Travelogue: Chicagoland Day 4 (Intelligentsia, Hot Doug’s, Xoco)

I decided to give Portillo’s another try. Got their chicagodog and chili dog. Chili wins.

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It was still rather disappointing, but later on we redeemed ourselves with better hot dogs… (keep reading)

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We walked downtown to Intelligentsia.

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Got a coffee flight of 3 different coffees.

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Latte. The most perfect latte I’ve ever had.

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Coffee from Peru.

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Their baristas were all friendly and professional. Such a hipster coffee place.

We then took a cab to Hot Doug’s. It was about 20 minutes away from downtown, and we wanted to make it there in time. You can also take the trains but it would take 45 minutes.

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Hot Doug’s Cassoulet: Saucisse de Toulouse with Fresh Herb Mustard, Great Northern Beans and Duck Confit

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Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel

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Bacon Cheeseburger Sausage with Coca Cola BBQ Sauce, Caramelized Onions and Maple-Smoked Cheddar Cheese

We took the trains back to downtown area, where we met up with a friend and ate more at our hotel rooftop lounge. Then we went to Xoco for dinner…

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Amazing guac. They give you so much avocado!

 

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Suckling pig torta – it was filled with shredded/pulled pork, which I didn’t really like.

 

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The caldo had pork belly in it, which I enjoyed but was not the best.

 

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For seating, you line up at the cashier and there is a dude who finds available tables for you and tells you a number. It’s very casual. The one thing that I did like about this place was BACON POPCORN that they sell in packs. Their hot chocolate was also good, very thick and dark.

After all this food, we took a walk along the river.

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The one thing I love most about Chicago is its architecture. Bridges and lamp posts make this scene memorable for me.

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Even the Starbucks are pretty. (No, you don’t go to Chicago for Starbucks.)

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Travelogue: Chicagoland Day 3 (Girl & the Goat)

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We started off the day with lattes. Mine was vanilla rose. Spent the late morning/afternoon at Fabcakes.

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Breakfast sandwich in a croissant (Egg, tomato, basil, cheddar, and bacon+$0.75) — delicious.

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Polish Zapiekanka — an open face french bread melt with caramelized onion, mushroom, swiss cheese. It was meh.

After that, we stopped by Portillo’s — a must for tourists to get a chicagodog.

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As per Yelp reviews, we got the Italian beef. The beef was dry and bland and fell out of the sandwich along with 2 slices of peppers.

Our next stop: shopping on Michigan Ave. I love walking down that street, with stores on your right and left. Of course, I had to take a picture of Anthropologie’s storefront.

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We were tired from a day of walking around. It was time to meet my cousin for dinner. I had made a reservation at Girl & the Goat MONTHS in advance because I knew this was the “IT” place.

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They had an extensive cocktail and wine list.

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I loved my cider.

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Started off with raw oysters. There was too much pickled flavor for my liking, but those were some good oysters.

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Roasted beets salad: green beans, white anchovy, avocado creme fraiche, bread crumb. They give you a generous amount of beets, which I love.

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One of my favorite dishes here: wood oven roasted pig face with sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple, potato stix. They instruct you to destroy it completely to oblivion…

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Pig and egg: such a wonderful combination.

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Pan fried shishito peppers with parmesan, sesame and miso. Shishito peppers aren’t known to be spicy, but I was lucky enough to get one spicy pepper in there.

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Another one of my faves. Pan roasted arctic char with kohlrabi escabeche, miso-harissa, spiced cashew.

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Diver scallops with sweet curry, sweet onion-bacon, papadum. Very good but pricey — we had to add a third one for an additional cost.

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This one did not work well for me. Confit goat belly with bourbon butter, lobster n’ crab, fennel. The bourbon butter and lobster and crab was an odd combination against the goat belly.

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This was surpringly good and not gamey. Goat carpaccio with smoked trout roe and olive-maple vinaigrette.

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We added another dish because we really wanted to try everything! duck tongues with tuna and black bean poke, crispy wontons, piri piri. DELICIOUS!!! Perfectly crispy and the whole dish came together.

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Dessert time. Our waitress informed us that this was new to the menu. Plantain cake with cream cheese-chocolate chip gelato, passion fruit, left hand milk stout. SO good but we couldn’t finish it.

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We also chose two cheeses; the waitress was very knowledgable and knew everything about the menu!

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The bill for 3 people.

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Travelogue: Chicagoland: Day 2 (Chinatown & Alinea)

We started the morning with coffee and hot apple cider with caramel (obviously mine).

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Robust Coffee Lounge – definitely hipster, definitely good coffee, definitely people working on MacBooks. The one thing I love about Chicago is the availability of cafes with free wifi and outlets everywhere.

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I had not been to Chinatown before, so since my friends were driving, it was the perfect time to explore. They explained to me that there is an “old” Chinatown and a “new” one, which are adjacent to each other but with different shops and restaurants. We went to the “new” one and ended up at a really good dimsum place: MingHin.

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After our stroll in Chinatown, we went to shoot pool at Lucky Strike. Then we went back to the hotel to change clothes for Alinea, which was one of the main reasons why we went to Chicago.

I first heard about Alinea from a food blogger that I met randomly at a burger joint in DC back in 2012. We bonded over food and he mentioned Alinea as being one of the best meals of his life.

To dine at Alinea, this is a carefully planned effort. First, you must buy a ticket on their website in lieu of reservations. The date you are aiming for opens up about a month in advance. I went on the website as soon as my date opened in order to get the 5pm reservation. After all, this is a 3-hour event and I like to dine early. In retrospect, this was a good decision because there are no barriers between you and other diners in the restaurant. I can see the surprises being ruined for the subsequent diners around me.

Don’t be intimidated by the sleek, modern, minimalist decor and well-dressed servers. Alinea is the first restaurant to have bare tables, and you can see their tables are well-built and the materials used were carefully considered.

I’m not going to go into each dish, because really, you should experience it for yourself. Don’t read too many reviews because trust me — you want to be surprised!

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Passionfruit foam!

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These vapors lasted for a long time. So whimsical.

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They brought out logs for “ambiance”.

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Remember the logs on fire? He cut them up and revealed the wagyu inside, perfect meat…

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This was so refreshing, I loved it! I really appreciated the designs of the plates.

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This was a time-sensitive dish, which meant I was supposed to eat it as soon as it came out, but I was too busy taking pictures and they came out blurry. Hot potato and cold potato. It was only a one bite item but was one of the more memorable ones!

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This was one of my favorite dishes. They don’t tell you what any of these are, and you’re supposed to taste and test and guess.

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Some of these are alcohol!

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Duck. Different parts.

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Dessert #1. Mascarpone, strawberry, black walnut, pistachio…

And then…

balloon

The server brings out the green apple balloon filled with helium! You are encouraged to put your lips on the balloon and suck out the helium and talk like a cartoon character. Loved this. Delicious too.

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The dessert chef came out and spread this on the table. What a show!

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Really wish I could’ve met the Chef, but being able to see the kitchen was a great end to the meal.

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Mission Accomplished.

Travelogue: Chicagoland – Day 1

My second trip to Chicago was all about eating.

Last January, I flew to Chicagoland for 1.5 days to see my aunt, uncle and cousin. We did all the touristy things and saw all the sights. This March, I had one thing in mind: to eat my way through the heart of Chicago.

First place we went to after we landed: Nhu Lan Bakery.

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They bake their own bread for their banh mi.

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The menu was amazing. I knew I had to get the sugarcane shrimp & pork banh mi.

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And of course, the classic #1. They were the best Vietnamese sandwiches I’ve ever had. Who knew I’d find this in Chicago?!

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They also sell dessert and flan and “Vietnamese mayo”…

NEXT STOP: Hot Doug’s. Alas, they were closed!

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Moving on, we went to Smalls, Smoke Shack & More.

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It’s American BBQ with an Asian twist. Brisket, tiger cry sauce, garlic fried rice!

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The best thing there: flash fried beets. Better than fries, in my opinion.

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There seems to be a lot of Mexican colas here.

After a brief visit to the arcade – Galloping Ghost Arcade – where the games never end (really, you never die), we decided it was time for dinner at Butcher and the Burger in Lincoln Park.

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So you pick a meat (I picked house prime blend), and then a spice blend, and whatever else you want. You can even pick a lettuce bun if you’re not into carbs.

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It’s a small place, and very popular, so expect a wait. We waited for what seemed like an eternity (while watching all of the above burgers come out and being disappointed that they weren’t ours) for this…

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One of the top 3 burgers I’ve ever had. Of course, I added a sunny side up egg. It looks simple, but the burger was just so tasty and perfectly medium rare. I picked “grandma’s onion soup” as my spice.

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Truffle, anyone?