Monday, August 26, 2013

Chicago Pt 3: What We Ate

The belated third and final installment of our trip to Chicago this past May.  Here's what we did and where we stayed.  I put so much planning into eating that it deserved it's own post.  Feel free to move on to something more interesting (ie: watching paint dry, peeling carrots, etc.).

Confession: sometimes when traveling, I am way more concerned about what we will eat than what we will do.  The Chicago trip we did earlier this year was so so long ago, but I figured since most of my planning was dedicated to meals, I'd share our experience, as well as my list of restaurant recommendations.   (I am a nerd.  This is a spreadsheet compiling recommendations from a few of my favorite sources, to which I added my own ranking based on how many lists the restaurant was on.)

So yes, I was that person at restaurants taking pictures of food when it came.  Jason is amazing that he patiently waited for me to get the right focus/lighting/iphone shot while his food got cold.  When did this become normal?  How did our country become so concerned with food?  And does anyone really want to know what we ate?  Here it is!

The Publican dinner: Given how much I had heard about this place, I expected our experience to be better.  It started getting rocky when we discovered the seating is communal style, and a rather cramped style at that.  I know it's so trendy right now, but I kind of think this whole communal table idea is only good if you are single and looking for your next date.  The upside to touching elbows with the party to your right is that you seem a lot less intrusive when you ask your neighbor what he or she ordered (yeah, it happened).  Part of the reason I was a little disappointed in this place is my fault.  I ended up ordering a bunch of fried stuff; fried cauliflower, fried fish, both of which were nice and crisply done, but just too much by the end of the night. We ordered some prosciutto, which was good, but we've had better.  We also ordered some kind of ramp morel pasta.  I was pretty excited to cash in on such seasonal produce as ramps and the mushrooms, but the dressing was so acidic it drowned out either flavor.

The Publican, West Loop
Best for: diners who like talking to the table next to you
Highlights: Pork Products
Average entree price: $15-$25
Rating: 3/5

Little Goat Breakfast: This was definitely one of our favorites and one of only a handful of places open weekdays for breakfast.  Top Chef alum, Tiffany MacIsaac, opened this across from her other restaurant, The Girl and the Goat, which is probably really good too (it was fully booked six weeks in advance, so yeah.. that's good).  Our favorite was a French toast dish with fried chicken, which I think was called the bull's eye, though I think the menu changes seasonally.  I got the biscuits and gravy.  I can never pass it up if it's on the menu.  The biscuits were as good as you would expect for a place with a bakery attached to the restaurant: light and moist. I am a huge fan of anyone from Top Chef so am potentially biased, however, Jason is less swayed by such trends and still voted it his favorite meal of the trip, so that's saying something.  Something good.

Little Goat, West Loop
Best for: weekday breakfast
Highlights: Goat's milk latte (The Little Goat)
Average breakfast entree price: $9-$13
Rating: 5/5

Xoco Mexican for breakfast: This is Rick Bayless's fast casual Mexican restaurant.  I thought my huevos rancheros were pretty good, but I also crave cilantro like smokers crave nicotine, so anything sprinkled with fresh cilantro is a winner in my book.  Jason was a little less impressed with his breakfast sandwich (I think it was called a "torta".)  I also thought the churros were deliciously crunchy, but maybe I just haven't had one in a long time.  This was open nice and early for breakfast and I hear it's packed if you go too late in the morning.  It's also closed on certain days, so just check before you go.  I also hear the more upscale sister restaurant next door, Frontera, is good too.

Xoco, North side
Best for: weekday breakfast and fast casual Mexican
Average entree price: $4-$8 for breakfast, $10-$12 otherwise
Rating: 4/5

Purple Pig: I'd say this was one of our other favorite.  Casual atmosphere, with seasonal ingredients and a focus on pork, they don't take reservations, so go early or prepare for a two hour wait.  They take your phone number though, so we were able to take a quick jaunt over to the John Hancock Observatory without fear we'd miss being called.  Even when we got in, it felt a little loud and crowded.  Not usually our preference, but so worth it.  As mundane as it sounds, some of the most memorable dishes we had were charred leeks and a fava bean salad dish topped with proscuitto with a zesty dressing that I'm still trying to figure out the recipe for.  We also had skate (a type of ray, as in sting ray) for the first time and it was flaky and delicious.  For the more adventurous, items like pig tails and tripe were on the menu, truly making it a nose to tail place.

Purple Pig, Magnificent Mile
Best for:  a tasty splurge
Highlights: everything, unique pork dishes
Average entree price: this place is small plate style, so expect $20-$30/person
Rating: 5/5

Charred leeks at the Purple Pig and ramen at the Spluring Turtle

Slurping Turtle: As a person with Asian heritage, who loves both Asian food and soup I feel like the rising trend in Ramen restaurants should be a match made in mouth-heaven for me, but it just isn't.  I  haven't gotten into it.  It was definitely good.  I just am not sure I'd go back.  If I did, I'd get the Tan Tan Men Ramen noodles.  Maybe it would have been better if it hadn't cooled down so much while I took my picture?

Spluring Turtle, North side
Best for: cold days when only soup will do
Noodle bowl price: $14
Rating: 3/5

Traditonal/touristy places:
Giordano's pizza for "classic" Chicago deep dish: The recommendation we got from the locals was that Giordano's is the "traditional" pizza place so we went with that.  I didn't realize part of the tradition was a cheese stuffed crust.  Not just the outside crust, but all the way though the bottom.  Not exactly a "light" meal, but really good.  I also didn't realize this type of pizza took 40 minutes to prepare, so just go knowing you will have a bit of a wait.

Portillo's hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches: Like Philly cheese steaks, just with hot peppers instead of cheese, the Italian beef sandwiches were good, although I got the feeling the place was more full of tourists than locals..  The hot dogs and shakes were good if you didn't think about how processed they both probably were. 

Garret's popcorn: I didn't know popcorn was a big deal in this town before we got there, but apparently it is.  They've got what they call the "Chicago Mix" which is a mix of caramel and cheddar pop corns.  I've never seen such lines just for popcorn, but then again, it is pretty good.

White Sox Stadium Polish Sausage: this was actually the best hot dog/ sausage we had on the trip.   Covered in caramelized onions, we went back for seconds.  When did stadium food get so good?

Giordano's/ Garret's Popcorn/ Italian Beef Sandwiches, throughout the city
Best for: traditional and somewhat touristy-feeling Chicago experience
Average price: $9-$13
Rating: 3/5

Clockwise from top left: Italian beef sandwich, deep dish from Giordano's, crowds at Portillo's and Garret's popcorn

So all in all, I think we covered most types of cuisines on our trip.  It seems like some of the neighborhoods a little farther from downtown like Logan Square have some outstanding eating areas.  It was just too much to fit it all in.  Anything we should have done but missed?  Does anyone else plan their activities around eating?

No comments:

Post a Comment