I looked at the Purple Pig’s menu multiple times when planning Foodcation 2010, but I didn’t get the “OMG, I have to eat here” feeling so the restaurant never made it onto our itinerary.
Fast forward to our last night in Chicago.
We didn’t have time to eat before our fireworks cruise so by the time it ended (around 10:30PM), we were starving. Using our fabulous new phones (HTC Evo), we searched for the closest place to eat. Well, what do ya know. The first restaurant listed was the Purple Pig. The food gods must have wanted us to eat here.
The Purple Pig, whose tag line is “Cheese, Swine and Wine”, is located on Mag Mile, two blocks north of the Michigan Ave. bridge. The Mediterranean inspired dishes are served tapas style so we ordered 5 + dessert.
(1) Shrimp & Clams with Rosamarina
(2) Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs
(3) Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes
(4) Scallop Spiedini with Chickpea Aioli
(5) Jamon Serrano with Duck Egg, Asparagus, Grilled Bread
I can’t really say one dish was my favorite; they were all so delicious!!!! The shrimp and clams were so light and refreshing, the bone marrow was rich and decadent, the pork shoulder and scallops were perfectly tender and oh my gosh, you all know how much I LOVE runny eggs!
(6) Butterscotch Bodino
What a great ending to a fantastic meal! The butterscotch pudding was thick, smooth and had just the right amount of sweetness. YUM!!
Fate works in funny ways. I’m really glad it led us to the Purple Pig.
When Alinea calls you and tells you that they have a 5:45PM seating available, you scream at the top of your lungs, jump up and down on the sidewalk before calming yourself to say, “Yes, I’ll take it”.
As I was planning Foodcation 2010, I didn’t think there would be much of a chance of us dining at Alinea given the huge wait list, but I prepared myself nonetheless; I didn’t make concrete dinner plans for our first two nights in Chicago, just in case.
Our flight from Philly arrived in Chicago at 3:30PM and we checked into our hotel by 4:30PM. This meant that we only had 45 minutes to settle in, change and get ready for dinner! I was really stressed, but like I said, whatever it takes! The hotel concierge recommended that we take a taxi to Alinea since we would be dressed up for dinner, but we decided to take public transportation instead. I see no shame in taking the subway/bus while dressed up, although, I would NEVER do that in LA.
Alinea is located in a gray, nondescript building in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. If not for the valet parking sign outside, you would not know that this gray building with big windows houses one of the best restaurants in world.
Behind the big black doors is a fuchsia lit, narrow hallway. You begin walking down the hallway, entranced by the bright color, but all of a sudden, sliding doors open to your left and you are pulled back to reality. Welcome to Alinea.
Keep in mind, menus were given to us at the end of the meal, not the beginning. We were to interpret the dishes on our own, with all of our senses.
English Pea: Iberico, Sherry, Honeydew
We started our journey with a manipulation of English Peas. The peas were blanched and pureed with cream and then freeze-dried and shaped into free-form shards. Accompanying the peas were powdered Iberico ham, honeydew spheres and drops of sherry vinegar. With each bite, we got a different combination – peas with ham, peas with honeydew, or all of the above. The peas proved to be a great canvas for the distinct flavors of the other ingredients. This was one of my favorite dishes overall.
Shrimp: Fermented Black Bean, Cinnamon Aroma
Yuba: Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi
Chao Tom: Sugar Cane, Shrimp, Mint
Distillation: of Thai Flavors
Next, we took a trip to Asia. Even without knowing what exactly was in each dish, you could recognize such Asian ingredients as miso, fish sauce and black bean.
Tomatoes: Pillows of Fresh Cut Grass Aroma
Our sense of smell was put to work during the heirloom tomatoes course. The plates were placed on top of deflatable pillows filled with the aroma of fresh cut grass. With the help of gravity, the aroma escaped from the pillows as we ate the tomatoes and for a few minutes, we were transported out of the restaurant and into a garden after springtime showers.
Pork Belly: Curry, Cucumber, Lime
The pork belly spring roll course gave us an opportunity to be “hands on”. After making our own stand with metal prongs, the servers placed a sheet of spring roll paper on the stand and topped it with delicious pork belly. What we wanted in our pork belly spring rolls was totally in our control; we had 11 different ingredients to choose from. Henry being adventurous, used everything. I, on the other hand, do not like cilantro or mint so I opted out of those items. This course was very refreshing and fun. I liked the idea that fine dining wasn’t limited to using proper silverware.
King Crab: Plum, Lilac, Fennel
The next course offered three variations of King Crab combined with three ingredients: plum, lilac and fennel. With each variation, the temperature of the dish and the level of richness increased. This was a great stepping stone to the more rich and savory courses of the meal.
Hot Potato: Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter
“Eat this right away” was what our server instructed us to do for the hot potato course. I kind of freaked out a little bit because I notoriously take forever to get the perfect shot, but this time I just had to let it go. We pulled the pin out, letting the hot potato/truffle/butter fall into the cold potato soup and knocked all of it back. Delicious. I can see why people rave about this course.
Lamb: Reflection of Elysian Fields Farm
The first of our meat courses was to be a reflection of Elysian Field Farms, Alinea’s long standing supplier of lamb. The lamb loin was cooked sous vide and skewered with a spruce branch to represent the trees on the farm. Served alongside the lamb were ingredients that represented the lamb’s diet (corn and oats) and surroundings (grass).
Black Truffle: Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan
In between the two meat courses was an explosion in your mouth, literally. A black truffle explosion, to be exact. I love truffles so this course was absolute heaven.
Tournedo: A la Persane
The second of the meat courses, referred to as an antique concept, was an interpretation of August Escoffier’s “Tournedos a la Persane” recipe. Notice how the beautiful china adds to the antique feel; Alinea is all about the details. This course brought us back to the basics: simple plating, great combination of flavors and textures. Perfect.
Bacon: Butterscotch, Apple, Thyme
So, how do you transition from savory to sweet? With a dehydrated slice of bacon dipped in butterscotch of course!
Lemon Soda: One Bite
Transparency: of Raspberry, Yogurt
Bubble Gum: Long Pepper, Hibiscus, Creme Fraiche
Our dessert courses began with a trio of fun dishes that were reminiscent of candy such as lemonheads (Lemon Soda not pictured), fruit roll-ups and bubble gum.
Earl Grey: Lemon, Pine Nut, Caramelized White Chocolate
A play on tea and cookies, the earl grey course was my favorite dessert. Loose tea leaves were finely ground and combined with crumbled shortbread dough. The innovation didn’t stop there, of course; the other elements of this dish really helped elevate it to a whole other level. The lemon curd spheres brought out the citrus component of earl grey while the white chocolate strands masked some of the bitterness.
Chocolate: Coconut, Menthol, Hyssop
Now for the dessert finale. I’ll let the video speak for itself. Excuse my “Oooohhs” and “Aaaahhhs” 😛
The perfect ending to this extraordinary meal would have been to meet Chef Grant Achatz. Unfortunately, the stars did not align as he was on vacation. The end of August seems to be a popular time for Chefs to take vacation. We did, however, get the opportunity to tour the kitchen. I guess we’ll just have to come back and dine again in order to meet the great Achatz 😉
Verdict: 5/5 Alinea
1723 North Halsted
Chicagom Illinois 60614
It’s been three months since we returned from Foodcation 2010 and I’m finally getting around to posting about our last stop: Chicago. That’s some serious backlog! (Read about NYC and Philly)
We only had one reason to go to Chicago and that was Alinea. So imagine my disappointment about being put on a 20+ person wait list. We had booked all of our travel/lodging months beforehand and I thought calling one month before to make a reservation at Alinea would be enough, but it wasn’t; Alinea begins taking reservations two months prior to the month you plan to dine. For example, if you want to dine on August 24th, you better start calling on June 1st! More about Alinea in another post.
We booked a room at Allerton, which is located on Mag Mile. To me, the location was the best aspect of the hotel. I love how lively and vibrant Mag Mile is! It reminds me a lot of NYC and you all know how much I LOVE NYC! 🙂
As with NYC and Philly, the public transportation in Chicago is very efficient. We purchased a 3-day pass (available at CVS) for $14 each, which we used to go to Hot Doug’s, of course.
After about 50 minutes on public transit and another 50 minutes waiting in line, we were finally standing in front of Doug, himself, ordering:
– 2 “Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel”
– 1 “Red Wine and Demi-Glace Venison Sausage with Fig Goat’s Butter and Raclette Cheese”
– 1 “Saucisson Alsacienne: Bacon Sausage with Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions and Tomme de Savoie Cheese”
– order of DUCK FAT FRIES
One word: AMAZING.
To burn off the 3000+ calories we consumed at Hot Doug’s, we walked around the city.
First up on our walking tour was Millennium Park. We were in town for “Chopin in the Park”, a bi-centennial birthday celebration of Poland’s greatest composer, Frédéric Chopin. Perfect timing! Chicago is Warsaw’s sister city, which is why it was part of the celebration. We stopped to listen to a little boy play Waltz in D Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 (aka Minute Waltz) and Waltz in C Sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2. I recognized both pieces instantly – anyone who started playing piano at 4 years old and practiced 3 hours a day would.
After Millennium Park, we made our way to Buckingham Fountain (cue: love and marriage, love and marriage :)) …
… and ended our walking tour at Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower), where my camera battery ran out after my first shot inside! BURN. Thank goodness for back-up point and shoot!
We also used our metro passes to visit the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
While Chicago is certainly beautiful during the day, it is even more so at night. Chicago has the most breathtaking skyline I’ve seen so far. Even better than NYC. YES, I said it!
The above is my best attempt at a panorama. Taking pictures at night without a tripod is hard enough, but on a moving boat? Forget about it 😦 Anyway, we were on a boat for a fireworks cruise. During the summer (~Memorial Day through Labor Day), there is a fireworks show every Wednesday and Saturday night at Navy Pier. Sure, you can experience the fireworks show for free at Navy Pier, but with a cruise, you can sit back, relax and soak in some history, all while enjoying a breathtaking view of Chicago. At ~$30/pp, Lake/River boat tours may seem like a tourist traps, but I highly recommend them!
In what direction does the Chicago River flow?
a) West to East, towards Lake Michigan
b) East to West, away from Lake Michigan
c) Both directions
Well, according to the research of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at the University of Chicago, Urbana-Champaign, the answer is c) both since it is believed the surface flows away from Lake Michigan while deep, deep below, the flow is in the opposite direction because of a density current. Anyway, the original flow of the river was West to East, towards Lake Michigan, but engineers reversed the river flow in the 1900s due to concerns regarding the pollution of the city’s water source.
Between the Chicago River and Lake Michigan lies the Chicago Harbor/River Lock. This device allows boats to easily transition from the lower water level of the river to the higher water level of the lake. That’s right! I got my learn on 😀
Ok so, you can’t go to Chicago and not have a deep dish pizza, right?! Right. Since I’ve never had deep dish pizza before, we went to Giordano’s for lunch, waited about an hour for a table, and guess what? After one bite, I decided: I HATE DEEP DISH PIZZA! It’s really an abomination to the pizza I grew up with and love. The crust in the middle of the pizza was mushy, there was too much sauce that wasn’t seasoned properly and worst of all, you can’t eat this kind of pizza with your hands. Yea, I know I’m being Captain Obvious with my last point, but seriously, how awful is that?! There’s a time and place to be prim and proper and eating a pizza is not one of those times.
Well, this trip was certainly different than our past trips since it was heavily based around food. And while I loved this food tour of ours, I did find myself missing the outdoor activities. For our next annual trip, I’m going to try to have more of a balance between food and the outdoors. Life is all about balance 🙂
Right off the bat, I found the food unappetizing. We started off with the garlic shrimp and the dish was overly salty. Usually when we order shrimp, I’m all over it, but this time, I couldn’t get myself to eat more than two pieces.
I tried to rationalize that the garlic shrimp was the exception; the next dish had to be better right? Wrong. The chefs in the kitchen went to town with the salt that night. By the third dish, I starting feeling a little sick.
We held on to hope that the saving grace of this meal would be the $38 Paella Valenciana (House Specialty). Wrong again. This dish was just as salty as the tapas, if not more. I tried to eat as much of it as I could since it was pricey, but I really couldn’t stomach more than a couple of bites.
I’m not sure if this was just an off night for Amada; according to Yelp, Amada is one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia. But based on my experience, it’s not likely that I’ll return to Amada. Ever.
Verdict: 2/5 Amada
217-219 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Three reasons propelled me to visit the city of brotherly love:
1. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of my favorite shows, EVER
2. Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant, Amada
3. Tony Luke’s cheesesteak
Philly is about a two hour drive from NYC. Instead of flying, which would have cost a couple hundred dollars PER PERSON, we took the Boltbus. The price of a one way ticket usually ranges between $8.00 to $20.00, however Boltbus offers $1.00 fares for whoever purchases the first ticket for each time slot. My ticket cost $1.50 ($1.00 + $0.50 service charge) and Henry’s cost $10.50.
We took a taxi from the Best Western Bowery Hanbee Hotel to the New Yorker Hotel (34th St and 8th Ave). For Boltbus trips to Philadelphia and Boston, the meet up location is right outside of Tick Tock Diner, which is located on the ground floor of the New Yorker Hotel.
The bus was right on time and to my surprise, we basically shared the entire bus with 10 other people! We had ample leg room and though we didn’t take advantage of it, WiFi was available for us to use. I ♥ Boltbus!
Two hours later, we arrived in Philly and checked into Penn’s View Hotel. Besides having jacuzzi tubs in most of their rooms, the location of Penn’s View was a huge selling point for me. There is a bus stop literally right outside and the subway station is just around the corner. The historical sites AND Amada are only a few blocks away and the hotel has a great view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Though the decor might not appeal to some (I didn’t mind it at all), our Standard King room (w/ jacuzzi tub) was a delight to come back to after a long day of walking and eating. Continental breakfast was included with our stay and we certainly took advantage of that. And even though we did a great deal of walking each day, we also took advantage of the fitness room on the 4th floor to burn off some extra calories.
During out first day in Philly, we checked out Reading Market Terminal. I instantly fell in love with the place right as I walked inside. If you think the Farmer’s Market in LA is cool, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
The meats and seafood looked so fresh…
… and so did the produce.
There were also vendors that sold sweets and various home products…
… and the intoxicating aroma from the prepared food vendors lured us to one in particular: DiNic’s.
We sat down at the counter and ordered their famous Roast Pork w/ provolone and broccoli rabe. My excitement for this popular sandwich quickly faded when our server told us that they had run out of broccoli rabe AND spinach (at 1:00PM) so only sweet peppers were available. I found it ironic that they ran out of produce and yet, they are located in a public market where fresh produce is sold.
After taking one bite of the sandwich, I was confused as to why so many people swear by it. The roast pork was not only tough, but flavorless as well. I’m not sure if the broccoli rabe would have made any difference.
At least the coffee from Old City Coffee didn’t fail me 🙂
Since our hotel was located near the historical sites, we decided to tour that area before our dinner at Amada. So deeply rooted in history, Philly reminds me a lot of Boston. I love that there is still a small town feel to both cities, even though they are among the most populous cities in the United States.
Many of the popular sites in Philly are located within Center City. The boundaries of Center City are South Street to the South, the Delaware River to the East, the Schuylkill River to the West and Vine Street to the North. Like NYC, Philly (Center City) is very walkable. Also like NYC, Philly’s public transportation system (SEPTA) is very efficient as well. We bought a One Day Convenience Pass for $7.00/pp – valid for 8 rides on any bus, trolley or subway route in one day. For those who want more flexibility, there is also a One Day Independence Pass available as well ($11/pp for unlimited travel in one day). With our pass, we visited many locations where It’s Always Sunny was filmed…
Love Park fountain: Anti Smoking Rally in “Charlie Goes America Over Everybody’s Ass”
Philadelphia Java Company: where The Waitress works (and is stalked by Charlie)
Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Circle: “Walking in Charlie’s Shoes”
From Logan Circle, we walked passed the Rodin Museum as we made our way to the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, where we ran up the steps like Rocky.
As for food, Tony Luke’s was my favorite of all the places we ate at in Philly (I’ll write about my bad experience at Amada in another post). When I was planning Foodcation 2010, I thought about going to Geno’s or Pat’s, but I was less than thrilled to see that reviewers gave them 2.5 and 3.5 stars, respectively, on Yelp. I was interested in Tony Luke’s, but didn’t jump on-board initially because I was short on time and Tony Luke’s is farther away than the other two. However, after reading Gastronomer’s take on the whole cheesesteak battle, I changed my mind. I’m so glad I did because she was right, Tony Luke’s is the real deal.
After 20 minutes on the 57 Bus and a 5 minute walk, we were standing in line at Tony Luke’s.
We ordered a cheesesteak with whiz, roast beef italian (broccoli rabe w/ sharp provolone) and curly fries. I would have ordered the roast pork, but I was still traumatized by DiNic’s. Both sandwiches were DELISH, but I actually liked the roast beef more than the cheesesteak (Henry thinks I’m crazy).
Le Bernardin wasn’t part of our original plan for Foodcation 2010, but when I called to make a reservation at Alinea and was put on a 20+ person waiting list, I immediately made a reservation at Le Bernardin as plan B. I knew I wanted to have one fine dining experience during Foodcation 2010 and if Alinea wasn’t meant to be, then Le Bernardin would have to work… I guess 😦
I know, I sound like a spoiled brat, but who likes settling for “second best”? I was never truly excited for Le Bernardin. Even while I was dining, I was just reminded of why I was there in the first place. Le sigh.
In all fairness, we had a fantastic meal at Le Bernardin and I would recommend it to anyone visiting NYC. My favorite dishes from our 4 course tasting ($112) were the Lobster (warm lobster carpaccio; hearts of palm, orange vinaigrette) and Langoustine (seared langoustine; mache and wild mushroom salad, shaved foie gras, white balsamic vinaigrette). Delicious! I’m glad we didn’t go with the more expensive 7 course tasting ($138) since only the Lobster was on that menu. And besides, I liked having a choice too.
It’s easy for me to compare Le Bernardin to Providence since both restaurants specialize in seafood and both Chef Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin) and Chef Michael Cimarusti (Providence) are strong advocates for sustainable seafood. Foodwise, I think they’re pretty much neck and neck. As for service, based on my recent visits, I would have to say that I experienced better service at Le Bernardin.
It would have made my night to meet Chef Ripert. Unfortunately, he was not in the kitchen; he was on vacation for the week. Little did we know, this chefs on vacation thing turned out to be the theme of Foodcation 2010.
Verdict: 4.5/5 Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
New York, NY 10019
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been to NYC, the city never ceases to amaze me and I find myself falling even more in love.
For our annual trip (last year was the Pacific Northwest, read here and here), I decided to create our own US foodie tour. First stop? NYC, of course.
We took an early morning flight to JFK on JetBlue. This was the first time I’ve flown JetBlue and if it weren’t for the cheap airfare (in comparison to other airlines) and no charge for the 1st bag, I probably would never fly JetBlue again. The terminal at LAX is HORRIBLE – the line to get to TSA was a total disaster. Before flying JetBlue, I had envisioned it being comparable to Virgin, given the TV screens and radio channels, but it’s not; JetBlue kind of reminds me of Southwest.
After landing at JFK, we took a taxi into the city ($60 including tip: $45 flat fee + $5 toll + $10 tip). We booked a room at the Best Western Bowery Hanbee Hotel located at the edge of Chinatown. For those who are budget conscious, this is a great hotel, if you don’t mind the stench of the streets as you walk outside (don’t worry, you can’t smell anything inside). The hotel is conveniently located a block away from Grand St. Station (B, D) and a couple of blocks away from Bowery Station (J, M). From these two stations, you can get/transfer to anywhere in the city! The hotel offers complimentary continental breakfast (served until 10AM), but the selection is very limited: hard boiled eggs, make your own waffles, various pastries and fruit. To save money, the breakfast is sufficient, but NYC has so many good breakfast/brunch places to offer so go on, splurge a little!
[Source: Website Photo]
So besides eating, you can’t go to NYC without doing some touristy things right? Right. Since we were in NYC during the summer, I thought it would be cool to check out Coney Island. A 50 minute train ride down to the south end of Brooklyn, Coney Island is home to Nathan’s, where they hold the annual July 4th international hot dog eating contest, and the world famous Cyclone roller coaster.
If you’ve ever ridden on Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and thought, wow, this ride hurts… well, let me tell you, the Cyclone at Coney Island is 100 times worse. Basically we paid $8 each to experience the roller coaster OF DEATH. Not only was it extremely jerky, but at every drop, I thought I was going to fly off and die. Now, I consider myself a thrill seeker; I’ve been sky diving and this experience was way more terrifying than jumping out of a plane. TRUST.
Being that it was a Saturday, there were many people walking on the boardwalk or laying out on the beach. As we strolled along the boardwalk, we came across a large gathering of people and dance music blasting. Apparently, a dance circle formed in the middle of the boardwalk. There were only a few people with enough balls, or alcohol in their system, to get their groove on in the middle. The half-naked man in the blue pants and the boy in the red definitely stole the show.
Coney Island was an interesting experience. Yes, it’s “dirty” and a little “run down”, but so is the pier in Santa Monica. If you’ve never been to Coney Island, it’s definitely worth a trip. But remember, Cyclone = ROLLER COASTER OF DEATH.
We took the train back and stopped at York station just so we could walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
After so many failed attempts, I can finally say that I did it! But honestly, it wasn’t that impressive. Having biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge just pales in comparison.
Walking from end to end took approximately 40 minutes, and that’s with stops to take a few pictures. If you want to walk across the bridge, I suggest starting from Brooklyn since you will be facing the skyline instead of having it behind you.
During our time in NYC, we also visited the Met. Although the “suggested” admission price is $20/adult, you can actually pay whatever you want since it’s more like a donation, but please don’t be cheap; the Met is worth every penny. And by the way, the museum is HUGE. If you’re interested in visiting the Met, you should really plan your way around beforehand – look at the museum floor plan and map out which exhibits you want to see. As for me, I headed straight for the Egyptian exhibit…
I passed through the American Wing and Medieval Arts…
… to make my way to the Greek and Roman art exhibit.
All this took about 4 hours and I didn’t even get to hit the SECOND FLOOR! 😦
What about shopping? Well, instead of shopping for clothes, I went shopping for a knife! I’ve been itching to buy another knife since it makes so much more sense for Henry and I to each have a “good” knife to use while we’re cooking. Not having to wait for each other and rewash makes all the difference!
Korin is a distributor of exquisite Japanese chef knives, beautiful tableware and restaurant supplies. Their showroom/store in located in downtown NYC. Many chefs refer to Korin as a candy store and that’s exactly how I felt when I ventured inside.
With the help of the resident Knife Master, we purchased a Misono 440 7” Santoku. It is just as sharp as our Wusthof, but a bit lighter, which I’m starting to really appreciate.
And that was that. Sadly, 4 days just flew by so quickly. Next stop: Philly.