We love exploring restaurants wherever we travel. This is particularly true in Chicago, and especially along the hot, new restaurant rows of West Randolph Street and Fulton Market. While last visit included a number of relatively expensive stops, this visit focused on more more casual, less expensive options. This was partially by choice and partially because we again, had no prayer of getting into Grant Achatz’ Next.
Despite this, we enjoyed each of our meals.
There were very few items on the menu of this modern pan-Asian restaurant that we did not want to order. We reluctantly limited ourselves to four. We began with a shrimp, shiitake and vermicelli spring roll, that we wrapped, with basil, in a butter lettuce leaf. Dipped it in a garlic fish sauce, it was delicious. We were equally impressed with two other dishes.the lightly-breaded, lightly fried soft-shell crab served with pickled rhubarb, caramelized pork belly and lemon balm was done perfectly. So too was the home-glazed grilled quail, served with a dipping sauce of lime, salt and chili powder as a foil to the sweetness of the glaze.
Our fourth dish, steamed PEI mussels in a coconut milk sauce with lime and shallots, was interesting and end sauce was so viscous, it could almost be eaten with a fork. Although it was good, it was fourth of our four dishes. To be fair, however, it was up against some very tough competition in the other dishes. The already wonderful meal was enhanced by a bottle (actually, a can) of Drunken Snapper Dai Jingo sake.
We joined the Chicago masses for lunch at the very popular Purple Pig. Lunch consisted of four dishes. We began with the Pig’s Ear with with flash fried kale and pickled peppers, topped by a fried egg. The idea was to break the yolk, cut the egg into small pieces and mix it in with the small strips of fried pig ear. The fried strips tasted like fried skin: that is, they had little taste except for the oil it which it was fried and the salt sprinkled on it. Mixing it with the kale and egg, however, gave it all a pleasant, albeit not especially complex taste.
Our next dish was huge and delicious marrow bones. Slathered on generously buttered toast, it was sinfully delicious. Grilled octopus with green beans, fingerling and salsa verde, was the most nuanced dish: delicious, even without all the butter and fat of the previous dishes. Although it is not the most healthy lunch we have eaten, it was delicious. Next time, though, we will skip the pig’s ear. The marrow and the octopus, however, will remain on our menu.
So many interesting-looking dishes. Our big challenge was to select which we would try. We decided that we could explore more options by focusing on small plates, rather than doing an entree. The hamachi crudo, with black garlic, almonds and citrus was light, subtly seasoned and delicious. Chicken liver pâté with blueberries and sourdough bread, was sinfully, and deliciously rich. The "small" (not very) charcuterie plate was a mixed bag: it consisted of Genoa salami, pork pie, head cheese, Moreau sausage and very thinly sliced smoked duck breast, along with cornichons and assorted mustards. We both enjoyed the salami and sausage. While Joyce had only small tastes of the others, I thought the duck and pork pie (sans the crust) were pretty good, neither of us cared for the head cheese. That, however, was a matter of personal taste, rather than anything against Pubican’s version. The biggest treat of the meal was a cheese plate. We selected three: Dante Wisconsin sheep cheese was soft, buttery and tangy; delicious, and it would have been even better if it were left out of the refrigerator a bit longer. The Cabot Jasper Hill cheddar was another winner; milky, a bit of caramel and just the right amount of sharpness. The only disappointment was an Italian Brescianella Stagionata cow cheese, which was a bit grassy and nondescript for our taste. We finished with a small, sinfully buttery maple crème eclair. Overall, a very good, and relatively inexpensive meal that we enjoyed with a bottle of Barbera.
We try to return to either Rick Bayless’ upscale Topolombompo or his more casual Frontera Grill once every couple years. This year, we chose Frontera. We fully enjoyed our ceviche, Tropical Tuna Cocktail (with guacamole and fruit salsa) and the Raspberry Quacamole (lthough we did expect the raspberries to be blended into the guac, rather than placed on top). I, meanwhile, loved my duck in Green Peanut Mole. The duck breast, which was done perfectly–medium rare–had a smokey flavor and the mole was tangy, without being spicy. It was served with a polenta-like tamal, green beans and toasted beans. My job was to take take appropriate portions of each, wrap them into a tortilla, and then to devour the delicious combination. Joyce was not quite as thrilled with her Mexico City-Style Quesadillas: Jack Cheese and guacamole in chile-spiked corn-masa turnover. Since the turnover was much more doughy than she expected, she ended up deconstructing the dish and spreading the cheese and guac out of the turnover, and wrapping it in one of my tortillas. We each confined ourselves to a single margarita. Joyce’s Summer Margarita was an enhanced version of the classic drink. I tried the prickly pear version, which was a bit sweet and fruity for my taste.
We had all but given up on Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizza. But, since our hotel was next door to Gino’s, to which we hadn’t been for many years, we decided to stop in for a pre-airport, late lunch. The large, ever-popular location was, of course, filled, with a long waiting line which, due to a priority pass provided by our hotel, we were able to avoid. We ended up with a very good (not to speak of very healthy and nutritious!) large cheese, sausage, mushroom and bacon pizza that fed us not only for lunch, but for dinner when we got home, and lunch the next day. Gino’s, after a multi-year absence, has just made it back onto our Chicago guilty pleasure list.
As much as we wanted, we were unable to make it to this new Indonesian street food restaurant. It, however, looked so interesting that we wanted to at least mention it in this blog. It will certainly be near the top of our list on our next visit