Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chicago Dine and Dash

Alinea, Avec (no representative picture), Intelligentsia, Hot Doug's, and North Pond. Luckily the Cleveland Clinic is at the top of their game for angioplasty. This post could be very long. I'll try to keep it short. All pictures except for the above one are stolen from the places' websites.

Alinea: The finest dining experience of my life that I have no interest in repeating. We did the tour with wine tasting. 24 courses, give or take, with about 11 wines. The wines were amazing. The food, taste wise, was hit or miss. The subtleties of iceberg lettuce compressed with cucumber juice was lost on me. It tasted like iceberg lettuce. A lilac soup with warm but rare seafood was a bit off for me too. I love warm seafood. I love raw seafood. I don't love warm, raw seafood (or melon posing as seafood). Also, pillows filled with scented air. I'm all for aromatherapy, but really? And why the hell is my bacon on a wire. One of the super professional servers even had trouble getting that thing to balance right.

The Wagyu beef dish was straightforward (except for the powdered A1) and fantastic. The Pigeonneau, an appropriately named tart with squab and foie, amongst other things, was one of the best things I've eaten in my life. Also, there was a soft shell crab dish that was fantastic. Same with frozen pound cake.

The different breads (with two perfect butters) and post-dinner espresso were also really good. But, just so you know, the raspberry transparency (think flattened jolly rancher) smelled eerily like urinal cake. Maybe it was intentional, the similarities were uncanny.

Despite all that, the space and the service were amazing. The total experience can't be beat. But for tasty avant garde cuisine, I think the food at minibar tastes better. And I still really want to eat this guy's food.

Avec: For Clevelanders, think Flying Fig meets Bar Cento with a bit of Lolita thrown in, kind of. Some of the best food I've ever eaten at 1/10 of the price of the aforementioned Chicago spot. Great, friendly service, funky wine list, and plate after plate of stellar, unfussy seeming food. The brussels sprout salad with brown butter vinaigrette and a salt cod dish will stay with me for a while. Great, simple desserts. Intelligentsia coffee.

Intelligentsia: Speaking of . . . . 3 Clovers at one location--I hadn't even seen one before. The brewed coffee is so subtle that it took a few sips for me to start to really appreciate how great it was. I'm not giving up my filtered cup, but still . . . . The espresso didn't require any deep thought. It was perfect. Water, sparkling or still, was offered alongside. Perfect. And, like nearly ever other place visited in Chicago, no pretenses. I am not cool, and that was just fine over there. Over here sometimes I feel it necessary to put on a few temporary tattoos in order to get the good service at coffee shops (not at all of them, just some others).
Hot Doug's: Two hours of waiting in line for encased meats. I've had better Italian sausage, but the Polish and bacon wrapped dogs were fantastic. Yes, three hot dogs (and that was pre-Avec). Shared the duck fat fries too. Have to say we do those better over here, although I like their thinner cut, they just weren't that crisp. In their defense we were there right before closing. Great service again. Would gladly stand in line to go back. Next time though, I think I'd bring a six pack.

North Pond: For brunch. Not inexpensive, but very good. They do a cured arctic char that's ridiculously good, and really know how to cook fish. Portions are definitely of the Midwestern variety, and the simple menu manages to offer some great options. More good coffee. Great views and dessert too. No complaints. Would go back.

So it was a pretty good trip. Even managed to take in some culture. Now back to the grind . . . .


Dine O Mite said...

I love Hot Doug's. I don't know if I'd wait two hours (especially if the weather's bad). I'm guessing a large portion of your wait was outside.

I've not been to the others, but do want to try Achatz' new restaurant opening in Raleigh, NC.

The CFT said...

Yeah, there was a bit of April 1st going on during the whole meal.

hotdougdontgiveafuk said...

I just called Alinea for carryout...

The CFT said...

I heard they deliver too

Anonymous said...

hotdougdontgiveafuck doesn't give a fuck
lets do happy hour tonight.

maybelle's mom said...

oh, you are making me miss my old town. And, I know what you mean about enjoying the multicourses and never being able to ever do it again.

The CFT said...

Anony, not sure who you are, but sure, just give a call. Although I may miss happy hour.

MM, so nice to see you posting again. I think I'll be heading that way a lot this summer. And it's not that I'm unable to do it again . . . it's just not likely gonna happen.

DianeS said...

Sounds like a great trip! You hit some of my favorite places.

I have been SO craving Hot Doug's for a few months now. I would not go on a day that the duck fat fries are served. The line is far shorter on non-DFF days and I'm all about the dog's not the fries. As you said, good DFF's can be had in Cleveland.

Steve and I have been ordering espresso from Intelligentsia for about 4 years now. A while back I decided that I would like another espresso to rotate with. I tried esp. from many of the well regarded roasters around the country and Steve and I found that we both like Pheonix's in Cleveland the best! It's good that we have the same taste when it comes to coffee.

Alinea was an amazing experience for us when we were there with friends last summer. I am eager to do it again. I don't recall on course that didn't work for me on one level or another. On the other hand, Steve does not find it a meal he needs to have again.

The CFT said...

Diane. I'm with you. Except for Alinea. Then I'm with Steve.