The Windy City is my base. I don’t live there, but I commute to work, which means I fly in before my trips and fly out after my trips. Sometimes I have to spend the night in Chicago, which is completely fine by me because it means I have time to do what I do best: EAT.
This past month has provided some really good Chi-town eats: Au Cheval, Avec, and Birchwood Kitchen. And next month, I may have to do a second installment of Chicago, as I have a reservation at the coveted Girl and the Goat. I had to wait for more than a month. And at that, the only time I can get a table is 4:30 p.m. Although it is never too early for dinner, in my book (and never too late, for that matter). The time is always right for a great meal.
So let’s start with Au Cheval, shall we? A dazzling venue on West Randolph Street with tin-pressed ceilings, and warm ambient lighting, Au Cheval is unassuming and inviting. I was there for lunch. I opted for the roasted marrow bones, beef cheek marmalade, and toast. When I ordered, the server nodded and smiled, "You made the right choice." The marrow was luscious and satisfying, the perfect consistency. The beef cheek marmalade was rich, slightly sweet, and paired perfectly with the salty marrow. I noticed the next table staring at me as I enjoyed my lunch. It was then that I realized I was inadvertently licking the bone. It was just that good. For dessert, I tried the root beer float, made with Berghoff’s homemade root beer. A Chicago institution, The Berghoff started as a men’s-only saloon that served free corned beef sandwiches with a stein of Berghoff’s beer. A German immigrant opened the establishment more than a century ago and it progressed to one of Chicago’s most popular restaurants. At any rate, Au Cheval serves the Berghoff’s homemade root beer and it is phenomenal. I was there on a hot day and the root beer, paired with the ice cream created the perfect refreshing, foamy drink that hit just the right spot.
Another restaurant that gets rave reviews is Avec. Avec is the sister restaurant to Blackbird, which is right next door. "Avec" means "with" in French. Although I wasn’t "with" anyone but myself, I felt very comfortable having dinner at the bar. The friendly bartender took great care of me, and made sure I had a satisfying dining experience. The décor in Avec is simple, clean, and understated. This makes perfect sense — a perfect match really, because the food is very much over-stated, bold, and flavorful. I opted for two small plates. First I tried the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, with bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. They were sweet and spicy, served with a generous chunk of bread to scoop up the delectable sauce. Next I tried the milk-raised veal breast with lemon polenta, fresh chickpeas, Calabrian chile, and pine nuts. Now this was the feast for me! So tender and succulent, the meat practically melted on my tongue when it graced my palate. Flavorful and juicy, the veal ranks in the top 5 percent of meat I’ve tasted throughout my lifetime. It was hard to pass up some of the other offerings on the menu: prosciutto with brandied cherry vinaigrette, 55-day dry-aged rib-eye with bone marrow butter and fennel-preserved lemon gremolata, steamed clams with squid ink, and focaccia with truffle oil and ricotta. I really could easily list the entire menu here, and I’m afraid if anyone ever asked for recommendations, I would simply say "everything."