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:
- 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
- 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)
- charred summer squash with shishito peppers, almonds, mint and pickled feta: a nice antipasti to break up the stronger flavours in the other dishes
- 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
- a special-of-the-day of muessels in white wine and shallots: a light dish compared to our others, but nice nonetheless
- 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
- 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:
- my second post on chicago
- firecakes donuts: 68 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654, United States; tel +1 312-329-6500
- avec: 615 W Randolph, Chicago, IL 60661, United States; tel +1 312-377-2002
- eataly: 43 East Ohio Street, Chicago, United States; tel +1 312-521-8700
- 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)