Welcome to the second part of the Consumation does Chicago.
Where we left off, I was relaxing in the comfortable Caribou Coffee and planning my next move. We’ll gloss quickly over that evening’s meal, as stuffing a bagel into my mouth while drying my hair and hopping one legged around my room in an attempt to get my pants on quickly cannot be considered dinner, in any real sense.
A bright, warm morning followed and I stumbled, bleary eyed and brained, into Intelligentsia. Yet another place entirely too cool for me but with happy staff that wanted to chat. The filter coffee menu was incomprehensible compared to the simple espresso options, but buoyed by the friendly interest and banter with the barista, I choose a Debello, served as chemex; only now have I discovered what this means. It’s a particular set up for filtering which, by experience, takes 10 long minutes, but the extraction is delightfully smooth and creamy. This is the first filter coffee I’ve ever consumed black. Unfortunately, the unsatisfying “artisan” sandwich of turkey, lemon, artichoke and onion tasted solely of pesto and paste.
If Intelligentsia ever set up a branch in Dublin, I’m fairly sure my coffee addiction will reach the level of sell-all-my-belongings.
1 coffee, 1 sandwich $11
The Blue Man Group being dishearteningly substandard pushed me into treating myself to a swanky dinner, and Custom House Tavern was only a short walk from my hotel. The dim lighting made it appear rather opulent as I peered through the window, and I was rewarded on entry with a quiet, dark room, Norah Jones tinkling away in the background. For a slow Sunday night it was overstaffed, so I was waited on hand and foot, my water glass never getting more than half empty.
I ordered the chicken liver pâté and steak, then sank back into my puffy seat and watched muted American football – Honestly, I still don’t get it.
There was no salt or pepper on the table and I discovered why when the pâté arrived – it was seasoned to perfection; Warm, crisp sourdough, heavy pâté melting into it with chunks of salt that merged and competed with the sweet of the picked peach and the sour of the vinegar rocket dressing – The battle of flavours in each mouthful left me yearning for more.
I should’ve gotten two as the steak was disappointingly over salted, but well cooked, and the chip oil badly needed changing. However, the blue cheese butter was a surprising success – the smallest amount adding a much needed lift to the steak, the musty, deep cheese flavour lingering on the tongue.
To finish, a Roman Holiday cocktail; gin, limonchello and soda. This should have come in a martini glass, but as it was served long, all I got was a boring, mild lemon soda.
1 starter, 1 main, 1 cocktail $55
In a hurry to get to the Museum of Science and Industry – well worth a visit, by the way – I dropped into Argo Tea for an espresso and pastry. My haste was my downfall; the coffee was scalding hot, burnt and bitter, accompanied by a raspberry and almond roulade that consisted of undercooked, sugary paste. I cannot comment on the tea, and perhaps it is life-affirmingly good, but the coffee should be avoided by anyone with standards.
1 coffee, 1 pastry $ Honestly, they should’ve paid me
That evening, I had big plans. I was going to a real American diner and I was going to eat real macaroni cheese, and have a real malt and an awesome time.
This dream was dashed when I walked out into rain bouncing off the path. Resigned and hungry, I turned into my hotel restaurant – Ironically, an English bar. It’s called Elephant and Castle and populated almost solely by blowhards in rolled up shirt sleeves, guffawing at their own jokes.
I ordered the ‘Loaded Beef Dip’; thinly sliced beef with onions, cheese, au jus for dipping, and a side of caesar salad. The dip was lovely and beefy, but apart from this, the sandwich was pure stodge, with far too much meat – more is not always better – and too few onions and cheese. The wilted, soggy lettuce in the caesar salad was the icing on the bad dinner cake that pushed me into ordering the Big Ben Brownie – apparently their signature dessert.
I shouldn’t have bothered. Two slabs of stale, disgusting, packet brownie, vanilla ice cream with the flavour of “cold”, and a chemical squirt cream from a can. Below is what I sent back, as it was absolutely inedible.
When I left, the rain had just about finished, and I was utterly devastated I hadn’t waited.
1 main, 1 dessert, 1 beer $36
This was the last night before I dove, feet first, into the work portion of my visit, where I was plied with all sorts of nice foods, including steak for both lunch and dinner. I do not recommend this, and suggest throwing a salad in at some point; by the Friday afternoon, as the meetings were finishing up, I could feel the arteries tighten in my chest, overloaded with days of red meat, and only red meat – the hotel didn’t have toast or rolls for breakfast, my morning refection therefore being bacon.
Piles and piles of sizzling, crispy bacon.
I walked this feeling off on the Chicago Gold Coast/Old Town food tour; the absolute highlight of my trip and a tour I wish existed in every city.
With that, let’s leave Chicago alone – I’ve ranted and raved enough, and Dublin’s fine restaurants are calling to me again. Join me next weekend for another installment of The Consumation.
Intelligentsia, 53 East Randolph St, 60601
Custom House Tavern, 500 South Dearborn Street, 60605
Argo Tea, 1 N Dearborn St, 60602
Elephant and Castle, W. Adams St, 60603
Chicago Walking Food Tour