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What a Weekend In Chicago


NancyH
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The weekend before Halloween, my husband Bob and I treated ourselves as a 12th Anniversary Present to a long weekend in Chicago. EGullet's own Ronnie Suburban and his wife were kind enough to take time from their busy lives to show us where the great eats may be found in this awesome food town. All 165 of my photos can be viewed at link to Flickr, but I've uploaded some choice ones here to whet your appetite.

We started by driving up from Cleveland on Wednesday, October 24. We met Ronnie, his wife and 10 year old son (an amazing foodie in his own right, for one so young), as well as EG friend Nxstasy, at Vie Restaurant, 4471 Lawn Ave, Western Springs, IL,

(708) 246-2082, website. Vie emphasizes local and sustainable products, and treats them very well.

We began with an Amuse:

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Shrimp and Jicama

Both Bob and young Lucas opted for the Quail appetizer, which was most delicious:

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I started with Warm Red Kuri Squash Flan, with Honey, Vinegar, shaved Asian Pears, candied pumpkin seeds and arugula. The candied pumpkin seeds took this dish to exceptional heights and the flan was darn tasty also!

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Bob's salad course consisted of Butternut Squash Salad served warm with chestnuts, preserved pears, house made boar salami and pecorino:

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It was really the boar salami that convinced Bob to try this dish, and he was not disappointed (and I loved the squash).

I had the most fabulous beet salad, made unique by the addition of pickled herbs, roasted marcona almonds and preserved cherries that absolutely rocked!

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I must share with you an image of the honking hunk of foie gras Nxstasy enjoyed (and which he was kind enough to share):

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Seared and served with spiced Scottish Shortbread, date puree, roasted sunchokes and honeycrisp apples.

For his main, Bob had Berkshire Pork Loin & Sausage:

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Braised red cabbage sauerkraut, fingerling poatoes and pickled carrots.

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Focus on the luscious sausage!

I enjoyed the Pan Roasted Loup de Mer:

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Sustainably farm raised seabass, cannellini bean puree, local tomato jam (yum!!), arugula, spanish olives with sweet & sour scallions - the olive treatment was extraordinary!

I have to share this next one - Ronnie's amazing Braised Goat entree:

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Goat Leg marinated and grilled, with cripsy spaetzle, roasted and pickled turnips, mustard sauce and blueberry mostarda.

I was grateful for a taste of this amazingly good dish.

Moving to dessert - the Chef treated each of us to this lovely Grape Trio:

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Local Grape Trio: Concord Grape Soup, Niagra Grape Sorbet, Fresh Grapes

Even though we were stuffed - we all ordered a dessert! I got the Local Sweet Corn Cake:

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Maple and White Chocolate Cream, Maple Candied Walnuts, Corn Tuile

I don't know how they got such sweet corn in such quantity at this time of year - but I approve!!

Bob got the Molten German Chocolate Cake:

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Butter Pecan Ice Cream, cocoa nib tuile, toasted coconut and pecan frosting.

An amazing end to a fabulous dinner. But this was only the beginning!

Thursday, we did an 8 stop tour of some of the best eats Chicago and environs have to offer!

We started at the original location of the now-franchised Al's Italian Beef:

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It's all about the beef, baby!

Next - Jim's Original Polish Sausage, 1250 S. Union Street, Chicago, (312) 733-7820.

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Bone-In Pork Chop Sandwich

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Polish Sausage

We next headed for Chinatown. Our first stop there was Chiu Quon Bakery, 2242 S Wentworth Ave, Chicago, (312) 225-6608. This is a Shanghai style bakery, with a dizzying assortment of baked and steamed buns, Western-influenced but still Chinese cakes, and rice dishes. We sampled two baked buns - sausage (lap cheong) and pork, but we were in motion and failed to get any photos.

Our next stop:

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We enjoyed the fiery Szechuan treats served here - after running into Mr. and Mrs. Nxstasy!

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Hot Cabbage Amuse

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String Beans in Spicy Black Bean Sauce

The combination of pressed tofu, whole black beans and fresh green beans, together with the numbing effect of Sichaun Peppercorn, was amazing.

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Spicy Shredded Potatoes

This one was new to our hosts, but familiar to us thanks to Jo-Mel!

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Chef's Special Dry Chili Chicken

This baby was hot! Crispy without being a bit greasy.

For the next course, we stopped at this pork fat mecca:

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1113 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

(312) 829-4757

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We ordered ours with extra skin.

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House-made Dipping Sauce

Out hosts insisted that a recent comer to the local food scene had BBQ that couldn't be beat - and they were right! On our way to this location, my cellphone rang. It was Alinea, advising us that yes, we could squeeze a third person into our reservation for Saturday night. I immediately called Edsel and told him to come on up to Chicagotown! But I digress. Smoque BBQ is apparently becoming a local favorite, and is featured on a Food Network program that is running now: Diners, Drive Ins and Dives

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Smoque BBQ

3800 N Pulaski Rd

Chicago, IL 60641

(773) 545-7427

This version of brisket was topped with the house made BBQ sauce

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Uhmm - crunchy

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Pulled Pork

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Pulled Pork with Vinegar "Mop"

You can also see the amazing made-from-scratch fries in this photo.

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St. Louis Ribs

And the best damn Mac 'N Cheese this Mac 'N Cheese lover has ever tasted!

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Mr. DeMille - I'm ready for my close-up!

I don't know how we found the intestinal fortitude (or room) to go on - but a true Chicago hotdog seemed in order. We learned about the great debates that go on about Chicago dogs - Vienna or Superdawg? Ronnie decided to have us try Superdawg this day, with a chance to compare with a Vienna dog another day.

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What I liked most about the Superdawg was the tomato-based relish (as I abhor the taste and texture of anything cucumber). However, the "proprietary" dog lacked snap (since it had no casing), and was very mild in flavor. It was still an enjoyable stop.

Surely, you might think, we'd be done by now. Well . . . not exactly. Ronnie had one more treat in store for us, at this newly expanded place:

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2401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659

Here are the highlights of this stop:

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Dipping Sauce

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Paratha

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Spicy "Broast" Chicken

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Chicken Boti

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Kashmiri Tea, savory, with nuts and spices

Whew - what a long day of eating! We were done.

We began Thursday at Frontera Grill and enjoyed a tasty lunch (or was it breakfast?):

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Amuse

This went well with a Margarita! The appetizers were all a little small for the price, and a little underwhelming, though tasty.

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Guacamole

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Enchiladas - Corn Tortillas rolled around Huitlacoche ("inky corn mushroom"; aka corn smut or fungus) and roasted vegetables, doused with tomatilli-corn sauce and topped with jack cheese.

We liked the smut better than we thought we would, but we still think it is an acquired taste.

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Garnachitas de Pato

Corn-masa "boats"; with red chile braised duck, black beans, grilled red onions, orange dressed sunflower greens and homemade cheese.

This was Bob's entree:

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Puerco Otonal

Pork loin in a sauce of roasted dilicata and ancho chilies, spaghetti squash with grilled red onions, Applewood-smoked bacon and grilled green beans. We both liked this a lot.

I went with the daily special:

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Pork Tamale with Pea Shoots

This was also very good - we all liked the entrees much better. It was odd - all of these Latin servers - and virtually no customers of any color other than white. Oh well - it certainly was a meal worthy of our tour.

But lunchtime was not over just because this meal was over! I had expressed interest in sampling "real" Chicago deep dish pizza. Pizza is a bit of a passion for me (see my pizza thread). So Ronnie took us to one of Chicago's "originals":

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6649 N Lincoln Ave, Lincolnwood, IL 60712, (847) 673-0800

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While I enjoyed the opportunity to sample this Chicago staple, I felt that this pizza simply lacked profundity.

When dinnertime rolled around, we re-convened, with Mr. and Mrs. Nxtasy, for Mexican Seafood at Flamingo's Seafood, 1590 S Busse Rd, Mt Prospect, IL 60056,

(847) 364-9988, which was relatively near our hotel where we had some business later that evening. It was a most enjoyable meal, with generous portions and fresh flavors; these are the highlights:

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Complimentary Ceviche tradicional de Dorado estilo Flamingo's - Mahimahi

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Now - that's a serving of Gaucamole (topped with fresh crabmeat)

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Clams, Mussels, Squid and the most amazing tiny tiny scallops in hot tomato sauce.

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Whole Fried Red Snapper with mojo de ajo (Garlic). Yum.

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Mexican cheese pie with caramel sauce and chocolate sauce

Saturday morning, we met Edsel at one of Ronnie's favorite breakfast places - Prairie Grass Cafe, 601 Skokie Blvd, Northbrook, IL 60062, (847) 205-4433. Since they specialize in variations on Eggs Benedict - that is what Bob and I had, together with an order of their house-made sausage!

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Traditional Eggs Benedict for Bob

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"Signature" EB for me: Poached Eggs over Sauteed Spinach, Bacon and English Muffin, Roasted Tomato Hollandaise, Gently fried Breakfast Potatoes

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Since our Alinea reservation was not until 8:30pm, we decided to try one more delicacy before parting for the day - an authentic casing Vienna Dog at fRedhots & Fries:

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1707 Chestnut Ave, Glenview, IL 60025, (847) 657-9200

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Dog with the works - but hold the pickle relish (Bob gets the pickle slice)

I liked the snap and the poppyseed bun, but Bob felt it lacked flavor. Oh well, the dog wars go on!

Saturday dinner at Alinea was amazing. Edsel took the photos (I haven't figured out how to get a good exposure without flash); you can see them here.

Edsel stayed around for another meal on Sunday - I guess it was "brunch" - probably the best Thai meal I've ever had!

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3930 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60613, (773) 327-5253

My first thought as we walked up to it was - what a dump! But oh, the marvelous food they are making there - not dumbed down a whit! And pleasant service and a comfortable, if ramshackle, interior.

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Tom Kha - Rich Chicken Soup with a Red Curry Base and lots of coconut milk

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Thai Beef Jerky

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Spicy Papaya Salad

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House-made sausage

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Fried Chicken

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Moo Ping - Grilled Pork Skewers

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Shrimp Mousse Dumplings

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Believe it or not - those were just the appetizers - and we cleaned the plates!

Here are the mains:

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Crispy Onchoy - Green Thai vegetable in a tempura-like batter, perfectly fried and served with greens, pork and shrimp

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Spicy Basil Chicken with Preserved Eggs

Sorry I didn't get a good image of the eggs - they were fantastic!

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Boat Noodles with Beef

This dish borrowed liberally from Chinese cuisine in its use of Star Anise and the slow braise. We loved it.

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Duck Curry

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Pad Thai Omlette

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Nutty Dessert

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Blueberry-filled dessert

At the end of this meal, Edsel bid us goodbye and headed back for Cleveland. But we had this last night yet to go on our tour. After considering several possibilities, Ronnie decided that we should try Paprika, a Hungarian restaurant that had a successful life downtown for years, but which had moved to the suburbs (near our hotel) about a year and a half ago. It wasn't a standout by any means, but we still enjoyed our meal:

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Langos - Deep Fried Garlic Bread

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Combination Plate

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Goulash Close Up

The Beef Goulash was the best part of the plate, along with the Spaetzle. My mother used to make Goulash, and this had some similar textures and flavors. The Chicken Paprikash had nice flavors, but the chicken was dry and overcooked, as was the Broccoli (overcooked, that is).

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Stuffed Cabbage Roll

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Pork & rice filling. It was good - but to my Jewish palate, sour cream just did not go with it.

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Wiener Schnitzel - good, but lacked profundity

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House Made Cherry & Apple Strudels - A Happy Ending

After dinner, we said goodbye to our intrepid food friends, and prepared to return to Cleveland second thing Monday. But of course, first thing Monday, we would have to eat!

Ronnie suggested that we might try The Depot American Diner or Top Notch for our last meal. But when we started out Monday, we were tired and didn't want to deviate from I290 once we got on it.

Luckily, we found a cozy greasy spoon right around the corner from our hotel in Arlington Heights that provided the perfect road food:

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The place certainly had character! And cooked-to-order food at cheap prices!

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Double cheeseburger with fries

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"Hamburger Steak & Eggs" served with buttery grits and toast

This meal held us all the way back to Cleveland.

If you are interested in reading about what we ate when we got back to Cleveland, check out my blog at Fun Playing With Food!

Thank you Ronnie & Co for a food and culture filled weekend of great eats!

Edited by NancyH (log)

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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:hmmm: Hmmm, when I came to town he made up some lame excuse about having been out of town for a week, mother-in-law taking care of Lukas, etc, etc. So I ate downtown by myself. Sniff, sniff. Guess I know where I rate now. :wink:

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Dayum, Nancy! You're making me hungry all over again!! :laugh::biggrin:

You know, scaling back to just 2-3 meals a day has totally disoriented me. :blink:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Wow! You certainly did better than I did when I was there! I can't believe you managed all that food. We could only eat 2 meals a day--any more and we'd be rolling back to our B&B.

Question...is that tomato in your tom kha gai? I've never seen tomato in tom kha gai. Seems very unusual to me for an "authentic" Thai place. Are the owners Isaan? They do use more tomatoes in Isaan food, but still...in tom kha gai? And red curry paste? Odd.

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Dayum, Nancy!  You're making me hungry all over again!! :laugh::biggrin:

You know, scaling back to just 2-3 meals a day has totally disoriented me. :blink:

=R=

who are you kidding...2 or 3 meals a day...do you want to lose your rep? :laugh:

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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It was great to see Nancy and Bob again (after first meeting them at the Heartland Gathering in July), as well as local pals Ronnie, Julie, and Lucas.

Some of my favorite dishes from the two meals we shared are not mentioned above. Maybe Ronnie has photos...?

At Vie, my main was the "marinated and wood-grilled sturgeon, sweet potatoes, roasted cipollinis, organic crème fraiche, and roasted nichols farm brussel sprouts". It was good. My dessert was the "warm caramel gooey butter cake, almond chocolate chip ice cream,almond lace cookie, almond toffee square". It was phenomenal. Julie's dessert was a pumpkin creme brulee, also excellent.

At Flamingo's, I had an incredible grilled Chilean sea bass. It was a huge piece of fish, about as big across as a baseball and maybe 1.5 inches thick. While grilled, it was basted with the same sauce that surrounded it on the plate, a guava-habañero sauce; it must have had very little habañero, as it wasn't overly spicy-hot, and the guava gave the fish a slightly fruity taste. It was topped with crushed toasted pumpkin seeds. It was simply divine.

Question...is that tomato in your tom kha gai?  I've never seen tomato in tom kha gai.  Seems very unusual to me for an "authentic" Thai place.  Are the owners Isaan?  They do use more tomatoes in Isaan food, but still...in tom kha gai?  And red curry paste?  Odd.

Very perceptive! When I first met Ronnie, Julie, and Lucas, it was at a meal at TAC Quick organized via eGullet. I thought the tom kha gai tasted very tomato-ey, just as you state. It was okay, but I generally prefer one without the tomato overtones and with a nice balance between the creaminess of the coconut milk, the lemony taste of the lemongrass, and the kha (galanga). Currently the very best tom kha gai in the Chicago area, IMHO, is at Thai Sookdee, in Evanston, which I like the best of all the Chicago-area Thai restaurants (although AFAIK it doesn't have a Thai-language menu with exotic specialties like fried worms - yes, worms - like a few of the other places in town).

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My pleasure to accommodate, Nsxtasy!

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marinated and wood-grilled sturgeon, sweet potatoes, roasted cipollinis, organic crème fraiche, and roasted nichols farm brussel sprouts

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Chilean Sea Bass

Sorry - I don't have a photo of your dessert from Vie. My complete photoset from our trip is here.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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Holy cow, what an incredible post!  This may very well serve as the official foodie's guide to Chicago.  Bravo!

It's a great guide to the variety that we have here. Just keep in mind that for every place shown here, there are lots of others that you could argue are just as good. For example, for contemporary American, Vie is excellent, but so are one sixtyblue, Blackbird, Oceanique, Tallgrass, and North Pond. For Mexican, Frontera Grill and Flamingo's are excellent, but so are Topolobampo, Salpicon, Adobo Grill, and Sol de Mexico. For deep-dish pizza, Lou Malnati's is excellent, but so are Gino's East, Pizano's, Giordano's, and Edwardo's. For creative splurge food, Alinea is excellent (perhaps even above others) but you can also get spectacular food at Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, Everest, and Tru. Same thing with places for barbecue, Italian beef, etc. What's really amazing about Chicago is not just that you can make a trip like this, but that you can make half a dozen trips like this, without repeating a single place, and they will all be equally wonderful.

Every food-lover and frequent restaurant diner I know in Chicago, including myself, has a list of well-known and well-regarded places that they've never been to and have been wanting to try. And no one's list ever gets any shorter, as new places continue to open.

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Holy cow, what an incredible post!  This may very well serve as the official foodie's guide to Chicago.  Bravo!

. . . and the list of prospective stops was so much longer. As the song goes, "these are a few of my favorite things." But there are only so many hours in a day. :biggrin:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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One key to making it through the Thursday odyssey was sharing - Bob and I cut things in half and shared them at many of the stops, and otherwise left things over (which did not go to waste, as Ronnie and Julie brought a cooler along anticipating there would be leftovers). The saddest part of that was only being able to eat about half of my snapper at Flamingo's.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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I just realized that I posted the wrong photo of dessert from Vie - this is what Bob actually had:

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German Chocolate Cake Butter Pecan Ice Cream, cocoa nib tuile, toasted coconut and pecan frosting

I'm not sure which diner's dessert I put in the post. Oh well, it was all good!

Edited by NancyH (log)

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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Boy -- Nancy -- You sure know how to tease us!! Beautiful pictures -- with the aroma wafting up from each dish! I know I could never be a vegetarian -- especially after looking at the pork or sausage dishes. I want some of each!!

That beet salad --- was it a sweet dressing or a vinagrette? I like the idea of the cherries rather than the usual onion.

Happy anniversary! Has it been 12 years??? Oh my!!!!!

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