Admittedly, the sole purpose of my recent trip to Chicago was to eat Alinea. It didn’t matter to me if we ate mediocre meals for the rest of the trip as long as I got to visit a Grant Achatz restaurant. We had confirmed reservations at Alinea before we left Vancouver, but I had been desperately trying to get a reservation at Next or The Aviary – unfortunately, our dates didn’t match their opening hours (they are open from Wednesday through Sunday) so we didn’t get to sample any of Chef Achatz’s other establishments. Whilst that was disappointing, it freed us up to explore the Chicago food scene before our highly anticipated meal at Alinea. In a brief summary, here is what we got up to:
Merlo was an easy introduction to Chicago. It didn’t blow my socks off but it was a nice evening at a restaurant that made an effort. For the Vancouverites reading, it reminded me of a Lupo/Cioppino’s amalgamation, but with a little less polish than Cioppino’s. The execution was a little sloppy for us (a few small bones in the peasant pasta, the expensive tenderloin with white truffles was very acidic and not worth the hefty price-tag) but overall the experience was cozy, romantic, and a nice welcome to the Windy City. We ended up back at our hotel bar, closing down the bar whilst drinking Prosecco and cocktails. This happens when you are two hours ahead of everyone else in the city (we were still on Pacific Standard Time).
Wild Tuna Carpaccio from Merlo
Pasta special with Peasant from Merlo
Beef Tenderloin with White Alba Truffles from Merlo
Dark Chocolate Molten Cake from Merlo
We struggled to find good coffee in Chicago. We went out of our way to find Intelligenstia Coffee but it really wasn’t worth it. We found our best coffee in Eataly, which if you’ve not been to the New York store, you really should visit the Chicago store when you are in town. You will find delicious coffee, snacks, pasta, pizza, cheese, and wine (amongst other things). I love this place as it is a foodie’s playground. Just try to say no to the carbs!
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe from Eataly
Housemade Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragu from Eataly
I had to try the deep pan pizza that Chicago is famous for and after some research I landed on Lou Malnati’s for an original deep pan pizza. Unfortunately, this beast (above) played havoc with my stomach. I don’t think my stomach and I are cut out for the calorie overload that was a deep pan pizza from Lou Malnati’s. I wouldn’t go back for this. The base was too buttery/oily and it was far too much heavy food for this delicate tummy (I only ate half of the “personal” pizza and found that it was too much).
I would, however, go back for Champagne at RM Champagne Salon. This beautifully decorated bar was so cute that I wanted to stay there all night and drink bottles of Champagne. The atmosphere was incredibly romantic and I’d highly recommend a visit to this place if you are in the area. It is somewhat hidden but if you know what you are looking for, it isn’t hard to find.
After our pre-dinner drink at RM Champagne Salon, we made our way around the corner to the famous Girl and The Goat. This place was jumping from the minute we got there – think: dark, loud, and busy. But the reason folks stand in line for this place is for the food – it is so good. The menu was a little peculiar but all of the dishes that we tried (five in total) were exceptional. Reservations aren’t accepted so go and put your name on the list and drink at the RM Champagne Salon whilst you wait for your table.
Steamed Cape Cod Mussels with garlic crunch from Girl and The Goat
Crisp Braised Pork Shank – so good! From Girl and The Goat.
I had a great time in Chicago even though it felt a little sleepy compared to New York, although, I have a feeling that this might have been because we were there on a long weekend. Next time I return to Chicago (I must go back to Alinea), it will be in the summer as there is more happening at that time, like baseball and outdoor summer events. The highlight for our trip was, without a doubt, Alinea.