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Chicago Trip Report

Chuckie | Sep 1, 200512:26 PM

Chicago Trip Report

Beloved Husband & I took a trip for fun to Chicago the weekend of August 19th – just now getting around to posting a report.

First Stop: lunch at Frontera Grill. Thinking we would want dessert (and being from out of town & not needing leftovers), we shared an appetizer & an entrée. (Although I wish we’d read the desert menu first because we ended up not finding anything that really struck us that day & did not order one.) I love the décor & “zing” of Frontera Grill! We ordered the corn chowder as an appetizer – they went the extra step of dividing it into two ceramic bowls since we were sharing. What a wonderful chowder – great flavors, bits of corn in a silky light yellow soup with bits of spicy peppers. Would order it again. My husband also likes the little spiced peanuts, etc., that are complimentarily served in a small saucer which we enjoyed with a very punchy non-alcoholic limeade from the bar. For our entree, we shared your basic pork tacos which I particularly wanted to order because of the mention of the homemade tortillas. The tacos came with thin strips of pork sautéed in a red sauce with applewood bacon pieces, tortillas for both of us (and he even brought more later), a wonderful homemade guacamole, & black beans. As Maggie Smith’s character in Gosford Park says: Yummy, yummy, yummy!

We had a delightful well-mannered waiter at Frontera although I must say that once again (i.e. has happened at other restaurants as well), I personally think because we were non-drinkers, it seemed to move us down the ladder in terms of service. Another couple (drinkers) sat at the table next to us after we ordered & got their entrees so much faster than us, the length of time waiting was quite odd. They had also had an appetizer & we had ordered one of the simplest things on the menu as an entrée versus two different entrees for them. The waiter was very polite but I think the message was received that we were too “cheap” (sharing an entrée/appetizer) & non-drinkers = less $ for him. The extra attention of the shared soup/extra tortillas cancels out the long wait I suppose!

We also had the plus of seeing Rick Bayless eating his lunch at the eating bar by the kitchen! while we were waiting to pay. Had his cooking duds on & may have been the one preparing our lunches for all we know! Too kool.

Second Stop: Lou Malnati’s Pizza. We didn’t think we’d be hungry again after Frontera Grill but, of course, by late evening we were & a pizza sounded good. I had looked up info on the Internet before we went, as we had never been, & the Lou Malnati’s in the old house was not too far from our hotel. We ordered way more than our stomachs were ready for so I was sad to throw some of the pizza away. The pan pizza we ordered had a light tomato sauce, not spicy. Good homemade tasting crust. The salad had the house tangy red wine vinaigrette that I love, sour enough to make my face flush! It was very busy & extremely packed that night. The waiting area at the front (or back? we went in the parking lot door) was not good for the number of people of waiting & the bar was packed. It’s interesting to me that a restaurant can be in business for that number of years & that’s the best they can come up for a waiting area. They do have a nice offer of putting your order in while you wait so that you don’t have to wait so long at your table. We would probably go back but have several other pizza places we’d like to try next.

Third Stop: Saturday morning we headed downtown to spend the day & see Millenium Park. We did not really have a plan, just wanted to meander & the air show was also going on. I did not have time to research good restaurants for breakfast which I should have done. We headed towards downtown Chicago & encountered along the way Elly’s Pancake House in Glenview. At first, we thought it might be a great find because the orange juice is fresh squeezed. Loved having a glass of that! But when our pancakes came, they fell apart as you tried to cut & scoop them up with some syrup. Not the best pancakes – I honestly could make better pancakes. (It seemed a lot like a boxed pancake mix.) She also repeated after us as we ordered – off-bone ham – which is on their menu but it never came & she was so busy we just decided to forget it. It was what we call a “once-er”. Doubt we would go back, especially not after finding Egg Harbor Inn in Barrington (later in report.)

We had planned to eat lunch downtown somewhere but the heat & all the walking shoo-ed away any appetite we might have had. Lunch ended up being an overly-brewed, strong iced tea from some nondescript café as we headed back to our car. All the better for the feast at D & J Bistro next.

Fourth Stop: I researched D & J Bistro on two forums & Zagat’s before choosing it. I was just wanting a nice moderately priced bistro. We knew it was in a strip mall from the reviews but when we saw the sign from the road (your basic white plastic uninspired letter sign, like K-Mart), we thought – oh oh. However, the parking lot was crowded which is usually a good indication. When we stepped in the door, the ambiance of the place was so cute & immediately over-rode our worries. Obviously a favorite with many – the hum of people talking & laughing was perfect to make one feel comfortable. We were directed to the bar until our table was ready & enjoyed some excellent iced tea (brewed to just the right strength as opposed to the tea earlier!). We ordered a wonderful appetizer of warm portabella mushroom caps with brie cheese & chopped tomatoes – the brown reduction sauce on the place was wonderful. We also were served some terrific French bread that delighted both of us – I like everything (brownies, bread, cookies etc.) underdone & my husband likes everything crispy – the bread was deep brown & crispy on the outside with a feathery light interior. So satisfied both of us.

Once again at our table, a wonderful well-mannered waiter -- he did not make me feel silly for ordering a very odd meal combination. None of the salads excited me so I ordered: for an appetizer, seafood risotto, for an entrée, seafood ravioli, & for a shared side with my BH, a dish of scalloped taters. (It was a Starchx3 dinner wasn’t it!……) BH had ordered your basic New York strip parisienne with frites – he didn’t even need the frites he liked the scalloped taters so much. Very rich & I am sure cream was involved. I am a huge risotto person anyway & the risotto I ordered was so wonderful – I wished it was the entrée! Clams in the shell on the side, scallops, & shrimp in a yummy lobster sauce. Risotto cooked to just the right texture. I did not want to miss a drop of the sauce -- thought I would need to ask for a spoon but the risotto picked it up with every bite. My husband even liked the risotto. The ravioli were okay – I might have just been getting too full at that point to enjoy. But the black spaghetti on the plate behind the ravioli was even better, cooked to just the right al dente stage with a little of the “fumet of tomato” as the menu called it. Once again, none of the desserts really excited us unfortunately so we went with a light one – black rice pudding with fruit. It was essentially black rice with just enough of a sweet binder to timbale it into a triangle on the plate with some strawberries & other fruit around it. It was okay & visually interesting but would not order it again.

Fifth Stop: Could have been Barrington’s Egg Harbor Café if I had done my Internet research before I left. Unfortunately, we had no idea where to get breakfast near Schaumburg. We were going to visit the Willow Creek church in Barrington & wanted to grab breakfast nearby. We ended up in downtown Barrington & drove around hoping to find something locally interesting. Not finding anything, we parked to stop in a little coffee shop on the main strip – getting out of the car, I noticed folks parked next to us heading up the street & around the corner with a newspaper under their arm! Hmm, where are they heading?! So we followed & came upon the Egg Harbor Café which was obviously popular. We did not have time at that point to wait to eat there so we stopped at the Einstein bagel place right next door but we intend to stop at the café next time we’re in the area. Looks like a delightful place if the crowd’s any indication.

Sixth & Last Stop on the way out of town: Yu’s Mandarin. We were wary of stopping here even though we had recommendations from two Internet sites. Mainly because the town where we live the Chinese type restaurants historically open, run themselves into the ground with no attempt at upkeep, & close from neglect (leaving at this point in time mostly take-out places). We went in the door to check it out with the intention of running if it seemed ….. to warrant it. It did look intriguing so we went on in, obviously popular. I ordered the basic shrimp & chicken with vegetables. BH ordered the General Cho’s (can’t think of right name at moment) with the really hot red peppers in it. We also had an order of egg rolls which were okay – I like PF Chang’s spring rolls better. While we were waiting, it was amusing to watch the line chefs through the glass viewing window. One guy in particular at the wok on the end, his body language screamed “I am so sick of my job”. I shouldn’t make too much fun of him because I’ve read how hard it is to be a chef, the long hours on your feet. Our entrees were pretty good. The only two negatives I experienced were: my dish’s sauce was thickened too much; &, when I asked the waitress what vegetables were in my dish she really did not know. This is a problem I experience with a lot of restaurants – how can a person be a waiter/waitress at a restaurant & not know what’s in a dish?! One nice thing about Yu’s that I have not experienced at other Chinese places, a whole pot of hot Jasmine tea was put on the table – I adore Jasmine tea. All in all, it was an okay place but not outstanding. I doubt we will be back as there are too many places to try & we don’t live in Chicago.

It was a great trip as usual – I’m already looking forward to the next trip. I’d like to try more casual bistros. We may try to find train locations and take the train to downtown as the traffic was so bad. Thanks for all the great tips re: restaurants!

….there was a mountain made entirely of grated Parmesan cheese, on which lived people who did nothing but make macaroni and ravioli and cook them in capon broth. And then they threw them down, and the more of them you took, the more you had.
Bocaccio (1313-1375) 'Decameron' (Day 8, Tale 3).

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