Underground dinners. Do you know about them? Probably. I'm new to this: paprika still confuses me.
I first heard of this scene when eating at Elizabeth --an up and coming Chicago "farm to table" restaurant -- and learning that Chef/Owner Iliana Regan got her start in the underground restaurant world.
Call me fascinated, because her food was so good (e.g. stop what you're doing and try the carrot tea) that I found her by the bathroom and told her that her meal was the best I'd ever eaten. So that happened.
Being the daughter of a scientist, I took a very methodical approach to this whole underground thing. New Years day I set a goal to eat a secret dinner in 2013. I researched. Mastered back alley handshakes with dish boys. Nodded slowly and maintained uncomfortably long eye contact with sommeliers. Folded response notes into my fortune cookies. Got on some e-mail lists. You get the picture.
Which brings us to Sous Rising. Chef Jake Bickelhaupt has worked in famous kitchens around Chicago -- Alinea, Charlie Trotter's, Schwa. Now on Friday and Saturday nights, he and his charming wife Alexa open up their home to 8-10 guests, where he works his magic.
Located along the south end of Lincoln Park along Clark Avenue, Chicago’s Green City Market bustled with activity on Saturday morning. Young parents pulling wagons loaded with children eating an apple from one hand and a warm apple cider doughnut from the other, urban-dwelling dogs steered with leashes held by their health-conscious owners and shoppers of all ages seeking fresh, locally produced food grown by farmers who practice sustainable methods contributed to the buzz of activity.
The close to 2-mile walk from my hotel had worked up my appetite. I was in search of a late-morning breakfast. I could have chosen a paper-thin Green City Crepe stuffed with caramelized onions, Prarie Pure butterkase cheese and greens from Klug Farms.
But I didn’t.
I could have chosen a smoothie made with fresh fruit and apple cider and an apple cider doughnut. I didn’t do that, either.
I could have had a large, rose-tinged fresh Michigan peach, the last of the season, with a thick wedge of quiche from Floriole Bakery. Nope, not that, either.
So many choices. Overwhelming, really. After perusing the whole market, I decided on The Best Grilled Cheese Ever with a glass of fresh apple cider.
I love the fact that my husband is from a different part of the country
than I am. Before I met and married him, my experience of America was
limited to either coast. Now, every year, I get to visit Chicago, my
second favorite city, to visit my in-laws. It's behind Boston (where I
went to college) and in front of Los Angeles (where I currently live).
Since I've been a Left-Coaster for almost two decades I
wouldn't/couldn't live in either Chi-town or Beantown because the City
of Angels has turned my blood into water and I need to see the sun
every day or I burst into tears. I sure do love to visit though. Since
he lived/worked in the Windy City before his move out West, he lets me
pick and choose where we're going to go even though– as we discovered on our lengthy walk up Michigan Avenue – that the city of his youth is long, long gone.
I have no idea how anybody found anything before the Internet. I probably spend at least 5 times longer researching where we are going to spend our hard-earned dining dollars than we eventually spend in the chosen establishment, but I don't care. I LOVE the search. The trouble with this past trip was our one nice dinner had to occur on a Sunday, apparently a day of rest for many of Chicago's fine dining choices. My desire to visit any of Rick Bayless' restaurants was thwarted once again. All three were closed on the Lord's Day. I was told emphatically by my boss that I HAD to go to Crofton on Wells. Well, I would have liked to, but no dice. Tru, nope. Charlie Trotter's, sorry. Alinea was open, but we're not into food THAT much.
It hardly seemed like Fall on the day my favorite exploring partner and I strolled the streets of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago just two weeks ago. From our hotel on West Surf Street, a leisurely five-minute stroll down Diversey took us to The Counter for an early lunch.
I hummed along with Macy Gray’s “Beauty in the World” playing in the background as I created a customized vegetarian burger from the list of fresh ingredients on the menu attached to a clipboard. My partner sitting across from me at our table along the front wall of wide open windows designed a loaded beef burger. We started filling our hungry tums with a “Fifty-Fifty” plate — half sweet potato fries and half crispy onion strings. I highly recommend that platter.
Filled with burgers, strings and fries, oh my — we continued our exploration by foot. We did have a destination in mind. About a mile and a half from The Counter, we knew we would find a luscious dessert at Floriole Cafe and Bakery.
We usually go to Chicago once a year to see my husband's family. We
rarely get into the city since they live in the suburbs, but this time
around we got the chance to spend a few days downtown, much to my
delight. However, we didn't have a lot of tourist time because we had
volunteered to help friends of ours pour their wine at the Windy City
Wine Festival, which was a 2-day, all day into the night affair. We
had one free lunch, so to speak. After watching Rick Bayless on Top
Chef Masters I wanted to go to one of his restaurants, but once he won
I knew getting in would be fairly impossible, especially on our tight schedule. However, it's because of
him that we went to Terzo Piano. I follow him on Twitter and one of his
fans asked where he likes to eat in Chicago and this modern cafe
located in the Art Institute was one of his favorites. I figured if the
Top Chef Master likes it, it had to be good. It's location made it perfect since we had already planned on visiting
the Art Institute – a must see when in the city – to check out an
exhibit about the History of Wine. I know, I have a one-track mind.