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Dining in Chicago


Paul B
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Hi. At a conference in beautiful Chicago, staying at the Hyatt on Wacker, right downtown on the canal. Any good places within walking distance for reasonably priced dinners? Many thanks in advance.

Paul B

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I work just across the river, so I'm happy to provide more specific advice if you'd like a particular cuisine/price.

I'll second the recommendation for Keefer's. When it comes to Rick Bayless, I'd rather eat at Topolobampo once than Frontera/Xoco a dozen times...but to each their own. Avec is great, but that's a pretty decent hike.

For more walkable suggestions, on Michigan just north of the river there are two excellent choices:

The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan Avenue)

Bandera <--PDF Link (535 N. Michigan Avenue)

Both of these can be quite busy, but there is bar seating for the solo diner, which I like.

A bit to the West of these is Ginza (19 E. Ohio St), home of excellent ramen and other traditional Japanese food (I don't recommend the sushi, but then I wouldn't recommend the sushi anywhere in Chicago).

On your side of the river you're close to Pastoral (53 E. Lake) whose wonderful cheese selections I've made into dinner on a number of occasions.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Hi. At a conference in beautiful Chicago, staying at the Hyatt on Wacker, right downtown on the canal. Any good places within walking distance for reasonably priced dinners? Many thanks in advance.

I've stayed at that Hyatt several times, including, most recently, for the eG 2008 Heartland Gathering. It sounds like you're already at the conference, so I'll offer a few suggestions to start. There are so many good choices within a 15-minute walk, though, that it still would help if you could define "reasonably priced" and "walking distance," as well as what type(s) of cuisine you'd prefer (or not prefer), if any.

River North: Quartino, Brasserie Jo, A Mano, Kiki's Bistro, Naha (a little more expensive)

Gold Coast: Le Colonial, Cafe Spiaggia, Topolobampo, Café des Architectes (a little more expensive)

Your side of the river: The Gage, Rhapsody (a little more expensive)

As a side note, if you don't like the conference lunch food, ask the hotel for directions to the underground passageway to the Aon Center, then go get a sandwich at Hannah's Bretzel (Mon-Fri only). It's easy to find once you're there. They can be crowded during peak lunch time, but their sandwiches are worth it, imho.

"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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We locals refer to that "canal" as the Chicago River. Hot spots near your Hyatt include many that are now honoring "Chicago Restaurant Week", though it officially ended weeks ago. Great service, steaks, sides and stone-crab claws on a deal at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steaks & Stone Crab across from the Radisson on Rush. Lots of newish hot spots around, but for solid Chicago classics, check out an Italian beef sandwich for lunch at Mr. Beef on Orleans (order it "sweet and hot and soaked", which includes bell peppers stewed in beef jus, spicy giardiniara, and the whole sandwich dipped in jus). For the best deep-dish pizza, check out Lou Malnati's (I like the one on Wells) and try one of Rich Bayless's places. (If you go between 3-5, you'll probably be able to just walk right into his cheapest eatery, Xoco, selling street food.)

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Absolutely go to The Purple Pig. Probably my favorite new restaurant in town.

Yes, of course. Thanks for the reminder, Josh. I took a look at the place during my last visit but we already had eaten lunch by then and all the rest of the meals were spoken for. Next time...

"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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Get to Gilt Bar!!! Just opened a few week ago. Food is casual comfort brought to you by some of the most talented young chefs in the city. Resumes from L20, French Laundry, Perse', Alain Ducasse.... Need I say more? And don't expect that style of food, Imagine your mothers roasted chicken recipe, just spruced up with some espellete pepper and prepared by guys who learned from Thomas Keller and Laurant Gras. Im the bartender over there. Come on in and mention this thread, I'll buy ya sazerac!

Cheers!

Zach

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I can't say I enjoyed Gilt Bar all that much at a recent dinner. Primarily, I didn't appreciate being carded at the door of a restaurant at 8pm. Beyond that, here is a recent write up that I posted on another site:

We had a somewhat strange and slightly disappointing dinner at Gilt last night.

Gilt occupies the former Aigre Dioux space behind the Merchandise Mart. Before we entered to restaurant to take a look at the complete overhaul they've done on the space, we were stopped at the door by a bouncer-type checking IDs. I can't say that I've ever been carded when entering a restaurant at 8pm. Not the best first impression to make IMO. Make no mistake, although this place has the word "bar" in the name, it is trying to be a restaurant first (at least at 8pm on a Saturday night).

The room is an odd mix of large tables, small tables, couches with tables, benches, etc. Fortunately we were seated at a proper table since I didn't really feel like eating dinner on the couch (I can do that at home).

We ordered a number of dishes from each section of the menu. Just to be sure we didn't get everything at once we requested a specific order of dishes from our server.

First round was a pork and duck pate and a beet salad with some apples, mint, and I think a nut of some kind. The pate was really nice and was served with some toasty/charred bread. The bread was warm, letting the pate melt a bit when spread on top. We needed more bread to finish the pate and Gilt decided to charge us an extra dollar for the privilege. Classy. I also enjoyed the beets. They sort of reminded me of Passover.

Next up were a couple of pastas. Gnocchi with brown butter and sage and a pappardelle with scallops. I liked the gnocchi (opinions at the table were mixed). They had a little bit of crisp on the outside, but were still generally light. They walked right up to the line of being oversalted, but overall I thought they were good. The pappardelle was just ok. I like the texture of the pasta but thought the pasta itself (when eaten without the sauce) was sort of bland.

I didn't know what bland was, however, until we got to our next round of dishes. We went with the pork meatballs and what the menu referred to as a "pork breast". Pork breast is apparently just pork belly. The plate had three thickly cut pieces of belly served on top of lentils. I have never had pork belly as bland and boring as this belly. Completely unseasoned. No texture on the outside. Just a mouthful of bland and boring fat/meat. The lentils tasted like dirt. I never send dishes back because they're not to my liking, but there was just no excuse for this. The waitress took it back and we got the pot roast instead. The pot roast was good, but no different than any other good pot roast that I've had. The pork meatballs were pretty good...crispy on the outside and moist and porky on the inside. We also had a couple of vegetable dishes with this round...some blackened cauliflower and grits with cheese. The cauliflower was actually one of the highlights of the night. Served with pickled onion and some chilis, it was probably a successful dish because it didn't really taste like cauliflower. The grits tasted alright but suffered from being on the watery side.

We skipped dessert, as it didn't sound like a real pastry program was up and running yet.

Drinks are mainly focused on beer and cocktails. I had a couple of sazeracs with my dinner. I'm no cocktail expert, but they were damn tasty and hard not to drink too fast.

Overall, an ok but not great dinner. Some highs (the pate, cauliflower, meatballs) and one insanely low low (pork breast). I think this place needs to figure out what it wants to be. It doesn't really occupy the same space as Purple Pig, but I think that's what it's trying to do (even though the Pig could kick this place's butt up and down the street). Is it a bar or a restaurant? Is it locally focused or not? Is it going to highlight suppliers/farmers or not? It seems like it wants to do all of these things but doesn't fully commit (we asked what the source of an 18oz ribeye was and we were told "Iowa". Pass). I think unless Gilt gets these things figured out it will fall victim to its cursed location.

-Josh

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

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Here are my two cents.

I agree with the recommendations for Rick Bayless's restaurants. My recommendation to a visitor from out of town would be Topolobampo or Frontera Grill rather than XOCO. Both have excellent food. Topo is more expensive for dinner and accepts reservations for the whole place and books up well in advance (three months for Saturday nights). Frontera Grill accepts only a handful of reservations and holds most of the room for walk-in traffic; waiting time to be seated can be lengthy, especially on weekends. You might consider either of them at lunchtime, when Topo doesn't generally book up way in advance and its prices are similar to Frontera's.

There are lots more great places close by. Within a five-minute walk, I recommend David Burke's Primehouse for steaks, Shaw's for seafood, Brasserie Jo for French bistro, Sunda or Aria for pan-Asian, Heaven on Seven for Cajun (you're equidistant from the Rush and Wabash locations; check the website as they keep different hours),

A little bit further (within ten minutes walk), Cafe des Architectes (my favorite casual fine dining restaurant in the city), Vivere or Cafe Spiaggia for Italian, Mercat a la Planxa for tapas, and Nacional 27 for Latin fusion.

Also within a five-minute walk, don't miss our delicious authentic Chicago-style deep-dish pizza while you're here! For the classic "pizza in the pan", the original locations of Uno and Due are still excellent (unlike their franchise counterparts). A block or two from the hotel are two places for double-crust "stuffed pizza" - Giordano's (Prudential location) and Bacino's (Wacker location). Wherever you go for deep-dish, you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

Also five minutes away is Fox & Obel, our premier gourmet food store, with the finest meats, cheeses, and other basics, as well as the finest baked goods and other prepared foods. Don't miss the yummy cinnamon swirl rolls at the bakery counter! There's a cafe in the rear if you want to eat anything on the premises, from a cup of coffee to an entire meal prepared to order.

While you're here, go to Garrett's Popcorn. You're about equal distance from the locations on Michigan Avenue and at Randolph and State. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or a mix of caramel/cheese. Yum!

Here are two more recommendations that are a bit further away but worth the visit.

Three miles north, '>North Pond uniquely represents Chicago for its setting, located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name) facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as the warming shelter for skaters on the frozen pond in the winter. The food is contemporary American featuring local and seasonal ingredients from James Beard Award finalist Chef Bruce Sherman. It's about three miles north of River North.

Our new '>French Market, located just west of the Loop in one of the train stations, is worth a visit. Keep in mind that it just opened a couple of months ago, and it's not fancy. However, it has several dozen food booths and these include some of the very best that Chicago has to offer. Highlights include the croissants, entremets, and French macaroons at Vanille Patisserie; the artisan chocolates at Canady Le Chocolatier (whose main shop is in the South Loop, also not far away); the cheeses at Pastoral; and the rainbow cookies at Delightful Pastries.

Enjoy your visit!

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