flake-crusted soft shell crab. Although it is probably more a reflection on the nature of deep-frying the delicate crustacean than the restaurant’s preparation, it was enough to prompt us to limit our future soft shell experiences to those that are sautéed. We were similarly unimpressed by the roasted lobster lightly fried loin of rabbit.
- North Pond was our favorite fine dining experience of this trip. The building, which is located just across the pond for our old Lincoln Park home, has undergone a dramatic transformation from a park concession stand, into a beautiful Arts and Crafts movement structure that houses a locavore-themed fine dining establishment. Although we had visited the restaurant for dinner a number of years ago, this trip we went for their reasonably priced ($35) three-course Sunday brunch. Our appetizers consisted of a delicious Peekytoe crab timbale on a bed of citrus avocado mousse, and a decadently rich sherries mushroom soup with mushroom ragout and creamy goat cheese espuma whatever that is!). They were followed by a tasty (albeit somewhat dry) sautéed whitefish with red quinoa and oil-poached fennel, carrots and turnips. The only disappointment came in the form of the gulf shrimp a la plancha with asparagus, baby beets, beet gnocchi and mango. While the vegetables were good, the protein consisted of a measly two tiny (probably 21-25 count) shrimp.
Although keeping up with James Bear-nominated restaurants occupied most of this trip’s dining options, we did manage to save a little time for a few very casual, old-time neighborhood (Lincoln Park area) favorites. These are discussed in the following blog, Casual Neighborhood Chicago Eating: Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?