Monday, May 16, 2011

Chicago Eats (Part 1)

I was in Chicago last week, enjoying the many culinary delights to be found there. I didn't get to go to Alinea, supposedly the best restaurant in the country.  I couldn't convince my non-foodie friend R., who I was traveling with, to pay the $200/person prix fixe cost. :-)  I ate a lot though, and I want to share it!  I'll do so chronologically, include a few restaurants at a time, and split this into several posts.

There was a Gino's East attached to our first hotel (we stayed at three total), so we went there for an early dinner because it was lunchtime for our body clocks.  Apparently it's the original Gino's East location, which they moved from, then recently moved back.  Anyway, this was our first clue that perhaps Chicago-style pizza was not for us.  First, we were told it would take an extra 35-40 minutes, which is true at ALL the pizza places we went to.  Apparently it just takes extra time to make that kind of crust.  But there was just too much of it.  I'm not a crust kind of person in the first place, and if I HAD to eat crust I'd probably prefer this kind (which is crazy thick and crunchy), but it was just too, too much.  What I do like about Chicago pizza is that they use fresh tomato sauce, but Robbie is not a fan of that.  We got the plain cheese, because it was the only pizza type we could agree on.  After eating it, we thought maybe Chicago pizza needed toppings of some kind, whereas thin-crust pizzas do better with fewer.

Gino's East Deep Dish Pizza

R. really wanted to go to a Chicago steakhouse, so we did that the following day for lunch.  We went to Keefer's, which was recommended by two fellows at the front desk.  This was the first experience we had of non-refillable soft drinks (which seems to be common in Chicago, at 'real' restaurants).
Here's our bread basket with a big slab of butter, mmmmm.  I love bread baskets.

Bread Basket and Butter

Caesar salad with easy dressing.

Caesar Salad

Lobster bisque.

Lobster Bisque

New York strip steak.  Tomatoes and blue cheese on top.  Medium rare.

New York Strip Steak

Awesome potato croquettes: mashed potato mixed with bacon, cheese, and chives, then deep fried and covered with a yummy cheese sauce.

Potato Croquettes

Garrett popcorn was one of the places I really wanted to go after reading about it on David Lebovitz's blog.  I was excited when it encountered it accidentally (there are several locations).  There was a woman with a baby carriage in front of us, but that's it.  Garrett being empty is a rare occurrence.  People regularly wait in long lines.

Garrett Popcorn - Chicago Mix

It is really, really, REALLY good popcorn.  I got the "Chicago mix," which is their caramel and cheese popcorns mixed together.  It is DELICIOUS.  If you like that sweet/salty combination, which I do.  On our last day we went back to Garrett and I bought a large so that I could bring it into the office to share with everyone.

We also went to Taste of Peru, which turned out to be one of my favorite meals.  It was recommended by a friend of mine ... and also Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives!  I was really looking forward to this one, and wasn't disappointed.  I'd only had Peruvian cuisine once before, in Westwood when I was in college, and remembered that I loved the chicken.

We started with fresh bread and aji sauce, which was delicious.  Apparently it's made with jalapenos.  I'm going to have to suss out a recipe; as it's all blended I can't imagine it'd be very difficult...

Fresh Bread with Aji Sauce

Fried corvina, avocado salad and half a roasted potato.

Deep Fried Corvina

Pollo a la brasa, from the specials menu.  Chicken roasted in a bunch of spices.  I got half a chicken, fries, and their regular salad for $8.50.  Since the salad and fries were only so-so, I wished I had gotten the whole chicken with no sides for $10.

Pollo a la Brasa

C-House, the restaurant at the Affinia, our hotel, is one of Marcus Samuelsson's restaurants.  It was sadly very quiet ... business didn't seem too great.  I don't know why, because I enjoyed our food very much, and the prices were reasonable.

We started with a small loaf of bread, which was edged with melted cheese.  See how the crust of the bread parts a bit from the white center?  That's where the cheese is.  As R. said, "I love hidden cheese!"

Cheese Bread

I got the lobster club sandwich, which had bacon, avocado, and identifiable chunks of lobster.  It was $15.

C-House's Lobster Club

R. got the Angus Prime burger, which was okay.  I didn't like it that much but that's because the meat was super well done (as she requested).  I might have thought it was a better burger had the meat been more tender/flavorful, but it was (to me) overcooked.

C-House's Angus Prime Burger

Luckily, she had also ordered a side of mac & cheese, and that was yum.  It was made with goat cheddar and pork sausage.

C-House's Mac & Cheese

The final restaurant I'll mention in this post is Publican.  It had come highly recommended from several different sources, but I have to say that it didn't live up to those accolades.  We were seated in what they tried to make seem were great seats -- they were right in front of the kitchen and the guys shucking oysters.  The people were polite, but not friendly.  They didn't proactively try to talk to us, and we couldn't really see what was going on.  They didn't seem to like us taking a bunch of photographs (which I would understand, if we'd been using flash constantly -- but I hate using flash on food photos and R. only did it every once in awhile).  They didn't try to engage us in what they were doing.  So we felt more like we were unwanted interlopers than anything.

The food was good, but expensive (aka, not worth it).  R. had ordered ham and bread, but the ham was cured, which she didn't like, so I ate most of it.  I'd ordered suckling pig, which was good, but there was like six bites in the whole thing.  I also got the ahi tuna crudo, which was fresh and good, but again overpriced.  Finally, possibly the best item were the fries.  They were fried in a combination of animal and vegetable oil (it tasted like delicious chicken fat to me), then topped with two fried eggs and ground pepper.  It was pretty delicious and only cost $7.

Fried Eggs on Fries

More posts to come!

View from Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Chicago


Esoterica said...

I tried to post my comment to LJ in the food_porn community but it wouldn't work so I'll just drop it here! I'm really excited you're covering food in Chicago because it's one of our major stops on a cross country move/trip my husband and I will be doing in about two months. If you have any recommendations for "OMG you must go here!" restaurants let me know!

Jen said...

I DO. That's awesome that you'll be going to Chicago, I thought it was awesome.

Anyway, the must-go restaurant in my opinion, heads and shoulders above everyone else, is Girl and the Goat. Make reservations early! I called two weeks in advance and could only get 10pm reservations -- but it was still worth it. I will be posting about it in a day or so.

I also loved the Peruvian restaurant from this post -- Taste of Peru, you'll probably want to try one of Rick Bayless's restaurants (we went to Frontera Grill -- but again, reserve early), and Kuma's Corner (burgers) were amongst my favorites. And for a snack, Garrett Popcorn. Their "Chicago mix" of cheese and caramel is out of this world.

Sarah said...

Saw this on the food_porn community, and I've been meaning to go to the Peruvian place since I saw it on TV (I'm local).

You should have gone with sausage at Gino's's what they're known for. LOVE Gino's East. My favorite pizza. Ever. No questions. :D


Excited to see more of your posts; it's fun to see people go to my city :)

Jen said...

Sarah - OMG definitely go to Taste of Peru -- and get the chicken if you're not opposed to such things. So delicious and reasonably priced. But apparently they are best known for their seafood paella; I wish I could have gone back to try that. Oh well, next time!

Hahaha I totally agree re: Kuma's... probably one of the best burgers I've ever had. Another place to lament not having near me.

Anonymous said...

Yummm! Looks delicious, especially the pizza. I'm from Toronto and we don't have any deep dish pizza here.

Oooh, I shouldn't be looking at this on an empty stomach.

Jen said...

To be honest I don't know if we have any deep-dish pizza places in Seattle either! At least not any good ones that I've heard of (yet).