Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eating Chicago

If you were following our trip to Chicago via Twitter and/or Instagram, you may have seen these pictures already, but I wanted to do a quick post with links to all the great places we dined at while in the Windy (and very delicious) City. By the way, all these were taken with a cell phone, usually in very poor light, so apologies for the quality. Enjoy!

Our home for the week was the very hip and happening, Public Chicago. The staff was beyond helpful, and the accommodations top notch. How cool was our hotel? World famous DJ Paul Oakenfold dropped by one night to spin tunes in the bar, that’s how cool. 

Still not convinced? Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were spied walking through the lobby. Also, there were rumors about a celebrity chef from YouTube partying like a rock star on the 14th floor, but that could not be independently confirmed.

When I first get into a new town after traveling a long journey, I don’t necessarily want to run right out for a fancy meal. I’m always hoping there’s a nice, casual restaurant near the hotel where I can get some simple comfort food to help me settle in. 

We found that at PJ Clarke's. A near-perfect BLT was loaded with smoky, crisp bacon; but the star of the plate was the freakishly large baked potato. It was like getting a "welcome to Chicago" bear hug.

Of course we HAD to try a Chicago style hot dog, which we experienced at Five Faces Ice Cream Shop. I basically like any hot dog, and this was no different. 

While I’m more of a plain mustard guy, it did make me feel good knowing that, contrary to what you hear, the people of Chicago were getting some vegetables in their diet.

We also had to get some deep-dish pizza, since that’s a City ordinance for all tourists visiting longer than 3 days. Failing to do so results in a $1500 ticket or having to watch a Cubs game (most people just pay the fine). 

We did a sausage pie from Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, and enjoyed it very much. By the way, the thin crust vs. deep-dish debate is just about the stupidest thing ever, as these are two completely different foods – both genius in their own way.

For my birthday dinner, Michele took me to Boka. We enjoyed a wonderful tasting menu, which reminded me of Commonwealth in style and attitude. Lots of very interesting food, done very well, served by people that enjoy what they’re doing. 

My favorite was probably this skate wing with huitlacoche purée. They also get bonus points for pairing the chocolate dessert with beer.

Finding a decent breakfast joint near your hotel is always a great joy, but The Original Pancake House was so far beyond decent that we are still talking about it. 

Perfect spinach and feta omelets, amazing potato pancakes, and something called a Dutch Baby. This oven-puffed pancake takes 20 minutes to cook, and is served simply with lemon wedges and powdered sugar, but it alone is worth a trip to Chicago.

I know I already posed a recap of the fabulous rehersal dinner at The Bristol, planned and presented by my cousin Tony Quartaro, but for my money you just can’t look at too many pictures of gnocchi. 

These were made with ricotta cheese and garnished with zucchini and mint. They were pure awesomeness.

What’s better than spicy pork rinds? Free spicy pork rinds! That’s right, when The Publican found out (and by “found out” I mean that I told them) that Chef John from Food Wishes was in the house, these warm, crispy gifts from the Gods suddenly appeared. 

If you’re a fan of Best Thing I Ever Ate you may have seen these, and they were incredible, as was the rest of the meal.

This place is known for its meaty fare, but the most interesting plate we tried was this grilled octopus with barley, fresh garbanzos, and watermelon. It was really, really good. 

After I posted the picture online, someone commented that certain things should never be served together. What an idiot.

Since I’m 25% Polish, I was very much looking forward to trying some of Chicago’s famous Eastern-European cuisine. This isn’t something we have a lot of in San Francisco, and I was not disappointed. 

We found this little hole-in-the-wall called Pierogi Heaven, and it was. Perfect little potato and farmer’s cheese dumplings, topped with bacon and fried onions. Come on, San Francisco restaurant industry; please open a few of these here!

We celebrated Bastille Day where everyone should celebrate Bastille Day, in an authentic Bistro. At Bistrot Zinc, we looked at nude art, ate frisée salads with poached eggs on top, and of course, slurped French onion soup in all its caramelized gruyere glory. 

I poke a lot of fun at the French, mostly because they deserve it, but all kidding aside, they know how to eat.

We finished our eating adventures at David Burke's Primehouse. I’ve been fortunate enough to eat some world-class beef in my day, but this was right up there with anything I’ve ever had. They age the prime meat in the basement, and the back wall is actually made from blocks of pink salt.

It was too dark to get any decent shots of the steaks, but I had the 35-day Kansas City Strip, and Michele went for the even funkier 55-day old Ribeye. The amazing depth of beefy flavor and buttery texture made meat memories that will not soon fade. 

The side dishes were great, the service was excellent (a reoccurring theme during our stay), and all was accompanied by these gorgeous popovers. They’ve been haunting my dreams, and as soon as I figure out how they did them, I will share in a video.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this very brief glimpse into our culinary adventures in “Chi-Town” (I had the good sense to not use that while I was there). Thanks to everyone who so generously offered their personal tips and recommendations. We simply didn’t have enough time to eat everywhere we wanted, but we will be back for sure!  Thank you, Chicago!


philogaia said...

This is the first I've heard of elsewhere in the country other than Oregon having the Original Pancake House. I know of one in Portland and one in Bend (great for carb-loading...and I do mean loading, before skiing.)

You don't have to go all the way to Chicago for that Dutch Baby. You can get that heavenly concoction of white flour and sugar just north of you about 12 hours.

Anonymous said...

Did you seriously go to Chicago and not go to Al's #1 Italian Beef??? Blasphemy!!

Chibby said...

Glad you two had a good time and enjoyed some good food while in Chicago.I plan on taking my husband to The Warsaw in Greenwood(or is it Homewood?)for some good pirogi as soon as the plane lands.

Andy1212 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yup, The Original Pancake House and its signature creation the "Dutch Baby" is from the culinary town of Portland, Oregon. Sorry but us Portlanders are proud foodies and don't like a place like Chicago to steal our cultural icons :)

:) said...

The Original Pancake house is a chain. And I'm kind of upset you didn't go to Hot Doug's, just as Anthony Bourdain would be if he heard such atrocities. You don't visit Chicago without going to Hot Doug's, ESPECIALLY as a foodie. You're going to have to go back and do it right this time. ;)

Daniel said...

What a cool recount of your trip! Thanks for sharing!

Was that pancake thing a vat of batter in a large bread? Tried to study the picture and couldnt figure it out.

Cheers and greets from Austria,

Anonymous said...

Although I have never had the privilege of staying at Public Chicago, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once

Elizzaruth said...

I've got a great popover recipe and it's stupid easy and adaptable.

Mix 1 c. flour and 1/2 tsp. salt and add 2 eggs and 1 c. milk. Mix it well with a spoon, NO NEED TO BEAT THIS (really!) Fill well greased muffin tins about 1/2 to 3/4 full with batter. Put um in a COLD oven set to 450 and bake exactly 30 mins. NO PEAKING ALLOWED (this is crucial!).

Makes a dozen or so popovers. I like to sprinkle the tops with some sharp cheddar cheese, but they are really quite good just like this! Hope you give it a try.

Chef John said...


Jud said...

Back in the day (60s and 70s), San Francisco's Inner Richmond District had a large Russian and East European community, and bakery and restaurants that sold old country pierogi's and other foods. Clement and Geary St became a predominantly asian business district, but I'll bet there are still a few hold out places where you can get a great pierogi. Having moved away and lost touch I can only speculate that there must be some holdovers that just require a little research to find. A future assignment: Do the research, and tell us how to make a pierogi like they're hopefully still making in my old neighborhood. (Check out Geary around 20th Ave or so)

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Original Pancake House was founded in Portland, OR, that's what the links will tell you. But you have to stop and wonder why someone would call their establishment the "Original" anything. I've got a sneaky suspicion there were other, maybe even "original," pancake houses out there and that this Portland offing, fine as it may be, at some point wanted to distinguish itself from other original purveyors of the pancake. For my money, origins are meaningless; I just want good food.

amauimarriageminister said...

I will be anxiously waiting for the popovers. I tried the bagels and they are GREAT!!!

Aloha sweetheart

Rick Farr said...

I have to find the recipe that combines pulpo and watermelon. I've yet to meet an octopus that was tasty. 😟

Rick Farr said...

I have to learn of the octopus 🐙 n watermelon 🍉 recipe. How novel.