Wednesday, February 15, 2006


deep dish pizza
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

We're finally back home, all safe and sound after a big weekend in Chi-Town. While the official purpose for the weekend was to watch Villanova beat DePaul with our friends Sam and Ranessa, who live in Michigan, and Kevin and Kristie, from California, I naturally made eating, and taking copious notes about everything I ate, my reason for being in Chicago.

And we did do some eating. We also did a lot of walking, looking for restaurants (a word of advice: if you're going to be in a major city on a Saturday night with six people, make reservations.) But in addition to all the walking, we ate.

Friday night, we kicked off the weekend with dinner at Volare, a crowded, noisy, fun Italian restaurant right downtown (we did have a reservation for this meal.) While I read some mixed reviews of the place online, everyone in our party was very happy with their meals. We started with calamari and bruschetta, both of which were good, if unsurprising. My dinner was over the top: a pork chop stuffed with mozzarella, proscuitto and portabello mushroom and topped with a rich brown sauce and truffle shavings. I was full after five bites - literally. Cooper couldn't even finish it. But it was delicious. (And the service was excellent, though the busboys were a little aggressive about keeping our water glasses filled.)

Saturday night, unfortunately, was a different story. By 8 pm, I was starving and we had no reservations. We wanted deep dish pizza - we were in Chicago, after all - and heard good things about Giordano's. And I'm sure all those things were true, but the hour-and-a-half outdoor wait was too much for us to brave. After a quick consultation with the concierge at a nearby hotel, we decided to try the number two spot for deep dish: Gino's East. Also a lengthy wait. Also outdoors.

After another thirty minutes of walking around downtown in vain, we finally sucked it up and walked into Pizza Due, a pizza place in a cute building close to our hotel. We were seated around 9:30. Finally. At that point, we learned the sad truth: Pizza Due is an offshoot of Pizzaria Uno. And that is a chain. Not exactly the authentic meal we had in mind. But we were starving.

And it's a good thing we were hungry, because that's about the only way we could choke down our dinners. My salad was OK - but as Cooper put it, it was mostly a pile of iceberg lettuce with a bunch of jars of pickled stuff thrown on top. The pizza was mediocre at best, with a poor sauce-to-cheese and topping ratio.

So that was dinner Saturday night. All around, a disappointment.

Fortunately, we still had Sunday to look forward to. Cooper and I had brunch with my Uncle Larry on Sunday at a cute restaurant called Bistro 110. The place had just reopened after a few renovations and was absolutely packed. The atmosphere was very lively, with a jazz band and lots of chatter. The service was perfect and the food was excellent. I had a great ham and asparagus frittata (with gruyere)and we shared the restaurant's delicious signature dessert: an enormous piece of chocolate cake with a toffee crust and caramel sauce. I love dessert after breakfast.

And, finally, Sunday night dinner. Sam and Ranessa had already gone back to Michigan (they had classes to teach on Monday morning) but Kevin and Kristie, like us, didn't fly out until Monday morning. At Larry's suggestion, we made a reservation for Mike Ditka's restaurant. It's called, appropriately enough, Ditka's. Larry ate there not long ago and pronounced the food amazing. He'd also seen Ditka in the bar, playing cards, an extra added bonus.

While we didn't run into the coach, we did have a fantastic meal - probably the best of the trip. We sat in the bar, which was only about half full. The atmosphere is quintessentially sports-and-cigars: friendly, approachable waiters and bartenders, lots of flat screen TVs and lots and lots of dark wood. It's the kind of place you could visit three times and you'd be a regular.

Gorging on the bread (and amazing honey butter) as soon as it hit the table, we decided to forego salads so we'd save room for dessert. I might not make the same decision if I had it to do over again...but at the time it seemed right. Kevin picked a Rancho Zabaco zinfandel from the very reasonable wine list and we were off.

Cooper, Kevin and I all got steak and we were all thrilled with the results. Kristie ordered the Maryland crab cake (she's from California...and yes, the Baltimore contingent did make fun of her for it), which was both enormous and completely satisfying for her. My filet was tender, flavorful (which filets often aren't) and was topped with a creamy bearnaise. I was happy.

Unfortunately, our amazing dinner ended in a mediocre dessert. Kevin and Kristie's apple crumble looked overcooked and not-that-homemade, while our banana cream pie was bland and the consistency was boring. It was all just...OK. Which, after our excellent dinner, felt subpar.

Nevertheless, Monday morning, as we found ourselves on the plane back to Baltimore, we were more than satisfied with how we'd eaten. Oh yeah, and we were happy to see our friends who live far away. Because that was the real purpose of the trip...really.

1 comment:

Mona said...

That pizza looks awesome. I'm so jealous you got to try a real Chicago pie!


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