My dinners in Chicago, September 2007

Ever since my meal at elBulli in May of 2005, I've been itching for another great food experience. We're blessed with lots of great local food and terrific restaurants here in the San Francisco area, but there isn't anything like elBulli here, as others have complained. I did have dinner at the now-departed restaurants Antidote and Winterland, both of which took inspiration from the nueva cocina movement. They were good, but not nearly in the same league as EB. I've heard interesting things about Coi, although I haven't been there yet. And I have really enjoyed the couple meals I've had at Manresa — they were among the very best I've had in the Bay Area, and very creative — but they didn't have the same capacity to completely blow my mind.

While I was visiting my parents over Christmas in 2006, I was talking with my friend Jesse, and lamenting how SF is a couple thousand miles behind the leading edge of experimental cooking. The leading edge in the US, I mentioned, seemed to be in Chicago. "Why Chicago?", he asked, being the first of many to express surprise. I don't think this is just coastal prejudice talking, either — the City of the Big Shoulders seems like it would have better things to do with its time than to cook up bizarre new kinds of food. I've been guessing that Charlie Trotter is the root cause of a lot of it, since he's been doing interesting and creative cooking at his Chicago restaurant for 20 years now, and many of his restaurant progeny have gone on to found other great restaurants. But that's just my speculation.

Anyway, Jesse was intrigued by my description and my excitement, and said he'd be interested in joining me. I started planning the trip after I got back from vacation. The hard part was, given our time constraints (three nights' stay), how many places should I try, and which places should I pick? My experience at elBulli suggested that it's a good idea to leave a "digestion" day after any big meal, so I opted for two fancy dinners: one at moto, the other at Alinea. We had planned to go as soon as early April; it had to be rescheduled until September, but eventually the occasion rolled around. We found ourselves converging on Chicago, Jesse from the east in Boston, I from the west, on a gorgeous late-summer day. The gorgeous weather was a stroke of luck, because our first reservation was three hours after my plane was scheduled to arrive. We met up with Jesse's friend Josh, who lives in the area and had expressed interest in trying some of this wacky food.

Our first meal was at moto. Click here to read about it.
If you'd prefer, click here to read the full writeup of both restaurants as a single gigantic page.