I was able to participate in Chicago Restaurant Week for the first time ever this year to check out different places around the city. For those who don’t know, Restaurant Week is a time in Chicago when different places have set menus you can try for a set price. Depending on where you go, you’ll find multiple choices of items for around 3-4 courses. Brunch and lunch menus are $22 while dinner is either $33 or $44. The first one I went to (plus had been meaning to check out anyway) was Barrio. Barrio is an upscale take on Mexican food with little twists thrown in. The head chef of the restaurant, Katsuji Tanabe, is a Top Chef alum and grew up in Mexico so he wanted to pay homage to his homeland with this beautiful chandelier clad restaurant (like the beams outside on the patio which are supposed to represent sun rays). Without further ado, let’s get into the food.
First up, the burrata. Now, I love burrata and have it often so I may be a little bias with this one, however, it offered an interesting take on your typical bread and cheese. This version also included mint and a very refreshing salsa verde sauce with it to add a little Mexican flair to an otherwise very Italian dish. There was also Michigan honey to sweeten it up plus the bread was made with polenta and had a nice crunch to it. This next one was my favorite of the courses and if you know me well, you’ll know why. Two words: truffle taco. Yeah that’s right – this taco had white truffle garlic crema in it and it was delish. Mushrooms were the “meat” of this taco, along with gruyere and cotija cheese and some crispy onions too. I would 100% order these again for the taste – plus look how cute they are in the pink shells (the corn ones are made in house)! To finish it out, I had the cocoa taco – see a theme here? 😉 This was pretty hard to mess up since it had chocolate ice cream, and brownies in it. The unique element of this dish was that it had coconut crema and coconut toffee on it (I’m not a big coconut person but I didn’t mind this at all) plus some guajillo caramel. The other option was a churro with different sauces which I almost went with but La Bodega Imports (the little churro shop next door) is owned by Barrio so I just ended up going there after.The food was great, however the service was slightly lackluster because of it being Restaurant Week. The manager was going from table to table asking how everyone’s meals were and ended up giving us a round of free drinks to compensate which was really sweet so we appreciated that very much. I got the Pantera Rosa which had cucumber-infused Effen vodka, watermelon, and lime. If you like tonics and vodka cranberries you’ll like this – sweet but fresh with the cucumber and lime. The manager told us that this drink is a very popular one. So though there was the whole service thing, I’d definitely still come here again because the food was great and they made sure to fix their mistakes right away which shows that they care. Besides dinner, I hear their brunch is pretty amazing too so definitely going back for that soon.
This next one you’ve definitely heard me mention before (remember that Chicagogrammers event I went to?): Yard House. I was shocked to see that they had a Restaurant Week menu since they are a chain so even though I wasn’t planning on it, I figured why not give it a try! Some differences I noticed from Barrio were that the portions were a bit larger (not that Barrio’s was small, this was a lot of food for one person) plus they gave you one drink (beer/wine) included which I thought was a nice touch. Most places during this week don’t have a drink to go with it. Since Yard House is more of a beer haus, you can try all kinds of beer before settling on the one you want. I tried two different ones: the one on the left is the House Honey Blonde and the one on the right is the Metropolitan Krankshaft Kölsch – both light beers. The honey one was light and crisp while the metro had a slight tickle to the tongue and tasted slightly more “beer like”. I opted for the Honey one since they mentioned it’s a crowd favorite plus I figured with all the food I was about to consumer, the lighter the better.
Before the Restaurant Week menu, I decided to take a leap of faith and try the Cauliflower Bites. I haven’t had cauliflower in decades because my childhood self was scarred from the texture and the lack of flavor from just regular steamed cauliflower – not to mention it’s in the broccoli family which I am still not a fan of (sorry mom)! So, Since these little snacks have been trending so much in the foodie world lately, I thought maybe I could give them another shot since they were fried this time and drizzled in buffalo sauce. I was actually very surprised that I liked these – I probably would’ve added just a little bit more buffalo sauce to drown out the cauliflower flavor a little more but otherwise these and the spicy tahini sauce with them were pretty good!Back to what you came for – so as you can see from the menu, there was quite a few options to choose from. The lunch version was on the back as well so I could have went that route but I thought better to try dinner since it came with the dessert. This was a tough decision but I ultimately went all out with the spinach dip and thought the dip was so cheesy and gooey, however the real winner was the chips. Freshly baked crispy pita doused in Parmesan cheese. I want to find a way to make these because they were perfect with the dip! Not too oily but not too dry either and the cheese added a little flavor while also mixing with the cheese already in the dip – perfect with a beer too.I decided to stay in the Parmesan theme and go with the Parmesan-crusted pork loin dressed in a bourbon sage-cheery shallot sauce along with sweet potato mashed potatoes and some broccolini.The sauce and the sweet potatoes went perfectly together since both had that woodsy sweetness with the syrup like sweetness of the sauce and the sweet potatoes tasted like pumpkin pie – yum! I am not really a sweet potato person but this was very good. The Parmesan added a nice crunch to the meat and thought the broccoli I was my least favorite part I did appreciate that they were salted and had some flavor to them instead of just the fresh-off-the-grill just oiled taste.The final course was my favorite one though because everything worked so well here. The chocolate soufflé tasted like a lava cake without the dramatic pour out of chocolate coming out: warm and moist yet you could still taste that chocolate ganache throughout it. The vanilla ice cream on top gave the dish a nice hot and cold pairing with it melting together with the cake. The mint leaf was a nice touch but didn’t offer much flavor so I think that was more intended for garnish instead. The size on this was great since it gave you the perfect amount without being too much. Overall, the portions for these were huge which was a nice change since I heard some of my friends saying that a lot of restaurants tend to skimp on the size of each dish during this week (whereas I had to take a lot of this home with me). I will most definitely be coming back here since the service was great as well – this showed me that you shouldn’t discount the chains during Restaurant Week!
I was originally supposed to go to Split-Rail for their Restaurant Week menu but sadly I never made it. I’ll be sure to go at some point though!
See you in the next post!