Hungry in Chicago? Go here!

One of the best salads I've ever had was at Blackbird at lunch. It consisted of endive, dijon and pancetta in a crispy potato nest topped with a poached egg. Unbelievably creamy and full of flavor on top of the crunchy potatoes.

One of the best salads I’ve ever had was at Chicago’s Blackbird at lunch. It consisted of endive, dijon and pancetta in a crispy potato nest topped with a poached egg. Unbelievably creamy and full of flavor on top of the crunchy potatoes.

Sixteen hardy Knoxvillians have just returned from an action-packed trip to Chicago. The purpose of the trip, organized by the Knoxville Museum of Art for members of its Collectors Circle, was to take in a wide variety of art, some of which will be coming to Knoxville within a year or so and some the museum has an eye toward acquiring.

The next post on the Blue Streak will show you some of the art we saw. But this post will deal with another kind of art — the culinary kind — that obsessed us almost as much as the framed and sculpted variety.

Chicago is home to many great chefs and many great eateries. With just a couple of exceptions, the trip planners at the KMA wisely left time on the schedule for our group of travelers to split up and make our own dining plans. Alan and I did research and then made reservations in advance for four to six people at each meal, figuring we could always adjust our reservation downward if no one was interested in joining us at the places we picked. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do that. Others took the same approach, resulting in different groups dining together at a different fabulous restaurant at every meal.

To sum it up, we dined at three top-of-the-line, must-eat-at places and another that was almost that good. Read on, especially if you are planning a trip to Chicago in the near future.

One of those top-notch places was Blackbird, located at 619 W. Randolph St. It was one of the places that the KMA selected for us to have lunch as a group.

Enjoying lunch at Blackbird, from left: Stephen Wicks, KMA's curator; Barbara Apking; Robin Turner; Lane Hays; Pandy Anderson; John Cotham; Alan Carmichael; Bob Hawthorne; Susan Hawthorne; Donna Wertz; Ashley Addair; Molly Joy, Myron and Jayne Ely. Not picture, other than me: Terry Wertz.

Enjoying lunch at Blackbird, from left: Stephen Wicks, KMA’s curator; Barbara Apking; Robin Turner; Lane Hays; Pandy Anderson; John Cotham; Alan Carmichael; Bob Hawthorne; Susan Hawthorne; Donna Wertz; Ashley Addair; Molly Joy, Myron and Jayne Ely. Not pictured, other than me: Terry Wertz.

Blackbird is acclaimed for “elegant and imaginative Midwestern cuisine” crafted in a sleek and spare space that has won the James Beard Award for best restaurant design. And, to put the icing on the cake (ha!), there’s a Knoxville connection. Ryan Pfeiffer, recently promoted to executive chef, is the nephew of Knoxville’s Tom Catani, a vice president at U.S. Cellular and a great client and friend of Moxley Carmichael. Ryan’s mother is Tom’s sister.

From left, Blackbird's executive chef, Ryan Pfeiffer, Donna Wertz and Alan Carmichael.

From left, Blackbird’s executive chef, Ryan Pfeiffer, Donna Wertz and Alan Carmichael.

Even before that fantastic salad pictured at the top of this blog post, we knew we were in for a treat when the bread arrived. It was a slice of warm and crusty sourdough wheat bread. Very unusual but sharp and delicious.

Even before that fantastic salad pictured at the top of this blog post, we knew we were in for a treat when the bread arrived. It was a slice of warm and crusty sourdough wheat bread: sharp-flavored and delicious. The butter was filled with finely minced herbs.

We had a limited menu to expedite our lunch. Those who chose beef got this grilled hangar steak with crispy shallots atop an artichoke basil puree. They loved it.

We had a limited menu to expedite our lunch. Those who chose beef got this grilled hanger steak with crispy shallots atop an artichoke basil puree. They loved it.

Those of us (like me) who chose fish, got poached halibut with peekytoe crab, a duckfat and allium puree and ground cherries. (Those things that look like little tomatoes? They are the ground cherries. I assume, meaning they are grown on low bushes rather than traditional cherry trees. They are sweet-tart and delicious.

Those of us (like me) who chose fish, got poached halibut with peekytoe crab, a duckfat and allium puree and ground cherries. (Those things that look like little tomatoes? They are the ground cherries. I assume, meaning they are grown on low bushes rather than traditional cherry trees.) They are sweet-tart and delicious.

Even for a non-dessert fan like me, this was irresistible: chocolate pistachio mouse cake, lemon verbena sherbet and micro basil. Holy cow.

Even for a non-dessert fan like me, this was irresistible: chocolate pistachio mousse cake, lemon verbena sherbet and micro basil. Holy cow.

Stephen Wicks gave Pandy Anderson a sip of his espresso. Talk about a great tour leader!

Stephen Wicks gave Pandy Anderson a sip of his espresso. Talk about a great tour leader!

Here's a look at that sleek award-winning interior.

Here’s a look at that sleek award-winning interior.

Donna Wertz in front of the restaurant, in case you are looking for it.

Donna Wertz in front of the restaurant, in case you are looking for it.

Another of our top three picks: Boka, located at 1729 N. Halsted St., in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. This Michelin Star-rated restaurant serves seasonal American food like none I’ve ever had. Thanks to our Moxley Carmichael foodie colleague Scott Bird for turning us on to it.

Alan, left, and John Cotham at the entrance to Boka.

Alan, left, and John Cotham at the entrance to Boka.

First up: An amuse bouche compliments of the chef. In this case: smoked eel on a nori chip with a dab of some kind of delicious garlic sauce.

First up: An amuse-bouche compliments of the chef. In this case: smoked eel on a nori chip with a dab of some kind of delicious garlic sauce.

My first course consisted of delicious heirloom tomatoes with pinenuts, black garlic and buttermilk. It was a bright and delightful combination.

My first course consisted of luscious heirloom tomatoes with pinenuts, black garlic and buttermilk. It was a bright and delightful combination.

Alan chose roasted carrots with pistachio, vadouvan, dates and smoked feta cheese. Vadouvan is a kind of French curry spice mixture that goes great with carrots.

Alan chose roasted carrots with pistachio, vadouvan, dates and smoked feta cheese. Vadouvan is a kind of French curry spice mixture that really complements carrots.

John didn't get a first course because his main course was huge! Here it is: roasted chicken with broccoli, almond and foie gras. Interestingly, the foie gras was inserted between the breast meat and the crispy skin.

John didn’t get a first course because his main course was huge! Here it is: roasted chicken with broccoli, almonds and foie gras. Interestingly, the foie gras was inserted between the breast meat and the crispy skin.

Alan went with seared monkfish with sunchokes, cabbage and mussels.

Alan went with seared monkfish with sunchokes, cabbage and mussels.

Mine didn't photograph very well, but it was fantastic. It was shellfish and apple chowder (how's that for seasonal?) poured over smoked mussels, peekytoe crab and kombu. Kombu is a kind of edible kelp. This was velvety smooth with a delightful little nugget of something interesting in every bite.

Mine didn’t photograph very well, but it was fantastic. It was shellfish and apple chowder (how’s that for seasonal?) poured over smoked mussels, peekytoe crab and kombu. Kombu is a kind of edible kelp. This was velvety smooth with a delightful little nugget of something interesting in every bite.

With help from our server, we picked a wine that would go with all our dishes.

With help from our server, we picked a wine that would go with all our dishes: a Lunae Colli Di Luni vermentino.

Alan selected the dessert for all of us (mostly him!) to taste. It was a blueberry concoction with coconut, violet, earl grey and sorghum.

Alan selected the dessert for all of us (mostly him!) to taste. It was a blueberry concoction on angel food cake with coconut, violet, earl grey and sorghum. (That’s the sorghum popped like popcorn.)

As if we needed more food, we received these little jewels as we were paying our tab. On the left, little blueberry corn cakes. On the right, delicious white chocolate truffles. Of course, we managed to eat them all.

As if we needed more food, we received these little jewels as we were paying our tab. On the left, bite-sized blueberry corn cakes. On the right, luxurious white chocolate truffles. Of course, we managed to eat them all.

Next up: Pelago, an upscale Italian place located at

Look for this sign!

Look for this sign!

Breadsticks with truffle butter are waiting for you at the table.

Crunchy breadsticks with truffle butter are waiting for you at the table.

Our friend Lane Hays and Alan share a toast with their gin and tonics.

Our friend Lane Hays and Alan share a toast with their gin and tonics.

Pandy Anderson and I chose marinis. (Photo by Lane Hays)

Pandy Anderson and I chose martinis. (Photo by Lane Hays)

My starter was roasted buffalo Scamorza cheese with arugula and heirloom tomatoes. (If it appears to you from my selection that I am on a tomato kick, you are correct. Trying to get in as many as I can before the season ends!) These were at their peak.

My starter was roasted buffalo Scamorza cheese with arugula and heirloom tomatoes. (If it appears to you from my selections that I am on a tomato kick, you are correct. Trying to get in as many as I can before the season ends!) These were at their peak.

Alan raved about his tri-colored gnocchi, which were tomato, cheese and spinach potato dumplings with a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese sauce. He let me taste one of each and they were light and delicious.

Alan raved about his tri-colored gnocchi, which were tomato, cheese and spinach potato dumplings with a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese sauce. He let me taste one of each and they were light and delicious.

Here was the dinner drink of choice for Alan and me. I loved it and will try to find it in Knoxville. (If I can find it, It may replace my old standby.)

Here was the dinner drink of choice for Alan and me. I loved it and will try to find it in Knoxville. (If I can find it, it may replace my old standby.)

Lane selected a roasted veal loin chop with oyster mushrooms sauce. She did not leave hungry!

Lane selected a roasted veal loin chop with oyster mushrooms sauce. She did not leave hungry!

Here's Pandy's grilled lamb chops with fresh herbs.

Here’s Pandy’s grilled lamb chops with fresh herbs.

Alan had a seared halibut fillet with white wine and chives sauce.

Alan had a seared halibut fillet with white wine and chives sauce.

I opted for fish soup with herbs and extra virgin olive oil. It was light and very flavorful.

I opted for fish soup with herbs and extra virgin olive oil. It was light and very flavorful, loaded with fish, shrimp and vegetables.

The Pelago interior is spare and elegant.

The Pelago interior is spare and elegant.

We were stuffed but somehow found ourselves ordering gelato for dessert. These are pistachio. Refreshing.

We were stuffed but somehow found ourselves ordering gelato for dessert. These are pistachio. Refreshing.

We stopped in the open rooftop bar when we got back to our hotel to take this picture of the Chicago skyline. But we didn't order anything because of our early schedule the next day.

We stopped in the open rooftop bar when we got back to our hotel to take this picture of the Chicago skyline. But we didn’t order anything because of our early schedule the next day.

Myron and Jayne Ely selected our fourth top restaurant of the trip: Chez Joel Bistro Francais. Since we’d already scheduled Italian and American meals, we felt it was time for something French. Ironically, it is located in Little Italy at 1119 W. Taylor St.

Molly Joy and Alan outside Chez Joel.

Molly Joy and Alan outside Chez Joel. It is small and super charming.

Here's the interior. We had booked a party of six and a party of three and they agreed to seat us together at one big table.

Here’s the interior. We had booked a party of six and a party of three, and they agreed to seat us together at one big table.

Jayne Ely got her French on and ordered escargot.

Jayne Ely got her French on and ordered escargot.

My starter was piping hot cauliflower soup. It was soothing with more than a touch of cream in it!

My starter was piping hot cauliflower soup. It was soothing with more than a touch of cream in it!

Alan loved his Coq au Vin. It was braised in white wine rather than the traditional red.

Alan loved his Coq au Vin. It was braised in white wine rather than the traditional red.

Lane had bouillabaisse. The portions were hefty.

Lane had bouillabaisse. The portions were hefty.

My main course was steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with herbs, shallots and a white wine sauce. They were tender and tasty, but I could not finish them.

My main course was steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with herbs, shallots and a white wine sauce. They were tender and tasty, but I could not finish them.

We had to skip dessert because no one had room for any.

So, those were our top four eating experiences in Chicago. I will add that the rooftop bar at our hotel, The¬†Godfrey, had an excellent Caesar salad which Jayne and I each had while watching the first half of the Tennessee-Florida game on the bar’s big screen TV.

Caesar salad with grilled chicken at the Godfrey Hotel Chicago.

Caesar salad with grilled chicken at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago.

We had to leave the bar at halftime, however, because Myron wanted to go to his room where he could curse out loud! Ha. Fortunately, Tennessee’s fortunes changed and the Vols pulled victory from the jaws of defeat, as everyone knows.

Here's the daytime view from our hotel.

Here’s the daytime view from our hotel.

Next post: the actual art we went to see in Chicago!

 

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13 Responses to Hungry in Chicago? Go here!

  1. David Butler, on September 27th, 2016 at 12:53 pm said:

    Wow! What a great food experience, and how vividly and beautifully you write about it, Cynthia. Bitterly regretting that I missed this trip. Can’t wait to read about the art!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on September 27th, 2016 at 12:58 pm said:

    Thanks, David. We REALLY missed you! Please come on the next one!

  3. Alan Carmichael, on September 27th, 2016 at 1:39 pm said:

    It was also nice that the kitchen at the Godfrey Hotel held our dinner for us when our plane was delayed due to gridlock in Chicago the first day. The hotel was in River North, and the staff was extra helpful during the visit.

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on September 27th, 2016 at 1:43 pm said:

    Alan: Good point. Very nice of them. And the complimentary martini wasn’t bad, either!

  5. Courtney Pearre, on September 27th, 2016 at 2:20 pm said:

    Mox, we went to Chicago for Carolyn’s birthday. We enjoyed Pelago. Great food and excellent service.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on September 27th, 2016 at 3:40 pm said:

    Courtney: We thought it was awesome. Glad you all liked it, too!

  7. Mary Kozitka, on September 27th, 2016 at 3:48 pm said:

    Cynthia, thanks for great reviews of some of our wonderful Chicago restaurants. Dick and I also love Pelago and will look forward to trying Boka, which is just blocks from our daughter’s home. Your Knoxville group sure knows how to have fun!

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on September 27th, 2016 at 3:55 pm said:

    Mary: Thanks for your comment! Great hearing from you! You must try Boka. It’s incredible. Hope to see you in Naples soon!

  9. Gay Lyons, on September 27th, 2016 at 4:07 pm said:

    Sure makes me want to go to Chicago! Wow. Every single thing looked absolutely delicious–and so beautifully presented.

  10. Georgiana Vines, on September 27th, 2016 at 4:47 pm said:

    It’s clear the art was in the food preparation and presentation.

  11. Deborah Sams, on September 27th, 2016 at 4:59 pm said:

    Such well documented delights have left me ravenous. Will bookmark this for my future trip to Chicago!

  12. Carol Mayo Jenkins, on September 28th, 2016 at 1:04 am said:

    And Georgiana and Maureen Dunn McBride were here serving dinner to 52 hungry actors and crew members at Clarence Brown Theatre. Their dinner was maybe not so fancy, but equally delicious and deeply appreciated by all. A huge thank you to all of you who support
    our arts in Knoxville!

  13. Cynthia Moxley, on September 28th, 2016 at 3:43 am said:

    Gay, Georgiana and Deborah: Happy to provide the “research.” Highly recommend a trip to Chicago. That direct flight on United makes it even more appealing to go there from Knoxville.

    Carol: I saw on Facebook the great dish Georgiana prepared for the Clarence Brown Theatre event! It looked delish.

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