We had only 24 hours in Chicago over Thanksgiving, sadly, but I think we did well overall, despite failing to get into Next (sigh, missed the original on-sale, didn't get the same-day table, and didn't get one as a walk-in either).
GT Fish and Oyster: it wasn't terribly busy on Black Friday, so even though we arrived early for our reservation, they were able to seat us immediately. I had an OG Johnny lemonade (strawberry, ginger beer) which was good (my original choice of blackberry was out), whereas my husband's Harvest lemonade with apple cider and pomegranate was great. We started with a dozen oysters of which the Penn Cove were the best. All were fresh, meaty, and satisfying. The pork belly sliders with peanut and kimchi were also excellent. I really enjoyed the shallots and buttery buns contrasted against the rich pork belly. Less successful was the tuna poke, which needed soy sauce. The preserved mango slices and cucumber slices were difficult to eat as well. Overall, this dish didn't really taste like Hawaiian poke. We finished with the lobster mac and cheese with English peas. This was a tasty and straightforward dish. I questioned the use of shells instead of elbows, and I felt the sauce could be a little thicker, but I liked the panko crust and perfectly cooked lobster. This was also a bit difficult and messy to share. Overall, a good lunch choice near our hotel, and convenient.
Tried to grab a hot chocolate from Xoco after this, but the line was insane with people grabbing lunch.
Aviary: we arrived at 5:55pm for our reservation at 6pm and there was a sizable horde of people outside. It looked like chaos from afar. A bunch of parties with reservations, as well as walk-in groups being quoted a wait time of 20-30 minutes. There wasn't a clear line, so I checked in with the host outside, who had a long clipboard of names (including walk ins and requests for the Office). We huddled around an outdoor heater for a good chunk of time until they were able to seat us.
Once inside, we inquired about the possibility of a table at Next and were told there was maybe a very slim, 1% chance late in the evening, as the kitchen sometimes will have space for an extra party around 9:45, dependent upon how fast the tables turned.
Sadly, it was not to be for us, but we did spend an agreeable few hours imbibing off the drink and bite menu (our server thought it was because it was Friday after Thanksgiving, and a weekday would have worked better to try to get into Next).
As for the Aviary, all in all we ordered two prix fixe menus, two a la carte drinks, and all of the bites!
I first tried a delightful concoction of charred cinnamon with tequila, cynar, lemon, shaken and served over orange ice cubes. It was named Orange on the menu but didn't actually contain much orange! Smokey and a little fruity as the orange ice melted. The cynar added a nice bit of complexity. I enjoyed how the drink changed over time. I liked this but found it a bit overwhelming but my husband liked it so much, he ordered his own later on in the evening.
My husband next chose the drink currently being served in a porthole, Cider. It contained apple brandy and verjus, as well as a host of other items: cinnamon, tea, cloves, fresh sage, fresh thyme, orange peel, lemon peel, apple slices, dehydrated currants, and more, all infusing stronger into the drink as it sat. Delicious and much more fruity and sweet by the end, but I think I preferred this summer's Blueberry since the base spirit was rye, which is a stronger contrast to the infusing components.
The next cocktail was outstanding. Concord grape, port, rum, garnished with mint and Angostura orange bitter ice. Intensely flavorful and fragrant. The roundness of the port paired very well with the grape, as did the orange bitters. This was also force carbonated for a little extra fizz. A very tasty and well balanced drink.
After an In the Rocks (their old fashioned served in a giant ice sphere), I moved into dessert. Popcorn: served hot, rum and popcorn stock, topped with a salted caramel foam. This was essentially salty caramel popcorn in liquid form. Delicious but also very intense and I could only take a few sips at a time. If you like Crackerjack, you'll love this drink.
Meanwhile, my husband moved onto Amaro, served on a wooden stave, in an old fashioned glass filled with smoke, which was dramatically lifted upon serving. The cocktail contained Cocchi Americano, tequila, and their housemade flat root beer, containing 20 ingredients, and meant to emulate an Amaro. Very complex, bitter, and medicinal. A fascinating drink, especially for Amaro fans.
Our last drink of the evening was the Hot Chocolate. Served warm, it contained Honduran chocolate, ancho chili pepper, and wheat whiskey, topped with a red bell pepper foam. Unusual? Yes, to say the least! It smelled amazing and had quite a kick to it as well. So satisfying on a chilly November night.
And of the bites, we tried them all. I loved a spicy scallop ceviche served on a shell, a creamy bite of crab and avocado, hot tempura-ed apple and brie that exploded in your mouth, as well as a chocolate bite with stout and peanut that also liquidified once hitting the tongue. The standard potato, foie gras, and wagyu were delicious as well, and I believe these three are mainstays on the menu. The others were good, but not as memorable. I was very tired and hungry for something more substantial after having been at The Aviary for four hours, so we decided to chance walking in at the Girl and the Goat.
Girl and the Goat: we walked in around 10:15pm and were seated right away at a communal table. It was a little odd to be facing another couple who were strangers, but otherwise, the meal was great, service was excellent, and it was nice being able to watch the workings of the open kitchen.
We started with an order of pretzel bread with butter and thousand island dressing. I was happy that the butter was served at room temperature, as it should be! The bread was good, not great, but greatly improved with both condiments slathered on it. Meanwhile, our smoked goat rillette empanadas with mustard seeds, goat feta, tomato sauce, and fresh mint were amazing! Smokey and flavorful and fresh tasting, I was swooning the whole time. The goat was so tender and delicious. It was like some sort of Greek and Mexican and South American mash up that really, really worked well. I was impressed with the pan fried shishito peppers with Parmesan and miso last time, and on the second visit, they did not disappoint. Great umami bombs with the occasional spicy one.
We finished off our meal with the wonderful wood oven roasted pig face with a fried egg on top, served on top of crispy potato shoestrings, drizzled in a tamarind sauce. A delightful combination of textures and flavors. This dish is a home run any day of the week. I'm salivating right now, thinking of the meaty pig's face, smothered in runny egg yolk, over crunchy, tiny fries! So good! (Girl and the Goat, I forgive your ridiculous "book several months in advance" policy, but only by a little.)
Bleeding Heart Bakery: Overall, a fun place to have brunch. I really liked the 1950s meets Dia de Los Muertos / punk rock decor, and the service was just fine (our server actually apologized for possibly hovering as we were her only table at that moment.) She explained some very recent changes to the menu, which meant that they had removed the herbed waffle with pork belly that I'd had my eye one, so I needed to find something else. (They've also changed their hours so are no longer open 57 continuous hours over the weekend, IIRC.)
I eventually settled on the deep fried doughnut sandwich with a fried egg, white cheddar, bacon, and I made it "deluxe" by adding tomato chutney. This was great and the bacon they use is phenomenally fatty and smoky and crispy. I thought that the glazed doughnut went really well with both the bacon and egg, and the tomato chutney was tasty, too, but perhaps a little skimpy as I couldn't taste it all that well. A busy, but delightful sandwich with the best of both the sweet and savory worlds. My husband wanted something less crazy, so he got the 2x2x2x2, which was two eggs, two sausages, two slices of bacon, and two pieces of toast.
We finished the trip with a forgettable pre-train snack at the South Water Kitchen in our hotel where our bartender pretended he knew how to make a negroni, and then continued to screw up the drink even AFTER receiving directions. How do you screw up a 3 ingredient, equal parts drink? By forgetting one ingredient! Yikes!
I had an OK whole wheat flatbread with squash and cheese, my husband had an OK Cuban sandwich, with some good housemade chips. Eh.
All in all we were mostly satisfied with the restaurants we were able to squeeze in before having to leave town. Thanks Chicago!
Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
GT Fish and Oyster
531 N. Wells St., Chicago, IL