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Restaurants & Bars Chicago Area

Chicago So Far

James G | | Mar 11, 2008 02:30 PM

Thanks to those of you who gave me suggestions for dining in Chicago during my visit from Beijing. In thanks, I thought I'd offer a mini-review of what we've enjoyed so far.

I have to start by saying, first of all, that none of the meals we've had so far has disappointed, and the friendliness of the wait staff has been incredible--though being a New Yorker living in Beijing, my expectations are kind of low in that regard.

Cafe Spiaggia was our selection for our first night in town, and was outstanding. We sat at the bar when we first arrived, and enjoyed an excellent bottle of Amarone while we waited for it to be time to be seated. The meal itself was also excellent; I had a half-order of the potato gnocchi with ricotta sauce with Umbrian black truffles as a starter, followed by a stupendous roasted pork shoulder that was among the most succulent and flavorful things I have had in a while.

The next day, after a hot dog at Portillo's, we had dinner at North Pond, which, as promised, was in a beautiful setting, though we were a bit disappointed at how cold the place was (especially considering that it's in a building designed as a place for skaters to warm up in). But the food more than made up for it--a Soft-Boiled Duck Egg with Warm Seafood-Raisin Brandade, Spinach Coulis, Parmesan Emulsion for a starter, followed by Slow-Roasted Venison Loin, Maple Butternut Squash, Spinach, Red Wine Cipollinis, Coffee Glace and for dessert a Chocolate Mousse Cake, Hazelnut Crisp, Blood Orange Preserve, Granita (I'm cutting-and-pasting from the website; it's not like I remembered the names of these dishes). All this was washed down with an outstanding Hegarty '03 Minervois that was truly delicious despite being one of the less expensive bottles on the list (and the sommelier recommended it over a more expensive bottle by the same vineyard, so kudos to her!).

The third night we went to Trattoria No. 10 as a sort of last-minute thought, and it was very good, too, though not nearly as good as Spiaggia. I started with the octopus carpaccio with watercress, blood oranges, caper berries and Sicilian olive oil (I have a weakness for blood oranges, you may have noticed), and for a main course I chose the farfalle pasta with duck confit, asparagus, mushrooms, pearl onions and pine nuts. Both were very good, but just not as spectacular as Spiaggia. For dessert I really wanted an affogato, but the waitress (who by the way thought a "classic martini" was made with vodka rather than gin...) had no idea what it was, so I just ordered the gelato and the coffee as separate items, though I specified that I wanted them delivered together. This she could not accomplish, so the coffee came first (which I hate anyway--I prefer coffee after dessert, which is very unusual in the US, it seems) and was cool by the time the gelato arrived.

Over all, though, the meals have really be incredible, and I look forward to two more nights, with Frontera Grill tonight and possibly Topolobampo or maybe Vermillion tomorrow.

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