Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Feasting Weekend in Chicago

Scallop spiedini with chickpea aioli from The Purple Pig
Not getting our waitlisted table at Alinea wasn't the worst thing that could happen while on a recent trip to Chicago.

Yes, it would be nice to eat at the finest restaurant in the country. But I certainly wouldn't be left starving in the abundant Windy City.

First stop, Crisp, my all time favorite Korean fried chicken joint. Since my sister Nadine introduced it to the family a few years ago (and changed my life), it's developed a famous following. But the fare still satisfies. The sticky, sesame flecked BBQ chicken (kicked up with a side of sriracha mayo) manages to set your mouth on fire and leave you begging for more. The mild ginger-soy Seoul Sassy is another fine coating for the bird. Sauces are all homemade.

World's greatest Korean fried chicken wings from Crisp
Dinner is a swanky night out at Cibo Matto ("crazy food") in downtown's uber hip Wit Hotel. Dishes emerging from the open kitchen are eye candy. Attention to detail is everywhere in the chic, modern dining room, even down to the placement of each artisanal bread roll.

My beautifully pan roasted striped bass made up for the out-of-place 'chicken and waffles' amuse bouche. Afterwards, checked out the Wit's Roof bar for a nightcap and spectacular skyline view.

Lunch at Miller's Pub, a Chicago institution since 1935, is a slice of tasty nostalgia. Under the gaze of hundreds of famous folks framed on the walls, I wolfed down a classic Reuben sandwich that had a civilized ratio of meat to bread, not some mile high gut buster I'm used to seeing back home.

Sensational Armenian meze at Sayat Nova
After a long day at work, I couldn't help indulging in a refreshing Effen Cucumber cocktail and Armenian meze platter at exotic Sayat Nova. This lovely family run eatery has been a fixture off the Mag Mile for the past 40 years. The tabbouleh, lamb kebabs, and baba ganoush are among the finest anywhere. So is the tantalizing Armenian steak tartare called raw kibbee, studded with onions, cracked wheat and fresh parsley.

It would have been nice to sample the runaway hit Girl and the Goat, but even visiting at 10 pm yielded an hour and a half wait. The food did look as gorgeous as the crowd. And I got a sweet smile from chef Stephanie Izard as we walked away reservationless. Sniff sniff.
Juicy pork blade steak with nduja and honey

Fortunately, The Purple Pig was the final stop on the culinary field trip, and ended it with a bang.

A Bon Appetit top 10 winner in 2010, this bustling small plate eatery delivered its promise of cheese, wine and swine. The pork blade steak was juicy and succulent and served over a slice of nduja, a spreadable spicy pork salami from Calabria. The pork liver pate was robust. The seared scallops in chickpea aioli were equally delicious. Only the potato and speck croquettes were bland and forgettable.

Fresh baked savory pies
Middle Eastern delicacies
I always leave Chicago with a stash of edible souvenirs. Often it's from Middle East Bakery  & Grocery, an Ali Baba's treasure trove of delicacies. This time my luggage was stuffed with an assortment of freshly baked meat and spinach pies, lahmajoun, a favorite Armenian pizza with spicy minced meat, and homemade red pepper relish. Bright and lemony, the crimson topping is delicious on everything from omelets to sandwiches. The shop is filled with many hard to find ingredients, spices, dried fruit and nuts.

Thanks, Chi-town. You never disappoint.

Alinea, 1723 North Halsted
Cibo Matto, 201 North State St.
Crisp, 2940 North Broadway
Girl and the Goat, 809 West Randolph St.
Middle East Bakery and Grocery, 1512 West Foster Ave.
Miller's Pub, 134 South Wabash Ave.
Sayat Nova, 157 East Ohio St.
The Purple Pig, 500 North Michigan Ave.


  1. Wow! This opened my mind to Chicago. How are the prices over there? About the same as NYC?

  2. What a fine homage to a fabulous city by a fabulous writer!

  3. Dining prices are pretty comparable to NYC. There are plenty of great cheap eats. Drink prices are slightly less. Fortunately, food is equally varied and awesome.

  4. Great posting Sekita. Makes me aware that there is more to Chicago than pierogies and beer.

  5. I'm so excited to see this- we're headed to Chicago in October and I'm already thinking about that chicken! I also want to see Tatiana, what's her restaurant's name?