If you follow ELV on Facebook and Twitter (and let’s face it who doesn’t?) you know he’s spent the last seven days reporting from Chicago — where he’s been shot (as in “filmed”) in all sorts of places as a pilot for a possible food/travel show with the Travel Channel. We can’t reveal the locations of those shenanigans, but our staff thought you’d enjoy some tasty snaps from some places we hit when we weren’t on location…going at it hammer and tongs with Al “Mad Man” Mancini.
The above tasty snaps were taken at Paul Kahan’s The Publican — what many consider the joint that kick-started the gastropub revolution several years ago.
We found it far superior in atmosphere and intensity of flavor to Longman & Eagle:
…. which we had hit the day before for a ho-hum brunch. Between the both of them, we gained some insight into the gastro-hip revolution that has spread from Chicago across the nation like a plague of under-dressed locusts, encouraging patrons to be too cool for whatever they need to be schooled in….like the proper way to dress and dine.
Haberdashery aside, suffice it to say that to be a proper gastro-pub, you must specialize in dishes topped with farm-identified eggs:
…and 20-to-30-something patrons sporting either statement facial hair:
…or ironic t-shirts:
…or preferably both:
Although we preferred the straightforward dishes of Publican (as opposed to L&E’s quirkiness – aerated Gruyere foam anyone?), there’s no denying the drive and talent in both kitchens, and the dedication to making top-shelf ingredients taste as good as possible was palpable in both places. (As opposed to Las Vegas, where counting the covers seems to be the over-arching concern of everyone in every restaurant.)
After hanging with all the hipsters (from the look of things, no one over forty eats out in Chi-town), it was time to return to our kind of civilized dining…and that’s how we ended up at Acadia, a restaurant opened for only six months on a forlorn section of the South Loop.
Unfortunately, we were headed to the airport, so all we had time for was a quick hello to Facebook friend Thomas Raquel (who just happens to be the pastry chef there), and to a sip or three of the best cocktail we’ve had in a coon’s age (a gin and tonic made with house-made lemongrass tonic and a cucumber/kaffir lime ice):
We remarked to Acadia’s mixologist/barmaster Michael Simon that we hadn’t seen a bad bar or beer list in the entire week we’d been in town. We then made a joke about there not being a bottle of Grey Goose in sight, to which he said, “Grey Goose couldn’t pay me enough to stock it at my bar.” From the sound of his voice, he wasn’t kidding.
Wolfing down Raquel’s superior sweets (honey parfait topped with osmanthus gelee; peach Melba with Moscato d’Asti ribbons and smoked vanilla(?) ice cream; and textures of chocolate five ways) with such a hand-crafted cocktail did a disservice to all, but what we took away from the experience was that Chicago’s food and drink scene is light years ahead of Vegas’ (at least at the neighborhood level), and any of the Chicago’s watering holes put most of ours to shame.
If you want any further proof, behold this concoction:
…beheld (but not drunk) by us on a quick tour of The Aviary — Grant Achatz’s kitchen-cum-cocktail bar next to Next — his of-the-moment-and-many-others-ever-changing restaurant. What you see above is a porthole-sized infusion glass, used to serve an herbal-tequila concoction of impeccable provenance. (Everything Achatz does is of impeccable provenance, thanks to his well-heeled investors.) Depending on how you feel about such things as bags of tarragon air and torch-smoked wood infusing the inside of your cocktail glass, you will either find this joint charming and innovative, or overwrought and absurd.
The way we at ELV see it, they may be trying way too hard to turn drinks into avant garde creations, but it sure looked like a lot of fun (for the imbiber) and none of these libations costs any more than a standard daiquiri at one of our over-priced hotel bars — none of which have “chefs” and alchemists working magic like this right in front of you.
Bottom line: The City of Big Shoulders has a gastronomic heartbeat composed of passion, innovation, a touch of craziness and a ton of tasty libations. With the possible exception of our murderer’s row of fancy frog ponds, nothing in Vegas comes within a rotary evaporator of what’s going on there.
Sorry boys and girls, but that’s the way we see it. You have a long way to go if you ever want to be mentioned in the same breath as the Windy City….and after a week there (and visiting over a dozen restaurants), the James Beard Foundation’s perpetual snubbing of our food scene suddenly makes a lot of sense.