Chicago – Various Restaurants

I took a business trip to the windy city back in October, with my main goal being to hit as many great restaurants as possible! I made it to about eight in three days, but I’m only going to touch on the ones that stood out.  The first stop of course had to be for some hotdogs..duh 

I got nothing but negative comments on FB and Twitter on this, but the Portillo's all beef dog was awesome and I kept it down for the required 24 hours!!


Portillo’s was recommended and it did not disapoint, I tried a Chigago dog all the way (beef) and it had incredile flavor. I never had a dog with pickles and tomatoes but all the flavors worked well together. I also appreciated the crunch and zip from the small sport peppers that bordered the beef.  I also had a chilidog, but it was too disgusting looking to show!  However it was also awesome.  The restaurant itself was pretty neat, it’s rather large and has tons of antiques and knick knacks everywhere. It resembled the outside of a Chicago street and there were several walk-up couters to order from. They have everything from burgers, to beef sandwichs and pizza. The hotdogs are where the action is, so be sure to head straight to the back counter and try at least two! 
Portillo's Hot Dogs (Chicago) on Urbanspoon
A had to kick it up a notch for dinner and went to Graham Elliot, whom I had seen on Iron Chef.  This is one of those places that does molecular gastronomy and is super creative with presentation.  The atmoshere was very laid back and the service was spot on.  We couldn’t decide on a wine, so they brought out three for us to try…gratis!  However it is very dark and most of the pictures didn’t come out :( 

Incredible Venison tartare w/ pine foam and homemade granola. The taste made me feel as if i had just taken down Bambi and scooped up some dirt and pine needles on the way to my mouth


The veal tartare had so many complex flavors that I felt I could have eaten each item by itself, but it all worked so well together.  I also had the Wagyu roast beef with fingerling potatoes; it was so tender it melted in my mouth and I could have eaten several plates of it…however my wallet would have beed significantly lighter and me fatter!  My co-woker had butternut squash soup with leeks and it was so delicate you thought it would break at any moment.  The other cool thing was the truffled popcorn they brought out as an amuse bouche…definitely a nice touch.  I finished with a deconstructed smore with nitroglycerin peanut butter that was out of this world.  I cannot wait to go back for my next culinary adventure! 
graham elliot on Urbanspoon

I kept on the fine dining track the next day and tried Custom House.  Another great restaurant with great service and atmoshere.  The bar makes all their own vodka and had a ton of great beer selections.  It’s located on a corner with great street views and a relaxed, but sophisticated interior.  The dining room is apart from the bar with a cool viewing window into the kitchen. 

Cool to see into a great restaurant kitchen; however it was very calm, no F bombs or throwing of raw meat. A definite contrast to my restaurant culinary experiences at a certain mid-scale steak house. More to follow on that one


I first tried the veal sweetbreads (I’m a sucker for these tiny morsels of deliciosness and will order them anytime I see them on a menu). They were pan fried perfectly and presented with a zingy citrus sauce! 

Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside...sounds like a new hot rap song from Young Jeezy

Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside...sounds like a new hot rap song from Young Jeezy


For my main I had another favorite of mine, beef short ribs!  They were braised to perfection in a tomato broth for several hours which allowed me to forgo the use of my knife! 

Short rib cooked to perfection; melted in your mouth. Was already full and was not going to eat it all, but the devil made me do it and I'm glad he did


Overall, this was another great meal in a city full of great restaurants! I recommend going ahead of your reservation and trying one of the creative libations from the skilled bartenders! 
Custom House on Urbanspoon
The next day for lunch I went back old school Chicago and tried one of the waring deep dish palaces that was recommended by a co-worker – Gino’s East.  Being a novice to deep dish pizza, I didn’t realize that it took up to an hour to cook once you ordered…faux pas on my part. It was already 1:30 and we were starved  so we made the mistake of ordering some apps. They wern’t that good (minestrone and fried calamari) but we were hungry, ate too much and were full by the time the pie arrived. But when it did, it was huge; I don’t see how a person could eat more than two slices.  It was over an inch thick and the crust, while very tasty, was like putting baked concrete mix in your stomach! 

Way too much food...way too much cheese...


This is the famed Meaty Legend that I had seen on Man vs. Food and it lived up to its name.  This is only one of two times (yea right!) I felt ashamed when leaving a restaurant… 
Gino's East on Urbanspoon
We wrapped up the trip with a visit to the newest hot spot, Mercadito!  This was recommended by my friend Shady (those of you that know him know he only hits the “hip spots with fine ladies”).  The place was packed and we had to wait about 30 minutes for our reservation, but it was worth the wait.  The bar was hopping and had a huge tequila selection along with creative drinks like the one below 

The name, Big Nose Goes to Mexico is a little strange, and I'm sure insulting to someone, but any drink with a hollowed out 1/2 lime filled with 151 and set on fire is OK by me!


It was a take on a margarita, but they rimmed the glass with ancho chili powder to give it a kick! The food was great, although a little expensive, and the menu consisted of tastings where you could choose two to four selctions from a list, such as tacos, guacamoles, and salsas.  The pork tacos were to die for, but the show stealer was the Huitlacoche tacos (  They were smokey and tender and I made sure I ate the extra one!  All of the salsas and guacamoles we tried were also good.  If you go, be prepared to wait and expect big crowds.  After dinner if you’re trendy enough you may be able to get into the private club in the basement by the restrooms; I’m not kidding.  There was a huge door with an ominous looking bouncer giving everyone elevator eyes. We decided not to try and enter, and thus saved ourselves any embarrassment of being shunned :) 
Mercadito Chicago on Urbanspoon
Overall it was a great trip and I cannot wait to go back and try the likes of Publican, Alinea, and The Girl & the Goat!

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