Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chicago Eats

Just going to do highlights, since I have been so long in getting around to this!

-Anthony's in the Oakbrook Doubletree: Everything we had here was very good, but the sherried mushroom soup was soup nirvana.

-Art Institute of Chicago's Garden Restaurant: Great steak frites, but the peach crème brûlée was the true stand-out. It was made in shallow oval dishes, so the caramelized crust to creamy underneath ratio was perfect. Paper-thin slices of peach rested just under the sugar and the whole thing had lavender blossoms scattered all about. Fabulous!

-Ethel's Chocolate Lounge: While the chocolates & chocolate drinks weren't the best, the chocolate fondue for two was divine! After walking way the heck up & down Michigan Avenue, stopping in at Ethel's for this treat was just perfect. The chocolate of the fondue was rich and complex. My favorite side offerings were the pretzels & strawberries, while J liked the bananas & graham crackers. The marshmallows were a little much sweetness, as was the pound cake. The ambiance of the Ethel's in Naperville is much better than on Michigan. www.ethelschocolate.com

-Reza's: While the beef stew we had was fine, the herbed goat cheese with olives was just glorious! www.rezasrestaurant.com

-Café at Nordstrom's: Superior panini and very good key lime cheesecake

-Café Bolero: Good, homestyle Cuban cooking, no fancy fusion or gourmet stuff. We had an appetizer sampler with ham croquetas, stuffed plantains, Cuban tamales and papas rellenas. Then, J had roast pork with fried plantains & black beans & rice. Since they didn't have my beloved masitas, I had the palomilla, with a side of yuca. It was all very good, almost as good as what I get in Miami. The mojito was great, as was the Cuban coffee. For dessert, we split the flan, which was perfect. This was my birthday dinner. www.cafebolero.net

-Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House: Extravagant dinner out with J's boss & his wife. Fabulous swordfish & enormous baked potatoes...wished I had gotten the swordfish instead of the shrimp deJonghe, which was fairly bland. www.hugosfrogbar.com

-Sadly, no eating local because the large crowds from the Gay Games & Wrigley Field made parking impossible in Boys' Town, where we had wanted to try Firefly. We ended up having a very pleasant meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

-Papagus Greek Taverna: Haughty service, but nice atmosphere and good food. Terrific saganaki, good calamari. Solid pastitsio, but the lemon chicken at the local Greek festival beat theirs hands-down. www.papagusgreektaverna.com

-Frontera Grill: I was iffy about going to Frontera, even though my foodie friend Suzette recomended it highly. I figured that a celebrity chef's place might be an overpriced tourist trap. I also thought it might be difficult to get a reservation on short notice, which tends to be the way we work. We almost didn't go, but J urged me to try it despite my reservations. We glided into valet parking and were graciously attended to. While we were waiting for our table, Rick Bayless himself hurried past us in his chef's jacket, which surprised me since I don't generally expect that celebrity chefs will actually be at their restaurants. We got to sit on the patio, which made for a lovely evening even if the food had been atrocious. It wasn't. I greatly enjoyed my summer margarita, made remarkable by the presence of cucumber. We had a nice selection of appetizers with a sampler of Mexico City-style quesadillas (gorgeous masa turnovers with amazing jack cheese melting inside), taquitos, ceviche tostadas (wow!) and a beautifully crunchy jicama salad. Oh, and guacamole. If that had been it, I would have left happy. But, we each ordered an entree. I had my heart set on chicken with mole & the enchiladas de mole poblano were very good, if a smidge sweeter than I am used to. J chose the superb carne asada. They were out of plantains, unfortunately, but the rest of the meal more than made up for that. Dessert was Mexican chocolate ice cream, not as good as Jeni's Splendid Mexican Hot Chocolate ice cream, with its cayenne heat, but still wonderful. When I thanked the waiter for the wonderful dinner to cap off my birthday week, the kitchen sent out a simply stupendous martini-glass-ful of rhubarb sorbet. It was out of this world. The presentation was charming, too, with the glass perched on a pink cut-paper decoration on a square white plate, edges adorned with "Happy Birthday" in chocolate script. www.fronterakitchens.com/restaurants/

-Lou Mitchell's: I never would have heard of this institution had Suzette not insisted we had to go. Suzette lives in New York City, works in theater & gets to all kinds of amazing restaurants. She said this was her favorite place in Chicago. I insisted we go. J resisted, but we finally went on our way out of town. We were greeted with a platter of doughnut bites, seated with small boxes of Milk Duds and pacified with orange wedges & stewed prunes while we waited for our orders. J had a terrific cheeseburger, while I tried a salami & cheese omelet. Wow! It was one of the best I've ever had. The home fries were great, too. After our meal, we were offered...and accepted...a free dish of soft serve ice cream that tasted exactly like the soft serve ice cream in a diner at the Northern end of Route 66 should taste...yum!

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