Many thanks to all those who helped us eat well in Chicago. Here's a brief summary..
Our first dinner was at Topolobampo. It was certainly very good though I'm not sure our experience was outstanding. Both of our apps were tasty - Mandy particularly loved her ceviche "trio". The lobster that she ordered as her main was also delicious - lobster nicely cooked and the potato (?) crust on top absorbed the lobster flavour. I enjoyed my appetizer too - I can't recall the name of the item but it consisted of mini-empanada like items stuffed with shrimp and a very interesting black bean sauce. I had the ostrich special as the main. The tomato-based sauce was just ok and unfortunately the ostrich was slightly overcooked and not all that tender. The sides were delicious, particularly the tamales. Dessert was outstanding - a bruleed caramel-based item.
After a long walk the next day, we were rewarded with Mario's ice and Al's beef. Mario's ice was really good - nice tart flavour to it, but Al's beef was the star. The baguette, sopping wet with giardinara sauce and the tasty beef. Mmmm. We shared an order of fries too and they were also terrific.
For dinner, we hit Avec. Mandy was a little thrown off by the cafeteria table format. I can't say that I'd normally be drawn to this kind of format, but I was prepared for a loud night out, so I was somewhat amused. Heck, I wish all my servers were named "Fluffy" - makes for good conversation. But once the food arrived Mandy was back to her exuberant self. We heeded the advice of a Chicago Chowhound and ordered the brandade and the fish of the day. We also ordered a vension sausage that came with vegetables. These three items, along with the bread left us completely stuffed.
Tremendous value. Regardless of value, I thought everything was terrific, particularly the brandade and the fish. The fish had a smokiness from the cumin and a citrus zest, but these flavours only accentuated what was a perfectly cooked, roasted fish.
Our next night was the piece de resistance - Alinea. After doing the Tour there I'm at least temporarily less interested in hitting the fine dining circuit. I can attribute this partially due to the fact that I am a slightly poorer man, but mainly because it was such an overwhelming experience for the senses. No aspect gets overlooked there. The food is beyond inventive, yet delicious. Serviceware alone merits discussion. And the service is absolutely fantastic - extremely informed and without pretension.
Can't wait for our next visit.
Ben Reiner & Mandy Lin