First, a thanks to everyone who responded to my post last week seeking suggestions. I read through countless threads looking for ideas, and printed out several pages to take with me. Of course, I managed to leave the first two pages of the FAQ/Visitor's Guide post on my kitchen table, which wasn't exactly a brilliant move. But I had read enough to remember a few key points.
Anyway, without further ado, here's my report.
Thu., 08/28: our evening flight arrived later than scheduled because of weather in the mid-west. It was after 10:00 p.m. by the time we left our hotel (Omni Ambassador East - very quiet yet very conveniently located, and certainly clean, pleasant and comfortable), and although we were hungry, we didn't want to be weighted down with a big dinner. Walked a few blocks down Rush St., past some busy corporate chain-looking Italian joints, to a place called Bistro 110 on Pearson St. Hadn't seen anything about it on this board, but it did have a decent Zagat rating and a favorable mention in Frommer's, and (most importantly) it was open.
Wound up having a very pleasant, if expensive ($100 w/tax & tip, including a $42 bottle of wine) mean consisting of a nice plate of charcuterie (two slices of a tasty pate, some salami & dry-cured ham), one of the better onion soups I've had (good cheese, rich broth) and a nicoise salad featuring seared ahi for the tuna component. Ingredients were fresh and tasty, if unspectacular.
Finished off with a very nice creme brulee topped with fresh and flavorful seasonal berries.
Even though we were the last diners and didn't leave until 15 minutes after official closing at midnight, we were not at all rushed. Although they packed up the rest of the place (chairs stacked on tables, etc.) before we left, they didn't do that in our section while we were dining. They really get bonus points in my book for this.
I think this place is, itself, part of a larger restaurant group, but the food was fine and the service pleasant, gracious and accommodating.
Fri., 08/29: breakfast at the Original Pancake House, on (I think) Chestnut. This is a national chain that has outposts in Southern California, but I'd never been before. I had the Swedish pancakes, which actually came with a nice-size serving of lingonberries. Other places will only give you a lingonberry spread, which is usually butter that has been placed near some lingonberries at some point. My girlfriend had their plain buttermilk pancakes, which were only average (without a doubt, the best buttermilk pancakes in the world are served at a place in L.A. called Du-par's. Nothing I've ever had, other than my own recipe, has come even remotely close to duplicating the unique texture of a Du-par's pancake, which is at once light and fluffy, yet so substantial that it never falls apart or becomes even the slightest bit grainy no matter how much butter and syrup you pour on).
Dinner was at Lou Malnati's on Wells St. In my previous visit to Chicago, I had been unimpressed with pizza at Pizzeria Due, which I found rather bland and undercooked. So, I wasn't looking forward to this at all, but my girlfriend wanted some Chicago Deep Dish. Turns out she had actually been there before on a business trip (didn't remember the name, but recognized the place once we were there). I am happy to say that I came away very favorably impressed. We had a small sausage pie, which (with a shared salad) was enough for both of us. The pizza was cooked through properly, and the cheese, sausage and sauce were all tasty. We chose the butter crust, which I would heartily recommend. Thanks to various posters on this board for suggesting this place. Next time I'm in Chicago, I will actually be looking forward to pizza.
Sat., 08/30: Al's Italian Beef and Mario's Italian Lemonade on Taylor St. Though I might have found Al's on my own, I never would have thought to try Mario's had I not read this board. The lemonade (with lime flavor) was a perfect counter-balance to the hot peppers I selected on my big Italian Beef sandwich. I didn't have an Italian beef on my previous visit to Chicago, which I now conclude was a serious error on my part. It was a party in my mouth; the hot peppers brought tears to my eyes (I loved every minute of it, though) and my only regret was that I couldn't eat a second one. Well, maybe I could have, but I didn't want to risk it.
Had a group dinner function that night, ironically, just down the street at Pompei. Not a place I would choose on my own, but it was perfectly fine for a banquet-type dinner.
Sun., 08/31: brunch at a coffee shop called Tempo. I had a perfectly fine omelette (the Omni omelette, if anyone's familiar with the menu) and my girfriend had their eggs benedict. Both were fresh and well-prepared, but not exactly worth the 45-minute wait for a table (would have been about 20 minutes had we wanted to sit outside, but it was raining and even though they had umbrellas, some patrons appeared to be getting a bit wet). I could have had the same breakfast at any of 3 or 4 places within walking distance of my home in L.A. (and almost nothing is within walking distance in Los Angeles). I have to believe that we could have had the same breakfast just about anyplace else within a 4-block radius of the hotel.
Were at a wedding in the evening, so no dinner to report (however, I must find out who catered the event, which was held at the Chi. Historical Society). Best wedding cake (chocolate), by far, that I have ever had. Not only was it edible, it was actually good! The rest of the food also easily outclassed anything I've had before at a wedding or other banquet.
Mon., 09/01: Had to have hot dogs before our flight, so we went to Portillo's. Turns out, my girlfriend had been there previously as well. The dogs themselves were very rich and flavorful, with a good "snap" to them. However, the relish appeared to be a standard hot dog relish rather than the weird green stuff I was expecting.
You can't get that green stuff, or sport peppers, in L.A., so I picked up a jar of each at a supermarket (Jewel) before leaving town. There was only one pepper choice (Viena label) but two relish options, Viena and Rolf's. I chose the Viena, for no other reason that it was sweetened with sugar rather than corn syrup. So, I'll be able to re-create the hot dog experience here at home.
By the way, has anyone tried (or know anyone who has tried) those mail-order hot dog packages that include the various fixings? Which ones are better/to be avoided?
Don't know when I'll be back in the Windy City/Second City/City of Big Shoulders/City That Works (Chicago is certainly first in nicknames), but I hope next time to try some of the other contenders for best pizza/hot dogs/Italian Beef, as well as some of the fine ethnic choices to be had.
Again, thanks to all who made suggestions and pointed me towards relevant threads.