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My Recent Chicago 'Culinary/Cocktail' based trip...

RPMcMurphy

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My wife and I went to Chicago right before Christmas last year and despite it being a blizzard and cold, we absolutely LOVED it. I'd say it's one of the best foodie/culinary city in the US. We also have some friends there so we decided to take a 4 day weekend and call it mini-culinary-getaway, since our new jobs don't let us have an official 'vacation' this year. 
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We flew out of JFK...not because it's easy or cheap....but because we actually enjoy Jet Blue's terminal 5 dining! Crazy right? but both JFK and Newark have some really good places to catch a bite. In JFK we usually go to 5teak and in Newark there is a nice wine bar I go to. I know this is crazy, and coming from a guy who is a huge spoiled cocktail nut who's very picky...but the bar at 5teak makes the BEST manhattan. They don't do much anything different, so I can't tell you 'what' it is...but it's just...good.


\tWe stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, mainly for the pool. 

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\tNice hotel, right on the main/touristy part of town (which, I kinda hate, but...it had a nice pool!). It just so happened that the weekend we pick to go to chicago, they are filming Transformers 3 right out front! This was kinda neat, but grew old quick with the gawking crowds.


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\tThe cheapo plane ticket is worth it JUST to go to Rick Bayless's restaurants. He has three, Xoco, Frontera Grill, and Topolobampo. Last trip we went to all three, this year we only went to Xoco and Frontera Grill as we saved a the higher end dinner for......(surprise I'll tell you down below)
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\t Here are some pictures from Xoco. It's Rick's 'fast food' type place. Imagine what Chipotle SHOULD be like. x100.


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\tI got a pork sammy with pickled onions and a habanero salsa. The habanero salsa was awesome, hot, but so good, you kept going back...
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\tLaurie got the same thing, only in a salad...


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\tWe shared Churros and Ice cream for dessert..These churros are 'da bomb'. yo.


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\tAfter lunch I went inside to hit the head and as I'm coming out, guess who's walking by! The MAN himself. Chef Bayless!! I said hi to him, shook his hand and that was that. Little did he know that so far this is my second trip to Chicago, PRIMARILY to JUST visit HIS restaurants!
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\tWe didn't fill up too much, because that night, we had a 'special' reservation....ALINEA!  26 'official' courses (more like 30) and wine pairings (~12). 6 hours. we sat down at 7 and didn't leave until around 1am! I was a little apprehensive as 1.) It's expensive. Not that we don't like spending money on food, we spend astronimical amounts for good meals...I'll drop 500$ on a dinner without blinking if the food is good...but the last 'big' dinner in Chicago we had was Charlie Trotter's and at 800$, it was less than good, and actually quite 'bad'. 2.) I'm not the biggest fan of molecular gastronomy (or whatever the cool kids or the anti-cool kids are calling it nowadays.
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\tWell, it was THE most expensive meal I've ever had, but also one of THE best dining experiences I've ever had! We knew it was going to be an awesome experience so we invited another foodie couple to enjoy it with us. I'd say this meal is best done with a 4-top. I won't even get into every detail or I'd have to write a book, so I'll give you the short.
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\t- The staff was awesome - very unpretentious, very knowledgeable, very down to earth, very funny (and they laughed at OUR jokes too). Best line of the night? Staff, after handing Kelvin a bite of something and Kelvin asking what it was 'just put it in your mouth'...Kelvin: 'Oh, I've been to one of THOSE parties before'
\t- The kitchen was manned by no less than 20 people, possibly more.
\t- after 26 courses and 12 wines...no matter how 'small' the courses are, that's a good amount of food!
\t- Chef Achatz made our dessert, not tableside, but tableTOP!
\t- Best dish? way too many to list a favorite. really. but probably the spring roll with pork belly you made yourself. 
\t- Worst dish? for me, the crab dish, BUT only because I don't care much for crab at all.



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\tI can't even explain the dessert. (well the LAST dessert). 1.) I was a little buzzed by then... 2.) I just can't even explain it...there was liquid, there was smoke, there was nitrogen, there was chocolate, and there was menthol. BUT....it was SO DAMN awesome.



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\tI can't even explain the experience...I know this sounds silly, but I felt like it was the NYC marathon of dining, in all ways.
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\tHere is our menu, if you want to view it. The 'bubbles' are the size of the portion compared to the others...



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So what's a guy to do to cure a food coma hangover? Mexican BRUNCH at Frontera Grill!!



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\tWe ate brunch, but we really didn't feel like eating a dinner, so we went to The Violet Hour. A speakeasy cocktail bar that serves some great cocktails. I'm over the whole 'speakeasy but not' thing but I enjoy a well made cocktail and the atmosphere of this place is OK, we've been a few times before.


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I like these rules!


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\tOut last night, we had reservations for another place we went to last time The Publican. It's basically a concept that seems to be the trend in newer restaurants nowadays...casual dining, community type seating, meat, and beer. It was pretty awesome as well. The company was great too! 
\tFunny, 3 seats down...guess who is also dining there? RICK BAYLESS! ha. we know how to pick'em.



\tBefore our flight, we hitched a ride to Chinatown and ate at a place recommended by A friend...Lao Sze Chuan. It was great!
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\tAnother Honorable mention, the place we ate at the night we arrived, because they had a late night menu, was the Purple Pig on Magnificent mile....very cool small plates menu and great wine list. 
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\tOur only complaint was the food options at O'hare...come on guys, get your act together!;​
 

Piobaire

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Kudos.
 

robin

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I'm surprised by the presentation of some of the Alinea dishes... I would probably need to have a good stiff drink before having to sit through all of that.
 

itsstillmatt

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Originally Posted by robin
I'm surprised by the presentation of some of the Alinea dishes... I would probably need to have a good stiff drink before having to sit through all of that.
Though I am going in a month or so, I have to say that there is nothing about what I have seen and heard of Alinea that makes me think I will be all that thrilled.
 

kwilkinson

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Originally Posted by iammatt
Though I am going in a month or so, I have to say that there is nothing about what I have seen and heard of Alinea that makes me think I will be all that thrilled.

 

RPMcMurphy

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Originally Posted by iammatt
Though I am going in a month or so, I have to say that there is nothing about what I have seen and heard of Alinea that makes me think I will be all that thrilled.

I didn't expect to enjoy it that much either. It was one of those have to do it just to do it things, but turned out to be the opposite. I'd have to say it was top 3 dining experiences for me, and I've been to most of the US Michelin 3 stars, (although I have yet to do French Laundry), a few in France, and most the NYT 4stars, if 'ratings' mean anything anymore...

Up there with:
Blue Hill Stone Bars
La Petraia in Tuscany (google it)
Nicholas in Red Bank, NJ

Last year we did Chicago and did Charlie Trotters and it was probably one of the worse dining experiences, mainly because of the food, not the service, that I've ever had.

I thought it would be more wizzbang crapola but it actually wasn't. If I didn't know about it, I wouldn't say, other than that last dessert' that it was a 'molecular gastronomy' restaurant...as that was the last thing you noticed, as it was subtle, and appropriate......and well, the food was really good.
 

spertia

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Wow, sounds like a great trip. I go to Chicago often and have yet to make it to Alinea, but it's definitely on my to-do list (and I am a fan of molecular gastronomy). Thanks for sharing your experiences.
 

SirSuturesALot

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Glad you had a great time! Schwa is another Chicago restaurant I've had good experiences with.
 

kwilkinson

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Originally Posted by SirSuturesALot
Glad you had a great time! Schwa is another Chicago restaurant I've had good experiences with.


If you can endure the calling (and calling and calling and calling), it is IMO the best restaurant for the money in Chicago.
 

RPMcMurphy

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I'll put it on my list for the next trip! IMO Chicago is the second best foodie city in the US, no doubt.
 

SirSuturesALot

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Originally Posted by kwilkinson

If you can endure the calling (and calling and calling and calling), it is IMO the best restaurant for the money in Chicago.


I was very lucky. I called once. Michael hooked me up with a great time. Free booze and bonus courses. I think I tipped 40%.

Originally Posted by RPMcMurphy
I'll put it on my list for the next trip! IMO Chicago is the second best foodie city in the US, no doubt.

Definitely put it on the list for your next visit. The place is one of a kind. Hip hop music and extraordinarily chill staff. If you wind up having to call repeatedly as K mentioned, do not despair. The food is worth the trouble.
 

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