Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Whilrwind Trip in the Windy City



This past week was an amazing whirlwind for me and I'm just coming back down to earth from it all.
A new city, amazing food, making new friends and a cooking contest that I have tried to get into for 4 years now. It couldn't have been better.
This year the Build a Better Burger competition was held in Chicago and out of over 5,000 entries I was one of ten very lucky finalists that got to be a part of an amazing event put on by Sutter Home Winery
Louis and I had never been to Chicago before, so as soon as I found out I would be cooking my Peppered Pineapple Al Pastor Burger in the windy city we also started researching things to do, places to go and of course where to eat once we got there.
(Please forgive the picture quality for the next few days of postings. I only had my little point and shoot camera and iphone on this trip, and in some of these pics that will be un-flateringly obvious)
I was surprised at how much we both fell in love with the city. The busy city feel was so much fun to be a part of and we packed a lot into our week long visit. Here's all the places we ate while we were there:
The Classics
Portillo's- this was recommended by two friends for having the best Chicago dogs in the city, we got the Classic Chicago Dog, the Street Style Polish Dog and onion rings. It was good, but I had my own favorite.....
Lou Malnatti's - this was the first thing we ate after landing in Chicago. We got the BuffaLou wings and the Malnatti Chicago Classic pizza. Again, this was good, but I've had better deep dish pizza before. Not bad, but not mind blowing either.
Kim and Carlos Hot Dog Stand- I know that this is just a hot dog stand and not a real restaurant, but in my opinion this was better than Portillo's. We got the Classic Chicago Dog and Polish Dogs again and I would totally pick this place over a real restaurant any day!
Tapas and Drinks:
Quartino's was also recommended by friends and I totally agreed with them, I loved this place! Delicious food, great menu, only 2 blocks from our hotel and perfect spot to people watch. We sat at a table outside, got a carafe of wine, trio of bruschetta, polenta fries, seared pork belly with apple compote, zeppole (italian doughnuts), and nutella paninno. Perfection.
XOCO- I couldn't go to Chicago without getting my Rick Bayless fix. This is his newest restaurant and it didn't disappoint. We got the special of the day torta with sauteed shrimp, avocado and cotija cheese and then the cubano. Both equally delicious!
The Purple Pig- This restaurant surprised me in how good it was! Right on the Magnificent Mile it was cozy and fun with a great atmosphere. Fried Chorizo Stuffed Olives, Eggplant Parmesan Balls, Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes(we both agreed we could have ordered 18 of these and been very happy) Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg (our waitress talked us into this and I adored it- so glad I was brave enough to try it!), Roasted Bone Marrow with Crostini with a parsley salad (again, not something I would have ordered but Louis really wanted it. It was not my favorite, but I'm glad I ventured out and tried new things) 
Pops- A champagne bar. Need I say more? I love anything bubbly so I knew I had to stop in for at least one drink. Louis got scotch and I got the "La Vie En Rose"- a brut champagne cocktail with St Germaine, Peychaud bitters and a sugar cube. It was topped off with rose petals. I. was. in. heaven. I seriously need one of these places to open up down the street from me. 
Sable- this was the restaurant and bar at the hotel we were staying at- but it was so much more. We ate breakfast there a couple of mornings, had drinks there numerous nights (I will not list them all because that would embarrass me) and stopped in for dessert too. The chef at Sable is Heather Turhune, who happens to be on Top Chef this upcoming season and was a judge for me in the BBB cook off this year. So naturally I wanted to check out her restaurant too. The bar is amazing- the drinks are really well thought out and every drink we tried was delicious. The Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream made me consider forgetting all decency and licking my bowl in public.

Last But Certainly Not Least:
Frontera Grill- I love Rick Bayless and have for as long as I can remember watching him as a little kid on his PBS shows. The Ceviche Trio, Hongos Enchipotlados (a mushroom and squash sautee in a creamy chipotle sauce topped with crispy kale and served with fresh corn tortillas), Tamales de Elote (a sweet corn tamale in a banana leaf with poblanos, queso fresca and crema), Raspberry Diablo (raspberry tequila, creme de cassis, lime, bitters and ginger ale) and a Classic Margarita made me love him all over again. 
Fulton's on the River- this is where Sutter Home Winery treated all of the finalists, judges and sponsors to dinner the night before the big cook off. These people know how to throw a great event, I promise. The dinner was buffet style and we had mussels, fresh oysters, seafood salads, Roasted Pork Loin, Shrimp Cocktail, and so much more served along with a fabulous selection of wines form the Terlato Family Vineyards. What an amazing night!
and of course, I had to save the best for last:
I have known about Grant Achatz for a long time now and have always said that if I ever in my life was in Chicago for any reason, I would go to his restaurant. When I entered BBB for the fourth time this past year and found out that the cook off would be held in Chicago without really believing that I would ever be picked I said the same thing. As I was picking up dinner plates I jokingly told Louis "if  I do get picked to go to this, we ARE going to Alinea or Aviary". 
He rolled his eyes and probably didn't give a second thought to it.
Fast forward two months later and when I got the news that I was actually going to Chicago I emailed (that's the only way to beg for a reservation) them right away. Two days before leaving for the cook off I finally got a confirmation email saying we had been accepted. I was elated.
It was raining when we got to the unmarked door and had to talk to a doorman standing outside in a poncho to get in, but once inside it was like a foodie dream come true.
Our own private table in the kitchen right there to watch the chefs in action. Our waitstaff was so friendly and nice, the drinks were works of art and the food was just as exciting. If you are looking for a splurge I couldn't think of a better one than this. It was more than just drinks and food it really was an experience and it's once I hope to have again.

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