This week I wanted to stay on top of the Chicago restaurant scene because so much is going on. It seems there is a new opening every week. With so much to try, I had to book appointments with myself and stay on track.
Really, it started last week with the kick-off event for Chicago Restaurant Week 2011 at The Chicago Theatre. My back-up date, Snooty, tagged along for a tasting from fifteen participating restaurants. Here's the deal: over 200 restaurants (plus more than 20 in the suburbs) are offering a prix fixe lunch menu for $22 and dinner menu for $33/$44 from February 18 – 27. Restaurant Week allows diners to taste supplemental menus at a great price…get out there people. Take advantage of trying some restaurants you haven't been to yet. If you need a recommendation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or log onto www.choosechicago.com to view participating restaurants.
This week has been a whirlwind of tastings with last night alone, I checked into four places. Let's just say, I have a hard time replying NO when asked to go out. Wednesday, I went to Hubbard Inn. Knowing it was going to be a hotspot, I called the PR firm to reserve a table for me and my single gal friend. Here's my over under on Hubbard Inn…it's going to stick around as local spot to hang out late for cocktails. While they have only been open a week, I'm not sure the food is up to snuff with some of the surrounding restaurants. That's not to say it won't get there, the menu has potential and the chef worked in some fantastic kitchens. I'll cut them some slack and revisit in a month. I still highly recommend going, but the food may take some time to catch up to the quality of the decor. Speaking of which, it's probably the coolest looking place in Chicago. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway's journey's, Hubbard Inn is cozy with a European feel. If the bar area is open upstairs, make sure to check that out too. The space is outstanding and I love the excessive amount of light fixtures in the dining area. From the outside, it just looks kick-ass.
Yesterday, I dragged one of my BF's around all day and she kept up pretty darn good! We stopped off the beaten path in West Town for lunch at Arami (1829 W. Chicago) which opened about four months ago. I had heard about their sushi and ramen and wanted to check it out. Plus, I needed a change of pace from the "hotspot" scene as of late. Quiet and serene, this little gem of a sushi restaurant lived up to my expectations. The owners/chefs believe that their sushi stands out because of the quality of the fish not the fancy rolls. That doesn't mean their rolls are uninvolved. Rather, they are presented beautifully and have a clean, fresh taste not stuffed with fussy ingredients. I'm not a big fan of huge maki rolls. I prefer to taste a few key flavors that meld together unexpectedly…all in one bite. We ordered:
- Hamachi Maguro: yellow tail, tuna, scallion, jalapeno, shrimp, spicy mayo
- Shrimp Tempura Asparagus: fried shrimp, asparagus, flamed spicy salmon
- Spicy Tako Springroll: spicy octopus, cilantro, crisp mixed greens in a spring roll
We also shared a bowl of their Arami Ramen wtih pork belly, braised beef, house tsukemono, kamaboko and egg. The broth was rich and the meat was tender while the egg mixed into the noodles creating an even richer texture to the broth. The waitress told us to come back for dinner because the experience and food is even better. Noted and will go again.
Later that evening, we attended a media event at my favorite wine bar , Di Sotto Enoteca (200 E. Chestnut). It's located under Francesca's in the Gold Coast and has great small plates. I keep telling everyone if they are in the area, it's the best little hang out underground. As I was leaning back to breath after stuffing myself with the Truffled Egg Toast with Fontina Cheese (OMG, you have to try this), bruschetta and Ricotta Pot with Honey, my favorite industry gal suggested we move to their other place Davanti Enoteca for some follow-up food. Yes, you heard me, follow-up food. Not one to say NO, we polished off our glass of wine, walked to the car and headed to Little Italy. While heading down to Taylor Street, Chef BF texted me wanting to know where I was…because he knew I was somewhere in town. It doesn't take much arm twisting to get him to meet me and we were now a party of four on our way to Davanti. Uh, geez, this is my place. They brought out a long cutting board with two small pots. They set it down and poured perfectly cooked polenta with marscapone over the cutting board. Then, they opened the second pot to smother the polenta in oxtail ragu. It was a beautiful thing. Chef and I made an "ahhh" sound and scooped it up immediately. Loved the presentation, loved the polenta and loved the tender oxtail. Davanti also prepares a focaccia that is traditional to Italy but not what we would expect for focaccia. It's more like a two layers of flatbread fired with creamy cheese in the center. This too, is one of my favorite dishes that Chef BF used to make for me at the Four Seasons years ago. Order one for the table if you live for cheese! We had the pasta with pecorino and pepper which happens to be a staple at home. I was bummed at how much better the dish is at Davanti and need to find out what I'm doing wrong. How can I not figure this simple pasta out with so few ingredients. Theirs is delish!
Again, leaning back to breath, I get a text from Prince Charming saying, "Where are you? I'm still in the city…come meet me at Hub 51." Ok everyone, time to button up the pants and move to our next location. We thanked the kitchen and headed to River North. However, the gang wanted to walk down to see Hubbard Inn after hearing me praise the space. My girlfriend and I desperately tried to get our bartender to crack a smile…nothing worked. Prince Charming and Chef BF ignored our flirting because they too realized, we weren't getting anywhere. So, one quick cocktail and we were on our way.
That was a busy week with some great food. Here I am, four hours of sleep, two cups of coffee and a list of places you need to try. My first pick would be Davanti Enoteca. Although, good luck getting a table. The place is packed with foodies.