Monday, June 11, 2012

...left my heart in Chi-town

"Libations" @ The Publican for brunch. LOVE.

[May I forewarn you that this is going to be hell of a long post.] I made my annual trip to Chicago a couple of weeks ago and indulged to my heart's content. There was no holding back. The craziest day was when I went to The Publican for brunch, and later had 2 dinners--first at Belly Shack and the next at the long anticipated Girl & The Goat. The craziest thing was that while at Publican brunch, guess who walks in after me to have brunch there too? None other than THE Stephanie Izard (and her hubbie). It was just so crazy to me because last year on the day I was going to Frontera Grill for dinner, I saw Rick Bayless at the farmer's market. And this year, the same thing was happening on the day I was to dine at Girl & the Goat. Yea, I freaked out quite a bit and you may find me crazy.. but it was probably the best day of my week-long stay in the windy city.

Now.. my camera decided to break down on me in the middle of my trip so unfortunately my photos are not complete. Many of these photos are also low quality because I had to rely on my camera phone, so I apologize! In the meantime.. saving up money to go get a new camera. 

SO.. let me attempt to recount this epic food journey in chronological order as best I can. I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon after my flight was delayed for 2 hours because of an electrical issue. First meal was at Chinatown since one of my friends lives there.. I slurped down a steaming hot & spicy bowl of noodles, to make a haircut appointment. Those noodles really hit the spot. Later, we met up with another friend downtown to visit my sister's workplace, and then we hit up Pinkberry for a snack & Xoco for dinner. And so begins my nearly nonstop eating for the next 7 days.
Popped my Pinkberry cherry! Original with mochi, pineapple (my healthy addition, haha) and the milk chocolate crunch (this was really really good). I have to say it was not a mind-blowing fro-yo experience but it was still really yummy.
Seafood caldos. This is not my favorite thing I've gotten at Xoco; the broth was heavy in the shrimp flavors, almost overpowering. The catfish in here was really fatty too. I am sad I didn't have enough room to fit in a churro for dessert :/ regretting that decision now.. but in my defense I did think I was returning here for lunch the next day so I didn't want to go overboard.
 Thursday.. lunch plans switched from Xoco to Frontera Grill--no complaints there haha. I didn't want to fill myself up since I was going to Tequila Dinner at Adobo Grill in Oldtown afterwards, so we got the bacon guacamole (VERY GOOD) for appetizer and I got the chicken tamale. So dinner: if you haven't heard of Tequila dinner at Adobo Grill, it's basically the best thing ever. Usually hosted by a certain tequila company on the last Thursday of every month (May was hosted by Cabo Wabo), they make a 4-course menu each paired up with a tequila cocktail. They also give you samplings of their blanco, anejo and reposado tequilas to taste on their own. I think my favorite one was the anejo, and my favorite courses were the first and last ones. The appetizer was some delicious corn masa fried thing.. can't remember what it was exactly but it was very tasty. Second course was a stuffed poblano that had a mixture of rice, pork, veal, pineapple and nuts with the most delicious creamy sauce over the whole thing. It had that whole sweet, savory & sour thing going on, definitely very memorable. Third course [see photo] was a grilled pork chop served with poblano mole, sweet potato mash & asparagus. SO FULL at this point, haha. Finally, dessert: A delicious quatro dulce corn cake with a cajeta ice cream. The best cocktail other than the traditional margarita was this drink they made with guava puree and mango. Yuuuum yum yum. Tequila dinner never disappoints! I was also really happy that so many of my friends were able to make it to the dinner, it was great catching up with all of them. Man, I missed them so much.
The only photo from Tequila dinner. This was course 3--at this point we've all had too many margaritas to count and the 2 previous courses were so filling in themselves. Sadly I didn't even make it through half of this plate because I made the  conscious effort to save room for dessert.
Friday.. On this day, I grabbed lunch at a food truck Soups in the Loop on the University of Chicago campus (apparently they are there every Monday in front of the bookstore!). I chose the creamy lobster bisque, which was very tasty and satisfying with some pretty large chunks of lobster in it.. just what I needed on a cold & rainy day (I was freezing my butt off in the 50 degree weather haha). At night, I attended my class reunion party at a bar, so just ended up eating dinner there. Best thing they had were these meatballs, and I probably ate one too many.. we'll just end the story-telling there to spare you some more gruesome details. :)

Saturday: Brunch at Mana Food Bar! What! A vegetarian restaurant? Yes, it is. It is also apparently the most reviewed Chicago restaurant on Who knew! Anyways, this is probably the best vegetarian meal I've had, with that year I did a vegetarian Thanksgiving following as second best. Mana is smart because they incorporate a lot of asian flavors in their food, and I really do think that Asians do vegetarian cuisine in the tastiest way. Props, Mana. Also this meal was surprisingly filling, considering I shared these 3 dishes with 1 other person. I wish I had more room to order more food, I'd love to try the tamales, okra, mushroom saute and ravioli. Also pretty sweet deal 4-6 pm every day they do 2 mana sliders + a beer for only $7.50. Darn it, I wish I lived in Chicago! :) Dinner was at another Alumni function over at the University, which was a little disappointing but at least the selection was wide enough that I was able to find yummy things like arugula salad, eggplant parmesan, a meat & cheese bar, tiramisu and cannolis!
This seasonal dish featured fiddlehead ferns! It seemed like they were quickly sauteed with some sugar snap peas + korean red pepper flakes, and mixed in some dried apricots, served over some brown rice. This really had a nice kick that went along with the crunchy veggies, nicely balanced with the sweetness from the apricots.
Mana Sliders. Yummy in my tummy. Brown rice + mushroom burger w/ spicy mayo and pickled cucumbers. I do feel like they could improve this by using better bread.
Potato pancake. This definitely did not taste the way I expected it to. It tasted waaaay better! So the super thin pancake is made with sweet & white potatoes, and it's topped with a pear + golden raisin chutney and scallions, served with a delicious crema.

 Finally, Sunday is here--the most epic food day. Brunch at the Publican, probably one of my favorite places in Chicago. [see first paragraph for rest of story]
my drink of choice--bloody mary, which came accompanied by a cute little beer: I chose the Zombie dust

Side of maple-glazed bacon.. this stuff is SO GOOD. I almost regretted ordering an entree because I wanted to order more of this awesome bacon.
My friend ordered the pork shoulder which came with a sunny side up egg, pickled asparagus over some grits.
Fulton Market quad. 2 types of sausage, headcheese, sunny side up eggs + whole grain mustard, rhubarb compote, pickled cauliflower & hot peppers. The headcheese was my favorite thing on the plate!
Some extra pickles hehe. These were in our bloody mary's.. they are some the best sweet pickles I've ever tasted so I asked for some more! mmm.... crunchy deliciousness..
Dinner #1 at Belly Shack. You probably remember me raving about the belly dog last year. We were so tired by this point of the day and almost didn't make it here but after a painful journey it was definitely worth it. This was still as delicious as I remembered. We were so hungry that we devoured the fries before even touching the dog. That dipping sauce is some kind of curry heaven in a little cup and the sauce on the dog itself was epic as well. I'm drooling just thinking about it!

Finally, second dinner @ Girl & The Goat! I was only able to get a reservation for 10:15 pm. Now, I am NOT used to eating that late at night, so I was really surprised that I was able to eat as much as I did. We started off with the goat liver mousse. They came with some piping hot crumpets and an array of pickled veggies & things, the most interesting was a pickled rhubarb. We ate so fast I wasn't able to get a photo of everything, but look how much liver was leftover. That stuff is RICH. It definitely set the tone for a pretty hefty meal.
After that goat liver mousse, we were excited to get our kohlrabi salad, which had blueberries and honeyed almonds in it. This was really refreshing and surprising in how well the sweet flavors worked out with the more savory ones.
Soft shell crab, served in some kind of crab broth & kimchi if I recall correctly? Very strong crab flavors in this one.
To take a break from all the goat, we ordered the pork ribs. Man these were fall-off-the-bone-good. They were served on top of a mushroom slaw, which was very tasty as well. You know I love me some mushrooms.
My favorite dish we had: Pig Face. This is how it is presented. Basically its a patty that they make with all the delectable parts of a pig's face and put a sunny side up egg on it. The server told us to break the yolk and mix up all that goodness; his words, "the messier the better."
Mixed up Pig Face.
Goat belly, served with lobster and crab! How much more indulgent can you get. Since goat is not as fatty as pig, this is less fatty than pork belly. But it is still pretty heavy of a dish. I was pretty full at this point, trying to make a concerted effort to save some room for dessert.
Goat cheesecake (tasted like Thanksgiving!) and Rhubarb parfait that had meringues in it and a sorbet on the bottom (this was a non conventional dessert espeically in its uses of rhubarb, but I enjoyed the mixture of textures it presented).

 Monday.. grabbed work-break lunch at Weber Grill (which never disappoints!) with my sister (cheeseburger for me and pulled pork+meatloaf combo for my sis), then headed over to Millennium Park for the free concert with some sushi, edamame, pad thai & Thai iced teas. It is awesome to lay in the grass over there in the amphitheater. Later, I got my first banh mi sandwich ever from Ba Le bakery over in Argyle. I got the "Special," which I assume contained roast pork & pate along with the typical pickled daikon, cilantro, basil, mint & jalapeno. It definitely had a nice kick and the bread was awesome.

 Tuesday=last day :( I met up with some girlfriends for afternoon high tea at the Drake. Food coma ensued. Note to self: just because food comes in smaller & cuter forms, when you eat a lot of it, you still get really uncomfortably full. My favorite were the roast beef sandwiches and the clotted cream to put on the scones. I chose the Palm Court tea since it was described as the most popular or original tea, something like that. Proper etiquette is to eat in this order: sandwiches, scones, cakes. We followed this without even knowing, haha. I really enjoyed our attempts to be "proper" and it was a great time to showcase our English accents! It was also pretty hilarious when the server came to ask us if we would like more of any of the food, most of us were so full we couldn't imagine eating any more, but 2 girls decided to each get another egg salad sandwich. So, we ordered 2 egg salad sandwiches. It was taking quite a while for them to bring us these 2 measly sandwiches, but little did we know the waiter thought we meant 2 sandwiches each and brought us 8 more! I don't think I ever laughed so hard in my delirious tea-intoxicated state. Later for dinner, I had just enough time before getting to my gate at MDW to grab a Wreck sandwich & chocolate oatmeal cookie at Potbelly's. So sad they don't have them in FL. Their hot peppers are so good, and I die for their cookies.

Afternoon tea @ the Drake. My scone + clotted cream, lemon curd, strawberry jam. Palm Court tea. I don't usually put milk & sugar in my tea, but since we were at high tea, might as well drink it the proper way. Plus, it was so fun to say "Darling, would you please pass the sugar cubes?"
Now that I'm back, my stomach is suffering from withdrawal from all the wonderful things I was able to eat in Chicago. Good food is just not as accessible here in SoFla. I miss Chicago a lot, as always.. and this time was particularly sad because my closest friends in Chicago are moving elsewhere soon, so future trips to the city will probably not ever be the same. I need to start running on a regular basis again, to work off all the indulgences I let myself have!

P.S. Currently, I am wearing Zoya Giselle on my toes (love it! great light peachy color, had to put 3 coats) and Elodie on my fingers (lovely jelly watermelon-y coral color, perfect for summer). Sorry for the lack of photo but I am lacking a functional camera right now! :(


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