When in Chicago

The assignment I gave myself was to try all new restaurants during this particular excursion in Chicago because it is so easy to return to the beloved ones.

THURSDAY NIGHT:
Nacional 27. We started with the Grilled Shrimp Adobado with pineapple-vanilla salsa. Tasty. Next came the Slow-Roasted Gunthorp Farms Pork Cubano, served with a combination of coconut rice, sweet plantains and black beans in an orange mojo. It sounded great on the menu but tasted dry. We split the Cuatro Chocolates- a combination of chocolate cake, sorbet, pudding and shake among the four of us and found them all to be delightfully rich with the right level of sweetness. The restaurant has a deejay and drummer on-site with tables that easily stack away for a dancefloor to dance all the salsa beats you can handle late into the night. The bar is pretty spectacular. It feels as though you are in a bar in old Havana, complete with ceiling fans whirring. Seger outfits his bar with an herb garden and mixed drinks in a velvet jacket… Adam Seger concocts a mean drink menu. The hibiscus margarita I ordered was equal parts tart and sweet with a saltiness.

FRIDAY NIGHT:
David Burke’s Primehouse at the James Hotel.. Friends pointed out that my vegetarianism had long passed once they saw my 7 oz. 28 day aged Delmonico steak. Rob and I split the creamed spinach (major yum) and the chorizo whipped potato. As expected everything tasted great. I have been reading far and wide about the state of beef in this country and as a good Texan, prone to a beef craving from time to time knew I could trust David Burke’s select cuts. So in cow-town I got my steak craving satisfied. We saved a spot for one of his trademark cheesecake lollipops but the doughnuts… these were really spot on. I think part of it is probably the presentation of small squeeze bottles, allowing us to create customized jelly doughnuts. Imagine a mini plastic bottle of vanilla, one of caramel and another of a blackberryesque bottle. It felt like being a kid again except so much better as I could feel the granules of sugar roll over my tongue with the crisp outside of the doughnuts oozing with jelly.

SATURDAY NIGHT:
Santorini.. This has become a tradition with us. Every year we sidle over to Santorini in Greek Town for good Greek food and a chance to let our hair down. Most enjoy the whole fish that they grill and debone tableside. I am a particular fan of their village salad- the cheese falls apart in your mouth with the snap of cucumber, juicy tomato and tang of kalamata olives. This year, I tried the shrimp santorini- a bit rich for my blood. As much as I like rice, I think the item I am most enamored of here is their potatoes, which I find kind of goofy. But I think it must be the seasonings with the glossy onions blanketing them. They usually bring too much food and we leave with big smiles on our faces like Cheshire cats.

SUNDAY NIGHT:
Vermilion. I love the idea of this restaurant: fusion of Latin American and Indian flavors. We started with the Chipotle Corn Vadas featuring a crisp corn-lentil pop, served with a smear of smoky chipotle mayo. This was followed by the Lamb Shank Gassi, a Mangalorean braised domestic lamb shank. Dessert consisted of a cumin ice cream, mora berry gelee and spicy nut brittle. While the food was good, it tasted rather one dimensional.

The Violethour. We took a taxi to this speakeasy over in Wicker Park and waited inside the hallway past their non-descript door. Inside thick periwinkle velvet curtains shaded the seated patrons from the outer elements. This bar is dimly lit with candles everywhere and almost Stanley Kubrick-like high backed chairs. Their bar is dotted with house-infused essences and rare bottles of liquor. I ordered the Hush + Wonder with matusalem rum, creme de violette, lime, and grapefruit bitters, which was sweet with a creamy amber color and grapefruit overtones. Nicole selected the best drink available, the Pimm’s Cup with pimms, orange, cucumber, strawberry and mint, which tasted refreshingly fruity with cucumber, and mint top notes. Daniel ordered the Julius Treacle Amour- Matusalem rum, parfait d’amour and licor 43 with a smoky sweetness with citrus undertones. Rob chose the Spring Sazerac, featuring old overholt rye, herbsainte, rothman, winter apricot liqueur, and peychauds bitters. The viscosity of old butterscotch disk, akin to a sweet Halls lozenge. The Violethour was worth the wait and a memorable experience.

MONDAY NIGHT:
Mercat a la Planxa. This was a gem of a restaurant find. I went with my foodie friend who always suggests the best new restaurants. One thing I love about eating out with her is that she is keen on trying interesting items and splitting everything. So we started with the fried peppers, salbitxada and sea salt. The peppers were perfectly fried, not greasy at all and possessed a depth of flavor rather than a spicy one. Next came the flatbread with a garbanzo bean puree with shrimp and chorizo. The creaminess of the beans combined with the sweetness of the chorizo. Delish. We had to try the braised rabbit agnolotti, rosemary, truffle-chestnut puree and brandied cherries. Of all the items we tried that night, this one definitely was our favorite. The variation of savory and sweet sent us over the top. The plate that came next consisted of slow-cooked pork belly with a sherry glaze and a green apple slaw with truffle. We ordered a side of the Catalan spinach, raisins, pine nuts and apples for some greenery. Dessert consisted of a ravishing upside-down pineapple cake with a saffron layer and dusted with pop rocks for that extra crackle. An amazing dinner.

So in summary, I continue wondering and believing Chicago’s restaurant scene really rivals and takes on that of SF.

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