Saturday, 27 June 2015

Chicago Food Highlights








I recently returned from my first visit to Chicago, Illinois. What a dazzling city. I enjoyed my stay so much. I arrived just days after they won the Stanley Cup for the third time in the last six years. Chicago is well known for its towering skyscrapers, statues, sculptures and booming culinary scene. Like Toronto, Chicago is very multicultural and this melting pot of different backgrounds always means plenty of different options to eat ranging from familiar and comforting to wild and exotic. Unfortunately my stay in Chicago was only for a few days, but I got to experience some amazing food while I was there. I'd love to share my experience with you.

Natalie, a friend and one of my hosts, encouraged me to research some places that I'd like to eat at in the city. She has been living there with her husband and their baby daughter for about a year. My initial response was out of politesse, placing trust in their knowledge of the city and where to eat. Especially since I'd never been there before. Then I remembered that Graham Elliot was from Chicago and had a restaurant there. Elliot is one of the judges on the American version of MasterChef, so I thought it would be a fitting experience to try there. He has had quite the impressive career for a relatively young chef and his restaurant is one of the few in the city to hold Michelin Stars (two in fact). Its called the GE Bistro and Natalie, her husband Jimmie and myself got reservations for my first night there. 







To celebrate my arrival, we engorged ourselves on three savoury courses plus dessert. The restaurant offers elevated bistro fare with a gastronomically creative flair. 

For our first course, Natalie ordered the white tuna sashimi with avocado mousse, crispy plantain chips and passion fruit essence.







Jimmie ordered fresh Prince Edward Island oysters.







I ordered the deconstructed Caesar salad. It was three miniature hearts of romaine rolled in dressing and freshly grated Parmigiano, each topped with a white anchovy fillet. On the side was a cheeky crouton "twinkie" of toasted brioche filled with whipped mascarpone. It was very creative, beautiful and delicious. 







For our second course, Natalie ordered the ribeye steak tartar which came with a quail egg yolk and malt vinegar potato chips. This was her first time trying steak tartar and she said she quite enjoyed it. 







Jimmie ordered the risotto of English peas, pea vines and pecorino romano. 







I ordered the steamed mussels with a red curry and coconut milk broth and a grilled baguette. I really loved this course. There is something about the experience of eating steamed mussels and clams out of the shell like this that I find really enjoyable. The mussels were clean and steamed to perfection and sat in the most deliciously complex curry sauce. I usually enjoy mussels with crusty bread when prepared in a European fashion. For Asian inspired mussels I usually eat the broth with a spoon as more of a traditional approach. I have to say though, the toasty bread with the flavour-layered curry sauce was really tasty. The fusion of French bread with Thai mussels worked very well together.








For our third and main courses, Natalie ordered the Graham Burger. A seared beef patty with brie, onion jam and garlic aioli inside a soft pretzel roll. Natalie mentioned that it was a little odd to get a burger without a side, which I agree is something you don't normally see often. Luckily she enjoyed it and didn't leave hungry. 







Jimmie ordered the whole crispy snapper with green garlic, forbidden rice and a pineapple giardeniera (pickled relish). As far as presentation goes this one was a show stopper and agreeably the most impressive looking dish of the evening. Jimmie said that it was delicious and he enjoyed it very much. 







I ordered the lavender scented chicken course with wilted rainbow chard, candy striped beets and corn relish. I really enjoyed this dish. They cooked the chicken sous-vide which is a fancy French technique where the chicken is seasoned and vacuum sealed in plastic then immersed in hot water controlled by a computer. The gentle cooking process just cooks the chicken through while keeping it super moist and juicy. Once complete, the chicken is removed from the plastic and seared to give the outer skin a crispy, gnarly coating. It was delicious and played well off the natural, earthy sweetness of the greens and beets as well as the bright and sweet acidity from the corn relish. With the final touch of some fresh microgreens this dish was well-rounded, delicious and colourful. 





  



For the final dessert course, Natalie ordered their play on a banana split which included candied hazelnuts, pretzel crumbs, luxardo cherry and fresh whipped vanilla cream.








Jimmie ordered the cookie dough flight which was a combination of soft and chewy cookies, ice cream, chocolate chips, peanut butter and a sugar wafer. 







I had trouble deciding on a dessert so I assigned our server the task of surprising me with anything so long as it was something different than what my friends had ordered. He came back with a strawberry-rhubarb crostata.  It was made with a chamomile and honey butter pastry served à la mode with fresh strawberry. It was really tasty. Strawberry and rhubarb is a combination that I have loved since I was a kid and I didn't get around to using any rhubarb this year while it was in season in the spring. So this turned out to be a nice treat. 






Everything was really delicious, presented beautifully and served with friendly and helpful service. I really recommend this place if you get the chance. GE Bistro is located at 841 W Randolph St in Chicago, Illinois. They can be reached at 312-888-2258. For more information, please see their web-site.

The next day Natalie and I were sight seeing and we ended up stopping for lunch at a place on Michigan Avenue just across from the Crown Fountain called Hot Woks Cool Sushi. They offer a Pan-Asian menu but we primarily went for sushi. One of the items was called a Blackhawks roll, referring to the local NHL team. In honour of their recent Stanley Cup win I decided to order it. It was strikingly pleasing to the eye and overall quite tasty. 







The roll was made of fresh crab meat, asparagus enveloped in black rice, topped with white tuna and red tobiko. A little out of the ordinary and I enjoyed it. They offer an extensive menu of other items. The restaurant is located at S 30 Michigan Ave but they have 3 other locations on Pulaski Road, Roscoe Street and Adams Street. For more info, please check out their web-site

No typical visit to Chicago would be complete without Chicago Deep Dish pizza. The king of all these is the stuffed pizza pie from Giordano's. We decided to pick up the pizza and eat it at home. They have several locations all over Chicago. We ordered the Classic Chicago which comes with cheese, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms and onions. No ordinary pizza, it's literally a pizza pie, crust on the bottom and top with the fillings in the middle. The top of the pizza is covered in a rich tomato sauce. 







You can see why they call it "deep dish" pizza. Just look at that carbolicious thickness!







As far as pizza goes this was really good. Do I need to have it again next time I go to Chicago? Not necessarily. It's a lot of crust and very filling. I recommend it if you've never tried it so you can have the experience, but it's more of a When-in-Rome suggestion than a genuine recommendation. As you would expect, it's also good cold eaten for breakfast. lol




Natalie & I with a Giordano's Deep Dish Stuffed Pizza


Definitely try this if you get a chance to visit to Chicago. The city is riddled with locations so please check out their web-site for more information and menus. 

Chicago has so much more to offer foodies but this is all I have for notable highlights from my visit. I really loved Chicago and I can't wait until I get to return. It's a beautiful, bustling city with so much to do and see. If you get to visit, I hope you will consider these recommendations.

Until next time! It is officially summer now so all kinds of fresh and summery recipes are in store for the near future. Be sure to check back often.


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