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Weekend in Chicago


pbandy
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I am not from Chicago but whenever I an there I cannot resist having one meal, at least, at Topolobampo/Frontera Grill, arguably the best Mexican restaurants in the US. If you all  enjoy Mexican food you could have a good lunch there.

I had always heard great things about this place and I went there a week ago for lunch. I left feeling ho-hum; I thought "what's the fuss?" Maybe just a bad day for the restaurant?

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Hello folks, this is my first post of hopefully many here.  First, I am junior at the University of Tennessee studying Journalism and hope to move on to culinary school after graduating.  Anyways, on to the topic at hand:

I will be taking a weekend vacation with my mom, step dad, and step brother to Chicago.  My step-dad insists that we eat at the Metropolitan Club one night.  I was hoping you all (y'all!) could offer some opinions on the overall dining experience there so I know what I am walking into.

Totally off topic, but as a journalist, let me congratulate you on your decision not to try to get a job in that industry. Frankly, if it's not too late, I'd advise you to change your major now.

Is your step-dad a member of a club that has a reciprocal arrangement with the Metropolitan or does he know a member who'll sponsor him? Otherwise, I don't believe you can just walk in and have dinner.

These dishes are more or less unique to Chicago:

* Deep-dish and stuffed pizza

* Italian beef sandwiches (and beef/sausage combos)

* Chicago-style hot dogs

* Maxwell Street Polish

* Shrimp de Jonghe

* Chicken Vesuvio (a classic version can be had at Rosebud, 720 N Rush St., 312-266-6444)

* Jibaritos

* And, while they're not precisely unique to this city, we offer better steakhouses than many other parts of the country

LAZ

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I believe we are staying in the downtown Marriott, but I am not quite sure. We will definitely be downtown though.

I like beef and I love sausage.. and you speak of them in the same sandwich? I must know where to find one! Also, can anyone suggest any downtown coffee shops/pastry places that would be nice for a late night snack?

I am by no means a wine expert, in fact I know nothing about it, IN FACT I am not even old enough to buy it! Of North Pond, Blackbird, and one sixtyblue which has the best/most varied/appealing wine list? My step-dad and mom are self proclaimed wine aficionados and I want them to enjoy that aspect of the menu also.

We will be making the reservations soon, so if anyone has any last minute jabs or knockout punches to convince me which of these three to choose shoot!

Again, I appreciate everything you guys have contributed.

I am actually not fully decided on Journalism yet, I am a business (YUCK) major convert... I want to write =p

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I am by no means a wine expert, in fact I know nothing about it, IN FACT I am not even old enough to buy it!  Of North Pond, Blackbird, and one sixtyblue which has the best/most varied/appealing wine list?  My step-dad and mom are self proclaimed wine aficionados and I want them to enjoy that aspect of the menu also.

North Pond is the only one of the three that posts their entire wine list on their website - not that that means that they're better, but kudos to them for that. I've heard some people disparage the ratings of Wine Spectator magazine, but FWIW, they give their "Award of Excellence" to both North Pond and one sixtyblue (ref). When it comes to wine lists, Everest beats all three of them... but I think you'll find that any wine lover will be quite happy with the wine list at all of these restaurants.
We will be making the reservations soon, so if anyone has any last minute jabs or knockout punches to convince me which of these three to choose shoot!

If your family particularly enjoys an unusual setting and atmosphere, North Pond would be the obvious choice. If they prefer a feeling of spaciousness and privacy, one sixtyblue is the best at that. It's tough to draw distinctions on food among three of our finest, but on that score I give one sixtyblue a slight nod over Blackbird, with North Pond a small step down but still excellent. Bottom line - I think you can't go wrong with any of these three, so pick whatever one you think you and they would like best, and don't agonize too much over it - you can have a wonderful meal and experience at any of them.
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I believe we are staying in the downtown Marriott, but I am not quite sure.  We will definitely be downtown though.

I like beef and I love sausage.. and you speak of them in the same sandwich? I must know where to find one!  Also, can anyone suggest any downtown coffee shops/pastry places that would be nice for a late night snack?

If it's the Marriott, you're extremely well located, right on Michigan Ave. on the Magnificent Mile. I don't know of any coffee shop per se, but Bin 36 is very close to the hotel and is open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Its cousin and next-door neighbor, A Mano, doesn't list a specific closing time but I assume it's also open late. If you're up for splurging and are sorely in need of chocolate, you can do "Chocolate at the Pen" (PDF file), at the Peninsula Chicago hotel (Fri and Sat, 8:00-11:30), also close to the Marriott.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Another option for a late night coffee shop/pastry place is Fox and Obel. Fox and Obel is a wonderful gourmet grocery store, with the finest meats, prepared foods, pastries, etc. In the rear of the store, they have a nice-sized cafe, where they prepare various dishes to order as well as serving the same pastries they sell in their bakery department. The atmosphere is basic coffeehouse, but the food is excellent. It's a good place for anything from breakfast or lunch to a late-night snack. Among their pastries, I particularly enjoy their cinnamon swirls, the best cinnamon rolls in the world IMHO. Fox and Obel is located just a few blocks east of the Marriott, walkable in under ten minutes, and it's open till midnight.

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I believe we are staying in the downtown Marriott, but I am not quite sure.  We will definitely be downtown though.

I like beef and I love sausage.. and you speak of them in the same sandwich? I must know where to find one!  Also, can anyone suggest any downtown coffee shops/pastry places that would be nice for a late night snack?

The best place downtown to get a beef or a combo would be Al's No. 1 on Taylor Street, a classic Chicago spot in the heart of Little Italy. An Italian beef sandwich (or just "a beef" in Chicagoese) starts with thinly sliced, seasoned roast beef, dripping with juices, layered on a long roll. For a combo, they'll add on a fennel-laced Italian sausage, grilled over charcoal. For the best version, ask for it "dipped." The counterman will also ask "sweet or hot?" which means do you want sauteed sweet peppers or a spicy hot-pepper giardiniera mixture on it. I recommend the latter, if you can take the heat. All of this combines to create a drippy, messy sandwich that is far more than the sum of its parts. Lean forward to eat it. At Al's on Taylor, eating beef is facilitated by the fact that there are no seats, just a chest-high stand-up counter.

After you eat your sandwich (get the fries, too -- skin-on, from fresh potatoes), stroll across the street to Mario's, the best Italian lemonade in Chicago. This is a refreshing, frozen, slushy drink that starts with just fresh lemons, cane sugar and water. There will also be strips of lemon peel and likely a few pips in your cup, so you know it's real. You can stop there, if you like, or get a flavored version.

Bear in mind that all the flavors -- even chocolate -- begin with the same lemon mix, so get a flavor you think is compatible with lemon. Most of them mean added flavoring syrup, but a few come from fresh fruit, including watermelon, cantaloupe, tutti-frutti, coconut, pineapple and pina colada. For a short period in late summer, there is peach, and aficionados await it eagerly all summer.

Half a mile from the Marriott is Tempo, an all-night coffeeshop with great omelets.

Al's No. 1 Italian Beef

1079 W. Taylor St., Chicago

312/733-8896

Mario's Italian Lemonade

1068 W. Taylor St.

No phone

Tempo Cafe

6 E. Chestnut St.

312/943-4373

LAZ

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I believe we are staying in the downtown Marriott, but I am not quite sure.  We will definitely be downtown though.

I like beef and I love sausage.. and you speak of them in the same sandwich? I must know where to find one!  Also, can anyone suggest any downtown coffee shops/pastry places that would be nice for a late night snack?

The best place downtown to get a beef or a combo would be Al's No. 1 on Taylor Street, a classic Chicago spot in the heart of Little Italy. An Italian beef sandwich (or just "a beef" in Chicagoese) starts with thinly sliced, seasoned roast beef, dripping with juices, layered on a long roll. For a combo, they'll add on a fennel-laced Italian sausage, grilled over charcoal. For the best version, ask for it "dipped." The counterman will also ask "sweet or hot?" which means do you want sauteed sweet peppers or a spicy hot-pepper giardiniera mixture on it. I recommend the latter, if you can take the heat. All of this combines to create a drippy, messy sandwich that is far more than the sum of its parts. Lean forward to eat it. At Al's on Taylor, eating beef is facilitated by the fact that there are no seats, just a chest-high stand-up counter.

After you eat your sandwich (get the fries, too -- skin-on, from fresh potatoes), stroll across the street to Mario's, the best Italian lemonade in Chicago. This is a refreshing, frozen, slushy drink that starts with just fresh lemons, cane sugar and water. There will also be strips of lemon peel and likely a few pips in your cup, so you know it's real. You can stop there, if you like, or get a flavored version.

Bear in mind that all the flavors -- even chocolate -- begin with the same lemon mix, so get a flavor you think is compatible with lemon. Most of them mean added flavoring syrup, but a few come from fresh fruit, including watermelon, cantaloupe, tutti-frutti, coconut, pineapple and pina colada. For a short period in late summer, there is peach, and aficionados await it eagerly all summer.

Half a mile from the Marriott is Tempo, an all-night coffeeshop with great omelets.

Al's No. 1 Italian Beef

1079 W. Taylor St., Chicago

312/733-8896

Mario's Italian Lemonade

1068 W. Taylor St.

No phone

Tempo Cafe

6 E. Chestnut St.

312/943-4373

The "best" Italian beef is a subject of serious contention here in Chicago but I happen to agree completely with LAZ that Al's on Taylor Street is the very best of them all. It is, without question, my personal favorite. However, there are other folks who post in this very forum -- friends of mine, in fact (are you listening, molto e? :raz:) -- who think that Mr. Beef or Johnnie's is better. Go figure! :biggrin:

And the recommendation of hitting Mario's afterwards is also a great one. The line can be long at times, but it moves fast and it's well worth it, IMO.

=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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I agree with ronnie and LAZ that Al's and Mario's are a terrific twosome in Little Italy, and when we lived there back in the day is was a regular Saturday lunch tour. (I am, however, with molto e in the superiority of Mr. Beef on Orleans. :raz: )

If you walk west on Taylor Street you'll get to Patio Hot Dog (!503 W. Taylor.) They do a terrific beef and the fries are even better than Al's, which is saying a lot.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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We were planning on taking lunch at Blackbird the day we fly in, however we have had to change our flight to a later one. We probably won't be able to have lunch until around 2. Do you think we will have any trouble walking in at that time?

edit: this is on a Friday

Edited by pbandy (log)
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The "best" Italian beef is a subject of serious contention here in Chicago but I happen to agree completely with LAZ that Al's on Taylor Street is the very best of them all.  It is, without question, my personal favorite.  However, there are other folks who post in this very forum -- friends of mine, in fact (are you listening, molto e? :raz:) -- who think that Mr. Beef or Johnnie's is better.  Go figure! :biggrin:

Well, I did limit it to "the best place downtown." :biggrin: For the best beef anywhere, I'd probably give the edge to Johnnie's, although the one-two punch of Al's and Mario's is hard to beat. Taking the components separately, Johnnie's has the best beef and giardiniera and Al's wins on sausage and fries. But as I always say, Italian beef is more than the sum of its parts!

PS-I'm also a regular user of the drive-thru at Al's on Ontario. But there I usually get just sausage with sweet peppers, neater to eat in the car.

Edited by LAZ (log)

LAZ

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We were planning on taking lunch at Blackbird the day we fly in, however we have had to change our flight to a later one.  We probably won't be able to have lunch until around 2.  Do you think we will have any trouble walking in at that time?

Lunch hours are listed on their website as 11:30-2:00, which makes it iffy. I would suggest calling the restaurant to ask them directly.
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The "best" Italian beef is a subject of serious contention here in Chicago but I happen to agree completely with LAZ that Al's on Taylor Street is the very best of them all.  It is, without question, my personal favorite.  However, there are other folks who post in this very forum -- friends of mine, in fact (are you listening, molto e? :raz:) -- who think that Mr. Beef or Johnnie's is better.  Go figure! :biggrin:

Well, I did limit it to "the best place downtown." :biggrin: For the best beef anywhere, I'd probably give the edge to Johnnie's, although the one-two punch of Al's and Mario's is hard to beat. Taking the components separately, Johnnie's has the best beef and giardiniera and Al's wins on sausage and fries. But as I always say, Italian beef is more than the sum of its parts!

PS-I'm also a regular user of the drive-thru at Al's on Ontario. But there I usually get just sausage with sweet peppers, neater to eat in the car.

Gotta respectfully disagree with you on Johnnie's. For me, their beef and giardiniera are indeed excellent but still not as good as Al's. I do, however, like their sausage a bit more than Al's. And Johnnie's fries are downright lousy, whereas Als' are among the best available in the area.

As I said, this is a contentious topic of discussion :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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Gotta respectfully disagree with you on Johnnie's.  For me, their beef and giardiniera are indeed excellent but still not as good as Al's.  I do, however, like their sausage a bit more than Al's.  And Johnnie's fries are downright lousy, whereas Als' are among the best available in the area.

De gustibus.

Do I recall correctly that you aren't a big fan of fennel in Italian sausage? That would account for your preference of Johnnie's sausage over Al's, which has a big fennel flavor.

I definitely agree on the fries.

LAZ

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hey folks, I apologize for the delayed response to my own topic. It's been a crazy few weeks moving back to school.

I want to thank you all for the wonderful suggestions. I will write up a larger review of our dining experience in Chicago later, but let me tell you it was a mix of fun, hilarity, and pleasure.

Again, thanks for all of the suggestions.

P.S. I want a Fox and Obel in Tennessee.

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Please allow me to insert a parallel post. My wife and I will be in Chicago from PM 29 August until AM 1 September. This is my 75th birthday present and it features Cub games (a lifelong fan) as well as some dining.

I currently have reservations Friday night at C-House (staying at the Affinia), Saturday night at Schwa and Sunday night at L.20.

I have not seen any recent reviews of C-House and have seen some reports of underachievement regarding L.20.

Reading this thread and comments on some other highish-end places makes me wonder if I should reconsider my choices. (Schwa is, of course, sacred.)

Thanks, folks.

PS: Enjoyed Alinea a couple of years ago.

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I haven't been to C-House, but Schwa and L2O are both excellent. I wouldn't worry too much about the mixed reports on either place (you can even find some negative reviews of Alinea if you look for them). If you liked Alinea, I think you'll be very happy at both Schwa and L2O.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I haven't been to L2O, but the reports I've seen have been consistently positive.

EDIT - Ignore the comments below! I was confusing C-House, which I have not been to, with Custom House, in the South Loop. My bad! :blush:

I had dinner at Custom House a few months ago. I loved a couple of the dishes, thought others were just okay, and was quite disappointed by the desserts. Overall, I would say that it was good, not great. Where is great? In that same genre of contemporary American casual fine dining, I have found the best place in the city, on numerous visits, to be one sixtyblue, although Executive Chef Martial Noguier will be leaving there on September 6, shortly after your visit. I've also enjoyed Aigre Doux and North Pond. I would gladly return to any of these three, and would recommend them over Custom House.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Was DaleJ asking about the meat-oriented Custom House, in the Morton Hotel, or the seafood-oriented C-House, in the Affinia Hotel? The similarity in names is confusing, but I'm guessing it's the latter, which I haven't been to, but I've heard good things, except for priciness.

(I like the new avatar, Ken.)

Edited by nr706 (log)
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I've been to C-House and have always been hesitant to add my comments since I was there before they opened for a friends and family dinner. There were kinks that needed to be worked out and I haven't been back to see if things are a little different. Overall, I would say it was good and even though we didn't pay, the prices looked like what I would have expected to pay. I can't recall what everyone had to eat for their meals, but can recall a general feeling of people liking their apps and entrees. My entree was not that good - it was a squid ink pasta with seafood. The pasta was clumpy and the seafood was too much fish and not enough of the other promised types of seafood. (All of this went down on my comment card). Also, the sauce was a little too sweet, which I didn't put down on the card, b/c that could be a matter of taste. The desserts were a hit at our table, especially the option of choosing little bites/pieces of candy, chocolates, cakes, etc.

The staff was friendly and the space is nice. We got a tour of the upstairs lounge - it wasn't yet open for us to have a drink at. It has a great view and from what I've read is becoming popular. We do plan on stopping in some time.

Again, I would say good/very good, but not great.

I have dined at L20, which we did enjoy, though I am not as smitten with the place as others are. We had a couple of missteps, which may partly be due to our expectations. For example, I guess that I shouldn't expect to be given more than one amuse and bags of bread to take home when I have read other reports where this happened. I did however only eat 2 bites of my entree (both because I was getting full and I wanted to save room for the cheese and dessert courses), so I asked for it to be wrapped. Maybe, a restaurant of this caliber isn't used to people asking for their food to be wrapped, but that doesn't mean they should decide to not give it to me. Never saw my entree again, which was a little disappointing. I didn't mention it before I left, so I'm not sure what they would have done had I said something.

Schwa is by far one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago. You won't go wrong there.

Happy Birthday!

Edited by santo_grace (log)

I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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I haven't been to C-House, but Schwa and L2O are both excellent.  I wouldn't worry too much about the mixed reports on either place (you can even find some negative reviews of Alinea if you look for them).  If you liked Alinea, I think you'll be very happy at both Schwa and L2O.

And I would be one who's written unenthusiastically about all three: L20, alinea, and schwa. However, I'm quite certain that you can have an immensely satisfying meal at all three.

I haven't been to Custom House and I do need to give each L20 and schwa another chance or two.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Thanks, Santo.

UE: I'm sure my concerns stem from reading your excellent reviews and your pics. I shall stay with my original schedule and look forward to all, including a visit or two to The Violet Hour.

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