Earlier this month, I visited Chicago for the very first time. It was three days of friends, food, exploring, and plenty of dessert. The weather was chilly and a little wet and luckily the heavy rain held off for all except one afternoon. As with any trip, I had my long list of restaurants and food establishments that I’d read about or had been recommended by friends.
My first Chicago meal came courtesy of one of the city’s most well-known chefs. By the time my friend Sean and I made our way into the city from O’Hare, it was mid-afternoon and we were ravenous. We were downtown and headed for two of the places on my list nearby, Rick Bayless’s Xoco and Doughnut Vault. Lesson #1: Do not count on a Rick Bayless restaurant on a Saturday when you are hungry. The wait for a table was over a half-hour, and being late already, we decided to skip it and seek out doughnuts. Lesson #2: Always check the hours. Doughnut Vault closes at 12:30pm or whenever they sell out. Strike two. By that point we had plans to meet up with another friend not long after. Getting desperate for any sustenance, we headed back to Xoco and decided to just order food to-go. We split two things, the Woodland Mushroom Cemita with wood-roasted garlic mushrooms, Prairie Farm goat cheese, black beans, wild arugula, 3-chile salsa and the Frontera Guacamole & Chips. The baguette with the cemita was unexpected. I feel the soft, eggy roll that most cemitas are served at (example: Dorado) is one of the things that makes it a cemita, but it was delicious nonetheless, with thin slices of flavorful mushroom, smooth bean puree and a sprinkling of fresh arugula, all on a chewy baguette. The guacamole was delightful, the chips thick and salty with a touch of lime.
It would have been nice to sit down for a proper meal at Xoco and order more food. We saw multiple orders of lovely-looking churros and more pass by while we waited. BUT, I did get to see Rick Bayless in the flesh, who was hanging out for a little while chatting with one of his managers.
449 North Clark Street
Happily sated for the time-being, we headed towards the L. [A quick note about Chicago public transit, we had all-around good experiences on the subway and buses, but by gosh it is absurd that they do not sell 3-day passes inside the subway stations. You instead have to purchase them at convenience stores, which is very much not convenient]. We took the blue line to Damen where we met Leor, who led us on a pleasant stroll through Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village, over to Chicago Avenue and our next stop: Bleeding Heart Bakery.
Bleeding Heart was one of several doughnut places I had on my list, and thankfully it was open. They are known for having decadent vegan and non-vegan desserts, as well as very inventive doughnuts. They were sold out of a few flavors that I wanted, and I had no interest in a vegan donut that day. I chose one with a mango curd filling and coconut glaze. Not an amazing doughnut, but enjoyable. The doughnut itself was mushy in places but fluffy for the most part, the curd flavorful and the glaze a nice crispy, sugary finish.
Bleeding Heart Bakery
1916 W. Chicago Ave.
We walked back through Wicker Park past some gorgeous homes and townhouses. For dinner, I had a hankering for something saucy and spicy. I’d read about Cumin on Serious Eats or another blog. They serve both Indian and Nepalese food and I was initially attracted to the less-familiar-to-me Nepalese offerings. Once we sat down though, I had a hankering for a good old Indian dish and ended up getting the navratan korma- nine vegetables in a cream-based sauce. Also on the table: chicken tikka masala and lamb saag. The sauce in the korma was a nice mix of creamy-rich and spicy, perfect for soaking up with basmati rice. The standout item though was the puffy and chewy garlic naan. Note to self: garlic naan > plain naan.
1414 N Milwaukee Ave
Still to come, Day 2…