Just got back from our visit to Chicago (which was fantastic, btw) and wanted to give a quick report back on our dining experiences while they were still fresh in my mind....
Wednesday we attended a business function at Ditka's where the food was very mediocre...of course not much can be expected of pasta in a buffet line...but I reminded my partner that we had late dinner reservations at Cafe Spiaggia, which turned out to be a good choice. Attentive, professional service, addictive parmesan flatbread. We ordered 2 starters, an artichoke salad (which just needed a little more salt to bring out the flavors), and a roasted octopus (which needed some more char from the oven as it was a bit lifeless) which were both okay/good. Then we had the gnocchi w/boar ragu (feathery light) and the porchetta (delicious with the polenta and rapini). A scoop of pear/prosecco sorbet, and we were happily content campers.
The next night we had an early reservation at Everest to take advantage of the pre-theater prix fixe. $54 for 3-courses (plus amuse and sweets). Since it was quite early, and the sun was quite bright, the dining room appeared quite different than in the pictures I'd seen...it was almost like having brunch in a sun-filled atrium. The shades had been drawn down a bit because of the sun, so the view was obstructed. The food, however, was wonderful, and a great deal for the price. The amuse was good if unremarkable...I believe there was a fennel custard, a cold broccoli soup, and something else...we all agreed they were good but not great. The peekytoe crab salad first course was a winner...beautifully composed and arranged...delicious and light. The main course of venison was perfectly cooked and seasoned, with beautiful root vegetables and spaetzle. The dessert of berries braised in a pinot noir sauce with delicately cooked and diced pineapple and coconut cream was a perfect ending. The waiter mentioned that the portions on the pre-theater dinner were sized down so as not to lull anyone to sleep, but we found the portion size to be just right.
We made an unplanned stop at Frontera Grill for brunch on Saturday, and were pleasantly surprised. We had eaten at Topolobampo a few years earlier, and were very disappointed with our meal. Knowing that restaurants all have off nights, I thought we should drop in to Frontera if we could get in without much fuss as it was close to our hotel (the Trump, which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone who is thinking of staying there). The food was quite good. Granted, it was brunch, so it wasn't fancy or anything, but the flavors of the ingredients came through, bold and satisfying, and I would go back for brunch/lunch in the future if it was convenient. I wouldn't go out of my way, however, to eat there.
Dinner that night was a special event at North Pond for my partner's birthday. It had clouded over and rained that afternoon, but come dinner time, the skies had cleared, and the sun was shining on the city skyline. Absolutely beautiful. We were seated at a nice table in the front room with a great view. The dinner was very very good, some dishes were excellent, others were just good. I had the egg appetizer (is that the new "tuna tartare"? It seems to be on every menu these days...) which was very good...the egg was fine, nothing great...the potato nest was nice, as were the morels and favas. Salads were definitely in the "ok" camp...my caesar with wall-eye...well, I just didn't know what to think of the combination...I just kept on wondering what that square of fish was doing next to the greens...it certainly didn't add anything for me. The veal entree was much better, with some nicely roasted veal medallions, braised veal with fresh pasta, and some decadent sweetbreads, it was a well composed and executed dish. Desserts were a bit of a struggle, we had six different ones at the table, and no one was enamored with any of them. However, the overall experience was wonderful, with the great setting and ambiance, professional service, and very good food.
I can't wait to return to Chicago to try more of the great restaurants you have!