I had occasion to visit Chicago for the Fancy Food Show this past weekend, representing Slow Food USA right across the hall from the "Food Marketing Institute" (AKA the beast) but that's another thread...
This is about the dinners my wife Kim and I enjoyed there. The first was Lula Cafe[http://www.lulacafe.com/], 2537 N Kedzie, in Logan Square neighborhood, just barely south of the square itself (773.489.9554).
Kim enjoyed a seared sea scallops with red beet-orange puree, grilled endive, fines herbs, and sweet mustard, ($10) while I had a warm salad of city farm arugula, wild baby leeks, poached asparagus, fingerling potatoes, duck egg, lemon oil, and taleggio cream, ($9). The vinaigrette on the salad was especially wonderous, and the gently poached duck egg was an inspiration (let's face it, duck eggs taste better than chicken eggs). The garnish on the scallops of whole fresh herb leaves was the perfect accent to perfectly seared scallops.
As entrees, Kim had confit of salmon with roast shiitakes, smoked mustard greens, and salmon-potato tartare ($21). All of it was wonderful, but Kim said the Tartare was truly special, the brunoise of potato with the salmon (perfect knife skills) had a delightful texture that Kim described as "like eating a checkerboard." I had the grilled gunthorp farm pork loin with crispy polenta, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, rhubarb-red wine sauce, and pork jus, ($20). Like Kim's entree, all of this was great, but it was the polenta that was a particular thrill - crispy on the edges and light and fluffy inside. Our host Joel, who skipped the first course (and said he regretted not getting the warm salad) had a roast chicken that he absolutley loved, but sadly I did not write down the description (sorry).
For dessert we all shared at pot au creme, which was magical with a 20-year-old tawny port.
I go to Chicago 6-8 times a year, and this was some of the best food I've ever had there, and at a far lower price than the "competition." In fact, at lunch their prices rival Denny's. All this with seasonal organic produce from local sources, wild-caught fish, and naturally raised meats and poultry.
A side note: they're closed on Tuesdays.
The following night we met up with some old friends and had a feast at TAC Quick Thai Kitchen - 3930 N. Sheridan, 773.327.5253. Now here's an example of something that should help remove that "elitist" image from Slow Food, since its review in the Slow Food Guide to Chicago was positively glowing, even though it's a "Quick Thai" place under the red line station.
Make sure you ask for the Thai menu, available only to those who bother to ask for it, which has the truly authentic stuff. Don't get me wrong, everything there is wonderful, but the genuine articles on this second menu are what set it apart from "just another Thai place" I especially enjoyed the pork neck appetizer and the papaya salad (hot!), while Kim's faves were the fried chicken (no, really) and the mango and sticky rice dessert.
Two great meals in two days. I live a charmed life.