On the Road: More Chicago Restaurants

While the Girl and the Goat was definitely our favorite place that we ate at on our recent Chicago trip, but there were a few other notable stops as well.

They include:

Davanti Enoteca is a wine bar and restaurant serving rustic Italian fare. It’s located in Little Italy, right across from the building that Chester lived in during college. The menu includes a wide variety of antipasti, salad, pizza, and pasta dishes that are just the right size for sharing with friends.

My favorite part of our lunch was the Focaccia di Recco. This type of focaccia is not as thick as what’s typically used in sandwiches and it’s stuffed with a soft, cow’s milk cheese. Davanti’s focaccia is made to order, and I recommend paying for the extra $2 for a bit of local honeycomb to spread on top of it for an extra bit of sweetness.

Crappy cell phone photo does not do this deliciousness justice.

I ordered cacio e pepe, which was just okay. I probably was comparing it too much to the wonderful version of the dish that I had at a.kitchen for my birthday. Although the flavors in this simple dish were well balanced, Davanti’s pasta didn’t have that homemade taste or texture (a bit bland and too thick) that would have taken it from good to great. Chester’s pizza was tasty—how could it not be with its fried egg, pork belly, and potato on top, which was reminiscent, of a breakfast sandwich. I would have just liked the crust to be a bit crispier towards the center.

If we lived nearby, I could see this being on the list of regular places to grab a low-key, casual dinner on a Friday night. Towards the back of the restaurants, where we sat, the walls are lined floor to ceiling with wine. You can buy a bottle or two at retail prices, plus a $7 corkage fee to enjoy with your meal.

Topolobampo on the North Side is Rick Bayless’ Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s the sister restaurant to Frontera Grill, with which it actually shares a front door and bar area. Frontera is where you would go if you want chips, salsa and other casual fare, whereas Topolo is a bit more upscale (with prices to match). It also takes reservations, whereas, Frontera does not (the night we visited, Frontera had a two hour wait!).

The menu changes on a monthly basis, and features many regional specialities, seafood, meat and game. Although there are several tasting menus, We opted to order a la carte as none of the items that we wanted were included as part of the tastings.

I loved my Sopa de Pan Festivo, a savory, saffron and spice infused “bread pudding soup” with plantains, golden raisins, olives, egg and roasted tomato. For an entrée, I had the roasted lamb in mole sauce that was comprised of dark chiles, dried fruit, nuts & spices. It was a spicy dish, but the sweet, pickled apples that accompanied it took some of the heat off.

For his appetizer, Chester chose a sampling of three tacos: aged beef tenderloin with black bean, chorizo with quail egg (we both liked this one the best) and pork loin with avocado-tomatillo salsa. His entree was a combination of seared Wagyu ribeye and roasted lamb in a black mole sauce. The preparation of the sauce in this dish was more traditional and had more of the chocolate flavor that you associate with mole. The lamb was well prepared, the ribeye was definitely the standout here.

For once, we actually both got dessert! I had a Mexican vanilla cake, with a plantain pudding, banana leaf ice cream, and fried plantains. After the heaviness of the rest of the meal, this was a nice, light way to finish. Chester had an eggnog mousse, which was served with sweet, lightly fried yucca donuts and a sweet cream sorbet. My favorite part of his dish were the tart red currants, which were a nice complement of the sweetness of both of our dishes.

The food was delicious, creative and beautifully presented. The only slightly negative aspect was the service. There were some hiccups with clearing plates between courses and our main server was a tad on the miserable side. She acted like it was a huge inconvenience to her when we asked for a few more minutes to make our selections. I’m guessing she wasn’t on duty the day that the Michelin committee visited.

Franks ‘n’ Dawgs in Lincoln Park takes the hot dog up several notches with it’s assortment of hand-crafted gourmet sausages and hot dogs and assorted toppings. There aren’t even any standard hot dog buns here—instead, each creation is served on a buttery, New England style lobster roll. Three hot dogs came to just under $30 so it’s pretty pricey, but these are far from the typical ballpark dog. It’s also BYOB, so that can help you save a few bucks as well.

Chester had a Chicagoesque Dawg, which is served with housemade pickles, cherry tomato relish, caramelized onions & beer mustard, as well as the Brunch Dawg, which features pork loin breakfast sausage, smoked bacon, fried egg and maple mayo. I couldn’t pass up the Truffled Mac and Cheese dog. Definitely a step up in taste and quality from the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with cut up hot dogs that I loved as a kid, but just as comforting.

Again, tasted so much better than my cell phone made it look.

Vincent in the Andersonville neighborhood, is a bistro serving Dutch food at pretty reasonable prices. Although there is a wine/cocktail list, you can also BYOB for a $5 corkage fee (cheap!).

Vincent offers mussels prepared in a variety of ways including the Amsterdam style (beer, butter, roasted garlic, anise, fennel, dried basil) and the Asian-inspired sambal (tamarind, shrimp paste, lime leaf). I kept it simple and went with the Provencal style (white wine, tomato, caper, olive, garlic, anchovy). The portion was extremely generous. There were about three dozen mussels, which were well prepared—neither gritty nor rubbery. They were served with a heaping side of thin, crispy fries and a garlic aioli dipping sauce that I wish I could have bottled up and taken home. The broth was delicious, but I would have like a bit more to sop up with bread (on the subject of bread, I probably could have made a meal of the crusty baguette, butter, and roasted garlic that we enjoyed while waiting for our food).

Chester opted for the three course Dutch dinner for $25, which came with an endive and mixed green salad, topped with walnuts, apples and Gouda, beef stew with mashed potatoes, and a cheese plate which featured two kinds of aged Gouda. His only complaint was that the stew had a little bit too much clove for his liking.

Both the food and the interior of the restaurant are warm and comforting, so it was a good thing that the day we visited was one of the coldest days of our trip.

Mercat al Planxa, in the South Loop, is owned by Jose Garces (I had no idea that he was actually from Chicago, given that most of his restaurants are in Philly) and serves Catalan inspired cuisine. We went for lunch and took advantage of the Catalan Express—two courses and a beverage for $18.

This was one of the stops on our second to last day in Chicago, and after nearly a week of eating lots of heavy things, I was glad to be able to have something lighter: a green salad with crunchy asparagus, avocado, green beans and a grilled chicken sandwich with romanesco sauce, tomato and parmesan. Chester had the Spanish omelette with spinach, potatoes and saffron aioli and the black angus hanger steak. It came with potato croquettes which were crispy and well seasoned, as well as braised beef short ribs, which were so-so. The fact that, for once, steak was actually cooked to a perfect medium rare, more than made up for this shortcoming. The food definitely brought back memories of our honeymoon in Spain.

Um. yea. So, we ate a lot on this trip. Good thing it was back to our regularly scheduled gym routine and salads for dinner this past week.

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