The dinners at Next and Alinea were the high points of our Chicago trip, but we dined well for the duration of our stay. In a week dominated by the closing of Charlie Trotter’s eponymous restaurant we managed to avoid the hype and focus our attention on good food.
Going to the Dogs
Our hotel (above) was far enough away from Hot Doug’s that we didn’t have the time to make a return trip, but, out of deference to He Who Will Not Be Ignored’s life mission to catalog good hot dog joints, we found a nearby establishment that would satisfy his need for chili cheese dogs and hand-cut fries. U.B. Dogs was packed full of regulars who informed us that we’d be in for a treat. They were right – He Who got his chili dog, She Who Must Be Obeyed sampled the canonical Chicago dog and found it good, and I tried the Joey dog:
These monsters were topped with fries, garlic-wasabi aioli, and tabasco sauce. The side order of fries was accompanied by three different sauces: more of the garlic-wasabi, sundried tomato, and mango habanero. A great lunch without the two-hour wait.
On the evening of Trotter’s last meal, it seemed fitting that we would eat at a restaurant founded by one of his former sous chefs. GT Fish & Oyster is the newest addition to chef Guiseppe Tentori’s empire, a group that also includes Boka, where we had an amazing meal last year. I was too busy inhaling oysters and eating small plates to take photos, but we’ll be returning for more of the foie gras and shrimp terrine, oyster po’ boy sliders, lobster rolls, and cauliflower fritters. If you ever wanted to dine in a Bond villain’s mega-yacht, this is the place for you.
Dinner at Publican (Sleight Return)
Since he knew he wouldn’t be joining us at Next or Alinea, He Who demanded that we return to Publican. We invited a few more friends to make it a true family-style affair, including our London-native visitor Graham Sleight, who had been nominated for a Hugo Award (which he subsequently won). The menu had changed a bit, so we tried a few new items: grilled beef heart, grilled shishito peppers, pork belly, and the whole chicken with frites. Graham would later pronounce the chicken THE MOST AMAZING CHICKEN EVER and track down the recipe.
As we rolled down the street to find a cab home, I gazed longingly through the windows of Publican Quality Meats and Glazed and Infused, saddened that they were both closed for the day. The side of the building that housed both establishments provided this zero-sum advertisement:
Drinks with Royal(ty)
As we returned to the hotel I received a tweet from Scott the reservation wrangler. One of his local Facebook friends offered to get him and a guest into Aviary, the cocktail bar adjacent to Next. She Who begged off, but Scott and I rushed back (just two blocks down the street from Publican) to meet up with his friend. More tweets were pouring on on his phone: Chef Grant Achatz had just arrived with the chefs from Eleven Madison Park in advance of their restaurant swap experiment. We might not be able to get in. Wait, the chefs all headed into Next.
We walked up to the door and Scott said “We’re here with Royal.”
“Is that a password?” I asked.
“No, it’s the name of my friend.”
Password or not, dropping his name worked and we were escorted in to meet our benefactor. Royal is a regular at Aviary, so were were soon whisked to a banquette where we drank strange concoctions and nibbled on “small bites” from the kitchen. This was an infused punch prepared in an overengineered vacuum pot:
Royal’s drink was served out of a Porthole, which has become the iconic vessel at Aviary:
My simpler watermelon-based beverage paled by comparison, even if it did have ice spheres (made from a different liqueur) that changed the taste of the drink as they melted:
After about an hour, one of the servers asked us if we’d like to “go downstairs.” I was pretty sure that nothing was down there except the restrooms shared with Next, but I followed Royal’s lead and allowed myself to be ushered through a nondescript door into The Office, their “basement speakeasy,” available by invitation only. Where the upstairs was large and sleek with a high-tech drink prep area, The Office was a classic wood-paneled bar with big leather chairs and a massive menu of vintage scotch, bourbon, and other alcohols that people obsess over.
We allowed ourselves to be treated like royalty until the bar closed. but there was one more surprise waiting for us. While Scott and I waited for a cab, I turned around and saw chef Achatz standing outside the door to Next, taking in some air. His splattered apron led me to conclude that he had commandeered the Next kitchen after the last seating to cook for the Eleven Madison Park crew. I pointed him out to Scott, who thanked him profusely for or two recent meals. I, on the other had, tried to play it cool:
“Hi, we met at Harvard. We had a conversation about your revised method for making the dry caramel.”
“I remember that. Did you get it to work?”
“Yup. Thanks for the tip.”
And with that unexpected finish to the Next/Alinea/Aviary trifecta, we floated home.
ETA (9/18): Be sure to read Scott’s account of the same evening.
Our last meal in Chicago was brunch at Three Aces in University Village with our friend Maggie. After a brunch of sweet corn waffles with tasso ham, and cheddar biscuits with sausage gravy, Maggie presented us with a cake, a chocolate “intensement”:
As she described it, the cake, from top to bottom, was
chocolate macaron, chocolate/Cointreau ganache, chocolate sponge, chocolate imbibage and dark Valrhona chocolate mousse enrobed in a shiny chocolate glaze. Yup. There’s a little chocolate in this.
I don’t believe in “too much chocolate,” so I helped myself to a large slice, which was delicious. We were heartbroken that we couldn’t take it home with us, but I was convinced a TSA stooge would find reason to confiscate it.
We’re already talking about when we’ll return to Chicago; there are so many places we still haven’t tried (including that elusive Moto reservation). And it looks very pretty at night.