04 August 2011

30/66 Chicago: Part 3

Our destination for dinner was just a few short blocks away at Avec. I knew they didn’t take reservations and coupled with the fact that it’s one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Chicago, I was expecting a wait. But not quite this type of wait. When we rolled up right around 8pm the place was back to the gills with a huge crowd of people outside. Dismayed, but not deterred, I went inside and put our name in for a party of 5 and was quoted with a wait of 2.5 hours. Holy shit. That would mean we’d be eating somewhere around 10:30 and we had a show to catch at Second City at 11pm. Dinner at Avec simply wasn’t an option.

After much brainstorming we finally decided to go to Abuelo’s since it was cheap, delicious, and we had a virtual guarantee that there wouldn’t be a wait. I loved the large windows and airy space, but was kind of annoyed that the only lighting they had were a few strands of Christmas lights hanging in the front window. So, therefore, I’m sorry that these pictures suck.

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30th Birthday Chicago 120

M and Me told us that their claim to fame was their burritos so that’s what we all ordered. I asked our waitress what they had to drink and she said horchata and something called parsley water. Having never heard of parsley water I decided to try that (even though I’d never had horchata either…) I went with the namesake Burrito El Abuelo which featured steak, cheese, refried beans, red cabbage, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and sour cream and requested the addition of avocado--A request that was guaranteed, but not honored.

The parsley water was just that. A shitload of parsley muddled with sugar water. It would’ve been pretty damn good, had there not been a literal cubic ton of sugar in my cup. I had high hopes that a liberal dose of hot sauce on my burrito would work to damper the sickly sweet beverage, but alas I could only bare a few sips. Z offered me a sip of his horchata and I immediately regretted my beverage decision. Damn, it was good. It tasted like liquid rice pudding. It was creamy and cinnamony and not too sweet or heavy. I’ll definitely be ordering that when we tour the mission in San Francisco next month.

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The char on the steak made the burrito. The flavors honestly reminded me of Taco Bell, but on acid, steroids, and crack (simultaneously.) Every ingredient could be tasted and therefore served it’s purpose. There was Cotjia cheese sprinkled throughout which also added a nice salty, squeaky chew. The salsas were both great on their own, but together they really shined.

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There were no surprises here: The green was creamy and bright, and the red had a bit more heat and a nice roasted smoky flavor. One other thing to note was they weren’t over-the-top huge portions like you’d normally find at your corner burrito joint. Parsley water aside, the only complaint I had was there were no complimentary chips and salsa. Otherwise this was textbook Mexican cuisine done with fresh ingredients for a reasonable price.

That night we had tickets to the 11pm seating of Sky’s the Limit at Second City. As expected, flash photography was prohibited after the show started, but here’s what the stage looked like moments before the actors made their appearance. All-in-all the show was good, but considering Second City’s reputation for being a breeding ground for SNL, I expected a bit more. The tall skinny white guy was hilarious, and the chubby Asian chick definitely had some great characters. I was surprised how many of the skits were more witty stories than actual comedy. Still, I couldn’t complain, I was in a great city celebrating with some of the most genuinely awesome people I know. Life was good.

The next day the plan was to be at Xoco by the time they started serving tortas at 11am. Well, since we had such a late night the night before we didn’t get to Xoco until around noon. The line was to the door, which was completely expected and luckily moved relatively fast.

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As plate after plate of gorgeous food were put up or passed by, my mouth really started to water. We were handed a menus to look at and there was also a huge menu posted on the wall. As we approached the register we were asked if we wanted any beverages. While some of the agua frescas looked mighty tempting, I knew exactly what I wanted and wouldn’t be swayed.

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The one hitch of the meal came when we finally got to the register. They don’t let you order until they have a table cleared for you, so you can place your order and immediately sit down afterwards. While this works great in theory, we held up the line for a good 10 minutes, waiting for a table. If I were in a party of two or three behind us, I would’ve been pissed.

Ordering system aside, Xoco was universally hailed as great, and both myself and the Mrs. named it our favorite restaurant of the trip. Our order was quite long: I ordered the Torta Ahogado which is carnitas, black beans, and pickled onions which is served in a bowl of spicy arbol chile tomato broth. I also ordered the Mexican City Thick (Champurrado) drinking chocolate. My wife went with the Torta Cubano and we also ordered three churros with dipping chocolate to share, electing to have them brought to us after we finished our sandwiches.

Z ordered the Woodland Mushroom torta with goat cheese, black beans, arugula, and 3-chile salsa and another order of churros. After seeing a sign posted on the register advertising ‘Iced Chocolate with Bayless garden mint’ he decided to order one of those as well. M went with the Saturday special Goat Barbacoa (after I did a little convincing since that was the other torta I really wanted to try) with Oaxacan passila-tomatillo salsa, avocado, onions and cilantro and yet another order of churros. Me ordered another Torta Cubana and the Aztec hot chocolate with chile and allspice.

Let me just start by saying that every single item we ordered was delicious. That being said, there were definitely some standouts.

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My overall favorite was the Goat Barbacoa as I loved the subdued gaminess of the goat combined with the bite of the onions and the ample use of cilantro. It also had my favorite bread of the bunch--Crunchy, but not teeth shatteringly so, the crumb was soft and slightly chewy with an addicting sourness. The accompanying salsa was also my favorite of the bunch. My second favorite was the Cubana.

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This was another case where the bread really made the sandwich. The pressed bread wasn’t as crispy as I’d expected, but it was perfectly firm throughout with a very subtle smokiness from the press. Where the barbacoa was simply and straight forward, the Cubana had multiple layers of flavor that worked together cohesively. Pork two ways did my mouth right with a strong backbone of creamy avocado. The only component I felt was a little lacking was the chipotle mustard. The fiery red salsa was best used in small doses.

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I loved my Torta Ahogada, the flavors of the thick and tender carnitas paired beautifully with the black beans and the spicy tomato broth. The heavy handedness with the pickled onions may have turned off some, but I loved them. What kept this sandwich from the top of my list was the fact that it was served so hot I had to wait 10 minutes before I could even pick it up, and by that time all but the very end of the roll had completely soggified. See?

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If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I love the mushy soggy slop. But after trying the other sandwiches, I really missed the great crispy crunchy texture of the bread. After the sandwiches got passed around the table, mine ended up being the table favorite, so I was in the minority. My favorite bite of mine was after sopping up the last drops of the soup with the crunchy nub of bread at the end of the roll.

Before we get to the churros, we must talk about the beverages. Alas, my order was again my least favorite. Fortunately my good friends are always willing to share so I was able to try the three different kinds of drinking chocolate we’d collectively ordered. My favorite by far, and ultimately one of my favorite items of the entire weekend, was the iced mint chocolate.

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Wow, this drink just kicked ass. Just imagine a mint chocolate milkshake served on the rocks. Now, imagine the mint leaves jumping out of the glass, raming their stems into your ears and brain fucking you.

The Aztec was also lovely, although I neglected to take a photo of it. The oil from the chiles created kind of an oil slick on top and it had a pleasing depth of flavor, the spices serving to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, not overpower it. It thankfully thin and went down easy, finishing with a subtle kick. My Champurrado was literally like drinking liquid chocolate pudding.

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For the people who complained that City Bakery’s hot chocolate is too thick, this would’ve caused a full-blown riot. At the end of the meal, just for fun, Z let me mix the remainder of mine with his iced mint chocolate. The results were definitely delicious. Sometimes, it’s good to play with your food.

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Having never had churros before, I can’t really say that these were the best churros ever, nonetheless they were pretty goddamn good.

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Crisp on the outside, doughy in the middle, the center reminded of me of Cow Tales. My only complaint was they could’ve been a little lighter on the sugar dusting.

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I would’ve preferred a hefty sprinkle rather than a full blown encrusting.

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I think this was probably the most full I was the entire weekend. Thankfully, we had a lot of sightseeing to do, so the walking would aid in the digestionses. Here are lots of perty pictures of all the neat things we saw.

First up was this abomination that was just recently unveiled.

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I didn’t realize downtown Chicago was owned by Hard Rock Café. She even had varicose veins. And skid marks.

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Next up was the ridiculously awesome Jay Pritzker Pavilion which is part of the larger Millenium Park.

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Doesn’t it look like a lion’s mane? The stage would be its facehole.

After that I finally laid my eyes on Cloudgate aka The Bean.

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The most impressive part of this sculpture by far is the underbelly.

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Holy hell, looking up at those designs made me feel like I was jacked up hallucinogens.

Afterwards we headed over to the Buckingham Fountain.

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Z dutifully loaded up the theme song from Married With Children as we approached it. This was one of the highlights of the weekend for me since I practically grew up on that show. Afterwards we grabbed some water and relaxed on the steps by Lakeside Drive.

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We eventually made our way back to the car and M took us on the scenic route through the city. We passed by Wrigley Field so I was able to snap a quick shot of it from the car.

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We were thirsting for a good brew so we headed in the direction of Half Acre Brewery hoping to score a tour or beer or something. We happened to park right in front of The Bad Apple so we stopped in for a quick round of beers and a bite.

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This was another place I really, really liked. Chicagoans don’t know how good they have it. The beer selection was fantastic and the atmosphere was chill and hip without being pretentious.
Having been so impressed with Cane & Ebel, I decided to try another Two Brothers offering.

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Hop Juice is their double IPA coming in at 9.9% abv. My better half actually ordered a beer! Ciders are beers… right? She chose the Original Sin Granny Smith Apple.

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Hop Juice was straight up Double IPA love. The advertised 100.1 IBUs were cleverly masked by the great tropical fruit notes, and overall this beer went down smooth and was dangerously drinkable. You gotta love a brewery that puts out a DIPA as a Summer seasonal. Now that’s a brewery I can get down with.

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While I don’t have any voice memos about the cider I do remember really liking it. It had a light body and fine carbonation which brought reminiscent of champagne and had a balanced sweetness and avoided the syrupy mouthfeel that plagues so many mass-produced ciders. A perfect warm weather beer.

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When the food runner brought by a basket of Old Bay fries straight out of the fryer, we had to have them. They tasted just as good as they looked/smelled. We emptied the bowl in seconds. It was a great little slice of home out here in Chicago. Old Bay makes everything better.

Since we had much more drinking to do we settled up our tab and made our way to our next watering hole, the much publicized Hopleaf…


Abuelo's Pilsen Grill on Urbanspoon
XOCO on Urbanspoon
The Bad Apple on Urbanspoon

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theminx said...

Ha! I love the way you write - so evocative!

Mr. Micro said...

Honestly, I think one of the last things my writing is is evocative. Nevertheless, thank you for the compliment, I do try. :)

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