Like every year, when the weather turns chilly, and we are cozying up in our warm homes, the Chicago restaurant industry tempts us to get out in the cold for
Chicago Restaurant Week. In case you don’t know what I am talking about (and you should), during almost two weeks an increasing number of restaurants offer reasonable fix price lunches and dinners, so patrons can have a taste of their cuisine at a reduced price.
In my case, it is my chance to eat what in Spain is known as
Menú del día. Almost every restaurant there offers it all year round, a fix price lunch menu, often for 12 euros, with four options each for first course, second course and dessert.
I would like to say that I take advantage of it every year, but life happens, and normally I can visit one, at most two restaurants. But this year all the stars were aligned, mostly in the form of a fantastic babysitter and a good work schedule, and I was able to visit four restaurants.
And, even though it has technically ended, you still have a chance to eat in one of the
dozens of restaurants that have extended the deal. Otherwise, you will have to wait until next year. Or pay full price.
was not necessarily a good idea, since we could only go down from there. We had gone there last year, so we already knew what to expect, and those expectations were certainly met. The service was fantastic, the food and presentation were exquisite and I even liked my drink. The noise level was low, and I love the room and its green wall. We hope to be able to try the full menu some time in the next year, when we recover from the last few dinners out.
BOKA: Roasted beets.
I love beets so much that I cold eat them for breakfast. The ones in this dish were perfectly cooked, they were tender but still had a slight bite, and they were perfectly complemented by the creme fraiche and friseé.
BOKA: Celery root soup.
As you can see, weird vegetables are a constant for me. This soup was velvety, salty and rich, and the pumpernickel crisp gave it the fun crunchy touch. By this dish my husband, not a veggie lover, thought that I had lost my mind.
BOKA: Lightly Smoked Arctic Char.
This was the dish I enjoyed the least, but it was not the fish's fault. I like my meats and fish well done, and this was smoked, which means that it was not totally cooked. Despite the fact that the flavor was delicious, it couldn't compensate my dislike of the texture, so I passed it on to the Mr. , who happily took care of it.
BOKA: Coffee and Hazelnuts.
I am a chocolate lover, so it took some effort to resist the chocolate dessert and go for this one. And I didn't regret it. It had it all: it was salty, and sweet, crunchy and creamy, and, above all, fun. A great end for a great dinner.
The first thing that caught my attention at
was that it was not busy. I went with a group of friends on a weekday night, and I was a little sad to see such a beautiful room almost empty. The fact that we were a big and boisterous group only made it more evident. I am not completely convinced that the mix of Latin and Indian cuisines works, since both are strong and spiced. But we still had a great time, and service was prompt and attentive.
Vermilion: Acaraje vada chaat.
It was a white bean croquette, crunchy and flavorful, for me the highlight of the dinner.
Vermilion: Escondidinho Pie.
I chose this dish partly because I am a sucker for all things Portuguese, and partly because it sounded good, a kind of Indian Shepard's pie. It was a bit bland, I would have expected a bit more of a punch of flavor, which was lacking. The presentation was great, though.
Vermilion: Nicaraguan star anise tres leches.
Once again, I loved the presentation of the dessert. But as much as I love Tres leches, I am not a fan of pumpkins unless they are in a soup pot or carry a lantern. The cake itself was very good, but the mix was too sweet.
I really wanted to love
. First of all, it is in one of my favorite spots in Chicago, as we lived in front of it for many years. And it had gotten great reviews. But the night we went there, we were disappointed. The space is beautiful, but terribly noisy, to the point that we couldn't hear each other. And I am a very loud Spaniard. Despite having a reservation, we were seated 35 minutes late. And although the service was very friendly, the dishes were poorly timed, with our empty appetizer plates waiting for 15 minutes to be cleared, just to have dessert served almost as they cleared our entrees. Water was being refilled what seemed like every three seconds, which had my husband exasperated by the second sip of his wine. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and attribute all this to the fact that it was their first Chicago Restaurant Week, they were full, and probably overwhelmed. I may give it another shot in a few months. When the Mr. forgets about the water guy.
The Blanchard: Crème de champignons.
It was perfect. Just perfect. Getting mushroom cream right is not an easy feat, as it is hard to balance the fat content considering the amount of cream it normally contains. But this one was creamy, tasty and perfectly salted. The
creme fraiche gave it the exact balance to make it perfect.
The Blanchard: Dover sole.
With great expectations come great disappointments. The Blanchard offered two premium dishes for a supplement in its Chicago Restaurant Week menu, and this was one of them. I decided to order this one because good fish is hard to come by, and the description was promising. It may have being a one time fluke, but despite the fact that I tend to oversalt my food I found this too salty, a bit dry and definitely too oily. I would be curious to know whether it was supposed to be like this or not. It may be that the sole is too delicate for the amount of capers it had, or that someone made an honest mistake, but in any case, it was not good.
The Blanchard: Pot de crème au choclot.
You can't go wrong with chocolate. This was a happy ending to a disappointing night. The chocolate mousse was perfect in texture and flavor. I could have done without the marshmallows, which didn't add much. But still was very well executed.
This was the unexpected surprise of this year for me. I had walked by
many times, but I always thought that I was too young for such a place. Then I had kids, and it didn't seem family friendly. And then I decided that this would be a good chance to give it a shot for lunch. We went with our toddler, and we couldn't have had a better experience. From the service, which was patient, friendly, accommodating of our baby and very, very polite, to the restaurant itself, which totally transports you to a different life, ending with the food, which was delicious. And they refilled the water at appropriate intervals. All in all, a perfect lunch. This is what Chicago Restaurant Week is supposed to be, an opportunity to showcase your restaurant so patrons will be willing to come back and pay full price. We certainly will come back to Le Colonial.
Le Colonial: Cha Gio.
The best egg rolls you have ever had. Enough said.
Le Colonial: Bo Bia.
This vegetable rolls were fresh and delicate, a great compliment to the fried ones, and very welcome after a week full of heavy meals. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the Pho, which was my favorite dish by far. If I get sick, that Pho is all I would need to recover my health. It was delicious, and flavorful, you could taste the meat, and the herbs, and even the Vietnamese countryside in that Pho.
Le Colonial: Banh Pho Xao.
I chose tofu for this dish, and it was very good. The best way to describe it is as a cousin to Pad Lard Nar, but a little bit more delicate.
Le Colonial: Vietnamese Coffee.
I was so happy to see this. We call this Café Bombón in Spain, and it's just coffee poured (or in this case, dripped) over condensed milk. It is heavenly, especially the last spoonful of milk.
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