One memorable evening in Chicago involved a group of 4-5 of us eating at Avec, The Publican, and Au Cheval in succession. Any of their web sites have far better food photos than my quick cell phone snaps below, but so it goes.
At avec (a long, cozy, space with a lot of wood and light), the huge “chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce” was one of the best things I ate all trip:
We also had a great antipasto, with farro I believe, and a good burrata.
However, while I like pretty much every adjective and noun in “wood-fired squid with san marzano tomatoes, guanciale, fideo and fennel aioli”, I didn’t enjoy it– I think tomatoes + squid just doesn’t work for me.
After appetizers, on to the Publican (in a high-ceilinged room with plenty of pig-themed paintings), where I loved the blood sausage with hazelnuts, the ramps with romesco, and the boudin blanc (though it was a bit farther along the creamy and sweet axis than the ones I liked at Camino). This was part of a many-dish long, leisurely dinner over conversation and beer (their beer list is excellent).
To my surprise, given how excellent their pork is in general (I went there for brunch once last year), I was not thrilled by their “selection of hams” dish– nothing stood out. And the halibut crudo, the scallops, and the collection of fried seafood also were good but not great (though I’m also finding myself less into fried food in general these days).
After an exciting incident as they were closing down where water started trickling down through six locations in the ceiling (from an overflowing, blocked up bathtub in the apartment above after someone fell asleep: everyone handled it well and it was no big deal), we moved on to Au Cheval (cozy upscale diner atmosphere, with plush booths) for a beer and long discussions of the restaurant and retail (food, beer) industries. And for some people– cheeseburgers, though I couldn’t imagine that at this point, and just tasted a sliver of one. Ow.
This was a solid 6 hours of eating, walking, drinking, and company– not bad for night #2 in Chicago.