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Monday, February 20, 2012

Food Coma in Chicago

FRIDAY - February 17, 2012

I arrived late Friday night in Chicago for my first ever visit to the windy city. I was there for work but would be spending the weekend celebrating the birthday of one of my closest friends.

I arrived close to 10:40pm at the apartment and we spent the next hour or so drinking wine and meeting people on Chat Roulette (many games can be created from this website - I will let your imagination think of some). We then hopped in a cab and headed out to explore....Old Town.

Our first stop was Benchmark, a rowdy sports bar fairly crowded with people. We easily found a booth to sit at and were enjoying our first round of drinks when a guy came up to our table to start talking to me. He was fairly inebriated and finally I ran out of patience when he grabbed my drink to take a swig. NOT OKAY. This resulted in me firmly telling him to go away which was met with a tirade from him. He eventually wandered on and things returned to normal only for him to return five minutes later with a round of beers. Clearly he wasn't getting the message. We again asked him to leave and he took it upon himself to spew an unrelenting stream of curse words at me. My friend was furious and next thing I know she had poured an entire beer on the guy's head. WHAT IS GOING ON!?? Not that he didn't deserve it but that was obviously our cue to leave.

Photo Credit:

The next bar, The Fireplace Inn, had a far friendlier atmosphere resulting in a dance off between the birthday girl and a random guy at the bar. I don't think I've ever seen a guy with a bigger smile on his face. It was a hard wrought battle but eventually she tired and wanted to move on. Before leaving I thanked the waitress who along with the rest of the staff was helpful and welcoming. I highly recommend this place.

Photo Credit: Fireplace Website

Upon exiting Fireplace, I thought we were headed home but the birthday girl instead wandered across the street to Burton Place which is apparently open until 5am, far after the rest of the street is closing down. We didn't spend a lot of time here but it looked like a place I would revisit. It was much more "divey" which is totally my scene.

SATURDAY - February 18, 2012

Surprisingly no one woke up with a horrible hangover which was a good thing considering we were about to brave the 96 floors to near the top of the 100 story Hancock Tower - one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. The 96th floor houses the Signature Lounge where you can grab a drink and look out over Chicago. Be warned that you may be waiting in line for the elevators for quite awhile. Oh, and for the best view head to the women's bathroom (sorry boys).

After testing our stomachs with the crazy Willis Tower view, we decided to reward ourselves with a trip to Lou Malnati's for some famous Chicago deep dish pizza. Who makes the best Chicago pizza obviously depends on who you ask but I'm putting my hand in with Lou. The first Malnati's opened in 1971 and has been a family-run company ever since. You can feel the history and the family feel from the staff to the decorations.

To fully experience the menu we ordered the Malnati Salad with Romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, black olives, sliced mushrooms, crumbled Volpi salami and gorgonzola cheese tossed with Lou's famous dressing and the "Malnati Chicago Classic" pizza with Lou's exclusive blend of lean sausage, some extra cheese, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on their famous Buttercrust.

While I wouldn't say I like deep dish pizza I can say that if you do this is the place to go. I now know why they call it pizza "pie" because it was thick, creamy and rich. SO GOOD.

The rest of the day we spent lounging around knowing that our night time activities would take a lot out of us.

Tonight we dressed in our finest and headed to the infamous Studio Paris, a nightclub known to be frequented by the young, the wealthy, and the restless. We arrived at 10:30pm which sounds early (and it was) but within 30 minutes the place was packed and went from designer lounge to wild dance party. The playlist was excellent and the bathroom line manageable. Another place receiving high marks from me.

While most people's nights would be over after partying at a club until 2am, we are not those people. We shut down Paris and then continued on to Moe's Cantina to meet up with a bunch of friends. Moe's is quite possibly the biggest bar I have ever seen in my entire life. It's like the size of a warehouse and it was FULL of people. Absolutely nuts.

Photo Credit: Moe's Website

We spent an hour being ridiculous at Moe's which made us very hungry. It was about 4am and we walked outside to find a limo conveniently parked in front. In we went and next thing we knew we had arrived in Lincoln Park (20 minutes away) at the also infamous Weiner Circle hotdog stand. What makes it infamous do you ask? In order to maintain some level of secrecy I will only tell you this. If you ever go there make sure you have $20 in cash and ask for the "chocolate shake." If you don't want to go blind...order a Chicago dog with all the fixin's. You'll end up with a slightly charred dog with onions, relish, tomatoes and a pickle. Sounds digusting; tastes delicious.

Photo Credit: Lance L on

SUNDAY - February 19, 2012

Last night was late n' great which meant we barely made our 1pm brunch reservation at the Sixteen at the Trump Hotel. For $77, eat everything you possibly can and then wash it down with the complimentary mimosa. It was a great experience but definitely a one-time experience as the food at the end of the day is not worth the price tag. I even ate six plates in an attempt to average it out. You can view the extensive brunch menu but in the meantime here were some of my favorites:

-the ribeye with horseradish and mustard
-the waffles with chocolate sauce and strawberries
-the make it yourself omelets
-the Humboldt Fog cheese with prosciutto
-the applewood smoked bacon
-the cheesecake bite with cranberries

Also if you are going to do this once, wait until summer because you can eat out on the patio with a beautiful view of Chicago.

Completely stuffed from brunch we spent the next few hours seeing a movie and then wandered down the street to Bull & Bear for a beer because we couldn't think of anything better to do on a Sunday. Of all the places I've been so far I immediately felt at home in this bar. The wait staff was AMAZING and they have tables with keg spouts! You reserve a table (must have five people) and pick what two beers you want at your table and then it's all you can drink and you pay at the end based on the number of liters consumed. A robot waitress! It was a little slow when we were there (5pm) but apparently is a ton of fun when there are sporting events. On a side note I had the quesadilla bites and tasted the cheddar mashed potatoes and wasn't in love so not sure it is my top place for food.

Later in the evening I said goodnight to my friends, packed my bags and crossed town to the Hotel Monaco where I'd be staying for the work portion of the trip. The hotel staff is very welcoming and the rooms were super fun! The bathrobes are cheetah print! Also if you sign up to be a Kimpton Hotel member you get free internet and a $10 coupon for the mini bar. AGAIN from 5-6pm they have free wine in the lobby area. This place is awesome! The only knock I have against it is that the hotel is located really close to the tram rail system so I ended up asking for earplugs so that I could sleep :/

MONDAY - February 20, 2012

My first day as a working girl in Chicago and for lunch my coworkers took me to the best meal I had on the trip. Henri is the creme-de-la-creme of Chicago lunch dining and we were able to sneak in because we were apparently the only company working on President's Day. This week is also conveniently Restaurant Week in Chicago so I ordered a three course meal of smoked steak tartare with quail egg and crispy house baguette slices, the roasted chicken breast salad with beets, artichokes, lemon, and goat cheese, and the chocolate cremeux with passion fruit sorbet.

The steak tartare was delicious and the baby quail egg was so cute! It was a beautifully plated dish. The chicken was perfectly cooked with a flaky roasted skin and the beets, artichokes and goat cheese blended nicely in terms of flavor. The dessert was good but I found the passion fruit sorbet to be a little overwhelming. Overall highly recommended!

After work while waiting on my friends my mission was to find and try Garrett's Popcorn, another Chicago tradition. I ordered the Chicago Mix which is half CaramelCrisp and half CheeseCorn. They mix it together in the same bag and I recommend a kernel of each in each bite. It was really good but I'm also not a huge popcorn person. If you are; you'll love it. If not; you should still try it!

Around 8pm I met my friends at Public House and we ordered way too much food and gorged ourselves. We literally ate so much that I have to go item by item. See below. This place is owned by the same group as Bull & Bear, which I still like better.

The Multiple Choice Mac & Cheese is actually why we picked this place for dinner. You can choose your fillings (price per item) or add them all! I actually ended up getting the special mac n' cheese which had spicy chorizo which I think was better than any combo you could make with the below! It was the best mac n' cheese I've ever had. Using spirals was a winning idea!

a) house smoked bacon - 2
b) smoked pulled chicken - 2
c) burnt end brisket - 2
d) chicken chili - 4
e) jumbo lump crab - 9
f) caramelized onion - 1
g) wild mushroom - 2
h) roasted jalapeno - 1
i) white truffle oil - 5
j) all the above - 25

The Kobe Beef Brisket Sliders with spicy bbq sauce, crispy shallots, and toasted brioche bun were perfectly cooked and the bbq sauce didn't take over the burger which made them extremely tasty although still a little rich.

The Mini Kobe Corn Dogs with pineapple beer mustard were SO good. Then again I love corn dogs so I'm bias. Also if you order the Hand Cut Fries you can use those dipping sauces for the corn dogs which makes them even yummier. We ordered the fries with cheddar ale, housemade ranch, and smoked jalapeno aioli as the three sauces.

Texas Smoked Kobe Beef Brisket with smoked bbq beans, hawaiian sweet bun, and crisp napa slaw. The coleslaw was eh, I hate beans and the brisket wasn't as tender and well-cooked as the meat in the sliders so this was a pass.

The shaved Brussel Sprouts with egg, toasted almonds, parmesan cheese, and sherry vinegar were WAY too salty end of story. Couldn't even eat them. The only FAIL on the menu that I tried.

TUESDAY - February 21, 2012

For work lunch today we went to a place I'd heard about and was really excited to try - Hubbard Inn. The restaurant itself was the coolest looking one I've seen in Chicago. The tin tile walls, the low hanging lights, the giant oak door made it a very magical place. A GREAT romantic date option.

The dinner menu is apparently more "tapas" style while the lunch menu is standard size dishes for the most part. I was so intrigued by the appetizers that I didn't even order from the main dishes. The Bacon Wrapped Dates with medjool dates, goat cheese, and red pepper sauce were amazing. The bacon was cooked perfectly, crispy yet slightly soft, and offset the sweetness of the dates quite well. You get six or so dates with the plate which is a little rich for one person so I suggest getting an order for the table.

My other dish was the Duck Rillette with hot mustard and crisped bread slices. The duck was slightly dry but paired with the mustard on the slightly salted toast it was still very tasty. Again probably better to share than eat as your main course but I still ate it all!

I was so stuffed from the past few days that I had Girl Scout cookies for dinner. Winning.

WEDNESDAY - February 22, 2012

Back on the wagon after feeding my food addiction for the last few days I fell right back off once it got to lunch time. Lunch was at Sable Kitchen and Bar which is the restaurant attached to the Palomar Hotel. Once again I succumbed to the Restaurant Week menu (it's my last day here afterall) and ordered the Roasted Pumpkin Gnocchi with hazelnut cream sauce and fried sage, the Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with butternut squash-maple puree, and the Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake with peanut butter sauce and salted caramel ice cream.

The gnocchi was the perfect fusion of flavors with the sage adding a little kick to the sweetness of the pumpkin and cream sauce. I swear there was a tart cheese on this too which helped combat the sweetness. I was worried the pork shoulder would be overkill on sweet as well but it turned out to be just the right amount. The pork itself was cooked so well that it melted on my fork. The souffle cake was a little dry but the caramel salted ice cream was an ideal end to the meal.

Sitting at the airport with my bloated stomach I can look back and say that Chicago has definitely earned its ranking as a top U.S. city both for its nightlife and its array of tasty, though fattening cuisine. I can't wait to come back in the summer for a "beach" party on the lake and a trip to the Bean which in all my time there I never made it to Millennium Park to see. I'm headed back to NYC so look out for next week's weekly NYC post!