Friday, April 02, 2010
Chicago: Day 3
We spent the second half of our trip to Illinois in downtown Chicago, staying at the Hotel Sax in the River North area. The hotel was really great, a boutique establishment with fantastic staff and lovely decor. We booked our room through Priceline and got the lowest price, the "run of the house" rate, which meant that we didn't get to choose what type of room we got. We would be assigned any room that happened to be available. When we got there, we were going to be placed in a room on the sixth floor, but the clerk changed it to a higher floor with a river view without our asking. After a couple days of sleeping on the floor, a real bed was a very welcome sight for us!
We took a walk in the lovely warm weather that afternoon to scope out the area, and walked by Frontera Grill, only to find a line of a at least 30 people waiting for the restaurant to open. Josh didn't want to wait for a table yet because he wasn't hungry. We went back to the hotel, and Josh didn't feel hungry until nearly 7:30, which meant a 2.5 hour wait at Frontera. We put our names down and went to check out Roy's Hawaiian Fusion in the meantime, figuring that if there wasn't a wait at Roy's, we'd go there and try Frontera the next day. The wait at Roy's was an hour, so we went to a great wine and cheese bar/restaurant called Bin 36 in our hotel. They had an extensive cheese list, with prices starting at $2, and a great wine selection. A couple bucks would buy you a tasting of the cheese, enough for two people to split. It's not a lot of cheese, but if you want to try a bunch of cheeses, it's better to stay small and spend your money on a variety. There's a wine market inside the restaurant too, so if you like a wine, you see its bin number in the menu and find the number in the market, where each wine has an information card that you can take with you to remember for the future.
We wound up waiting just under two hours for our table at Frontera, and managed this by taking seats at the chef's bar, which is pretty much a bar in the area where food gets picked up. You don't actually see much cooking, and we did not see Rick Bayless either. Aside from that, our experience was excellent. You get a little dish of assorted roasted/spiced nuts (bottom left pic) and they're so wonderful. Spice, with a little kick, but no lingering burn. We ordered three appetizers, the Flautas de Carnitas de Puercocrispy (rolled tacos filled with Maple Creek pork carnitas, caramelized onions and black beans), serviced with spicy tomato-arbol chile sauce and arugula salad; Trio Trio Trio (a tasting of three ceviches: blue marlin, tuna, and shrimp & calamari); and Tostaditas (warm, just-made tortilla chips) served with two salsas (garlicky three-chile and roasted tomatillo with serrano and cilantro). They were all tasty, and generous portions. We did not come close to finishing the chips, and I wound up taking them back to NYC, and they were still crispy and tasty a couple days old.
For our entrees, Josh had Pato en Mole de Xico: red-chile rubbed Gunthorp duck breast with Xico's famous fruity, dark-chile mole served with Gulf-style white rice (studded with plantain and raisins), quick-cooked spinach, and plantain tostada (pic on left). I had Tacos al Carbon: wood-grilled chicken sliced and served with roasted pepper rajas, two salsas, frijoles charros, guacamole and homemade tortillas (pic on right). It was the first time we had mole, and it was fantastic, a mix of sweet, smoky, and savory flavors perfectly balanced to turn into a totally new taste.
For a celebrity chef who commands lines down the block for tables, the pricing wasn't bad at all. The bill came to $110 for all our food plus the three cocktails we had. We didn't have room for dessert because we were so stuffed!