Warning: Long post
My apologies for skimping on a local story today but I’ve been traveling quite a bit this summer. But this is also a good time to continue what I talked about last week. J (my wife) and I flew out to Chicago this past weekend and spent three days in the bustling city. I created a custom Google map like I illustrated in last week’s post and culled a list of about 11 places from friend recommendations, Twitter responses and internet research. Although, we only made it to about half of them because our appetites aren’t what they used to be.
After landing, J and I made a beeline to Pizano’s off State Street for some deep dish pizza. Before I left for Chicago, blog Serious Eats covered this place and gave it high praise so I chose it for my second ever deep dish experience. We started with some fried ravioli which was good in a naughty sort of way. Then our Jack Brickhouse deep dish arrived topped with sliced mushrooms, chunky sausage, a thick layer of melted cheese and covered in tomato sauce. We enjoyed this but felt its heavy effects for the next several hours.
Later, J and I made our way to Old Town and caught a fantastic show at Second City. Fans of Saturday Night Live may know this comedy club/theatre because of its famous alumni such as Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Tina Fey. If you plan on visiting Chicago, DEFINITELY catch a show here. It frames Chicago’s inhabitants, history and culture so well.
After the show J and I rushed over to Gyu Kaku, a yakiniku restaurant. Yakiniku (pictured above in the second row) is basically Korean barbecue served Japanese style and crosses over a lot of Japanese/Korean dishes and ingredients. Wifey and I split a bottle of sake and ordered a bunch of dishes such as harami hanger steak and horumon (intestine) marinated in miso that we grilled tableside. We also ordered a fantastic dolsot bibimbap (hot stone bowl rice dish) that is mixed tableside. The portions of meat are small but so are prices. The added bonus was that we got there after 10 p.m. so most everything (besides booze) was half off.
The second day in Chicago was a miserably humid day. My wife and I woke up starving and sweating so we popped into an air-conditioned fast food chain by our hotel called Wow Bao. Here they steam machine-made Chinese bao dumplings stuffed with your choice of fillings ranging from spicy Mongolian beef to barbecue pork. Wow Bao also makes rice bowls which I ordered with minced curry chicken. I’m not going to give up mom and pop’s for these anytime soon, but the flavors were pretty good.
That mess of Mexican on a plate (pictured top right) is huevos rancheros from a restaurant called Nuevo Leon in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Pilsen is predominantly a Mexican neighborhood and the heart of it runs east and west along 18th street. Judging from the long line of people waiting to be seated, Nuevo Leon appears to be popular with locals of Mexican and non-Mexican heritage. I loved my chicken enchiladas topped with red ancho chile sauce but the soulfully satisfying huevos rancheros served with warm tortillas were my favorite.
Later that evening, J and I had reservations to Arami, a casual Japanese restaurant helmed by a young Korean gentleman trained in sushi. It’s been receiving high praise from Chicago media outlets and rightly so. Our orders of nigiri sushi were pure in quality and presentation, but the noodles in the ramen pictured above were a bit past al dente for my tastes.
On the last day of our trip, my wife and I took an architectural boat tour of Chicago followed by a meal at Purple Pig. Someone on Twitter put this place on my radar before we left and it was a solid suggestion. As its name suggest, the rustic menu is very pig heavy with Spanish and Italian influences. Pictured here is the restaurant’s generous serving of bone marrow and a separate order of lingua agrodulce (sweet and sour beef tongue, literally melts in your mouth).
And lastly, J and I ended the night and trip with a meal at The Publican. It’s a gastro pub touting “farmhouse fare in a European beer hall setting.” It belongs to the acclaimed restaurant family that also runs Blackbird and avec.
The Publican is very communal. Its dining room contains long wrap-around tables suggesting something I imagine Trappist monks eat in while discussing religious theories and tripel brewing techniques. You are seated in close proximity to strangers, which ensures you will most likely socialize with them. As a matter of fact, I am now Facebook/Email buddies with a fantastic young couple from Chicago that were seated next to us. (Taylor/Jenny, thanks again for the Austin tips and nightcap!)
Anyways, J and I ordered a lot that night but luckily were able to diffuse some of these dishes with our new friends. Pictured in the second row is a yellowtail crudo studded with chewy pistachios, herbs and fresh sprouts. Next to that is potted rillettes topped with fresh raspberries, which I generously smeared over bread and almost finished on my own.
That does it for my Chicago recap. If you want to see the full food-friendly slideshow, click here.
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog
– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.