Monday, July 17, 2017

Road Trip: Chicago

We recently spent the weekend in Chicago with the kids, enjoying a Christmas gift to see Hamilton (it’s so good). Of course, other than that, the weekend was planned around food (and conveniently the musical was a matinee so we didn’t miss any meals).

Our first stop for lunch was to Shaw’s Crab House. Hubby and I used to hit up the oyster bar nearly every visit to Chicago for years for lunch, but hadn’t been in awhile, and wanted to introduce the kids to it. If you go, eat in the oyster bar, way better atmosphere than the stuffy restaurant in my opinion. We got some king crab bites ($28) to share, because they made us love the place back in the day. They take king crab legs and just slice them into pieces and you pop them out of the shell. They serve them with cocktail sauce and a mustard mayo type sauce. I love that mustard sauce. They also had soft shell crab on the menu, so it was sort of a no brainer that I’d get that as well (they serve the crab that’s in season). 

I went with the soft shell crab appetizer ($16), because I didn’t feel up to a whole dinner. And then I got the chopped salad ($10) on the side to share with hubby. The crab itself was tasty and fresh, but it wasn’t my favorite version because it was breaded in corn meal. I like a crunchy batter best. They served it with mango, cucumber and a chili sauce. Also not my favorite combo, but I was happy to just get the crab. The salad had lots of good stuff in it (blue cheese, avocado, egg, bacon, scallion, tomato and croutons) but the dressing lacked acid. I gave it a good squeeze from a lemon that was handy, and that helped. Hubby and my daughter split the blackened snapper with toffee sauce and rice ($31) and hubby loved it. Especially that etouffee sauce (it was really good). My daughter found the sauce a bit spicy for her, but enjoyed the fish. My son had the Lake Erie perch ($24)and thought it was fine, although he didn’t eat the tartar sauce that came with it, which was amazing. All in all, we enjoyed it, but can’t say it will be the place my kids want to rush back to. It’s a bit on the pricey side too, but it will always hold a special place for hubby and me.

For dinner that night we went to Sumi Robata Bar. We all love the small plates options so everyone gets to choose several things and we all try everything. So this is a Japanese place, and a robata grill is a type of charcoal grill over which many things are cooked, usually on sticks. This place had a ton of robata options as well as items cooked in other ways. We got a ton of stuff and it all just kind of slowly appeared over the course of the evening. Edamame ($5) was hot and seasoned with just touch of sea salt and came with a cute little basket. We also had the special because it was soft shell crab ($22) (seriously, everyone in my family knows that if a server says they have it, that I will order it). It was nice and crunchy and served with a very light sauce to dip in. A couple of our favorite items were the marinated chicken thigh from the grill ($6), which was super tender and flavorful. And we all liked the karaage chicken, which is a Japanese version of fried chicken ($12). These were chunks of white and dark meat and served with a shishito pepper spread. It was simple, but really delicious. The kids wanted  a second order, but we held them off. The thing that was a standout favorite, and which we did end up with two orders of was the wagyu ribeye ($16). There were shoving matches going on over this one because it was two sticks each with a hunk of meat on them and a side of wasabi ponzu. Thus, why we had to order a second one. We also had the wagyu sukiyaki ($18), which was also very good—the beef was served in almost like a porridge with a soft-boiled egg. It was a nicely composed dish—all the wagyu we had was superb. We also had the Ishi Yaki ($12), which was Wagyu New York strip with a hot rock and was simply delicious. Yes, we had a lot of beef, because apparently, that’s what everyone was in the mood for. The grilled asparagus was nice too (although a touch fat for me) and the duck breast ($8) was fine, but a little more cooked than we typically like. The only real bad dish was the octopus ($8), which we each ate one piece of and that’s it because it was so tough. We went with dessert because we were really enjoying ourselves. The donatsu ($7) was so good –a doughnut filled with chocolate and served with matcha soft serve. Seriously, this was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a Japanese restaurant. We also had an orange shaved ice ($7) that was nice and refreshing.

The next day for lunch (or I should say brunch, because as hard as it is to find brunch in Indy, it’s just as hard to find not-brunch in Chicago on the weekend) was the Bristol. This is a place hubby and I have eaten several times for dinner, but never a mid day meal.  The menu is an eclectic mix of various brunchy and lunchy things and we agreed on four different things and to share (my son apparently not as good as that as the rest of us, but then again, his was the best thing). He got the burger “Royale” ($13). It had two thin patties, cheese, pickled onions, garlic aioli and came with duck fat fries. Seriously, that is one of the better burgers I have had in recent memory. Don’t want to wait in the line at Au Cheval? This is a decent substitute. Hubby ordered the “hangover breakfast,” ($13), which was sort of like a ramen dish—noodles in pork broth with pork belly, veg, and an egg. I liked it—it was nice variety with everything else, but not as good as bowl of full on ramen. I ordered the chicken ‘n a biscuit ($13), which was a biscuit cut into hunks, covered in sausage gravy and then served with some nice hunks of fried chicken. The chicken was very good—it actually reminded me of the karaage chicken from the night before in its preparation. The biscuits were very dry and there wasn’t enough gravy to fix the problem. I liked the pickles across the dish, as pickles and fried chicken are a good match to me. My daughter ordered the chilaquiles ($14), and I was of course thrilled. These were a disappointment as well. They were a bit better than some I have had lately, but it was more of a bunch of various parts (pork, egg, etc.) that didn’t really come together that well. Nothing was bad, but a lot of it was just a little disappointing compared to some of the dinners we have had there. Except that burger, it was delicious.

For dinner on the last night we went to Mon Ami Gabi, which is a French bistro with several locations around the country. My kids love a French bistro, and since we don’t really have any in Indy, we often seek them out in other cities. This place was fabulous to meet that bistro craving. We started out with salmon tartare ($15.95) and the friseé, kale and warm bacon salad with a poached egg ($9.95). That salmon tartare was great—really great. It was marinated and mixed with hunks of avocado and had olives on the side and these great potato crisps to eat it with. And they even gave you enough chips for all the tartare. Hubby and I really liked this dish. The salad was fine—and is one of our favorite salads to eat usually—but this one did not have enough acid at all. We doctored it up a bit and it was good, but not something I would order again.

For my main dish, I had the skate with cauliflower pureé and florets, raisins and crispy capers ($22.95). It was excellent. I love skate and for some reason, it is hard to find in Indy. It’s a ray wing, and is so tender. They sautéed it and it had this lovely butter sauce. So perfect. There was a ton of it though—I could have easily split it with someone. Hubby and my son both got steak frites ($23.95) and were both very happy. You can order it the classic way, which is a thin ribeye, which is what they did, or you can order from various other cuts. They hand cut their fries and they are tasty. They are cut thin, but wide—almost like a ribbon-- and almost like a cross between a fry and a chip. Really nice with the steak to soak in all the juices. You also can pick your flavor of butter to be served on top (or a sauce). Hubby went with the classique maitre d’hôtel butter, which is an herby blend. My daughter had the salmon ($22.95), which was wonderfully prepared and served with mashed peas and crème fraiche beurre blanc. They also have a lovely dessert menu. We had the most amazing profiteroles with chocolate sauce ($8.95) as well as a dish of the sorbet of the day, which was passion fruit. I also feel like for the amount of food you get and the quality, it is a good deal.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the Little Goat Diner, which is one of our perpetual faves. Now that my daughter had been there once before, she agrees. It’s hard to vary from our favorite things though, so we didn’t. We had the okonomiyaki ($13), the dark chocolate chip crunch pancakes ($13), the parathas burrito ($13) and the hashbrowns stuffed with cheese ($6). I have written about all of these items before, but suffice it to say, they are all stellar. 

All in all, a great food trip and fun as well. Such a great city.

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