June 11, 2011

HB Eats (and Travels): Chicago!

For my first trip to Chicago my goals were pretty simple, or so I thought: visit friends, see the sights, and attend the National Confectioners Association Sweets and Snacks Expo to get some inspiration for a new candy concept that I have been dreaming up.  I must admit, I felt a little misled and totally disappointed when I learned that the expo was open only to industry members.  But instead of crashing the candy party, I created my own Chicago food adventures, Hungry Bee-style. 

After a quick stint around beautiful Millennium Park and a windy architectural boat tour along the Chicago River, I visited Chef Rick Bayless’ highly popular Frontera Grill.  The restaurant, which is normally closed on Mondays, had a special opening while I was there because the National Restaurant Association conference was also in town. Go figure!  The ambiance at Frontera was upbeat and festive, and the servers were very personable, despite the packed house.  The best part of my meal was definitely the Quesadillas Capitalinas. They reminded me of miniature corn calzones served with creamy guacamole and flavorful salsa.

The next day I met with Judith Hines Dunbar, Director of Culinary Arts and Events for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.  She gave me the low-down on all the great food happenings in Chicago, including the Downtown Farmstand which showcases local ingredients through sales and culinary demonstrations.  Ms. Hines recommended that I stop by the Green City Market before I leave, so I made it a priority.  Little did I know that my short trip to Lincoln Park would turn into a race through a round of horrible thunderstorms that delayed most planes at O’Hare that day (including mine).  I still managed to pick up some great produce including a rhubarb pecan muffin, brioche, and pasta.  As we huddled under the rain-soaked tent, the creator of Pasta Puttana, Jessica Volpe, shared with me that she will soon be opening a shop downtown. I was totally blown away by her fresh herb pasta, which was thankfully still intact after the long trip home-- in less an a minute of cooking time I had a delicious meal.  Many thanks to Judith Hines and the Green City Market vendors!

My last night in Chicago was also my best, because of a glowing review that I read of GT Fish and Oyster written by blogger @amandaspurlock. From the delicate oyster beginnings, to the visually stunning deconstructed key lime pie at the end, every dish melted in my mouth.  I can’t say enough good things about that dessert or the basil gnocchi.  Wow.  I plan to visit GT every time I go back. Thanks again Amanda, and thank you Chicago!

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