windy city, the food

I give you fair warning: this food, like me, is all about food. It will go into great detail about what I ate in Chicago, and what it looked like, and what it tasted like, and how much I liked it. I give you my blessing and full permission to delete the post right now and read no further. Not everyone is as into the stuff as I am, and I understand that. This is a long post, and if you’re not into food, you’ll be bored stiff and get the wrong impression of my blog.

So with that caveat, here goes.

The Chart House: http://www.chart-house.com

  • My salmon burger was absolutely wonderful. I’d get it again in a heartbeat.
  • The real star of the show, though, was the signature chocolate lava cake we ordered while still in the midst of our burgers. It takes at least 30 minutes to prepare (as mentioned in a previous post), and arrives in glory, a good deal larger than I thought it would be, and topped with silky vanilla ice cream. All three of us split it, and there was more than enough to go around. A must-order, should you ever find yourself in The Chart House.

Intelligentsia: http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com

  • As I said earlier, Joshua could taste all the different flavors in his coffee, which delighted him to no end.
  • My mocha was so incredibly infused with the flavor of deep, rich, dark chocolate, without at all overpowering or downplaying the smooth coffee beneath it. There was no unfortunate, wasted remainder of unmelted chocolate or cocoa dust at the bottom of the cup, and the beautiful latte art etched into the foam on top made for a five-star presentation. I even took a picture and sent it to my sister.

For the record, I love Belvoir’s elderflower soda, and want to drink more of it.

Franks’n’Dawgs: http://www.franksndawgs.com

  • Joshua ordered “Urbanbelly Chix”, a Vietnamese chicken sausage with pickled green papaya, curry mayo, crispy shallots, Thai basil, & lime. He was over the moon at those little basil leaves sprinkled on top of his “hot dog”.
  • My pick was their “Tur-doggin”, a chicken-date sausage with crispy duck confit, herb garlic aioli, pickled onion relish, and pickled carrots. It was, by far, one of the most creative takes on a hot dog I’ve ever had in my life. The sharp acidity of vinegar definitely helps cut through some of the heaviness of a semi-greasy chicken sausage. I’m definitely more into pickled carrots than pickled cucumbers.
  • We also ordered their truffle fries (which use truffle oil, truffle butter, and truffle salt) and their deep-fried, pretzel-crusted cheese curds in a beer mustard dipping sauce. It may have been little wonder that we both had mild gastronomical issues the following day, but was it ever worth it…
  • The helpful man at the counter (owner? operator? manager?) introduced us to their sizable root beer collection, and actually paired our drinks with our dogs, much like a sommelier does with wine. Joshua’s Vietnamese twist paired best with a good, old-fashioned root beer, while mine did better with one that had a touch of cinnamon in the flavor profile. He could not have done a more excellent job. Our meal was twice as enjoyable because of his choices.

raw.: http://chicagorawfood.com

On Friday, we had visited the beautiful and intriguing Chicago French Market (frenchmarketchicago.com), and picked up some cool eats for both lunch that day and our meals on Shabbat. For lunch on Shabbat, we got a pre-packaged meal from raw., an incredible little place in which all food is absolutely raw and vegan. We got to sample their chocolate something-or-other, made with cocoa powder and avocado, and a delightfully zingy hummus with lots of lemon.

  • For lunch, we chose chili croquettes with a red-pepper couscous, salsa, cashew sour cream, and a lemon square. Remember that none of this is made with any dairy products, nor is it cooked. (!) The croquettes, far from being deep-fried, were made of dehydrated nuts and sunflower seeds. They had a chew almost like date rolls, and lots of kick. Joshua was in love with the sour cream – it really did taste exactly like sour cream. I don’t know how cashews are so versatile. We would like raw. to open another location here in Charlotte.
  • We also nibbled on their decadent cocoa-orange truffles, made of pure cacao with only three other ingredients + Himalayan salt. You don’t miss Godiva. You really don’t.

Yusho: http://yusho-chicago.com

HOW DO THEY DO IT??? Yusho is a self-described “tasting experience”, and that is exactly what it is. The plates are tiny, but the prices are so fabulous, you really can order several and taste quite a few different things in one sitting. Here’s what we did.

  • #1: tuna | taro root | pine nuts | breakfast radish
    A little dish with dramatic, miniature cubes of raw tuna mixed with shavings of taro root, and pine nuts sprinkled in, to boot. Or maybe it was the breakfast radish that was shaved in there…I don’t know. All I know is I loved that salty, briny taste of tuna. Kept going back for more. Did I mention that the napkins are French bistro-style dishtowels (white with the blue stripe)? Or that there isn’t silverware – just chopsticks?
  • #2: grilled tofu | chrysanthemum | pineapple | walnut
    The tofu has a deep char on it, a crispy black outer layer on both sides. It’s topped with a bright green paste, which I can only assume is the chrysanthemum (whoever heard of eating that stuff?). And on top are delicately limp slices of pineapple, practically caramelized to bring out the sweetness of the fruit. Tiny bits of candied walnuts top the plate. Chrysanthemum tastes like grass, and I like it with tofu, I’ve decided. Let’s get more of that.
  • #3: gobo root | sesame | asian pear | plum
    It looks like ants on miniature firewood. Little black sesame seeds crawl around on 2-inch sticks of gobo root (burdock root) – a fibrous vegetable prized for medicinal magic. It was pickled in a strong vinegar, which paired so amazingly well with the sweet earthiness of the asian pear and tart plum. I don’t know who comes up with this stuff.
  • #4: quail eggs | kombu | broccoli rabe | coriander
    Kombu is a seaweed, like kelp. It was dark, bitter, and tasted like the sea. The broccoli was dark, bitter, and tasted like the garden. Eaten with the quail eggs, which were hard-boiled and cheeselike, everything came together like it could never have done on its own.
  • #5: mochi | sweet potato | orange peel | dark chocolate
    Anything that uses sweet potato in the same sentence as dark chocolate must be tried. Mochi are Japanese rice cakes, of a sort. These were chewy striplike ovals, folded onto skewers, and, presumably, made with sweet potato as well as rice. Tiny, tiny pieces of orange peel were artistically scattered over the plate, and a cool smear of dark chocolate decorated the corner. It wasn’t too sweet, and it left you with a satisfying craving for more (if you catch my drift).

The Aviary: http://theaviary.com

You should be able to get the full idea of this place from the website. Secretive. High-end. Mysterious. Superlative.

  • Joshua ordered a “Baked Apple”. These are all alcoholic drinks, so formulate in your mind what you’d expect. The waitress brought a tall contraption straight out of a science lab to the table, and proceeded to light a small gas fire under a bulb of alcohol. The heat and pressure caused the alcohol to rise into a glass beaker above, filled with a real baked apple, orange peel, spices, raisins, etc. All that you’d expect in a baked apple. She stirred it with a massive cinnamon stick. After all the alcohol had come up, she turned off the heat, and the alcohol drained back down to the bulb, being filtered as it went. She poured it into a glass mug. Joshua says there were about 14 different flavors going on in there, and you could taste each one, like layers.
  • My drink was a “Poached Pear”. It arrived in a glass cup, slightly askew, like a parallelogram. Down the side, on the inside, was frozen pinot noir. The rest of the cup was filled with the rest of the alcohol – pear-flavored suchwhat. During the course of the evening, slowly sipping, my hand warmed the wine and had a controlled, melting effect on it, so that it was dispersed into the drink in the perfect proportions. It was like eating (or drinking, rather) a poached pear as it was poaching. The first sip – PEAR. The last – WINE PEAR. Very cool.
  • We watched several other drinks being made at the table next to us – one looked like a snow cone (shaved ice, lime, and ginger), into which the girl poured vodka. It foamed and fizzed, and she stirred it with a lemongrass swizzle stick. (!) Her date ordered one we’d read about – a flat disc of herbs and fruits filled with alcohol, which slowly infuses as you drink it. You pour the first glass (a tiny little shotglass) and it tastes one way, but by the time you pour the last glass, it’s a darker color and a stronger flavor. It’s an evolving drink. Another man ordered something that came in a champagne glass and had floating buttermilk balls in it.
  • We couldn’t resist ordering the one drink we had heard about and really wanted to see executed. It came in an unassuming old-fashioned glass – one little ball of ice. It was brownish white. The waitress fitted a wooden circle over the rim of the glass, with a rubberband stretched across the diameter, with a square piece of metal in the very center. Joshua pulled the metal up while keeping the ring in place, and POP! The metal hit the ice ball, shattered it, and left us with a beautiful, deep brown drink with shards of ice floating around in it.

The place works because everyone wants to interact with their drinks and food. Everyone wants to have fun. Everyone wants to be wowed and awed. Even entering the bar feels like you’ve stepped into the world of the rich and famous – like you have to be a real somebody to get in. You feel like ordering a drink just to see how they’re going to make it.

Billy Sunday: http://billy-sunday.com

  • Joshua got “Against the Bliss”, a gin-based drink with rhubarb sherbet, lemon, and rose bitters. Whoever heard of rose bitters?
  • I got the daiquiri, made with “rhum agricole blanc” (?), pineapple bitters, and lime. It came looking like an ice cream sundae topped with whipped cream, but was, in fact, topped with lots of shaved and crushed ice. It was sour and sweet and tangy and zippy. A perfect way to end my evening.

Incidentally, Billy Sunday is a brand new project just opened by the same people who own Yusho. Fancy that!

Pleasant House Bakery: http://pleasanthousebakery.com

  • We ordered the only two savory pies on the menu we could get, which were curry chicken and kale & mushroom. The high sides of pastry dough, the perfectly flat top of pastry dough, the perfect crispness of the entire pie, with the soft and delectable filling inside – wow. We already have it on our list to go back and try fresh from the oven.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat: http://www.vosgeschocolate.com

While it’s not a restaurant, and we didn’t eat a meal here, it’s worth mentioning in the food post simply because of the creativity! Chocolate bars made with Indian curry. Chocolate bars made with bacon. Chocolate bars made with rooibos tea. Chocolate bars made with lavender. Chocolate truffles made with white chocolate, champagne, and gold leaf. Chocolate truffles made with taleggio cheese. Chocolate truffles made with balsamic vinegar. Chocolate truffles made with olives and olive oil. Hot chocolate made of white chocolate, lavender, and lemon myrtle. Hot chocolate made of dark chocolate and red chili peppers. There is no end to where this store is going.

Gino’s East: http://www.ginoseast.com/flash.html

  • Well, my uncle (a pizza connoisseur) recommended Gino’s as the best of the best when it comes to deep-dish, Chicago pizza. He was right. I mean, not that I know – this was my first taste. But it was GOOD! I love how they put the cheese on the bottom, so the sauce doesn’t soak the crust and make it soggy. I love how the sides are high and flat, not sloping in or out. I love how the presentation is so magnificent, as if to say, “THIS is a deep-dish Chicago pie. YOU are now privileged to eat it, small earthling…”

Cork: http://corkdc.com/mkthome.html

  • Our picnic basket included herb-marinated, buttermilk-fried chicken, farro salad with wild mushrooms, spring onions, and preserved lemons, and asparagus with dried apricots and aged goat cheese. Not to mention the assorted Cork cookies.
  • Fried chicken, when not eaten fresh-out-of-the-pot, is normally nothing to write home to Mom about. In this case, though, it was smashing. The limp skin held onto a lot of herb flavor, and we agreed we’d love to come again and get it fresh.
  • That farro salad is on my find-out-how-they-did-it-and-repeat list.
  • Asparagus and goat cheese! Yes! Ours didn’t have apricots, it had grapefruit. Nice switch for the winter.
  • My favorite of the cookies was the little puffs of squooshy lemon with icing. Yum.

co co. sala: http://www.cocosala.com

  • I think everyone secretly loves fried cheese. I love all cheese (except anything bleu), but take a blob of it, bread it, and fry it? That’s amazing. These particular cheese fritters were served with a chocolate chipotle dipping sauce, which had just a hint of chocolate and a lot more to say about chipotle, which smothered the fritters in creamy heaven, and coated your mouth with a symphony of sensations.
  • For dessert, we ordered the Chocolate Onyx. It is described as dark chocolate mousse, vanilla creme brulee, salted caramel, crispy chocolate pearls, brownie, dark chocolate sorbet, cinnamon toffee bon bon. What you don’t know is that the dark chocolate mousse is a moderate, 2×2″ square that is sitting atop the smallest of thin brownies, and the vanilla creme brulee is pooled in the hollow of the mousse, and the salted caramel is a thin sheet of sweetness above it. The sorbet is in a tiny cup in the center of the plate. The bon bon is on the right. The whole dessert could be eaten in all of three or four bites, but you take small ones, dipping the tines of your fork into the caramel, and sampling the sorbet modestly, so as to enjoy every last flavor. You ponder. You enjoy.

We did enjoy. We are still enjoying the chocolate of Vosges and the memories of Yusho.

Chicago, we will be back.

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