Our stopover in Chicago was short but productive. Not only did we get to hang out with most of our friends, in particular our awesome hosts, but we also got to visit our alma mater and downtown Chicago amidst delicious Indian summer heat. Truth to be told, I wasn’t overtly concerned about what we were going to eat, and deferred our dining decisions to our hosts. Nevertheless, we did very well under the guidance of TPS and J.
Our hosts whisked us from the airport straight to an old haunt, San Soo Gab San, for Korean barbeque. The restaurant was as smoky as ever, and the crowd just as raucous as 10 years ago. The only hint of progress: an electronic beeper issued to waiting patrons. The ladies who once peppered simple English phrases such as “beer? kalbi? you want rice?”, Korean and hand signals now speak full English sentences, though their swift serving style remains the same. The copious ban chan spread that covers every inch of our table was a balm to sore eyes (Korean restaurants in Paris are too stingy in this respect).
And despite overdoing the ordering, we polished off huge plates of bacon and steak that that J grilled over the coals.
The next day, we met a huge group for dim sum in Chinatown. We did not revisit the old addresses, opting to meet in a private room at MingHin, TPS’s current Chinatown rave. The bustling 2-storey restaurant closely resembles certain Singapore chains such as Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasures: modern decor, friendly and efficient service, a comprehensive list of excellent and inexpensive dim sum. We, starved of quality Chinese food in Paris, made a significant dent at the dim sum menu with the help of our friends, ordering 31 plates between the 11 of us.
At DMK Burger Bar, we indulged in everything fried: the thin onion strings; the unlikely couple of okra and pickles, both steaming hot after an oil bath; and both regular and sweet potato fries. Enough fried foods to induce a sore throat. Oh yes, we tried to balance the fried diet with a hefty walnut-studded salad. And had burgers too. Lauded as one of the best new burger joints in Chicago, the grass-fed beef patties in freshly baked focaccia buns, though not pretty, were juicy and flavorful.
Given how inaccessible Hyde Park was to the rest of the Chicago, we never got to discover the cooler parts of town during our school years, including Wicker Park. But now that all our friends own cars, we convened at Big Star, a casual taqueria and bar owned by Paul Kahan of Blackbird and avec. It’s a convivial place, the terrace packed with a youngish crowd, cool October chill be damned. In fact, we barely noticed the low temperatures once we were packed in like tuna in a can, reaching over each other for the yummy guacamole, the bubbly queso fundido, the still-simmering frijoles. The piquant spices helped ward off the cold too, each taco spicy and acidic with the exception of the fried fish taco that was a little too tame for our tastes. We ended with a night-cap at the Violet Hour, where TPS the self-proclaimed hedonist waxed lyrical over the expertly made cocktails. I’m not big on cocktails, but if every night ended with delicious drinks and friendly conversations in luxe and lush surroundings, I’m game.
Last but not least, we took a walk down memory lane with lunch at Medici on 57th, a favorite school-time haunt. Though we now look ancient compared to the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters sitting across our table, the restaurant itself looks remarkably unchanged, down to the graffiti-ed walls and scruffed-up table tops.
We ordered a Gracie’s apple pie ala-mode for old times sake, and though I would’ve loved to proclaim its supremacy in the pantheon of apple pies, I regret to announce that the dough was somewhat raw and did not taste as good as before, during a date with P or after a major final. Still, the combination of hot apple and cold ice-cream remained pretty potent and memorable.
Merci Chicago for the wonderful memories and the great food!
San Soo Gab San – 5247 North Western Avenue Chicago, IL 60625
MingHin Cuisine – 2168 South Archer Avenue Chicago, IL 60616
DMK Burger Bar – 2954 North Sheffield Avenue Chicago, IL 60657
Big Star – 1531 North Damen Avenue Chicago, IL 60622
The Violet Hour – 1520 N Damen Ave Chicago, Illinois 60622
Medici on 57th – 1327 East 57th Street Chicago, IL 60637