chicago, usa (take 1)

I had the chance this july to head to chicago, and I love it. love it.

it’s an amazing city full of eating, and eating, and shopping – and those are my favorite things to do, ever. I was so excited planning the trip up: there are just so many restaurant recommendations on both yelp and chowhound, and refinery29 and serious eats – I nearly went into hysterics just the few days before going up.

singapore may be a good place for an eater, but chicago (and london, incidentally) takes gastronomy to another level.


my trip started amazingly with a flight on all nippon airways – my mantra to fly (the good) asian airlines where possible. there was rice and noodles and all delicious bento sets served on the long flight out, and narita airport itself is a trove of japanese cooking and goodies (casutella, mochi and tokyo banana are some of the more popular things to buy).

first off, chicago is beautiful. I’m, very definitely, a city person – and chicago ticks all the right boxes. I visited hyde park at night (and it does a good job holding up to its namesake in london), and wore out the pavements in the daytime – and well, I can’t remember when I felt more at home in a city I’ve never visited.

it always strikes me how different the US is from the UK – even disregarding the abundant sunshine they have here – there’s just something so loud and exuberant about american cities.

let’s get down to the food though – and I started my chicago eating with my friend lu, who runs a fantastic chicagoan blog, at firecakes. it’s a cute little donut store full of that homey smell of cake and fried bread, done up all vintagey, with two lovely ladies at the counter all bright and chirpy.

I got the triple valrhona chocolate cake donut (there was never any question): dense with a fine crumb, and very well-balanced. the cake was definitely chocolatey (as I like it), and topped with that chocolate ganache icing – not too sweet (surprising given the usual american proclivity for too-sweet sweet), it would have been even more fantastic with coffee.

but I didn’t get that coffee, because we were actually on our way to dinner at avec. and avec is pretty amazing – it reminds me of nights in london hanging out with friends, and it’s not the sort of place you get in singapore (we don’t seem to have that convival culture). it’s a long restaurant, with a bar counter running the length and diners going all casual and noisy.

very good for a dinner with friends.

sharing is the order of the day – and I wanted to eat everything on the menu. but we settled for their:

  1. famous chorizo-stuffed medjool dates wrapped with bacon and served with a piquillo pepper-tomato sauce: justifiably famous, these were sweet and salty and delicious, but that tomato sauce really boosted that umami punch
  2. roasted wild salmon chickpeas served on a roasted beet-walnut muhammara (pepper dip) and with lots of tender baby leaves: tender, flaky salmon and another one of those tangy sauces (I just wished there were more greens to liven things up a bit more)
  3. charred summer squash with shishito peppers, almonds, mint and pickled feta: a nice antipasti to break up the stronger flavours in the other dishes

  5. hand cut pappardalle with mushroom bolognese, madeira, pine nuts and crescenza cheese: this was hands-down delicious, with a rich mushroom and cheese flavor coating the chewy, perfectly-cooked noodles
  6. a special-of-the-day of muessels in white wine and shallots: a light dish compared to our others, but nice nonetheless

  8. slow roasted pork shoulder with roasted carrots, oil cured olives, cous cous, mint and ricotta salata: this was, utterly delicious, with tender meat and a fantastic braising liquid
  9. braised lamb neck with harissa, chickpeas, currants,almonds, pickled turnips and orange flower water (I don’t eat lamb, so I really couldn’t tell you how it was – but it was definitely enjoyed across the table)

it’s all interesting, exotic, fresh flavors, and a level of cooking that’s rather something to behold. definitely worth a visit if you’re in town.

we eventually ended up at eataly (the first of multiple visits I would make over the days there), with scoops of subtly-flavored, soft gelato and counters of pretty cakes.

this couldn’t have been a better visit. take 2 coming right up!

just in case:

  1. my second post on chicago
  2. firecakes donuts: 68 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654, United States; tel +1 312-329-6500
  3. avec: 615 W Randolph, Chicago, IL 60661, United States; tel +1 312-377-2002
  4. eataly: 43 East Ohio Street, Chicago, United States; tel +1 312-521-8700
  5. dana hotel and spa: 660 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654, United States; tel +1 312-202-6000 (I stayed here, and the hotel is beautiful, and convenient, and it has a 24-hr gym)

11 thoughts on “chicago, usa (take 1)

  1. Chicago’s been on our list for some time now, as we have friends there, but so far we’ve never made it. Shame, really.
    Personally, I gotta say I find the gastronomy scene in the US one of the best, if not the best, in the world. I don’t understand where that fast food cheap shit image comes from, because on average the US boasts much better restaurants or eateries than most other countries I’ve been to.

    • wattwurm, Chicago totally jumped up on my list of favorite eating cities. I think though, that nothing really beats London for me. the food in the US is great, but there’s a laidbackness in the UK that I just can’t get elsewhere!

  2. Wow. Just wow. Your photos have me drooling! I’ve never been to Chicago (it’s been years since my last trip to America) but it’s definitely on my list of places to visit. The food wasn’t something I knew much about (other than deep dish pizza) but after a look at your friend Lu’s blog also, I am itching to tuck in! Great photos. Glad that you had an amazing time – thanks for sharing the deets!

    • thank you laura! funnily, I gave up deep dish pizza so I had space for the other restaurants, and also because I was alone and couldn’t finish an entire pie (which most of the best places only serve). you must make a visit there!

  3. Next time, look me up! :) Was just at Baffo at Eataly this past weekend with friends. Their fresh mozzarella and tomato salad is out of this world. Truly . . .

    • kay, I didn’t know you were based in Chicago! that’s a waste, sigh. eataly is amazing, though rather pricey. you’re very lucky to be living in such a gastronomically-inclined town!

  4. Pingback: chicago, usa (take 2) | andmorefood

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