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What's cooking in Chicago in 2008?


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Guest Aaron T

Apologies for this chowhound like question.

 

I am going to Chicago this weekend to visit some friends who have a new baby. They procured a baby sitter on Saturday night for a rare night out (I hadn't expected us to be able to eat out at all) and my friend suggested Arun's, where she had enjoyed a good meal previously. She mentioned they have a tasting menu or some sort of prix fixe for $85.

 

My friends rarely eat out at shnazzy places. If I considered the $85 to be the ceiling on food (excluding tax, tip and beverages) would this be our best bet for Saturday night? Alinea and L2.0 are both too expensive and unlikely to be reservable at this late date. I'd like to go someplace niceish but ideally not somewhere overly formal. Not looking for cheap eats as this is a rare night they can actually go out and enjoy. They both are unlikely to drink more than one beverage if that, so wine list etc is not a consideration.

 

Thanks for any help.

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Blackbird or Avec (sister restaurant right next door). Avec features housemade charcuterie, really good atmosphere, friendly, comfortable, and high priority on ingredients, locally sourced when possible. (For freshness and flavor!)

 

Blackbird is more expensive but not prohibitively so.

 

The dinner I had at Avec was memorable, but if my friends hadn't been on a budget, I'd have preferred Blackbird. However, Avec is a beautiful and odd room: like a long and deep sauna—be sure to look at the inages. It's a warmer space, emotionally, than Blackbird, as communal tables encourage eavesdropping and sharing. The service was spot on: casual but attentive to small details (water refills, etc.), and the waiter was really good with his recommendations.

 

Avec is not schnazzy: Blackbird is.

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More please. It appears that I will be vacationing in Chicago week after next.

 

Street food? Any Chicago-only things to try?

 

Mexican? We have it here. Is it similar? Different? Good places? Should I go to Frontera Grill or Topolobampo or neither? Bayless's place here is a dismal botch.

 

Any advice appreciated.

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Oh thanks! Menu looks good. Can one eat at a bar there? Any other suggestions where a fella can get a good dinner at the bar?

 

ETA: Heh. Just saw they have a separate (and sparse) bar menu. Question stands on places to have a good (full) dinner at a bar. Thanks again!

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More please. It appears that I will be vacationing in Chicago week after next.

 

Street food? Any Chicago-only things to try?

 

Mexican? We have it here. Is it similar? Different? Good places? Should I go to Frontera Grill or Topolobampo or neither? Bayless's place here is a dismal botch.

 

Any advice appreciated.

 

 

There are some very good existing threads on Chicago. Check the posts by Vital Information.

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Oh thanks! Menu looks good. Can one eat at a bar there? Any other suggestions where a fella can get a good dinner at the bar?

 

ETA: Heh. Just saw they have a separate (and sparse) bar menu. Question stands on places to have a good (full) dinner at a bar. Thanks again!

 

You can eat at the bar at Frontera Grill, Squeat. I would. Get a blood orange mojito for me, please.

 

When I ate there, I had a dish called Pato en Salsa de Chile Ancho y Nuez - grilled Gunthorp duck breast in silky ancho chile sauce thickened with toasted pecans; chipotle-spiked butternut and smoky green beans. Everything was amazing. I'd recommend the trio of ceviches but I know you don't like the seafood thang.

 

 

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Unfortunately the bar dining scene in Chicago isn't that great. Your best bet is probably Avec.

 

Some other options for bar dining:

 

Graham Elliot Bowles (formerly of Avenues in the Peninsula) just opened a new place (it's called Graham Elliot) and you can definitely eat well at the bar there. They've also got a great cocktail list.

 

Powerhouse - The Chef used to be a sous chef at Alinea. The restaurant is sort of steakhouse-esque, but with far more ambition and creativity.

 

A Mano - Italian small plates. Owned by the same people as Bin 36 (a wine focused restaurant located right above A Mano). Great pizzas, pastas, crudo, etc.

 

If you're ok not eating at the bar, one of my favorite places is Sweets & Savories. It's a small, store-front place located at the southern end of Lincoln Park. Really well executed French-influenced food in a casual, laid back atmosphere. They do a $60 tasting menu that's an absolute steal.

 

Finally, you should try to get in to Schwa. Just start calling now and call everyday until you get someone. If you're willing to eat on a weeknight you might have a decent shot at getting a table. Schwa is BYO.

 

 

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I believe a visit to the Maxwell Street market is a must for any food hugry tourist to Chicago. Sunday's only, from 7 AM to about 2 PM; it's all for Mexican food (and tchotchkes).

 

Get an Italian beef. I believe John T. Edge just covered it for Gourmet. My favorite remains Al's on Taylor Street in the old Little Italy area (great fries too). Visit the two 24 hour polish sausage stands from the original Maxwell Street (on Union just south of Roosevelt) for classic Chicago street food.

 

You cannot go wrong with nearly any of the places designated "Great Neighborhood Restaurants" at LTHForum.com

 

For finer dining, by far my favorite restaurant is Vie, in Western Springs. That's a long way from downtown. Mado is a place that just opened, in the Wicker Park area. It's my kinda place, with a (nearly) all local, ever-changing menu and a strong emphasis on house made chaucuterie.

 

Chicago has decent enough public transportation, but to eat best, it helps to have access to a car.

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Thanks very much, everyone!

 

I don't enjoy driving, so I won't be getting a car. I'll have to see what I can do with public transportation/cabs.

 

Special thanks to Vital Information for the LTH link. It looks very useful.

 

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Guest Aaron T

I had a great dinner at Blackbird on Saturday night. We showed up right on time for our 7:30 pm reservation. There was about a 15 minute wait for our table. There wasn’t a lot of room to wait around as the bar is very small and was occupied and standing behind it blocks waiters access to tables. Fortunately it was a nice night so we waited outside and also checked out Avec while waiting. Avec’s menu looked good, nice ambiance, and actually quieter than the noise level at Blackbird.

 

Amuse of sturgeon (broiled I think) – funny as one member in our party was having sturgeon for their main

 

Was torn between the salad with egg (minus the pancetta) or the sweetbreads for my appetizer. The waitress highly touted the sweetbreads and they were indeed very good.

crispy veal sweetbreads with pickled golden turnip, green apple, candied coriander and goat's milk caramel

The combination of the green apple and the sweetbreads was pleasing. The goats milk caramel was a sauce off to the side.

 

The others shared a scallop appetizer which was very much enjoyed – I did not try it.

 

Between the three of us, we ordered 3 of the 4 fish entrees on the menu. These are the versions on their website though the preparations were different:

grilled california sturgeon with sauerkraut gnocchi, anjou pear and celery root puree

slow-roasted alaskan halibut with grilled cipollini onions, royal trumpets, asparagus and miso

seared tasmanian sea trout with cocos beans, parsley root-date puree, meyer lemon

I had the sea trout, which had a salmon-like appearance and flavor. The sauce actually had molasses in it (unlike the version I copied from the menu on their website). I thought the fish was good but the sauce was just too sweet for me.

 

Both other fish were good too, I think the halibut was the best of the three.

 

For dessert we shared a portion of Epoisse that cam with crackers and a cherry soup.

 

sour cherry soup with guanaja chocolate ice cream, creme fraiche and espelette 1

 

Cheese was in good condition and delicious. I inly managed to get a bite of the cherry dessert before it was inhaled by the other two folks.

 

Finished up with mignardes. 3 jellys and 3 macaroons were brought out – one each for each of us. A nice conclusion to the meal.

 

My dining companions don’t really drink so I ordered a half bottle of Pinot Gris and they shared a glass and I drank the rest.

Enjoyable ambiance. Tasty food and excellent service. I would put it at a strong 2 star in the NYT system. The waitress really knew the menu backwards and forwards and was able to answer the many questions we had about it. They also passed the napkin test. When we said we had not valet parked our car with them they offered to call us a cab, which was thoughtful of them (although we had parked around the corner so no cab was necessary).

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