Birthday Dinner 2009 at Buddakan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Blog: Chicago Edition

Chicago has never had an inferiority complex. But the fact that I even bring that up is a nod to the way people (New Yorkers especially) view Chicago compared to New York. Despite its billing as "the second city" there is no trace of insecurity in the restaurant and bar scene. As a current New Yorker but always Chicagoan, I have a unique viewpoint. I have to say, I had some of the best food and drink in Chicago this weekend that I've had in quite some time.

Friday night - Met some friends for a drink at Paul Kahan's newest bar/restaurant called Big Star. Kahan is the man behind some of the city's best restaurants (Avec, Blackbird, the Publican) and one of my favorite bars (the Violet Hour). I had a Bakersfield Buck, which was basically bourbon, lime and ginger beer. Pretty awesome. The smoothness of the bourbon, the spice of the ginger and the freshness of the lime were great together. This place also has a late night taco window outside the door which is pretty amazing. I was very tempted by the pork belly taco option, but we had a culinary adventure awaiting us down the road....

Dinner was at Mado. As my friend Mike puts it, "the nose to tail, eat the whole animal place all the foodies are talking about." Plus, another one of the finest features of Chicago dining, it was BYOB!

It was a place meant for sharing so we started with a bunch of antipasti: brandade with toasted country bread, flatbread with bacon and arugula, some roasted beets with goat cheese and walnuts and fried farm egg bruschetta with smoked paprika butter. The bruschetta was the star. The runny egg on top went perfectly with the spicy/smoky toasted bread underneath. Off to a good start.

For entrees we again shared a few items with some sides. We had the hangar steak with gorgonzola polenta, morcilla (blood sausage) with mashed turnips and breadcrumb salsa, risotto with braised pork ribs, and pig's head stew with white beans, greens and cotechino sausage. Plus sides of polenta and crispy potatoes which were forgettable. By this point we had drank about a bottle of wine each and so I forgot to take pictures. However, I will tell you that the pig's head stew was one of the best things I've eaten in a while. The meat was super tender and flavorful and the beans were a great complement. Plus there was sausage in it. You can never go wrong with extra pork. I found the beans to be a little al dente, but that was my only complaint. The rest of the entrees were all spectacular. Especially the blood sausage with mashed turnips. I've had blood sausage in the UK and Ireland before, but this was by far the best I've had. Spicy and toothsome (?). We had some desserts which were also really good. Pistachio cookies, migas bark, apple crisp and some ginger cake. Again no pictures, was getting drunker.

Things were getting pretty sloppy at this point and Arnie was swearing a lot, so we headed down the street to the next place. I don't really remember the name, but I remember the drinks - $2 PBRs! That's how much a bottle of water costs in New York. For that price, I should be brushing my teeth with PBR.... I love Chicago.

Saturday night - Gillian made it into town and pre-dinner we headed to Nomi for a drink. Nomi is a restaurant that basically hangs off the Park Hyatt building and looks over Michigan avenue. It easily has the best combination of restaurant and view in the city and is worth the trip if even just for a drink. I had a great cocktail called the Winter Sour. Delicious and creamy.

Dinner was incredible. We went to the Publican, another Paul Kahan place. I really enjoyed my meal at Mado, but Publican blew it out of the water. I haven't had a dining experience like this since the first time I ate at Momofuku. Enlightening. This guy also has a healthy obsession with pigs as evidenced by the restaurant's decor.

We started with a selection of three hams (including Jamon Iberico), Mussels and Pork Rinds. The hams were great but relatively standard. The Iberico was easily the best of the three and it was all served with bread and goat butter. Nice. I'm not a huge mussels fan, but this version may have changed my mind. The menu said that the dish was just mussels, butter and celery, but there must have been some crack mixed in there. The sauce was so good I actually thought about picking up the huge metal pot and drinking it. Finally, the pork rinds were crispy with a spicy cheesy powder on them. Kind of like amazing Cheetos.

We then had the sweetbreads, country ribs, sides of frites with fried eggs on top and cauliflower au gratin. I would say we went a little overboard. There were three of us but we ordered for at least five. My brother took home a lot of leftovers....

The sweetbreads were perfect. A small portion, which I think is ideal for sweetbreads, lightly fried and served with some greens. The cauliflower au gratin was also tasty. The stars of the main course however, were the country ribs and the frites. The country ribs were basically like regular ribs only much meatier. It was kind of like a really juicy, barebecued pork chop. The barbecue sauce was subtle, but added the perfect amount of smokiness and sweetness. The frites, on the other hand, were not at all subtle. Duck-fat fried and served with two eggs on top? It doesn't get much more decadent than that. The only problem was that it was missing a vital ingredient: a condiment. We resolved that issue straight away and were provided with an aioli.

Lastly, dessert. At this point I wasn't really hungry, but I had heard you have to order the waffle. I was right, you have to order it. It was the best part of the meal. Light and airy with some honey butter and blueberries on top. I loved it. Amazing dessert.

Overall, a great weekend of dining and drinking with friends and family. Now, I'm not saying Chicago is better than New York or vice versa, I'm just saying that East Coasters should not be so quick to disregard the middle of the country when it comes to restaurants and bars. I consider myself somewhat of an expert and there really are some eye-opening experiences to be had in Chicago. Leave some comments and let me know what you think.

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