I was in Chicago earlier this week to hear Chris Bedford speak at the Chicago Farmer's Forum and see his film called "What Will We Eat." Of course, any time I'm in Chicago I'm thinking "what will I eat?" We have a few places that we usually go, including of course, the Intelligentsia coffee place on Randolph at Wabash. It has free wi-fi so you can sit there for a while with your laptop. B. loves the coffee at this place and always gets a pound to go - Tuesdays it's $2 off. The baristas know what they're doing at Intelligentsia. They pull consistently good shots and give you a real rosetta with the foam. B. likes the double "original" - a double shot with hot milk and foam in a regular cup. Their cranberry orange muffins are not too shabby either.
So, here's a good (decadent?) day of eating in Chicago that you could do if you were motivated and had only 24 hours. You should probably prepare for this by running a marathon or something. Start out at Intelligentsia with coffee and a muffin and spend an hour or two catching up on the paper or your email. Later on, head over to lunch at Russian Tea Time. It will set you back a little more than you might expect since you're paying partly for the location (less than a block from the Art Institute of Chicago) and the Olde Worlde ambience with chandeliers and painted samovars. But they serve a great onion-y black bread to start you off, a yummy and warming chunky borscht with cabbage, potatoes and the beets, and great handmade dumplings - potato, pumpkin, asparagus/feta, and meat. Potato is best. You'll be too full for dessert, but remember they serve afternoon tea from 2:30-4:30 in the afternoon if you get peckish.
In February, the Art Institute of Chicago is FREE all month. The Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper show hadn't started yet, so I went on one of their free guided tours and it was the absolute highlight of my trip. The tour guide was Yale Gerol, former neurosurgeon. The tour was called something like " Seven Treasures of the Art Institute." It was a riveting hour of history, culture, politics, psychology and technique. Dr. Gerol is a fantastic storyteller. Find him if you can.
Another wonderful discovery the last time we were in Chicago was the Sepia bar. The bartender, Peter Vestinos, makes his own infusions and bitters and other artisanal ingredients for the fabulous drinks. I had my first French 75 ("A fizzy French 75, a Hendricks gin hit with a little demi-sec rosé, Bugey de Cerdon. The aroma off the glass was a grapefruit and orange bomb on the nose") and I am hooked. We talked with Peter for a bit and he said most people come in and just order gin and tonic or vodka. Sure enough, a crowd followed us in and 9 out of ten orders were for one of those. The description of the the Fig and Almond Old Fashioned was what originally drew me in...."fig- and almond-infused Woodford Reserve bourbon, fig and cranberry bitters, muddled cherries, and oranges." We also had really nice dinner in the restaurant, complete with wonderful house-made bread and duck-fat fried potatoes, but I think the bar is where we'll be returning. I'm in love with the French 75 - it's like a citrus tree in your glass.
Terragusto, with its several kinds of homemade fresh pasta daily, happened to be closed the night we wanted to go. Lucky us, we were able to get to the Green Zebra in the middle of a snow storm. It's all vegetarian, but with food this tasty and imaginative even carnivores don't miss meat. I had: a creamy onion soup with a hint of truffle and baby gougeres floating on top; a shiitake mushroom springroll; and for the main course a mound of smoked mashed potato with a poached egg and buttery crisp sourdough toast points on top. For dessert, a tiny Meyer lemon bundt cake filled with Meyer lemon curd, a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream and a gingerbread cookie by its side. It was too much food, but everything was excellently prepared and richly flavored with lots of interesting textures and surprising soupçons of things. This is kind of a splurge-y place (for us anyways) but a very worthy adventure and a memorable meal.
Clearly it's not all rutabagas and kale in my food life in February.
55 E. Randolph (between Wabash and Michigan)
77 East Adams St, Chicago, IL 60603
123 Jefferson St
Chicago, IL 60661
1460 West Chicago ave.
Chicago IL 60622