Eatin’ In Chicago

April 26, 2010 at 9:11 PM Leave a comment

You will note a gap in blog postings. Jeff was working in Chicago and combined visits to Cleveland area restaurants were impossible. Despite the heavy work schedule, Jeff did enjoy some wonderful Chicago food and we thought it would be good to share.

There is no question, in Chicago, pork is king. A few years ago, Paul Kahan (Chicago’s Zach Bruell) opened a restaurant called the Publican. While the menu featured other items, the Chicago buzz consisted of the remarkable pork dishes. Area chefs took notice and it was impossible to walk into a restaurant during the week, where pork was not offering in an amazing array of variations.

The only day Jeff finished work early, allowed him to try Avec. Avec takes no reservations, so arriving early is a must. Located next door to his wonderful first restaurant, Blackbird, Paul Kahan has created one of the most stunning interiors ever. Jeff couldn’t determine if it cedar or redwood, but the entire space is covered in wood. Ceiling, tables, walls, stools are all warm wood in this communal setting spot. A stainless bar reflects and complements to space. The food matches the interior toe-to-toe.

Jeff started with the chorizo-stuffed dates. The sausage was slightly spicy, the bacon topping salty and the tomato based cooling. According to the server, this is a popular item and she arranged a half-order so Jeff could have the escargot tortellini appetizer. Served with frog legs, fiddlehead fern and artichoke, it was easily polished-off and he simply could not wait for the entrée. Braised pork shoulder was served in a puff pastry with kale, butternut squash and chestnut bacon dumplings. The incredibly tender pork was rich and flavorful, the vegetables tasty and the entire meal a success. To finish, paper thin pieces of crunchy chocolate (dark and milk) were served for desert. A wonderful meal and the perfect preamble to a week of eating in the windy city. 615 W. Randolph Road Chicago, IL 60661 312-377-2002

Do you remember Piccolo Mondo? Do you remember Chef Todd Stein? After introductory small talk with the waiter, Jeff and his co-workers were reminded that this James Beard finalist Cibo Matto’s Executive Chef got his start in Cleveland. This is the hot spot in Chicago and after the first bite; it is easy to tell why. Jeff started with the sweetbreads. Light and delectable with roasted lemon and a citrus overtone they were perfect. For dinner, Jeff ordered the Bucatini, according to the waiter, the “meal of the city” at this time. A great carbonara with meaty pancetta, snappy pecorino Romano, cracked pepper all topped with a duck egg. After mixing the plump bucatini with the soft egg, a plate of heaven was created. It is easy to understand why an entire city has gone gaga over a simple meal. It is easy to understand why Cibo Matto (“crazy food” in Italian) is such a popular restaurant. 201 N. State Street Chicago, IL 312-239-9500

A few years ago, Ostoria via Stato was named one of the best new restaurants in Bon Appetite magazine. Jeff visited shortly after the list was printed and it was a revelation. The menu consisted of a simple decision. Five choices. Appetizer, Antipasto, pasta and dessert were included. If you wanted wine, you needed only to select whether you wanted good, better or the best wine they offered. While it was a lot of food, it was all great. Since that time, the simple menu has expanded and the place has become wildly popular. Jeff has been to this place three times and the latest visit showed some wear and tear. The food was good, but the finesse was missing. The parmesan crusted sweat onion could have been good, if there was less oil and the serving temperature was down a few hundred degrees. Three-meat pappardelle was rich and flavorful, but extracting the fat from a good ragu is key and was not done carefully enough. With the competition getting more and more intense in Chicago, Osteria is in danger of loosing its strong following if it forgets the details. 620 N. State Street Chicago, IL 60610 312-642-8450

On a walk down Michigan Avenue, Jeff passed an advertisement for the new issue of Chicago Magazine. The cover story talked about twenty new restaurants that everyone should try. He bought a copy at corner newsstand. Coming on the heals of the Chicago-centric 2010 James Beard finalists, it almost forced Jeff to extend his stay indefinitely, but of course, that was impossible. Using the article, he decided on the Purple Pig for an early Sunday dinner and this was a fortuitous decision. Nicknamed, “Cheese, Swine and Wine” the menu was essentially small plates of yummy things you never tried before. Divided into sections such as Antipasto, Salads, Fried Items, Panini, Cured Meats, Smears, Cheese and al la Plancha, so many options sound so good, you want to over order. Jeff started with the salt-roasted beets topped with whipped goat cheese and pistachios. These may have been the best beets Jeff has ever had. Each was fresh and crisp, the cheese rich and creamy. After that, Jeff enjoyed the Jamon Serrano, crusty bread topped with the jamon, asparagus and fried egg. The best was saved for last with a “smear.” The roasted bone marrow with herbs was served with crunchy slices of bread. Full of dense pork flavor, when the bread ran out, a finger was needed to scoop out the last of the “smear.” Wow, was this place good. The farro and ricotta “rice pudding” with chocolate sauce ended a meal that Jeff hope would never. You should definitely try this place if you ever find yourself in Chicago. 500 N. Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611 312- 464-1PIG (1744)

On the last day, work ended earlier than expected. Jeff took the opportunity to visit one of Chicago’s historic restaurants. Berghoff’s has been a part of Chicago since 1898. The interior reminds one of an old speakeasy and the menu contains dishes that have become déclassé. Regardless, Jeff ordered the home brewed root beer and Wiener Schnitzel. Light and crisp with an asparagus and green bean side it is easy to understand how this classic stayed around for over 100 years. The apple strudel sealed that deal of a very successful culinary tour that complemented the already successful business trip. All in all, a good week in Chicago. 17 West Adams Street Chicago, IL 60603 312-427-3170

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