chicago restaurant week kick-off: first bites bash!
tonight, we attended the first bites bash, hosted by the amazing stephanie izard of girl and the goat. the event featured 50 of chicago’s top restaurants with tastings in the great hall of union station, which was transformed from a slightly sad pathway from jackson st to the trains (made slightly sadder by my 6:50am hustle through there every weekday morning) to a gorgeously appointed venue for both food and drink.
what did we eat? everything. not really. but we tried. we tasted from 26 out of the 50 restaurants, which was pretty spectacular, and we would have eaten more (gross, i know), but some of the restaurants we wanted to try were out of food by the time we got there. more on that later.
now for the details:
- chicago q - pulled pork sliders - these were surprisingly delicious. the meat was great and the north carolina vinegar sauce was spot-on. the experience was even better after running into a unc grad right in front of the restaurant’s serving station… not a surprise we were all huddled around the barbecue!
- david burke’s primehouse - beef jerky with hamachi - this was odd… by the time we got there, they were out of their tasting dishes, so they gave us pieces of beef jerky. and when i say pieces of beef jerky, i mean, 10 inch strips. so, it was sort of odd walking around in dresses with wine gnawing on pieces of beef jerky the size of our heads. in the world of jerky, though? it was good.
- epic - tuna tartar - eh. this was fine. there was something off with the texture… like it was mushy? the smoky flavor was interesting, though.
- filini bar and restaraunt - orecchiette with lamb sausage - delicious! orecchiette is one of the best pasta shapes, and the lamb was wonderful.
- girl and the goat - goat chili - of course this was the best thing we ate all night. it really deserves its own post. or love poem. or love song. delicious. there was a slightly sweet taste to it, the texture was perfect, and it was topped with some delicious puffy croutony type things (that tasted like fancy goldfish crackers?!)… i want vats of this.
- harry caray’s - rigatoni with vodka sauce - ate this by accident… surprisingly good? the cheese was fantastic, i think it was pana gradano.
- ipo - seared scallop - this was completely odd. the scallop was cooked very well. it was paired with a hazelnut mousse and some sort of hazelnut/coffee whipped cream… and some espresso/chocolate nibs. which… the scallop on its own was great, and the hazelnut/chocolate/espresso items on their own were great. together, though, we aren’t sure about.
- japonais - skirt steak robata - steak was cooked to perfection. very delicious. i wanted a lot more.
- nacional 27 - ahi tuna and watermelon ceviche - this was good, but not as good as i wanted it to be / envisioned it to be. there were other tuna dishes that were much better (see riva crab house)
- piccolo sogno - black truffle and parsnip sformatto - this was interesting. i’m not totally familiar with sformatto, so i was not expecting it to be served cold. this is a texture i’m not particularly fond of, but the flavor was good, and there were some delicious parsnip “chips” on top, which certainly helped with the texture of the sformatto.
- prosecco - insalata granchio - this was a red pepper spread on crostini with crab and black truffle. it was delicious! the truffle was not overpowering, which surprised me, since the scent was very strong (as per usual)!
- public house - smoked alaska king salmon - this was not great. the sauce on the crostini was good, but the salmon had no flavor, and the crostini was very stale (not surprising given the time of night, and wouldn’t have mattered if the salmon had been good).
- rhapsody - gnocchi with braised lamb - yum, yum, yum!!! this was another winner of the night. i’ve had better gnocchi, but the lamb was PERFECT.
- riva crab house - tuna poke - another winner. this was DELICIOUS. texture and flavor were fantastic, with great use of avocado.
- saigon sisters - they were supposed to serve braised short ribs, which was very exciting. instead they served pork fat pate with head cheese and pickled carrot. this was the clear loser of the night. we both threw this away after one taste. not good.
- south branch - mini filet sandwich - underwhelming. the steak was cooked nicely, but it was served on a pretzel bun, which, while usually delicious, overwhelmed the small portion. all you could taste was pretzel.
- sprout - foie gras mousse - interesting! served on what i think was banana bread, or some other sweet bread. not as amazing as i had anticipated, but certainly more unique.
- tapas valencia - stuffed mushroom caps - very good, but a bad choice for this type of event. you can’t cut through a mushroom cap with a small plastic fork, and they were too big to be one-biters. but delicious nonetheless.
- tuscany on taylor - ravioli alla pera - pear and marscapone ravioli…….. who would have ever thought of that? it was DELICIOUS.
- wave - three cheese croquettes with maple fig jam - another loser. sounds delicious, but it was just a small mozerella stick with some jam. it tasted like tgi friday’s.
- the berghoff - dark chocolate terrine - was… not a terrine. it was kind of a chocolate ganache truffle on top of a small bite of chocolate cake. the accents were interesting - a lavendar tuille and apricot jalapeno glaze. the cake was dry and the truffle was eh. we did not finish this…
- eli’s cheesecake - blackberry creme fraiche cheesecake - flavor was delicious, but it was still frozen?!
- henri - thyme panna cotta - this was as good as panna cotta can be. that’s just one of those textures i can’t do, but the flavor was very good.
- italiasia - mini green tea tart and ricotta cheesecake - not good, tasted artificial.
- magnolia bakery - banana pudding and meringue kisses - decent, but not amazing. the banana pudding was good, and the meringue itself was good (not at all stale or mushy), but it was 2 meringues sandwiched around buttercream icing, which is just disgusting, because no one needs that much pure sugar.
- metropolitan club - white chocolate and hazelnut mousse - this was very good, and made up for (almost) the rest of the crappy desserts. it was served in a teeny tiny waffle cone, and teeny tiny things are adorable.
all in all, this was a fantastic event. not a single regret. it was odd, though, that many of the restaurants were out of food at 7:30, which was only halfway into the event. and by 8:30, all the savories were done. 8:30 is acceptable, since it ended at 9, but i would expect slightly better planning for a sold out event.
can’t wait for the actual restaurant week!!!