CHICAGO, Friday, January 25, 2013. What foods are trending in the Windy City? You may be surprised. In the landlocked deep dish pizza, hot dog, and steak capital of the world, seafood reigns supreme. From Carnivale's palette-pleasing Ceviche Shooters and Mercadito's incredible Tacos Estilo Baja to CRU Cafe's Escolar along with crab, bay scallops, octopus, lobster, and the many "faces" of squid and sushi, fish represented 14 of the 49 savory selections at the First Bites kick off bash for Chicago Restaurant Week held last night in the magnificent Great Hall of Chicago's Union Station.
Not a single pizza or hot dog could be found throughout the Great Hall. Chicago's sacred "Cow" did show up coming in a weak second to the "Fish" and only if you put oxen in the cow column--which according to Wikipedia come from castrated adult male cattle. The beefy line-up included III Forks' and N9NE's Steak Tartar, Texas de Brazil's Churrasco Flank Steak, Ichimi Crusted Wagyu Belly from Sunda, and three takes on beef short ribs (from IPO, Tavern on Rush, and the Signature Room--all very good, but what's not to like about short ribs). The questionable "Oxen" category included Oxtail Bites from Bakersfield and Oxtail Pierogis from South Water Kitchen bringing the grand total for the cow to nine of 49 savory bite menu selections.
Not to be left out in the cold, the pig was well represented with eight savory menu items representing many parts of the pig from the Pork Belly and Apple Lettuce Cups from Carriage House, to the Pork Cheeks from Bistrot Zinc (a real hit with Bash-tasters), Bacon Chili (Rockit), Costillas de Puerco (pork ribs) from Zapatista, Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders from Chicago q, the melt-in-your mouth Frisee Lardon from Paris Club, Tapas Valencia's Datiles con Tocino (dates in bacon), and Smoked Wild Boar from Frontier.
The bunny made a pre-Easter appearance on the menu with Leopold's Corned Rabbit with Slaw and Toast. Ravioli racked up four spots with one of my favorite bites of the evening the Butternut Squash Ravioli coming from Bar Umbriago.
Would you believe, not a single chicken made the cut--maybe the chicken is too pedestrian. However the duck did itself proud representing all fowl with Quay Restaurant's mouth-watering Duck Rillette. Chicago's Polish community was well represented with the Cheese and Potato Pierogis from Flo and Santos and South Water Kitchen's Oxtail Pierogis. Wildfire's Bison Meatballs, served on a stick, was the lone entry for that Beast.
Surprisingly there was no quinoa on the savory menu but two bites that featured polenta plus one Whole Wheat Crepe from LM Bistro and a Risotto Cake from Kinzie Chophouse, that also gave a nod to beef with a thin slice of rare topping the cake.
Mary would be pleased, that there was not a single little lamb, not even a riblet, on the First Bites Menu. Instead there were a number of crisp, innovative and healthy salads from the beautifully presented and delicious Papaya Salad from Embeya to Tuscany on Taylor's generously portioned and tasty Chilled Calamari Salad. Potatoes made their appearance in the guise of Potato Pancakes from Southport & Irving while the South was represented with Grit Cakes and Tomato Jam from Untitled.
Amazingly, after all these sweet treats, Bashgoers found room for more at the Tasting Table's Sweet Relief Lounge. A separate well-appointed room was set aside for the outstanding sweet tastings from nine restaurants, along with dessert wines, soft drinks, water and beer. Although, I am more savory than sweet, I surprised myself that after sampling 21 of the savory offerings, I was still able to wolf down five of the desserts. With the help of Fizz, a sparkling red wine that paired beautifully with the sweet menu, I managed to sample the Chocolate Mousse from Mon Ami Gabi, Cafe Ba-Ba-Rebba's Butterscotch Custard Cream and Magnolia Bakery's, Banana Pudding...all of which were too die for. In addition, I downed a Red Velvet Cupcake and Chocolate Marquis from ZED451. Terzo Piano's Semi-Freddo on a Stick looked awfully good as did the Banana Bread Panna Cotta from TWO, the Chocolate Whoppie Pies from Table Fifty-Two and The Berghoff's Dark Chocolate Carmel-Filled Cake. Baume & Brix, Milk and Cookies (a glass of milk and what looked to be white chocolate covered Oreos) would have been a wonderful end to the evening but I had reached my limit. The good thing, all these restaurants are in Chicago so when I get a craving I don't have far to go.
First Bites Bash 2013 Box Score for Top Bites Served.