First Bites Bash kicks off Chicago Restaurant Week in grand style

First Bites Bash kicks off Chicago Restaurant Week in grand style
First Bites Bash at Field Museum. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Good News: Due to the Polar Vortex during Chicago Restaurant Week (CRW), the dates have been extended for 5 more days. Scheduled to end Thursday, February 7 it will now extended to February 12. 

First Bites Bash, the kickoff event to Chicago’s Restaurant Week (CRW), was held in a new venue last night. Always a special evening since its early beginning in the Great Hall at Union Station and later in Navy Pier's Festival Hall, this year it moved to The Field Museum’s Stanley Field Hall.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any better, Choose Chicago outdid themselves combining Chicago's amazing food landscape with the iconic neoclassical architecture of the museum populated by flying reptiles and the world's largest dinosaur.

The more than 70 restaurants participating had food stations comfortably located throughout the main floor of Stanley Field Hall and upstairs on the balconies lining both sides of the Hall. Restaurants offered tasting portions from their respective establishments along with beverage vendors serving a broad selection of wines, beer and spirits. 

Max stands guard over the crowd--hoping for a bite. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Max stands guard over the crowd--hoping for a bite. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Executive Chef of the Michelin-starred Spiaggia restaurant, Joe Flamm, along with Chicago Mixologist Jarmel Doss were the hosts for the evening. Last year Flamm won the coveted ‘Top Chef’ award from the Bravo TV series. 

Doss, Assistant Bar Director of The Aviary, started her hospitality career by bartending to help pay for college, where she was working toward earning a degree in biochemistry. In 2015, she joined the Alinea group and was promoted to Assistant Bar Director in 2017. Last year, she bested nine other local mixologists to win the first Chicago STARS Mixology Competition.

With so many of the city's best restaurants participating, it was hard to taste them all (as much as I would have liked to)--so I ate as much as I could for as long as I could.

Of the many tastes I tried, the following are my favorites, in no particular order, with some surprises along the way:

Chicago Q

Pulled pork shoulder, Chicago Q. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Pulled pork shoulder, Chicago Q. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

I was surprised how something as simple as Pulled Pork Shoulder could be so special that it blew me away. Chicago Q (1160 N. Dearborn) is not your ordinary barbecue joint. Their high-quality smoked meat and rubs make all the difference. And to think I almost skipped this one because I thought, "it's just pulled pork."

Portsmith

Portsmith New England Clam Chowder. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Portsmith New England Clam Chowder. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

With Portsmith (660 N. State) being one of my favorite destinations in the city for seafood, this one was not a surprise. Portsmith's New England Clam Chowder was the perfect blend of Bacon Lardons, Russet Potatoes, Black Pepper Croutons and, of course, Clams. It was served warm which is quite a fete when serving so many guests along the way.

Tao Chicago

TAO Chicago's Lobster Wonton. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

TAO Chicago's Lobster Wonton. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Tao Chicago's (632 N. Dearborn) Lobster Wonton in ginger shitake broth is a favorite at Tao Chicago and Tao outposts across the country. It is easy to see why I almost went back for seconds until I remembered that I was trying to taste of variety of menu items. I will definitely order them next time I go to Tao Chicago (or Tao New York or Tao Las Vegas).

Mercadito Chicago

Mercadito's Carnitas de Puerco. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Mercadito's Carnitas de Puerco. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Mercadito's (108 W. Kinzie) Carnitas de Puerco taco didn't disappoint. The mix of Michoacán-style braised pork, chile de árbol coleslaw and peanuts was delicious.

Katana Chicago

Katana Chicago's Baked Crab Hand Roll. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Katana Chicago's Baked Crab Hand Roll. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Another winner, Katana Chicago's (339 N. Dearborn) Baked Crab Hand Roll came both beautifully presented and prepared.

HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen

HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen's Goi Vit. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen's Goi Vit. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The Goi Vit (duck salad) from Bib Gourmand winner, HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen (1800 S. Carpenter). HaiSous is another Chicago hotspot that I've been wanting to visit.  Chef Thai Dang combined the flavors of Vietnam into a colorful and rich dish with just the right balance of heat and cool.

Madison Bar and Kitchen

Madison Bar and Kitchen's Ahi Tuna Tacos. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Madison Bar and Kitchen's Ahi Tuna Tacos. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

These cool and refreshing Ahi Tuna Tacos from Madison Bar and Kitchen (1027 W. Madison) hit the spot, along with my Don Julio margarita, as the evening and my appetite began winding down.

Firecakes

Firecakes' Original Donut Ice Cream Sandwich. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Firecakes' Original Donut Ice Cream Sandwich. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Perhaps, the longest line of the night was for Firecakes' Original donut Ice Cream Sandwich. In a word, perfection. Just looking at the picture is making me hungry all over again.

You can try these and and about 388 other prix fixe menus from participating restaurants during Chicago Restaurant Week kicking off today through February 7, 2019.

Happy Eating!

Check out Show Me Chicago's Best Bets for Chicago Restaurant Week, here.

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