Guest Writer – Travel Buzz
Eating Chicago: Windy City Fare by Elyse Glickman
Chicago is changing the way foodies experience dining in the Midwest. In the late 1970s, The Taste of Chicago—mother of all food, wine and entertainment festivals—did more than create a template for foodie celebrations worldwide. It also sparked a transformation that took the Windy City from a beer, hot dog and pizza town into an innovative restaurant capital. Vienna hot dogs and deep dish pizza still delight locals and visitors but, today, the typical Chicago neighborhoods and steakhouses are evolving as residents’ palates become more cosmopolitan:
Aigre Doux: In French, Doux means “sweet,” which not only represents chef/owners Mohammed Islam’s and Malika Ameen’s approach to ingredient-specific dishes and presentation, but also their love affair. While Ameen toiled at Balthazar and Craft in New York City, Islam was at Jean Georges and Mercer Kitchen. Their acclaim brought them both to Los Angeles where they held court at Chateau Marmont. After years in the spotlight on the coasts, they’ve opened their own restaurant in Chicago boasting modern yet romantic décor with an impeccably balanced menu. Diners’ taste buds pick out subtle flavors and unique nuances in dishes such as the Caramelized Cauliflower Soup; White Asparagus with a gently truffled poached egg; and Pan Seared Black Cod (an Asian preparation that nimbly avoids the trap of too much sticky miso). Ameen’s citywide reputation as one of the best bakers and ice cream makers (dairy and non-dairy) shines with The Sticky Toffee Pudding with Devonshire cream sorbet (Christmas on a plate), and the seasonal Rhubarb Oat Crisp is a refreshing treat when topped with simple almond milk ice cream. And if this couple’s shared passion for food weren’t enough, Sommelier Meredith Elliott’s matchmaking with her inspired wine list seals the evening with a kiss.
Dine: While many ambitious urban restaurants across America lay claim to “homestyle cooking with a modern twist,” Dine actually succeeds at reconciling that appealing concept with what comes out of the kitchen. The old-school Chicago diner is punched up with mod furnishings, eclectic art, historic photos and chic lounge areas, and its familiar menu items are far from ordinary - the meatloaf is a velvety, juicy brick of Angus beef-based goodness accented with garlic spinach, potatoes and savory orange gravy, and the Onion Tart stands out as a savory indulgence. Dine’s desserts include lemon (brioche) bread pudding and a crème brule-singed Valrhona-chocolate flourless cake made that much more special with herbal sorbets that taste as if they were just picked from the garden.
N9NE Steakhouse: With its mod-60s decor, and the contemporary accoutrement (courtesy of Chef Michael Shrader), N9NE is not your parents’ steakhouse. While a small selection of traditional cuts of meat, seafood and sides are featured, creativity sprinkles the menu with a sense of fun. How can you not smile when a N9NE-logo-ed popcorn box filled with rock shrimp adorned with two non-traditional sauces (lemon aioli and hot Thai red sauce, oddly wonderful when mixed) or crispy cones brimming with tuna tartare and lobster salad are presented? After dinner enjoy a cocktail at Ghostbar upstairs. Experiencing a bit of deja-vu? It’s probably because you’ve read about the Las Vegas counterparts at the Palms Casino on The Liquid Muse Blog, last year . However, remember this is Chicago, baby, and what you see is the real deal—good taste in its natural state.
Keefer’s: Although many local reviewers (including Playboy) dubbed Keefer’s one of the best steakhouses in America-and it lives up to the hype-owner Rich Keefer himself emphasizes that the fish dishes created by Chef John Hogan are incredible as well. He and his brother conceived the airy, Frank Lloyd-Wright-esque restaurant where diners delight in dishes such as Halibut, with Dijon Mustard, Brioche Breadcrumbs, Wild Mushroom Sauce and Watercress Coulis. The Broccoli Salad is tossed with apple, fennel and podda cheese, while the artisan tomato salad is punched up with pine nuts. Chocolate fans revel in the Orange-Chocolate Crème Brule or the thin-but-rich Triple Chocolate cake adorned with Honey Chocolate ice cream.
Tiffin: If it is curry, spice and silks you crave, visit Devon Avenue’s miles of jewelry stores, sari shops and excellent Indian fare. Tiffin stands out with its extraordinary $9 U.S. lunch buffet entices with oven-fresh nan, zesty curries with killer sauces and flawless, juicy Tandoori Chicken. Making it better still are the airy, decorated dining area and superb service.
Tecalitlan: Tecalitlan scores on all fronts—freshness, quality, service and value—making it one of Chicago’s “Best Kept Secrets.” Hungry? Go all the way with a “Suiza”-style burrito (covered with cheese) dressed up with “cebollitas asadas” (grilled onions) and finish with a strawberry liquada or margarita. Ole! A huge meal for two comes out to less than $20.
MetroKlub: A quick, filling meal between downtown business meetings, minus the guilt? Who knew! MetroKlub combines classic Kosher deli fare, contemporary cuisine and healthy ingredients to create the perfect downtown lunch spot. $5-$18.
The (Deep) Dish on Pizza: Downtown institution Pizzaria Uno is said to be the birthplace of Chicago style pizza but check out these for crunchy, cheesy, piled on, deep dish perfection: Giordano’s, Carmen’s, Eduardo’s and Lou Malnati’s are all winners, whether you crave hearty sausage pizzas or vegetarian varieties (most do superb spinach pies). Other local favorites include Leona’s (famous for their decadent “white” Alfredo pizzas and good thin crusts) and Home Run Inn (a South Side tradition).
Elyse Glickman, who recently shared the wonders of Croatia with The Liquid Muse readers, brings us a taste of her hometown, Chicago (which has one of the largest Croatian communities outside Europe!). In addition to serving as Editor-at-Large for Beverage Industry News, Los Angeles-based Glickman contributes to a wide variety of consumer and trade magazines, including From house to HOME, Wedding Vow, Enchanted Bride, LUCIRE, NUVO,J West, Food & Beverage, La Reppubblica and Fresh Cup. Visit her site for more on her writing and travels (now updated!).