Posted by: Travis | October 29, 2008

Chicago – The Gastrotourism Edition

Though we weren’t able to hit the big names of Alinea, Trotter’s, Frontera Grill, or Moto on our trip to Chicago, we did eat remarkably well. I, being the incessant meal planner that i am, did quite a bit of reasearch before our trip and had two places picked out that i absolutely had to to try. Here’s how they were.

Hot Doug’s

Hot Dougs is a place that serves funky hot dogs with a funky gourmet twist. I read about it on a blog a few months ago, which lead to it being mentioned on a few other blogs. Supposedly Doug loves his encased meats, but is also pretty crazy about quality control. He works the kitchen whenever they are open to ensure that quality stays where he wants it. Even though its in a boring business district on the north side of Chicago, when we arrived at about 1pm on Saturday, there was a line out the door. Way out the door.

The line outside of Hot Doug's when we arrived

The line outside of Hot Doug

About 45 minutes later we got to the door and actually got inside the restaurant.

Almost there!

Almost there!

After taking a look at the menu, which consisted of a bunch of creatively designed and even more creatively named dogs, i decided upon two specials: Foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with black truffle butter, foie gras mouse, and sel gris and the chardonnay and jalepeno rattlesnake sausage with chili-garlic mayo and smoked gouda.

Menu

Menu

Specials

Specials

Sweet Goodness

Sweet Goodness

On Friday and Saturdays they do regular french fries, but they also do french fries that are cooked in rendered duck fat instead of the standard vegetable oil. We got an order of regulars and duck fries, for the sake of comparison.

Duck fat fries!?!

Duck fat fries!?!

rattlesnake dog, corn dog, chicago frank, regular fries, duck fat fries, polish sausage, and foie dog

Clockwise from top left corner: rattlesnake dog, corn dog, chicago frank, regular fries, duck fat fries, polish sausage, and foie dog

The foie gras dog was ridiculously tasty. The sausage was cooked perfectly so that it popped a little when i bit into it, but not the the point that it was the slightest bit chewey or tough. The foie gras mouse and truffle butter added a depth and complexity to the flavor that was great. You might think that with all thats going on here that the bun was overlooked, but it was also perfect.

Could the rattlesnake dog live up to the foie dog? In the words of Sarah Palin, ‘you betcha!’. Oh my God, this thing was incredible. Once again the sausage was perfect, not too dry and crumbly like rattlesnake can get sometimes. The mayo had a subtle heat that built as you ate the dog, and the smoked gouda on top just finished things off perfectly.

Now on to the fries. The duck fat fries were cut quite a bit thinner than the regular fries and were a little crispier. The flavor was slightly different, but not too much so. If you gave me one without telling me what they were, i probably wouldn’t have been able to guess that they had been fried in duck fat, just that they were really really good fries. The regular fries were good, but the duck fat fries were great (but i have a feeling it has more to do with the attention given to them instead of the duck fat).

Expectations were high for Hot Doug’s and they more than surpassed them. As someone who has a family history of heart disease, its probably a good thing that i don’t live in Chicago, because i would seriously be at Hot Dougs at least once a week. Not only is the food great, but for three of us to get loosen-your-belt-and-walk-funny full, was a more than reasonable $36. Now that, my friends, is beautiful.

Avec

I can’t remember how it is exactly that i found out about Avec, but i know that i read in an article written by Tony Bourdain that it was one of his favorite places in Chicago and he felt it was the future of dining in America: upscale food in a casual atmosphere for a reasonable price.

Avec from the oustide

Avec from the oustide

They don’t do reservations. We showed up around 8pm on a saturday night (probably not the best idea) and ended up having to wait just over an hour for a table. The place is very small, modern architecture, with obvious Japanese influences (geometric shapes, simple design, light wood, communal seating, etc) in the design of the restaurant, not the food. The food is mostly french, spanish, italian inspired small plates. It really looks like they made a shoebox shaped restaurant out of wood (one of those pre-fabbed eco-green super modern homes with like 500sqrft that you see in architecture coffee table books), cleared out the first floor of a building and stuffed the box inside.

They do communal seating, which seems kind of weird, but i found it to be kind of cool. We had no problem talking briefly to the party next to us about what we got and how it was. That would never happen at another restaurant without feeling weird or abnormal, but here it felt natural.

Avec from the inside

Avec from the inside

So here’s what we got:

House Marinated Olives – even though these were just olives, they we ridiculously good. Really soft with lots of meat. Really delicious.

Avec Salad – Very nice. Nothing too flashy or exciting, just a really nice, delicious, perfectly dressed salad.

Pot Roast – This was done kind of vietnamese style with carrots and cilantro. It was really good and a twist on a traditionally delicious but kind of ho-hum dish that screams 1950’s suzy home maker. This was certainly unlike most pot roast dishes.

Focaccia – Basically two super thin pizza crusts sandwiched together with taleggio cheese, truffle oil, and herbs. Again, very simple, and oh so delicious.

Focaccia (not sure why my lense in fogged up)

Focaccia (not sure why my lense in fogged up)

Chorizo Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Smoked Bacon and Served in Piquillo Pepper Tomato Sauce – This was easily the star of the show. These little nuggets of joy had me about to pee in my pants. The heat of the sauce and the charizo, the smokiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the date, all wrapped into a little nugget of modest, no frills, mind blowing deliciousness. No super trendy and expensive gimmicky ingredients like foie gras, wagyu beef or truffles, just wonderful.

The unbelievable date

The unbelievable date

Most dishes we ordered came with home made bread that was great. The servers were tattooed and casual enough to not be stuffy, but not obnoxiously alternative in a cooler-than-thou sort of way. Our waitress was just about perfect, we tipped very well.

A little hardware mounted on the way to the bathroom

A little hardware mounted on the way to the bathroom

Not only was the food and the service fantastic, but for three people (granted, we didn’t order wine), we all left stuffed, and the total before tip was under $60. That’s a beautiful thing.

So it was my first trip to Chicago, and we didn’t hit any of the big name spots, but i thoroughly enjoyed the places we did visit and can’t wait to get back and try more of what Chicago has to offer. If you find yourself in Chicago, i’d highly recommend both of these places for very different, but equally awesome dining experiences.


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  1. […] folks are in Chicago right now. They got to go to Avec last night. I’m just a little […]


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