Hi Chicago chowhounds I just returned to New York after a week of dining excess in Chicago. I wanted to thank you all for the recommendations you gave me a few weeks ago, and as a final token of my gratitude, I'll leave you with a summary of my experiences, along with a few open-ended solicitations of advice for my next visit. I hope all those provokes a precisely optimal degree of controversy.
1. Lou Malnati's
This was my first attempt at authentic Chicago-style pizza this trip. Your FAQ sheet recommended Lou Malnati's, but I have to say I found it pretty bland and uninteresting, probably even inferior to the Uno's pizza we can get here in New York. I did better later in the week.
Nobody actually recommended mk, but I remembered it from a previous visit as a decent, relatively low-key place to drop into without a reservation. It was exactly that, again. The food wasn't outstanding, but it was good enough. I'm sure y'all could have recommended a better last-minute dining choice if I had asked. Any thoughts for where I should go on my next visit when I want a real, food-oriented restaurant with a lower price tag than the top-echelon places, and a lower-impact reservation situation?
I ordered the "Grand Collection" tasting menu, and had a truly exceptional meal. The food was excellent, very well-prepared, with plenty of creative notes that made for a nice change of routine for me. My favorite dish was the foie gras. Paired wines were very well-chosen, my favorite being the 1998 Raymond Lafon sauternes that came with the foie gras. The cheese course was noteworthy; of the 20+ cheeses, there were only two I even recognized! I was particularly struck by the variety of American cheeses offered. I don't know of anyplace in New York that serves quite so many. I wish I could have tried more of them. Only the desserts were disappointing -- good, but not nearly up to the level of the rest of the meal. Service was outstanding.
I had a bad experience at Everest. We arrived on time for our reservation, but were ushered into the lounge to wait, because the table wasn't ready yet. I say "lounge," but it was really more of a small apartment a few doors down from the restaurant. Has anybody noticed that Everest is on a hallway adjacent to what seem to be numerous apartments where people actually live? Anyway, the "lounge" was this apartment down the hall with a sink, stove, empty shelves, and three tables where would-be diners can wait for their tables. An unusual arrangement. At least it had a window -- the view really was as spectacular as advertised. While we waited, they brought us complimentary glasses of champagne, and some dense, tasteless "vegetable beignets" to munch on. Ultimately, we left without having dinner, after waiting for an hour. It's been my general experience that, if a restaurant is so poorly managed that one has to wait an hour despite a reservation, then the service in the dining room is apt to be equally horrendous, at least on that particular night, and the food quality is likely to be problematic as well. One Everest detractor on this board opined that Everest is more of a corporate power-dining spot than a food-oriented restaurant. Although most posters seemed to disagree with that view, there may have been some truth to the theory on this particular occasion. I noticed that there were about four corporate dinners going on in Everest's many private dining rooms that night -- maybe these were what caused the service apparatus to overheat.
This was my second attempt at Chicago-style pizza, and this one was much better. I found it vastly superior to Lou Malnati's. Anyone else agree?
Now THIS was an incredible meal. Really, really over the top. Frankly, I had expected Trio to serve weird food that sounded interesting and tasted gross, but I figured I had to try it anyway. As it turns out, Trio was a fantastic experience. The tastes, textures, sights, smells, and even occasionally the sounds were fascinating and wonderful. Even now, days later, I'm still talking with a friend who dined with me about our favorite dishes. I will definitely be back. Thanks again to those of you who recommended Trio as the ultimate splurge in Chicago.
Again, this one wasn't recommended by anybody. I chose it because, about a year ago, I had a very good experience at Topolobampo. I remember lots of interesting, complex moles, chilis with a whole spectrum of flavors... it was a must for inclusion in this trip's list of destinations. Somehow I wasn't nearly as impressed this time around. Most of the dishes were on the bland side, as if the chef had turned down the volume on the master flavor knob. In fact, I'd have to say that at this point I'd be inclined to prefer Dos Caminos, which is Rick Bayless' New York restaurant -- a high-throughput, heavily-consulted-upon, tourist-oriented, sell-out-for-bucks kind of place that nevertheless turns out some really good dishes. What happened? Did I have one too many margaritas the first time I was at Topolo? Or has it slipped since then (perhaps Bayless is now too busy perfecting the Burger King chicken sandwich)? Or is it as good as I remember, and maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning? Should I try a different "haute Mexican" place the next time I'm in Chicago?