On our annual return to Chicago for Thanksgiving -- so much to eat, so little time. Not counting a trip to Wiener Circle, here are some of our observations -
NoMi - For lunch. Girlfriend reserved a window table which IMHO is key to enjoying the restaurant. If you are in the "second" row, it's just not the same. The lunch menu is very limited and expensive. Girlfriend had the Provencal Bento Box -- for 28$ a small crock of white bean soup with fried wontons filled with goat chees(?) that was excellent a small cassoulet and mashed potatoes with olive oil and capers that was very good and an almond clafouti. A pretty neat and unique concept and plenty of food. I had an incredible warm beet soup with gorgonzola topped croutons followed by a vegetable ragout that was tender cooked vegetable in aged balsamic and what seemed to be a decadently excessive amount of Plugra butter. Third friend had the beet soup and a plate of sushi (no comment). We each had one alcoholic beverage. Total bill for three 175$ Would I go again? The food and service was excellent, but someone else has to be paying.
Szalas - I scoured the Board for Polish restaurants. Since we were staying in Bucktown and traveling with someone from Poland (our 23 yr old exchange student), Andrezj Grill seemed a good call until we called and were told they closed at 7:00! Can't remember why Smak Tak was rejected. Called our friend's Polish cleaning woman who informed us that there were no good authentic Polish restaurants in Chicago (who knew?) except Szalas, 5214 S. Archer. Everything else is "american polish food" she says. So, 13 of us, including kids, trek down to Midway to Szalas, a cross between a medieval manor and a mountain house -- think Golden Ox and Zum Deutsch and Eck. Our Polish student does all the ordering -- borscht that is sweet and vinegary (no sour cream)accompanied by fried meat rolls, saurekraut soup, pierogi that are light, stuffed cabbage, beef rolls, and a giant potato pancake that is filled with like a beef stew -- hard to describe, but delicious. Yummy. They had a separate banquet room with a stage, do I detect music on the weekends for those that want to polka?
Pili Pili - pluses for allowing us to bring our own wine -- a magnum of 95 Gigondas and a 95 Chateauneuf de Pape that went perfectly with the Mediterranean food. Some dishes worked very well -- vegetable terrine, fois gras stuffed quail, slow roasted lamb shoulder (lots of coriander, cumin and mediterranean spices, pomegranate), venison stew (like a moroccan tagine)and some did not -- the crispy duck was not crispy or flavorful and the escargot were tasteless, but overall, we had 10 out of 12 very satisfied adult diners who were intrigued and happy with the use of spices and flavors in the dishes and the excellent wine pairing.
Phoenix - Post Thanksgiving dim sum and the place was packed, but here's a tip -- if you are a large group, you can call ahead and ask for a private room. We called ahead and told them we were 14. When we got there, they put us in a separate room with a huge lazy susan. I was worried that we would not be able to get cart service or that the carts would not come to our room but I was wrong!! Each cart came around, the cart ladies were great about showing/explaining/cutting everything with their little cart lady scissors. It was a little pricey for an old Hong Min die hard like myself, but the ability to call ahead with a large group and avoid the wait combined with fresh cart dim sum that was excellent, mmm -- the only dish we did not like was the chicken feet. I think they have the best taro root balls that I have ever had, along with excellent calamari, baby octopus, riblets, and the usual assortment of shui mai etc. BEWARE - the private room holds a max of 14!
So, that's that until next visit. I love the mountains of Colorado but after living in Chicago for 12 years, I miss the food of Chicago way more, and you can't eat snow.