Last weekend I had a ridiculous food experience in Chicago. You already know I spent a couple of days in one of the best kitchens in the country, but here’s what I did when I wasn’t working…
Wednesday- arrive at O’hare Airport. Go immediately to Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera in Terminal 1. I did this with little concern for my checked luggage. I chose to go with one of my favorite mexican street snacks, a molette. It was solid even though it had been sitting in a heat lamp for a while. I would have preferred it with chorizo but the Nueske’s Bacon was pretty good. Solid on the black beans (would you expect anything less from a Bayless joint?) Lighter on the cheese than I’m used to but the cotija was a nice salty touch. it was served with a fire roasted salsa that helped cut through the richness. The bread was great, a local artisan boillo with a nice crunch.
I took some food back to the hotel (so I could reasonably catch my luggage) and it was all good. Guacamole, and a torta de cochinita pebil.
The next day and a half was filled with the standard mediocre food you eat with corporate travelers… I’ve censored it from this blog for your safety.
I didn’t eat much all day except for tasting spoonfulls of every dish component from the 15 course repertoire menu at Graham Elliot. Amazing how filling a teaspoon of sauce at a time can be. We did eat staff meal- prepared by the some of the cooks in the kitchen. Staff meal was “fish sticks” (fish bellies that had been glued together with ActivaRM, cooked sous vide, then tempura fried) fried chicken, and a nice salad.
Friday night- You may have heard of Chef Grant Achatz’s new ultra modern cocktail lounge The Aviary. That’s where I headed immediately after leaving the GE Kitchen. It was midnight, I was still wearing the GE kitchen uniform of jeans and black t-shirt. I was carrying a backpack with my knives, surprisingly they let me in and even more surprisingly, they invited me to “The Office”.
The Office can best be described as an anti-aviary… classically made cocktails served in standard glassware. I ordered a drink off the menu. It was Rye, Szechuan, Smoked Malt, demerara, cinchona, and grapefruit. I was thinking to myself, “I could probably get this in Houston at a place like Anvil… maybe I should go back upstairs and drink some modern stuff” I decided to stay down stairs in the exclusive refuge of the Office. Boy, am I glad I did!!!!
I began chatting with the bartender/chef, Jason Cevallos… I told him I was in town staging at GE… and that I wanted to enjoy a unique office experience… I asked him to just send me whatever he wanted, but not blow my budget. For the next couple hours he amazed me. He started with a neat glass of Elijah Craig 12, single barrel bourbon. It was magnificent. I told Chef Jason it made me want a cigar, so the next drink he handed me was something with Elijah Craig 7yr, Guajillo, Smoked Cigar, and Bacon tinctures. I began talking to Jason about the tinctures they have in the Office. How many? 220… that’s Two Hundred and Twenty flavor components! The most Obscure? That would be Mugwort which Jason describes as “Earthy… like dirt on a rock with moss” Jason continued to impress me with a few more cocktails with too many ingredients for me to remember.
You know what’s really good after you’ve been drinking crazy craft cocktails? Garrett’s Chicago blend popcorn. Ask me how I know.
Saturday- Another kitchen day means I didn’t eat much except for a couple of tasting plates that died on the pass waiting for customers to return to their tables. After service and a kitchen cleaning, I went out with the kitchen crew and a few servers for drinks. We ended up at the VFW… as in Veterans of Foriegn Wars. I won’t say much about what happened that night but unfortunately it involved Miller High Life. I’m telling you now that if you go out drinking with service industry people prepare for a next level adventure.
Sunday- Let the real eating begin… Brunch of much needed ceviche (under seasoned) and pazole (decent, but not great) at Markedito. Although the food was lack luster, the environment is cool and my company (Suzy Singh) was awesome.
Back to Suzy’s place to watch some football competition and eat pizza delivery. (I slept
off some of my hangover through most of the game.
Alinea… which will be a separate (upcoming blog post of it’s own).
Monday- Suzy and I started at Longman & Eagle for brunch… Crab Eggs Bennedict, Truffled Duck Hash, and Pigs Head Pastrami were all excellent… the atmosphere was casual but the food was well deserving of the Michelin Star they recently earned.
Gotta love Longman & Eagle’s definition of “sauce on the table”… a little different than Alinea the night before!
Later that day, Tony Scruggs and his wife come into the city to continue eating with me. We had planned to go to Publican, but a word of advice: they open at 3:30 (not 1:00 when we showed up) To kill some time, we went to a local fish monger in the meat packing district. I was very impressed with the selection and freshness of the fish. We then went to NorthWest Cutlery a very cool kitchen supply store where I got some much needed plating tweezers for my knife roll.
We then proceeded across the street to Anna’s Asian Bistro for some sake ribs, shumai, roti cani, sweet shrimp nagiri w fried shrimp heads, and scallop sashimi… Everything was surprisingly good for the vast variety of the menu.
Finally Publican was open and we were able to dig into some of their signature pork rinds. Oysters from both east and west coasts, charcuterie plate, chicken fried duck hearts, roasted beets with burrata cheese, fries, and some awesome beers. My Friend Lou Bank also came up to Publican with some of his home made ale-vinegars. This has inspired me to make some of my own at home (you’ll see more on this in a few months)
After eating with Tony, it was off to see another MasterChef contestant Erryn Cobb for a dirty martini and a dirtier game of Scategories.
Then off to the Slurping Turtle for some hamachi tacos, duck fat fried chicken (excellent!), curry croquettes, ramen, grilled chicken hearts, shishito pepper, duck with scallion, and agedashi eggplant.
Monday’s over. I’m full.
Tuesday- In the morning we visit some of my friends at PolyScience. (Upcoming blog post on that)
Then we visit the french market for a quick snack. First real stop of the day is Topolobampo… Rick Bayless’ flagship restaurant in downtown Chicago. Lunch is a trio of Ceviches, Guacamole, Pepitas and Almond “polenta”, foie with quince pasilla and pepitas, and lamb en black mole. All were amaxing and perfectly topped off with a house made hot chocolate and a healthy dose of creme de mezcal.
The final meal of my trip was back at Graham Elliot, where I got to experience the restaurant as a diner instead of a cook. It was a great pleasure to enjoy what the folks I had worked so hard with do every day. We had Octopus with fennel, saffron, chorizo, and mussels. a foile pop. Also Fondue of tellagio, truffle, apple, and celeriac. Spanish Makerel with almond, tangerine, piquillo, and olive. Venison with oatmeal, pomegranate, currant, and calvados. For dessert, persimmon with pecan, molasses, and caramel. And a chocolate plate with yogurt, passion fruit, and pineapple. GE food pics are here.
That ladies and gentlemen is how you eat Chicago! I wonder if Anthony Bourdain is retiring soon… maybe I can have his job:)