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Dining Out

Chicago 2011 Part 1b - Overview

by Michael Chu
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This is the second part of the overview of our June 2011 trip to Chicago. For the first part of our trip, please see Chicago 2011 Part 1a - Overview

Garrett Popcorn
Every day we were in Chicago, we saw people walking around with bags of popcorn from Garrett Popcorn. Some guests at our hotel would be checking out while carrying giant Garrett Popcorn bags filled with several smaller bags of this popcorn to take back to their friends and family. We knew we had to try it (not to would have seemed like a missed opportunity), but every time we passed the Garrett Popcorn near our hotel (you can tell when you are getting close by the smell of caramel wafting through the air) the lines were coming out the door several yards. On the way back from the aquarium, I selected a bus stop that would drop us off a block from a different Garrett Popcorn and budgeted time to wait in line. When we got to the shop, there was no line - only five people ahead of us!

Garrett Popcorn - Scooping CaramelCrisp
They mainly sell two flavors - popcorn tossed in a greasy cheesy flavoring (called CheeseCorn) and caramel coated popcorn (called CaramelCrisp). The CaramelCrisp comes with the option to add nuts (pecans, macadamias, or cashews) which increases the cost by roughly 50% (except for the small bag which is actually cheaper with nuts than without). (The worst deal for the nuts is the Jumbo bag which costs $22 instead of $12.75 - a 72% price hike. A medium bag is only $7.25 with nuts vs $6.70 without.) They also sell plain and buttered popcorn, but no one seems to buy those. The big seller is a 50-50 blend of caramel and cheese that they call The Chicago Mix. We bought a small bag of that to taste ($4.70).

Garrett Popcorn - The Chicago Mix: A Blend of CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn
Initially, we thought it was nothing special. The caramel popcorn tasted pretty good - but it wasn't clear that it was better than a decent can of Poppycock. The cheese popcorn is a bit greasy and felt a little stale, but the soggy texture that I associate with old popcorn was probably due to the wet topping instead of being old because they were continually making fresh batches. The CheeseCorn isn't all that great, but I can see how the flavor could be addictive to people who have had it before (one of those foods that you know tastes a bit strange and yet you crave). Surprisingly, the Chicago Mix worked really well together with the salty and sweet playing against each other. The cheese taste isn't strong enough to overpower the caramel, but adds more depth and character to the whole mouthful. I prefer one cheese to one caramel when I eat and Tina prefers two cheese to one caramel (she prefers it less sweet). After a while, the popcorn really grows on you and it was a little difficult to stop eating it. Once we stopped however, we felt we if we had kept eating the rest of the bag we probably would have felt a bit sick.

Later that evening, we headed over to Frontera Grill where the food was so good that I got up to try to make reservations for another night after only having our appetizers! All the details are in Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Frontera Grill.

The next day, we decided to try the ramen at Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi. Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi is a counter service restaurant on the 7th floor of the Marshall Field and Company Building (which currently houses Macy's at State Street). Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi.

Museum of Science and Industry - Chicks Hatching
We then took a bus down to the Museum of Science and Industry. There were many fascinating displays (a number of which are interactive) at the Museum of Science and Industry, but what really captivated us was watching chickens hatch.

Museum of Science and Industry - Chicks Hatching

Museum of Science and Industry - Chicks

Museum of Science and Industry - Re-creation of an early Walgreen Drug Company store
I also got a hoot out of examining a re-creation of the first Walgreen Drug Company Store (the first of the Walgreens drug stores which was opened in 1901 in Chicago).

After returning to the hotel and taking a nap, we hailed a taxi and headed over to Alinea for the most expensive meal of our trip. Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 7 - Alinea

The next morning, we were given the opportunity to join a private tour of the Vienna Beef Factory. (Vienna Beef hot dogs are generally considered the only sausages appropriate for use in a Chicago-style hot dog.) Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 8 - Vienna Beef Factory for an inside look of how they make Vienna Beef hot dogs. (By the way, Vienna Beef has nothing to do with vienna sausages [those little sausages that come in a can]. Vienna Beef doesn't use pork or fillers in their products, and they don't know what's in those vienna sausages either.)

For lunch, we decided to go back to the Marshall Field and Company Building so Tina could have ramen again. I decided to try the Kobe beef sliders from Marc Burger. Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Marc Burger.

Millenium Park
We then spent the afternoon visiting Millenium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago.

That evening, we tried over a half dozen dishes at Girl and the Goat (a James Beard Nominee for Best New Restaurant in 2011). Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 9 - Girl and the Goat for my review.

The next day, we walked over to XOCO (next door to Frontera Grill) based on a recommendation from Boots in the Oven. Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 5 - XOCO.

After we ate at XOCO, I spoke to the reservationist at Frontera Grill and found out the best way to dine at Frontera without too much of a wait. They told us to come back after they open for dinner and put our names on the waiting list. Then we could leave to do something else and they would call us when a table became ready. If we don't pick up the phone, then we'll lose our place in line. But, (and here's where the trick is) if we don't leave a number and return later, then our place in the waiting list will be preserved. (This enables you to place your name on the list, go see a movie, come back, and be first in line for the next available table!)

That night we ate at Frontera Grill for the second time. See Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Frontera Grill for all the delicious details.

Ken Kee
We started off our last full day in Chicago by returning to Chinatown. We were looking for congee and decided to eat at a restaurant called Ken Kee.

Ken Kee - The Preserved Egg & Lean Pork Congee
The Preserved Egg & Lean Pork Congee ($4.95) wasn't particularly good. The rice used was common medium-grain rice which resulted in a mushy texture that wasn't quite what we were looking for in a restaurant congee. The pork had a mild stale flavor and the entire dish needed additional salt.

Ken Kee - Frog with Chinese Chives
I've had frog legs before, but never the rest of the frog. When we ordered Frog with Chinese Chives ($11.95), I was a little surprised that the chopped up frog included other meaty parts besides the legs. Some of the parts were chewy, but overall most of it was tender. The greens it was served with seemed more similar to garlic shoots than to garlic (Chinese) chives.

Ken Kee - On-choy in Bean Curd Paste & Jalapeno
On-choy in Bean Curd Paste & Jalapeno ($7.95). This vegetable dish had the biggest water spinach I had ever seen, but it wasn't tough at all. The water spinach was both crunchy and tender.

Ken Kee - Beef Brisket with Turnip
Being unsatisfied with the quantity of food we had eaten so far, we ordered Beef Brisket with Turnip ($4.95). The brisket was very chewy, but the tendon was so tender that it literally melted in my mouth. The flavor of the dish reminded me of Chinese pork jerky (sweet and fruity).

For our last dinner in Chicago, we tried Giordano's stuffed pizza. Click to go to Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Giordano's.

For ease of navigation and to keep the page sizes down, I've split the trip report and reviews into multiple pages:
Chicago 2011 Part 1a - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 1b - Overview (this page)
Chicago 2011 Part 2 - Shui Wah, Santa Anna Bakery
Chicago 2011 Part 3 - Pizzeria Uno, Giordano's
Chicago 2011 Part 4 - Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse
Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Frontera Grill, Xoco
Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Frontera Fresco, Marc Burger
Chicago 2011 Part 7 - Alinea
Chicago 2011 Part 8 - Vienna Beef Factory
Chicago 2011 Part 9 - Girl and the Goat

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on August 14, 2011 at 10:00 PM
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