For my birthday this past August, my girlfriend bought us plane tickets to Chicago. I have never been, she has only been briefly and we are both interested in the food industry/scene in Chicago. So off we go.
We really wanted to go to Alinea and didn't have tickets. I was at work when they released the tickets for October and they were sold out by the time I got the chance to check. I sent them an email as they reserve a table every night for visiting culinary professionals. They confirmed they did have a table, but could not say if it was available and they will let us know. I am after all, just John from Connecticut. If Mario or Tony or Bobby showed up the same night, I am pretty sure they get the table over me. I had still not heard back from them the day before we arrived in Chicago. Luckily for us, my cousin used to work at Alinea and Next, so she sends Grant a text, he says, not a problem. Sure enough, next day I get a phone call from Alinea informing me they have a table for me. This trip just got way more expensive.
So after just a few hours sleep after work Saturday night, we get up, drive to JFK and hop on a plane to O'Hare. On the way to the hotel, we grab a burger and then despite the marathon are able to check into our hotel early. Great, because I really need a nap. After that, we take a play out of Stereo Pete's playbook and head to Boka for some drinks before our 9:30 reservation at Alinea. Which was the best thing we did all week because we had a great conversation with a Boka regular and the bartender that lead to our game plan for the rest of our time in Chicago. We had some recommendations for places to go, but they gave us a ton of great info. Because how do you top Alinea on your first night in town? By going to 14 other places in the next two days. Yep, that is correct. We ate and/or drank at 17 bars and restaurants in 2.5 days in Chicago. Here is breakdown of where we stopped and what the two of us had as best as I can remember/piece together. In chronological order:
Epicburger; two burgers, chocolate shake
Boka; four cocktails, amuse bouche
Alinea; 18 course tasting menu, wine pairing, beer flight, black coffee
The Purple Pig; artichoke salad, crispy pigs ear, pork neck rillette, milk braised pork shoulder
Sable Kitchen & Bar; two cocktails, banana cream tart
The Violet Hour; three cocktails, chicken liver mousse
Balena; charcuterie, cheese, salad, pasta, pizza, prawns, dessert, one beer, one glass wine, one cocktail
The Barrelhouse Flat; two cocktails
Frontera; tuna ceviche, duck carnitas tamal
XOCO; torta, churro, hot chocolate
avec; one beer, veal sweetbreads
The Girl and the Goat; one beer, one glass wine, green beans, beef tartar
Maude's Liquor Bar; three cocktails, foie gras pate
Publican Quality Meats; charcuterie; black coffee
Aviary; two cocktails
The Office; four cocktails
Au Cheval; double cheeseburger, roasted bone marrow, french fries, two picklebacks
We did our best to pace ourselves, get small plates and sometimes share food and/or drink. We know how annoying these type of diners are so we often sat at the bar as to not occupy a table. And once we explained our goal to visit as many places as possible, the bartender/waitress understood and would offer their own suggestions.
We honestly did not have a bad meal at any of these places. Everything was fabulous. Highlights for us (other than Alinea) was The Purple Pig, the Junglebird cocktail at Sable, $6 chicken liver mousse at Violet Hour, The Girl and the Goat, Maude's great atmosphere, The Office and Au Cheval.
One thing that is shocking is the shear density of great food Chicago. Our Tuesday night from avec to Au Cheval takes place entirely in just a few short blocks and that doesn't include places like Blackbird, Vera and Publican that are also in that area. So what did we miss? Quite a bit actually. Some of the other recommendations we got but were not able to get to include Yusho, Schwa, Next, Goosefoot, Belly Q, Yolk, Bangers & Lace, Big Star, Scofflaw, Map Room, The Whistler, Longman & Eagle, Long Room, The Drawing Room and a few more. I can't wait to go back for round two.
I have some pictures uploading that I will add to this shortly.