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Restaurants & Bars

Windy City Trip Report

GRobin | Aug 12, 2008 12:12 PM

We enjoyed a lovely anniversary weekend in Chicago. God I love that city! We stayed at the new Trump International Towers perfectly located at the south end of N Michigan Avenue at the river. The hotel has only been open for a few months and it has a few minor wrinkles to iron out, but all in all it was a lovely experience. Our hotel of choice is usually The Peninsula, and while The Trump is not equal to our venerable favorite, it did come close in many ways. We had a very large room with a large sitting area and a kitchenette with a fabulous view of the river and Lake Michigan from the 23rd floor. The suite was decorated in muted shades of grey with dark furniture and mohair upholstered pieces. The bathroom was very big with a lovely deep porcelain soaker tub and a separate glassed shower. Despite the generous size of the bathroom, it was curious that the vanity only had one sink, rather than two. Also of note was that in a hotel of this caliber, the kleenex and toilet paper were cheap, one ply products. Also, surprisingly, there wasn't a full length mirror in the suite! All amenities were excellent and top quality, as were the linens, furnishings and electronics. Service was ahem, uneven. On Saturday at 3:00 p.m. housekeeping had not visited our room, despite our early 8:30 a.m. departure. The service in Rebar (great name for a bar and a bar with a great river view) was horrible and required frequent gesticulations to enquire about our appetizers (they'd been forgotten), or a second drink, or the requested glass of ice. The service at breakfast was equally abysmal. We were only one of three occupied tables but the blase waitress made mistakes on all of our orders, forgetting items, or getting details incorrect. No coffee or water refills were offered either. The concierges also varied in skill. One woman didn't have a clue about anything we asked her (and she even gave us incorrect directions - turn left which should have been right), but thankfully a young man came to her rescue and saved the day with a fantastic lunch recommendation. The door and front desk staff and all the staff we encountered in the hallways as well as housekeeping, (other than on Saturday) were terrific. Would we return? Yes, we would. We have faith they'll get the kinks out.

OK, now to the good stuff...where did we eat?
Thursday night we went to Wave in the W Hotel on North Lakeshore Drive. We were possibly going to meet up with friends and they suggested Wave because of it's close proximity to Navy Pier where we planned on heading to afterwards for the outdoor salsa dancing. (I never go to a city without my dance shoes). Though our friends didn't make it due to sick twins, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Wave. This contemporary Med-influenced room overlooks the lake in the distance and the vibe is cool and trendy. Service was superb. We started by sharing hummus and taboulleh with crisp vegetables and warm pita with cocktails, followed by ahi tuna crudo with pear, red onion pickle and pomagranate salad and peeky toe crab with piquillo pepper and manchego cheese fondue. Then we moved onto the mains - for me a whole fish Thai style, special of the day which was superb, sweet, salty, spicy, stuffed with fragrant herbs and for Michael New York strip with mustard and smoked paprika rub, herb potato hash and romesco sauce and we guilded the lily by sharing an order of truffle french fries with harissa aioli. I know we had dessert that we shared but can't recall the details. It was a plate with three or four small differently flavored items, which was just OK and in fact the waitress removed it from the bill when she saw we didn't seem to enjoy it. Overall a very nice dinner.

Friday night's dinner was at Cafe Spiaggia. We chose this over the more formal and costly Spiaggia as we wanted something more casual. The room is very, very casual and in an office building, or is it a condo - anyway a very cold, austere building at the corner of Michigan Ave. and Oak St. Rustic Tuscan trattoria in feeling, small and a bit cramped with not many tables. Service was very attentive and we shared an appetizer of fluffy, light hand made potato gnocchi with a robust wild boar ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Michael followed with a ubiquitous caprese salad which he declared good. Mains were the wood roasted Alaskan halibut with baby artichokes, San Marzano tomatoes and parsley for me - excellent and a roasted rack of lamb for Michael - also excellent. We shared something for dessert but again, I can't recall what it was, perhaps a traditional Tiramisu. Overall a very nice experience.

Saturday we headed to Wicker Park to browse and walk the leafy side streets. The hotel concierge who jumped in to aid the young woman who couldn't think of a lunch recommendation in Wicker Park suggested the neighborhood spot Milk & Honey on North Damen. We LOVED this place. We lined up to place our order while a number was placed on a table to hold our seats and for our lunch to be delivered. This funky, kind of earth-mother, a bit hippy-dippy spot was just what we wanted. Very local. I watched many folks order the Huevos Rancheros served "Casserole-Style" in a huge souffle dish filled with scrambled eggs, black beans, salsa picante, tortillas and smothered in Monterey Jack and Cheddar Cheeses and broiled until hot and bubbly. This is only served weekends and I was tempted but I'd had eggs for breakfast and wanted lunch eats. So instead I scarfed an Antipasto Sandwich on an excellent crunchy baguette stuffed with grilled artichokes, red peppers, zucchini, eggplant and provolone, smeared with yummy black olive tapenade. Hubby had a fabulous Rueben which he raved about. Both were served with the best hand cut, warm, crunchy, thick potato chips I've ever eaten. Mmmmm. A great lunch.

Saturday night was the big anniversary dinner at Naha. We got all dressed up. Michael even donned a jacket and off we went. The room is cool and a bit spare with a long wall of windows to the street. It's contemporary elegant, but not opulent or over the top. BTW when I made the reservation I did let them know it was our anniversary. Not because I expected anything from them (in fact I made a point of saying no candle on the dessert please) but because I wanted them to know it was a special occasion. We arrived on time and were promptly seated in the only full section of the resto, where clearly the waiter was overwhelmed because we had all been seated at once. We were asked if we wanted bottled water (we did) but not offered a cocktail. 20 minutes later we literally flagged down the waiter, and rather curtly by now, as we were frustrated in trying to gain his attention, to say that we wanted to order drinks. Champagne and single malt forthcoming we toasted and perused the menu.

I started with the organic carnaroli risotto, with wood-grilled cavolo nero Italian greens, braised Pleasant Valley Goat and crisp squash blossom, confit green garlic, Parmesan Reggiano and Tuscan olive oil. It was a lovely starter sized portion, velvety and flavorful and delicious. Michael began with gulf of Maine roasted scallops with vanilla bean, citrus and spices,caramelized belgian endive, ruby red grapefruit and candied rind scented with chocolate mint, which he declared was ambrosial (OK, that was my word, but he said something like that). I followed with blossom fig and honey lacquered moulard duck breast, black velvet apricots, yellow helios radishes and young turnips with broccoli rabe, port and anise hyssop and though I haven't had duck in sometime, I loved the complex flavors of this dish and the tenderness of the fowl. Michael had the wood-grilled "Painted Hills Farm" natural rib eye of beef and garlic scapes with a gratin of macaroni and Capriole Farm goat cheese, oxtail red wine sauce and Murray River Sea Salt and he said it was outstanding. I tasted the gratin and it was the best comfort food elevated to the power of ten! Dessert for Michael was a Chocolate "Delice" of Columbian "Single Origin" chocolate - kind of like a fondant. He said it was very good. I enjoyed one of the best cheese courses I've ever had (OK, Gary Danko beat it by half a mile).

The cheese course is gigantic and so after some protesting about how full I was, I was offered half a cheese course which consisted of "NANCY'S CAMEMBERT Sheep and Cow's Milk Cheese from Hudson Valley, New York "VALDEON" Spanish Blue Cheese from Blended Milk, "PETIT BASQUE" Sheep's Milk Cheese from the Pyrenees, "BAMALOU" French Cow's Milk Cheese from the Bethmale Valley served with Organic "Future Fruit" Farm Pear and Apple Butter, Mostarda di Fichi, Honey Roasted Nuts, Gala Apples, Port Syrup and Toasted Fruit Bread. I was in heaven!

We enjoyed a lovely bottle of 2003 Robert Craig Affinity.
I must say the waiter felt badly about how the evening started and while he didn't do anything to make the evening special, he did engage, relax and become more attentive, thus redeeming what could have been an evening with a different outcome.

Sunday brunch needed to be a very casual meal. We were still stuffed. So of we went to Toast, on N. Webster in the Lincoln Park hood. We were told it would be a 2 hour wait so we headed down the street to Starbucks, had coffee, read the Sunday papers and headed back after an hour and were seated 15 minutes later. This is a good local breakfast/brunch/lunch spot and I had a very good breakfast burrito while Michael had a chicken club. Overall a good Sunday brunch meal, washed down with a very, very good Bloody Mary.

So, that wrapped up our Chicago eat-fest. Not enough time, too many great places to try...we can't wait tor return. Thanks Chicago!

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