A few months ago, I got the “privilege” of going to Chicago for work… in the middle of January. (Geez, couldn’t we have a training some place warmer?) Luckily, the weather held up and was mild and even sunny most of the time I was there! Plus, I got to try some pretty awesome food.
The first part of my trip I was holed up in a hotel in the suburbs, so my dining options were pretty limited: room service, hotel lobby, hotel across the street’s lobby, various chain restaurants at a nearby mall. I perused the hotel menu’s and decided to check out the bar at the Hilton Suites (aka the fancier Hilton that I was not staying at – across the parking lot)
And look what I found (on the left): MINI REUBENS! I know, not very exciting culinary fare, but I am a sucker for tiny foods and reubens and house made potato chips. Definitely worth bundling up in 20 degree weather and crossing an icy parking lot for. I came back a few nights later and order the Mobley burger (right), named after the first hotel Conrad Hilton purchased before starting his chain of hotels. Surprisingly good for a hotel burger. Definitely real meat and not a frozen patty. And look at the cool avocado!
I can’t even believe I’ve hit this point in my life, but I am reviewing food from the Cheesecake Factory. First off, I hate the Cheesecake Factory. Their menu is 90-something pages long with entirely way too many choices; it’s just a clusterfuck of food options. And the cheesecake is atrocious – there’s just too many concoctions and weird flavors that in no way wind up resembling cheesecake. (Being a New Yorker, I’m something of a cheesecake purist.) So, on the left are the Mexican chicken lettuce wraps, and on the right, Vietnamese tacos. The lettuce wraps were better then expected: nice presentation, chicken wasn’t overly dried out. And the Vietnamese tacos were a-MAH-zing! Like, lil tiny bahn-mis! (Here we go with the tiny foods again!) I loved the soft buns!
Eventually, I made it to Chicago. (Second City, Windy City, Chi-Town, et al.) First order of business: Deep dish pizza! I’d watched one of those shows on Travel Channel or Food Network and was told that Lou Malnati’s was THE place to go for real Chicago-style ‘Za. Now, allegedly it takes 30 minutes to cook these bad boys, which admittedly seems like a long time for just some dough, sauce and cheese. I figured if I went early enough to beat the dinner rush, I could be in and out. Wrong. I showed up around 3:30. The place was dead, with more wait staff hanging around then patrons. The bartender served me beer from a pitcher he retrieved from a fridge and looked like a hipster Mister Rogers, then made a big show about cutting my pizza for me because he didn’t want me to break a nail. I told him, go for it – my NY pizza expertise has no place here. Then he started chatting up some other guy at the bar and I wound up having to serve myself and the pizza started getting cold pretty fast. (If my pizza was cooking for 30 minutes, shouldn’t it have been piping hot, even after consuming a slice? Total tourist trap.) Plus, I had to eat it with a knife and a fork. What kind of world do we live in where you have to use utensils to eat pizza? Not one I wanna live in, that’s for sure. Fold and bite, fo’ life.
After staying in a low budget Hilton for a week, I classed it up at stayed at the Hotel Palomar, a very awesome Kimpton hotel with a Top Chef staffed restaurant in their lobby called Sable. I wanted to make sure I got the most out of every day, so I got up at the crack of dawn Saturday & Sunday when brunch started to fuel up before sightseeing. On the left is the brioche marscapone french toast. It could have been better; was a little bit on the soggy side, strawberries were definitely not fresh – seemed like they had been cut up and left out for a while. I understand that chef’s do a lot of prep for their meals so they don’t have to do it on the fly during a rush but seriously, at 8 AM when I’m the first person sitting down, you can’t cut me up some new strawberries? Sunday’s brunch on the right was much better: black bean and cheese enchiladas – topped with the biggest omelet ever and hidden underneath, some of the spiciest chorizo I’ve ever had. OMG, it was amazing. There was so much egg though that I couldn’t finish it all, and I was fine with that because the egg was the least interesting part of that dish. It definitely made up for my lackluster french toast.
When most people think Chicago, they think hot dogs, sausage, pizza, roast beef – but not me. I was aiming to try a particular Thai place that I read about in (of all places) The Time traveler’s Wife < the book, not the movie. insert your judging here > called Opart Thai. (Clever name though, right?) On your left were the peanut summer rolls I ordered. Usually every Thai/Vietnamese place I go to puts the peanut sauce on the side for dipping; slathering it in the peanut sauce kind of overwhelmed the crisp, fresh flavor you would expect from summer rolls. Also, they were cut up into 8ths almost like a sushi roll. On the right was the tofu pad thai – decent, nothing spectacular, but it hit the spot.
Lastly, I hit up a spot mentioned on the Chicago episode of No Reservations, Kuma’s Corner, a heavy metal themed burger joint that I braved the freezing temps and took a subway and 2 buses to get to. Every burger on the menu is named after a metal band but I, however, went with their signature Kuma burger – topped with bacon and a fried egg (much like my favorite at Sketch!). First off, there was a wait – a LONNNNNNNG wait. Table space is extremely limited and since I was by myself, I was told I would have to sit at the bar. So I stood my ground in the crowd, stalking the moves of everyone sitting at the bar, being scoffed by rude bar regulars until finally – MOVEMENT! All the way at the end of the bar, I snagged a seat close to the kitchen. And not only are they inundated with table and bar orders, but they do a lot of to-go orders too. (I probably waited about 45 minutes to an hour just to sit down, and then another 30 minutes just to get my food.) As you can see from the pics, the burger was pretty beefy but I felt the bun was just a bit too big and soft, even though it did come in handy to soak up all the grease and the egg yolk.
Moral of the story? Not all hotel food is terrible. Any place on a TV show is going to have a long wait. And don’t believe the hype of the deep dish!