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Chicago Area Trip Report

Trip Report from NYC Hound: Purple Pig, Sable, Frontera Grill, Heaven on Seven, The Aviary (3 times!), Girl and the Goat, Julius Meinl, Next, Big Star, Xoco


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Restaurants & Bars 11

Trip Report from NYC Hound: Purple Pig, Sable, Frontera Grill, Heaven on Seven, The Aviary (3 times!), Girl and the Goat, Julius Meinl, Next, Big Star, Xoco

kathryn | Jul 8, 2011 04:02 PM

Over the course of 72 hours, we hit up quite a few restaurants! If you're curious, my original thread asking for recommendations is here:

This is where we ended up going...

The Purple Pig: This restaurant was a hit. It was perfect for a late lunch after we checked into our hotel, and a very convenient location to hotels near the Loop. Shared a quartino of a nice lambrusco rosso. Sat outside, though the sun was pretty strong. We started off with the Charred Cauliflower, Toasted Breadcrumbs, Cornichons & Parsley at the insistence of my husband. I thought it was very good and the combination of cornichons with the cauliflower was a clever touch that I hadn't seen before. I did think it was a bit too "winter"-y of a dish, so we followed it up with the Peas & Bacon with Pecorino & Spearmint which was excellent. Sweet and fresh peas bursting with flavor and very nice bacon as well. The next dish was also very good. Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs, straight out of the Fergus Henderson cookbook, with capers, shallots, and a parsley salad. Excellent bread for soaking up the marrow as well. We were getting pretty stuffed by then, and barely finished our final dish, Jamon Serrano with Oyster Mushrooms & Fried Duck Egg over Grilled Bread. Basically a deliciously gooey and hammy toast. I only wish we'd had space for more of the meats and smears and dessert!

Sable: Very good experience for pre-dinner drinks and I'd like to try dinner here at some point. Freddy took care of us at the bar as we tried a few different drinks from their entertaining and diverse menu. My husband's Ice and Fire (Altos Tequila Blanco, Sriracha, cucumber, agave, fresh lime) was refreshing and the Sriracha was perfectly balanced with the other ingredients. I tried the very summery and also quite refreshing Commandotroepen Cocktail (Bols Genever, rhubarb, cucumber, Prosecco). Next up was the delightful The Teacup River (Lemonhart 151 and El Dorado 5 year rums, housemade horchata, lime, chocolate bitters). The combination of the lime, horchata, and two rums gave it a bit of a tiki/tropical flavor profile. After this we veered off menu a bit, and Freddy whipped up a very nice and classic Negroni, as well as a creation of his own containing Cynar. We soaked up the alcohol with the truffled deviled eggs (quite addictive), the pretzels (I really enjoyed the cheese sauce), and the bacon jam on toast (it really didn't taste bacon-y to me). I look forward to returning and trying more of the other appetizing items on the menu.

Frontera Grill: Our actual dinner, post-Sable, was here. We split the excellent Ceviche Yucateco (steamed Mexican blue shrimp & calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama & cilantro) which was nicely piquant, with a slow heat that eventually permeated my lips. Delicious but a bit hard to eat given the martini glass it is served in. My main was the lovely Pato en Mole Coloradito: Red chile-rubbed Gunthorp duck breast, Oaxacan mole coloradito (ancho chiles, sesame seeds, spices, Oaxacan chocolate), Iroquois white corn torta (sesame, hint of chocolate), grilled green beans. I didn't think that the grilled green beans really added to the dish, but overall I was pleased, even though the duck breast seemed a bit underseasoned. The sauce was unlike any other I'd had before; my husband swore up and down there must be tobacco in there, otherwise how could they achieve such wonderful smokiness? And I couldn't stop eating the white corn torta "cake" even after I was pretty much full. Something about sweet white corn and a bit of chocolate, soaked in mole sauce, made my dinner sing! My husband liked his dish as well, the Puerco en Manchamanteles: Grill-roasted Gunthorp pork loin, fruit-studded ancho-almond mole, grilled pineapple tamal, braised quelites (bacon, grilled white onions), crispy chorizo. I really enjoyed the way the bacon, onions, pork, and tamale all worked together in a single bite. I also couldn't help but steal bites of his tamal every so often. Delicious!

Heaven on Seven: The next day, after some snafus at the office that required remote assistance, we got a late start to the day and didn't sit down to eat until 10am. Luckily Heaven on Seven serves breakfast until the afternoon. We really enjoyed the atmosphere and had a very sweet and very responsive server. My Poached Eggs on Crabcakes with Creole sauce were tasty but not exemplary. My husband enjoyed his Poached Eggs on Fried Green Tomatoes with VooDoo Sauce a lot, mainly due to the VooDoo sauce I think. I did really enjoy the bacon: perfectly cooked, thick sliced, nice and fatty and juicy, and not too crispy, which is the way I like it. The jalapeno corn bread was also quite good. Overall, a solid weekday late breakfast/brunch location near the Loop.

The Aviary: Over the course of three visits (two pre-dinner and one post-dinner) we tried a large chunk (14 drinks) of the menu.

Many, many Aviary cocktail photos are here:

My favorites out of the ones I tried:

Ginger -- ginger "snow," vodka poured over, lemongrass swizzle stick. I had trouble getting the snow to melt at first, but I think it's just the nature of the ginger snow. The first few sips were a bit too boozy and overwhelming, but as the snow melted, the drink seemed to calm down and open up. Plus we eventually figured out that the red circles were the tips (just the tips) of Anaheim peppers sliced very thinly.

Blueberry -- I'd seen photos of the carafe but it was even more impressive in real life, with the sun shining through it. The cocktail itself was fabulous, from start to finish. Templeton rye, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, orange bitters, white verjus (tart grape juice), Berry Meritage tea (a blend of raisins, rose hips, hibiscus and currants), as well as mint, vanilla, grapefruit zest, pomegranate seeds, blueberries and sliced strawberries. By the end, my husband said it tasted like a delicious piece of alcoholic candy, like a Jolly Rancher. I loved it and would drink this again, and again, and again. Stunning.

Truffle -- a classic Negroni, served with a slice of black truffle. Fragrant. Delicious. Unforgettable. You might think you dislike Negronis. Our friend thought she didn't like them, then she tried this cocktail.

Scots Pine Ale -- a much more complex and delicate drink than I thought. The appearance is more like a pisco sour at first: frothy white top and decorative orange bitters. But I really enjoyed the interplay between the yuzu, St-Germain, tequila, and beer.

Of the classics, the most notable were probably the In the Rocks (an old fashioned inside an ice ball that you crack open using a slingshot-esque device), Hurricane (it is presented as 7 layers in a carafe and poured tableside) and the Dark & Stormy (presented in an unlabeled beer bottle inside a brown paper bag). I couldn't stop laughing at the Dark & Stormy. The White Russian was interesting but the "cream" part arrives frozen and you have to let it melt, so we thought it was more of a Black Russian. Also the glass is supercold, so it's hard to hold onto. The Sazerac and Hemingway Daiquiri also seemed like classics versions of the standards. Good, but without any particular twist.

The food was good but the "bites" really added up after a while. We tried them all but the brioche bite. The potato was like a liquid tater tot in a very, very good way. The foie gras was like a mini terrine and wonderful. We also tried the chowder (good but didn't seem to really pair with any of the drinks well), crab (loved the combo of crab and pickle), Wagyu (delicious as expected). I wasn't sure I'd like the cheesecake bite but I really enjoyed its decadence. I'd avoid the pork belly (was more like a tiny pulled pork bite without any real textural contrast) and the lobster (shreds of meat on a chip, not really memorable). The pressed cantaloupe tasted good but seemed a bit less substantial in comparison with the others. In terms of cost, if you were really just trying to soak up the alcohol, I suppose a trio of the potato bites might not be a bad idea.

Overall, great cocktails, and a really fun experience, and I can't wait to go back. Just loved the creativity that went into the cocktails! The Blueberry drink will haunt my dreams! I'd just make sure I had a snack beforehand, and dinner plans nearby for afterwards.

The Girl and the Goat: After a few hours of imbibing at Aviary (on our first visit), we stumbled to our late dinner reservation at the Girl and the Goat. We started with the pan fried shisito peppers with parmesan, sesame, and miso, which I thought were fantastic. I wasn't sure I would like them as I'm used to eating the simpler version (fried with salt). Such an unusual flavor combination on paper that really came to life! For our next dish, we had four wood fired oysters with horseradish, bacon, and preserved lemon. The oysters were barely cooked and still quite rare on the inside, which startled me at first, but I did end up liking it. Next up? Sugo! The goat, pork and veal sugo with fresh pasta, rosemary, cape gooseberries (also known as groundcherries) was excellent. The sugo itself was tender, rich, flavorful, with a nice texture, and the pop of the gooseberries went well with the meat (gooseberries are some of my favorite summer produce ever). We also ordered confit goat belly with bourbon butter, lobster, crab, and fennel, which I thought was delicious and amazingly flavorful, particularly the combination of the goat with the fennel, soaked in the dressing for the dish. It was tough not licking the plate for this one!

Then, somehow, I let it slip that it was my husband's birthday, and we ended up with two desserts. We ordered the ganache pork fat doughnuts, with yuzu blackberries, salted oat streusel, and malted vanilla gelato. And the they very nicely sent out a goat cheese bavarois, with brown sugar cake, citrus blueberries, and macron caramel. The pork fat doughnuts were delicious (but not especially pork-y). I was surprised to see that they were filled with chocolate. The blackberries also seemed to have been soaked in some form of alcohol, which was a nice contrast with the doughnuts and gelato. The goat cheese bavarois was also delicious, but the cheese was a bit heavy and I couldn't eat more than a few bites. I did like the flavor combination and the way the dish straddled the sweet/cheesy divide as the goat cheese was pretty strong.

Like so many of other places we visited on this trip, I only wish we'd had space for more!

Julius Meinl: We met up with some friends who have two young ones (4 months and 2 years respectively) and this was their choice for a nice late weekday breakfast/brunch. The silver tray containing a doily and cookie with each order of coffee was pretty charming. I really enjoyed the baked eggs. I choose the Rösti Potato Pancake one with caramelized onions, aged parmesan, truffle oil variety. It was delicious, rich, and hearty enough for two people, with the potato pancake baked inside, and scent of truffles wafting up. I chose brioche as my choice of toast (can't ever resist brioche), and theirs was sweet and fluffy. Who can resist brioche, especially with butter and jam on a sunny morning? Overall, a very enjoyable meal. I may come back next time to try the Bacon Cinnamon Roll.

Next: I have mixed feelings as an Alinea fan, and Next's 1906 Paris menu was basically a 180 from Alinea. I thought the canapes (especially the egg custard and the foie/brioche toast), turtle consomme, and fish dishes were excellent, but the poussin was only OK (too subtle, IMO, I had a few bites that seemed underseasoned and bland). The duck made up for it (excellent and perfect duck breast as well as amazing duck confit, some of the best I've ever had). And I did enjoy the "bombe" dessert (could have been a little softer but overall just the right amount of boozy and lighter than it looked) although that style of dessert typically doesn't appeal to me as much. Petit fours were fine as well (though the pate de fruit of beet just seemed odd to me). I might like a future menu more, I think, or just a return visit to Alinea.

Big Star: We were shopping in Wicker Park and stopped in for a quick lunch. Sitting at the bar was enjoyable, as the bar is large and wraps around the entire restaurant. Service was a little slow as the server taking care of us (and the rest of the bar I think) was slammed. But we really loved the al pastor (spit roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, grilled onion, cilantro) and pork belly (crispy, braised pork belly, tomato guajillo sauce, queso fresco, onion, cilantro) tacos. The al pastor wasn't the best al pastor I've ever had, but it hit the spot. I really liked the combination of the pork with the pineapple. The pork belly stole the show, though. Excellent queso fresco, and the crispy belly tasted even better with the red and green sauces provided. I can see why this place appeals late at night or sitting outside on a nice day, especially as it is right across the street from the Violet Hour. I can definitely see myself hitting up the takeout window after a few rounds! I'd love to come back and have the Queso Fundido or a Sonoran Hot Dog.

Xoco: We did two meals here, a breakfast, and some tortas to take out for lunch. For breakfast, an order of churros with chocolate was delicious. The Wood-Oven Chilaquiles: tortilla chips, roasted tomato-serrano sauce, Samuel's cheese, and scrambled eggs were delicious. I though the portion size was a little on the small side but the dish was packed with flavor. Personally I think I'd like a fried egg instead of scrambled, but it would be difficult to eat in the cast iron vessel it comes in. We also tried the Torreja: wood-oven French toast, local maple syrup, Gunthorp bacon-pecan sprinkle. I thought it was good but a little overwhelming, given that my husband had also wanted churros for breakfast. It also came with the maple syrup pre-poured, which takes a little of the fun out of French toast. The bacon-pecan sprinkle didn't seem to add too much. There were three pretty goodly sized pieces and we finished only two.

On our way out of the city, we also stopped in and got two tortas to go. We split the two sandwiches on the train. I really enjoyed the Choriqueso: Homemade chorizo sausage, roasted poblano, artisan Jack cheese, tomatillo salsa. I thought the crumbly chorizo was very flavorful. I also tried Cochinita Pibil: wood-roasted suckling pig with achiote, black beans, pickled onion, habanero. The Habanero salsa was definitely very, very hot. I put too much on, and it kind of overwhelmed the pork, which was good, but I think I liked the Choriqueso more.

Overall, had a great time in Chicago and can't wait to come back! On my list for next time: a return visit to Aviary, crossing my fingers for Next, and would like to try Topolobampo, maybe Publican's brunch, dinner at Sable, a return visit to Big Star, return to Violet Hour (have done a few times before but missed it this time), trying out the Drawing Room, Longman and Eagle, Sprout, Urban Belly, the list goes on.

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

The Drawing Room
937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

Frontera Grill
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Heaven on Seven
600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

710 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60610

1307 E Main St, Saint Charles, IL 60174

3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Violet Hour
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

Purple Pig
500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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