Chicago Day 1 – Exploration in Food & Culture

Blackbird

Our first reservation was with Blackbird.

619 W. Randolph
Chicago, IL 60661

(312) 715-0708

It was searingly hot (30+C) so we decided to take advantage of   the heat wave and enjoy the patio. E got the prix fixe, which was a 3-course menu featuring a Fluke Tartare, Wood-Grilled Sturgeon and a Brown Butter Cake with Caramel Ice Cream.

I decided to A La Carte with a cold Squash Soup, following that up simply with a Bouillabaise; featuring the fresh catch of the day and a tomato-based broth.

The fluke was sweet and had a great texture. It’s actually one of my favourite ‘budget’ sushi fish I get when I go to my local purveyor (Captain Boston Fish – great name, I know!).  The hearty tasting bread sauce added the right bit of richness to the dish. The cucumber added a nice, refreshing taste and crunchy texture.  I ordered the daily soup because it was advertised as a cold soup. Being as hot as it was outside, a chilled soup was more than welcome.  It was also the first time I had ever tried Squash Soup cold. I was in for a treat! The candied pistachios were a perfect balance of salty and sweet and enhanced the soup wonderfully. The hidden nuggets of crisped pork belly were like little treasures I started to dig for after my first bite. Yum!

The Sturgeon was highly recommended by the waitress and it was indeed a hit. Though the wood-grilling did not do much to enhance the flavour of the fish (IMO), the fish itself was clean, crisp and exceedingly sweet. The simple puree of edamame was also subtly sweet and had a great, smooth texture.  Sea beans are always a welcome sight on our plates. However, SO was a bit off-put by the presence of dried apricots, which did not appear to meld well with the dish and were more of a side/afterthought for a colour punch, rather than a well-incorporated ingredient.  The dryness of the apricots were a bit jarring, but I appreciated their muted sweetness and it made the fish seem sweeter in contrast.  The bouillabaise was strong, but it wasn’t a standout dish. I’ve had better and prefer a richer, more seafood-filled broth. The tomato was indeed refreshing, but it wasn’t a flavour I couldn’t emulate at home.

Along a wall near their kitchen, their past James Beard Awards and Nominations are displayed. It’s a collection any Chef in the country would be proud to have, I’m sure.  I know that’s one of the reasons I came to Blackbird, and I’m sure it’s a large draw for many of their customers as well. You could almost say it was their Bread & Butter (*wink* *wink*). Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

The French Market

After our 3-course meal at Blackbird, what else were we to do but immediately follow that up with MORE desserts?  We headed back to The French Market, where we had just stopped by before lunch with our Chicago Greeter, Mr. Allen Schwartz.  We had heard great things about Vanille Patisserie from EatADuckIMust, and since I was a huge fan of Macarons, I decided to give them a shot.

What were my thoughts? Vanille Patisserie = Dry & Stale Patisserie. I think the problem is that this is a satellite location and the pastries really suffered because of it.  Eliminating the ‘dryness’ factor though, the macarons were still overly sweet, without the punch of flavour I had come to expect from scented macarons. Rose is usually one of my favourite flavours/scents, but it was lost and muddled behind the freight train of sugar that hit me with each bite.  The hazelnut cake with the whimsical oak leaf sprayed on its facade was a stronger entry, but it still wasn’t what I had come to expect from an Award Winning Pastry Chef.  Luckily, we were to hit the Main Site on Saturday, so we got a taste of what they were meant to be like in all their glory.

Exploring the City – Mag Mile

So yes, we did more than just go from eatery to eatery during our stay in Chicago. We did all the ‘touristy’ things, such as hit Mag Mile, and take a peak from the John Hancock tower.

But of course along the way, we had to squeeze in more treats. Garrett’s Popcorn is a hugely popular stop in Chicago.

What were our thoughts? Totally overrated. E & I both prefer just plain ol’ Kettle Corn by Indiana Gourmet. E particularly didn’t appreciate his fingers being stained Neon Orange for the rest of the day after getting his fingers dirty on the Cheese-flavoured 1/2 of the Chicago Mix. The Caramel portion was tastier and had a much better texture (read: not soggy) than the cheese portion. But overall, it was a flop for us. We ate about 1/4 of the bag before it was confiscated by security before we entered our next stop – The Chicago Art Institute.

The Art Institute actually turned out to be one of our favourite stops on our vacation. The museum is breathtaking, and there collection was vast. They really had a little of everything, and more than enough to keep you occupied for the few hours that the Free Museum Thursday Nights would allow for. Every room was artfully laid out and unique. Every piece was well lit and in great condition. E & I agreed that it was definitely one of our favourite Art Museums that we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. I would highly recommend a visit!

After viewing the Art Institute, we were famished. Time for more eating! We called in a pick-up order to Shaw’s Crab House. Their sushi included items made with REAL Red King Crab, which sounded like the right way to go for sushi (imitation crab meat, no more!). We got 2 pieces of the Red King Crab nigiri and filled the order out with a rice-less maki roll featuring same said seafood.

On the way over, we stumbled upon The Purple Pig, which was recently featured in Bon Appetit. So we put down our names, ran over to grab the Crab, and headed back just in time to snack on our Shaw’s nigiri (Sweet and juicy in all the ways crab should be. ) before we were called to our seats on the lovely patio above the bustling streets of Chicago.

So the Crab was a great amuse, and then we moved on to the main course at Purple Pig. We ordered Lengua (tongue – a personal favourite of mine), milk-braised pork shoulder, and a grilled (a la plancha) pork blade chop. Everything was simplistic and so nourishing to both the belly and the soul. It was a good day in The Windy City. My tummy was happy, my brain and feet were exhausted and we were ready to call it a night.

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