Spring time in Chicago is spectacular. The city is one of this country's finest, offering up beautiful parks and friendly people and fantastic restaurants. Doug and I drove there this weekend in search of all three and were not disappointed in the least.
I found a fabulous deal at the Palmer House Hilton, a gorgeously renovated hotel that showcases all that is beautiful and historic in Chicago. As luck would have it, we were able to upgrade our room for a small fee and ended up unknowingly getting a room with two bathrooms! That is probably the only reason we are still together now. Ha! Doug is friends with Paul Kahan, a well-known chef in Chicago who owns several restaurant hotspots like Avec, the Publican, Big Star Taqueria and Blackbird, President Obama's favorite Chicago restaurant. Paul was nice enough to arrange the best seats in the house for Doug and I for dinner at Avec one night and it was spectacular. We sat at the bar, not near anyone else, directly across from the chef who was plying his craft for the entire restaurant on a small six burner stove. It was fascinating to watch him do a hundred things at once and do them all well, except when he accidentally burned his arm. Ouch. The chef was really friendly and was actually a native of Minneapolis. The other Avec staffers were equally charming, never allowing our wine glasses to become empty and bringing us plate after plate of amazing food.
From English pea crostini with mint salad, roasted spring onion vinaigrette and pecorino (pictured above) that was so good it nearly changed my life, to chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce, to prosciutto with honeycomb, orange zest, marcona almonds and black peppercorn vinaigrette (pictured below) that despite my dislike for black pepper almost made me cry, all of these dishes and more made my heart sing and my tongue want for more. And beyond the unbelievable food was the wow factor of this beautiful restaurant. The chef-owner, Paul Kahan, who could not have been nicer when he and his lovely wife, Mary, joined us after our meal for drinks, was a judge on one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Top Chef. His executive chef, Koren, who was also at Avec that night, was also a judge on a quickfire challenge on Top Chef (I knew I recognized her when I saw her!), as well as being a finalist for a James Beard award. President Obama's White House chef, Sam Kass, was there eating, himself a former chef at Avec, and I was introduced to Blackbird chef Mike Sheerin, one of Food & Wine magazine's 2010 best new chefs. It was pretty heady stuff for a little food dork like me!
Between a wonderful meal, a handsome companion, and fascinating conversation with all sorts of people, it was a marvelous introduction to a different side of a city that I already loved, but now love just a little more.