I went to Chicago last weekend with a bunch of friends. I went for a barrel aged beer festival. I have a weakness for bourbon stouts and such and wanted this to be my farewell to beer. I will admit, I was a bit nervous about drinking beer as I hadn’t had any (except tiny sips to taste) since early August. As it turns out, no need to be nervous. I was determined to maintain a gluten free diet over the weekend to minimize any effects that beer might have (see earlier post in August discussing beer and the gluten that may or may not still be in it). I did pretty well.
Here is my travel log of dining in Chicago:
To start, on Friday, after our arrival we went to Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill for lunch. I have always wanted to go. I called the day before to see if they had a gluten free menu and my call was routed back to the kitchen to speak to the head chef. He informed me of what I already knew to be true, that Mexican cuisine is naturally gluten free for the most part.
Once there, I promptly ordered a delicious sounding margarita, my compadres ordered beer and margaritas too. It was just as the waiter described, very tart, in fact I don’t think they used any sugar outside of the orange liqueur. On the menu, the ceviche app immediately attracted my eye. My dilemma was, the two friends I was with are not fans of seafood, at all. I was splurging, so I decided to order the appetizer even if they didn’t want any. We ordered chips and two salsas too (I could almost live off of chips and salsa – only good salsa).
The trio, trio, trio ceviche came in small martini glasses set on a glass plate, looking very attractive. Here’s the description from the menu:
Ceviche Fronterizo – lime-marinated Alaskan True Cod with vine-ripe tomatoes, olives, cilantro and green chile; served on crispy tostaditas.
Vuelve a la Vida – seaside cocktail of shrimp, ceviche, fresh-shucked oysters and avocado in limey, Tamazula-sparked cocktail sauce.
Ceviche Yucateco – steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado and cilantro.
My favorite was the Fronterizo.
For my entree, Tacos al carbon with marinated skirt steak and roasted onions and poblano peppers. It came with beans and a nice portion of guacamole (with roasted red peppers). It was great! The guys ordered chicken enchiladas in mole and duck quesadillas. I ordered a different margarita (they were very small and to that end steep, but I was splurging here) and my friends ordered a mojito and another beer. At some point I looked over and asked to taste my friends mojito, being a huge mojito fan, and noticed that it strangely had no mint in it. I tasted and it, it tasted remarkably like a margarita. We called the waiter over and he figured out that I had the wrong margarita and he did not have a mojito so he promptly brought us the correct beverages. I leaned over to taste the duck quesadilla as my friend specifically ordered it with corn tortillas so that I could taste it and I mentioned that it was the palest looking duck I had ever seen. We decided that it was chicken, but it was still good and by this point mostly gone, so we didn’t say anything.
It was a great meal overall.
We then proceeded to the Rockbottom Brewery and I was too full to drink anything, but still drank water. To full, way too full. After a brief L ride, we then walked to the Field Museum to arrive 15 min too late to get in for the day. Bummer. So we went back to join the larger gang of friends who had all arrived in town by this time.
The Hopleaf is a fabulous Belgian beer and food bar and that is where we next headed.
I decided to go ahead and order a beer as they had one of my all time fav’s there: The Dutchess du Burgionne ( can’t remember how to spell it at the moment). It is quite tart and it didn’t really sit well with me, started to give me heart burn, a sure sign of gluten something, so I gave it away, drank water for a bit and then ordered a magnum of hard French farmhouse cider. I failed to blog about my 35 gallons of hard cider that I started fermenting last Tuesday, but needless to say, I love hard cider, tarty, bubbly, tasty cider not sweet icky fake Woodchuck style.
Along with my cider, I found out I could eat the onion rings (using an arborio rice flour and in a dedicated fryer) and the pomme frites with garlic aioli (also in a dedicated fryer), so we ordered both. My choices were made easier by having a “gluten insensitive” waitress who was very helpful. I also ordered the mussels in lobster sauce with bay leaves, shallots, white wine and cream. So good I slurped every bit of the broth. Wow that broth was fabulous and so were the mussels in it.
Let’s see, the next day I had an extremely disappointing breakfast, so I won’t describe it, but for the record, everyone else loved theirs. We ate at Clare’s, a diner somewhere near the beer fest at Goose Island Wrigleyville. I am totally spoiled here in Lansing with my favorite diner, Golden Harvest, where the cook is a chef and knows my gluten free needs and makes hands down the best hash browns in the state, and hollandaise too.
Beer fest time. I really need to review the list, there were 76 beers and I tasted probably 50 of them. I had 12 tickets and ended up giving some away. Lots of beer, really yummy yummy beer. I did order the spinach artichoke dip (sans bread bowl and with tortilla chips) at some point as I needed some real food. That was a life saver and was of course, delish.
After the fest we went to a Houkah bar, had tea and smoked a double apple houkah and a chocolate, mint, expresso houkah. That place was terrific, silk pillows, cushions and curtains. What atmosphere. It did make us really hungry and we went across the street to El Jardin, a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I was not too drunk that I didn’t remember to show the waiter my GF Mexican card. He came back and said, there is nothing on the menu you can eat except fajita and carne something, no beans, no rice, nothing. I think personally that he misread the card. But I avoided the beans anyway and ordered the carne and received this huge slab of flank steak that had been marinated and grilled. Frontera Grill was much better. They did have great guacamole there. I think we went home after that.
Next morning, ok, afternoon, we walked about 4 blocks and were in the Vietnamese area and went to Cafe Huong’s. Holy Cow, was this place good. It was packed with people too, always a good sign. I ordered the spring rolls with rice paper, shrimp, pork and veggies, the lemon beef salad, with tons of ginger and mint (this was enough app/salad for 4 people and then the Pho Bo, with beef, the traditional Vietnamese soup with bean sprouts, basil, lime, green onion, beef shaved so thin you can almost see though it, and rice noodles. Add some hot chile sauce and wow. Low fat to boot. They gave us amazing service, even though they were so busy and brought hot tea for all. I will go every time I am in Chicago I think.
Then a trip to Sam’s off of Clyborne, a giant warehouse full of wine’s, beers and liquors of the world. Add to that speciality cheeses and sausages and you have the perfect place to spend far too much money, which I did, but well, I only do it once a year and they have an enormous selections of cognacs and calvados, both of which I decided I could not live another day without.
I spent $40 or more on cheese. Truffle cheese – goat and cow, cheese wrapped in grape leaves soaked in cognac, blue cheese from Rogue River, triple cream delice de bourgoine and manchego (I can get some of these in Michigan, but have to drive to Ann Arbor) and so on. I couldn’t decide on which Tequila reposado, so I got two.
So with all my new additions to the liquor cabinet, what am I drinking tonight? A mojito.