Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chicago, USA

We got invited to visit some friends in Chicago and since I’ve never been, it was as good a chance as any to make the trip. The 9 hour drive according to google maps was daunting but I got to order so much stuff from the States tax free (Canadian tax that is) , visit some friends, try some new food, the pros definitely outweighed the cons.

Day 1.
I was up at 2:30am preparing for the long drive. I had no idea Sarnia was sooo far I could really tell that it was more than 2 times the drive to Niagara.

After quickly getting  past the border we immediately stopped at the nearby mcdonalds for breakfast. The steak mcmuffin was something we didn’t have in Canada, I actually enjoyed it although the coffee did suck. We loaded up on cheap gas (compared to what we get in the GTA) and went on our way. This was at least a 5 hour drive which is the longest duration nonstop that I have ever driven in my life.

After almost a 9 hour drive, paying all the tolls, you are literally almost there, then you get stuck in traffic in downtown Chicago which is the last thing you need. We eventually got there. Great neighborhood, great house, I could finally rest and think about food.

For dinner I got one of the highly reviewed pizzas for delivery, Pequods. To say I was bitterly disappointed is an understatement. Too much bread and the bread itself wasn’t that great to begin with. The trade mark burnt sides, while interesting, added a decent crunch to the dough but honestly not enough to save the slice. The toppings were good but overall I was not overly impressed by it. I would have also preferred if they had preset variations rather than having me select all the toppings.




Perhaps deep dish in the GTA is already good after all. This pizza sapped out any desire to try any more deep dish pizzas so I scratched Lou Malnatis off my list. Maybe some other time.

Day 2
For this day I was stuck at the house working remotely. I was disappointed with the pizza the day before and for not being able to visit the Puerta Rican place I had set my sights on. As soon as work was done I took off to try out the umami burger at Bop n Grill. I had trouble with parking initially but eventually was able to sample the burger featured in an episode of Diners, drive-ins, and dives. This is one of the few episodes were Guy Fieri looked genuinely impressed with the food he was tasting.

 

The good news is what I got was exactly how it was presented on TV. The burger  was very juicy (oozing really) and the mushroom duxelle and sun dried tomato confit added a unique sour and salty balance to the sandwich. While it was very interesting  and tasted good, I don’t think it is something I would order regularly if I had the chance. The fries were decent and crispy but its texture reminded me too much of what I would get at Costco.

Overall it was a meal worth my visit at the very least.

With our itinerary, I was doubtful I could squeeze in that Puerto Rican place I wanted to go to so immediately after Bop n Grill I drove to Cocina Boricua which wasn’t far (around 8km but took me more than half an hour to get there). I was finally able to sample a dish I’ve been just itchin to try since I saw it on TV years ago, mofongo. Considering how diverse Toronto is, I could not find this dish anywhere. I got the Mofongo con carne frita which translates to mashed fried plantains, garlic, and chicharon with fried pork chop. Everything about the dish was a winner.




The service was a tad slow but I got served some free chicken noodle soup Puerto Rican style as I waited.  I had to try this meal when I got to the house so there was a bit of  a handicap that my food was not fresh off the fryer. The pork was a bit average but the mofongo was better than I had imagined. The garlic and chicharon really come through in the dish. I thought there would be a hint of sweetness from the plantains but not at all. I believe they use unripe plantains for this tasty concoction.

In the evening, we went to the Pleasant Prairie premium outlets in Wisconsin (45min drive) were I got great deals on Adidas, Rockport, and North Face jackets. By deals I mean AT LEAST 50% less than what I would pay for the same items in Canada.


Day 3
For breakfast we were fortunate enough to have Einstein bagels and coffee as recommended by our hosts. Good coffee, good bagels, good shmears (the blueberry and salmon were excellent). Now this is something I could have every day.




The plan at noon was to visit downtown Chicago to see the sights but  in my head I was primarily thinking of coffee specifically Intelligentsia coffee.

I ended up getting 2 coffees, Caribou and Intelligentsia. Caribou reminded me of Blendz in Vancouver which is more of a Starbucks and Second Cup kind of shop. Intelligensia on the otherhand is more of the independent  type in the same vein as Te Aro and Dark Horse in Toronto. Quality wise, I’d say they are just level. Inside their shop there was a bar tender (for coffee?) that was brewing individual cups of coffee on the spot. Quite unusual although I’m a bit skeptical as to how different that cup would be.
 

Having tried this I am convinced that the array of coffee options in Toronto is almost as good as it gets with these types of coffee. I still prefer the coffee in Singapore and most of all that one in Bangkok over any of these.




  


We visited all the common places around millennium park ($32 for parking!) such as the cloud gate and the Buckingham fountain. I got to say Chicago does have a fantastic downtown area, probably the best one I’ve been in so far.

Random photos:
 

 

 
 



For a really really late lunch we went to a Chinese restaurant called Joy Yee Noodle. There were a lot people considering we were there at around 3pm and surprisingly a considerable number of non Asian folk  at the tables. I’m not sure what it was (probably the absence of MSG) but I found the food to be a bit bland.





In the evening we just spent time at the awesome park behind the house to playing basketball. There were 4 vacant tennis courts (how this sight  pains me), a playground, a massive water park. This was just the side we were at. I was told there was another bigger part of the park which I was too tired to walk to.

 

Day 4
In the morning on a whim, we made a quick trip to the United Center literally just to have a photo taken with the Michael Jordan statue. Here's me doing the pose that 99% of people probably do when having their photo taken with the statue.

   


At this point I was pretty satisfied with what I have tried so far but then there was lunch and no one had any plans. Immediately, DMK Burger came to mind. This was another place featured on Diners but they had a different branch called DMK Burger and Fish nearby so I just had to go.


I got the burger with guacamole and chorizo, my wife got the crab sandwich, and for a side, obviously the fries with parmesan and truffle aioli.
All I can say is FINALLY, a place that cooks a burger patty correctly. They say medium and that’s exactly what I got. See the picture? That’s how a medium burger should look like.

     

Although the patty was good, I felt like the sandwich was missing something, at which point I realized that I prefer burgers with some crisp raw vegetables in them. Without that crunch, I feel like I’m biting into a  Chinese pork bun opened at the sides which, although good, is not the experience I am looking for when having a burger.

I got a bite of the crabby sandwich and it was fantastic! I don’t have crab cakes that often but everything in the sandwich was just right. The thick fresh tomatoes and the dressing used were just the perfect ingredients to build this thing not to mention the crab cake itself was excellent. Truly a very memorable sandwich only to be matched in its awesomeness by the parmesan fries. Properly cooked fries with fresh parmesan is something I’m going to rip-off if I ever serve fries of my own. If I had dined in, the truffle cream would have been drizzled over the fries but added as a side for takeout. It was a good dipping sauce for an already memorable order of fries.
shots around the dmk neighborhood from my car:

 

I spent the rest of the day packing all the neat stuff I ordered into the car. We were leaving the next day really early I didn’t want to forget anything.

Day 5
I was up at 3am and drove home. It was so hard to try to stay awake and I even made wrong turns several times. I got lost trying to find the exit to I94 and I went straight to the Canadian border by mistake when I should have gone to the mcdonalds for breakfast and get cheap gas which I was almost out of. We ended up making a stop at Strathroy to get some gas which was right beside a burger king as luck would have it.


Overall the drive was a bit too long for my liking but we got to visit  a great city, got welcomed by fabulous hosts, and I got all the stuff I ordered from amazon intact and on time. Pretty good trip if I say so myself.