Monday, September 3, 2012

Chicago - Summer 2012

I feel like all I have done this summer is travel.  I also feel like I have written a ton of posts lately that are not about Indy restaurants because of it.  Bear with me; this will be the last one for a bit.  We did a quickie trip to Chicago a few weeks ago and here is a brief (ok, brief for me) summary of where we ate.

We were meeting an old college friend of hubby’s and the first night we went to Quartino.  It is a loud, buzzy Italian place with a pretty wide ranging menu (good for kids, whom we had with us).  Honestly, I found everything to be fairly average – the cheese/charcuterie plate ($25) was fine, the heirloom tomato salad ($7.75) could have stood a little more flavor (people, tomatoes should be AWESOME right now or you shouldn’t be serving them), and the Rustica pizza (with potatoes, pancetta, rosemary and onion) ($12) was bland (I think there were like 6 pieces of rosemary) and should not have had a red sauce on it in my opinion.  We also had a mushroom risotto ($11.50) which was ok—it had balsamic in it giving it more of an interesting flavor than many risottos—I appreciate the acid in what is often a ridiculously heavy dish. 

So with all of these things, they weren’t really wowing us—but luckily we had also ordered the steamed clams ($11.75). Wow, these things were great.  They were the little teeny clams that I often dream about and have pretty much only had in Italy I think.  I had begun to think they were impossible to come by in this country or something.  They were in a white wine and chili broth that was also outstanding.  It had a ton of the actual wine flavor (I find many shellfish broths to be pretty watered down) and a touch of heat.  They were served with great pieces of grilled bread that completed the dish perfectly. Seriously, I would go back to this place just for the clams.  Oh, and the zeppole for dessert ($5.50).  They were great as well—super puffy and hollow freshly fried doughnuts with a dark chocolate sauce.  That would be a great little meal actually—clams and doughnuts. (Hubby says that's gross. Whatever).

Rustic House

The next night we did a meal with just the adults at Rustic House.  Our friends had read about it in a magazine and wanted to check it out.  It has a nice vibe to it—not a huge place that was pleasantly full of people, but not so loud that we couldn’t talk.  Food-wise, this place impressed us more with the appetizers and then went a little downhill overall.  The wood-grilled octopus ($13) was great—it was perfectly cooked with just a little smoky flavor and was served with tomato confit and chopped olives.  Perfect salty/acid combo with the octopus. The wood grilled oysters were good too ($15)—although very cheesy.  They had a slight spiciness from Cajun flavorings and were tempered with a bit of lemon. The handmade gnocchi ($15) was pretty good too—there was a parsley broth and a few (like 3) little pieces of foie gras.  A little more of the foie would have made this dish better—I know it is an expensive ingredient, but not THAT expensive. The duck fat marcona almonds ($5) were kind of a disappointment. They sort of just tasted like oily almonds.

I actually had another appetizer for my main—the baked shrimp with white wine and garlic butter and panko. They were disappointing and overcooked (and expensive at $16 for what was 2 or 3 shrimp). Hubby had the special prime rib ($36), which he ordered medium rare and got served medium at best. It was supposed to be cooked on their rotisserie, but I could see nothing that made it special. Our friend’s lamb T-bone chop was much better—it was perfectly cooked and tender. But I only got a bite, so I can’t talk too much about it. Our other friend had an interesting swordfish “chop” ($32) that hubby liked better than I did. I thought the fish was pretty dry.  We also had a side of the corn crème brulee which was interesting, but honestly should have been a dessert, it was so sweet.  It was pretty much a smooth cream based dish with a slight corn flavor that was sugared and caramelized on top just like crème brulee normally is.  The actual desserts were the weakest link of the meal. Completely not worth the calories. The peaches in the peach crostada ($10) were practically crunchy they were so under ripe. The blondie brownie ($10) was fine, but nothing overly memorable.  Overall, I thought this place was very hit and miss and the misses were kind of bad.  Don’t think that I would repeat this place, although you could luck into a really good meal if you happened to order right.

Table 52
On the last day we had brunch at Table 52, Chef Art Smith’s restaurant.  This was my favorite meal of the trip.  The menu looks great, but there was fried chicken and waffles ($24) on it, so it was pretty obvious what I would be ordering.  That chicken, it was outstanding. Super juicy (even the white meat) and the crust was crunchy and had just the right amount of seasoning and spice.  I mean, just look at it. It is a thing of beauty. Honestly, who even needs the waffle?  (Well, my son ate most of mine while I focused on the chicken).  Hubby had the breakfast pizza which was also outstanding ($14).  IT was a pretty large pizza crust (certainly shareable) with sawmill (or sausage) gravy, loads of cheese and bacon, and a couple of perfectly runny eggs on top. The flavors were great—I was questioning the whole gravy thing but it was perfect. You could really taste the smoky sausage flavor.  We also had a side of mac and cheese that we all shared (there were 8 of us) ($12).  Also really good—several kinds of cheeses and a crunchy breadcrumb top.  Everyone really seemed to like this.  The only downside of the place was the service was a little slow which you seem to notice more when you are dining with several children.

This is a place that takes comfort food to a new level and a place that appeals across the board to just about everyone.  They even have a “healthy” section on the menu if you don’t want to indulge in all the calories.  But if you are going here, I highly recommend you indulge.  It was totally worth it.

626 N. State
Chicago, IL 60610

Quartino on Urbanspoon

Rustic House
1967 N. Halstead Street
Chicago, IL 60614
Rustic House on Urbanspoon

Table 52
52 West Elm Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Table Fifty-Two on Urbanspoon

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