A short weekend in Chicago -- Gene and Georgetti and Berghoff and Do-Rite Donuts
My husband and I went to Chicago this weekend to attend the gala opening night at Lyric Opera ("Otello").
I was flying in from Philadelpha, and my husband from Minneapolis. My trip to MDW, due to a delay in my flight out of Philadelphia, ended up with a rerouting that took me from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Midway. As it turned out, I beat my husband there (he didn't get in from Minneapolis until about 7 p.m.).
Because we wanted dinner, we splurged on a cab rather than taking CTA from MDW, which is what we usually do. (After reading a story in the Chicago Tribune about the problems with their new Ventra card system, it may have been just as well!)
Anyway, we were staying at the Hotel Allegro on West Randolph, and decided to walk it to the River North Lou Malnati's. As you can imagine, when we got there, shortly after 8 p.m., there was a MOB waiting to get in. Neither of us were up for that, but we'd passed Gene and Georgetti
on our way, so I suggested we go by and see if by chance they could accommodate us.
The joint was hopping as you'd expect, but much to our surprise, the host told us he could seat us after a 15-minute wait. We sidled up to the bar, and ordered appropriate cocktails -- a whisky sour for me, and a Woodford Reserve Manhattan for my husband. Expertly mixed before our eyes, they were delicious (and my husband's was quite -- potent).
We were fetched well within the 15-minute time we'd been given, and taken to one of the upstairs rooms, where the host told the guy we were "walk-ins." Weren't quite sure what that portended, but we were given an excellent (we thought) roomy table for two and greeted promptly (and cordially) first by the busboy, and then the waiter. The busboy bought us the requisite basket of a sliced Italian bread loaf and two kinds of bread sticks. The bread was great (and the butter was really good -- just pats of chilled butter, but very tasty); the breadsticks were fine, but a tiny bit soggy.
We started with a shared order of fried ravioli, which we'd enjoyed in St. Louis a couple of years ago. These were meat-stuffed, served with a side of bolognese sauce, and were huge. I think there were five to the order. The spicing was unusual -- almost like an Indian samosa -- and we enjoyed them very much.
My husband ordered veal parmigiano, and I ordered the "small" filet mignon. Both came with the house salad (lettuce with one wedge of tomato) and cottage fries. We each had Italian dressing on the salad. The salad was good -- a little bit too chilled for my taste, but good. The portions of veal and steak were also very generous. My steak was cooked perfectly (medium rare); my husband loved the veal, but it was much too much for him to finish. The waiter brought the cottage fries a bit later than the entrees (with an apology) -- a HUGE portion that could have fed at least four people. They were delicious (larger sized potatoes than I usually see for cottage fries, but sliced nice and thin so that they were crisp), but we could only manage a small portion. We each had a glass of house wine (white and red, respectively) which was OK, but nothing special.
Seated next to us were a couple that were well into their meal when we arrived. They had lots of platters on the table, and I'm not sure what all they had had, but the female half of the couple had the biggest slice of prime rib I have ever seen in my life. My husband said it was a foot long -- I'm not sure it was that
big, but it was certainly large, and very thick -- at least 2 inches, and maybe more.
We were thanked by everyone on the staff every step of the way. I mention all this because one of the reviews on the Roadfood site suggested that if you aren't a regular, you may not get as warm a welcome as those who are. I suppose that is possible, and I supposed the upstairs is a bit less desirable in some respects than downstairs, though we liked it very much (it reminded me of the upstairs room at the late-lamented Fanny's
restaurant in Evanston where I sometimes went with college friends when I was a student at Northwestern) but I have to say that we couldn't have felt more welcome -- which I think is especially noteworthy when you are a stranger and a walk-in, on a Friday evening at prime dining time. We had a great time, and would go back in a minute, but would also modify our ordering a bit to take into the account the gigantic portions of food.
On Saturday we went to the Art Institute to pick up my husband's "members" gift (a tote bag) and checked out a couple of exhibits. Then it was to The Berghoff
for lunch. It was my husband's first visit there since they reopened; I'd been there a couple of years ago with my brother when we'd gone to Chicago to see "The Mikado" at Lyric. We were seated in one of the front rooms which my husband said looked unchanged to him. I asked the young waiter whether he recommended the Lake Superior whitefish or a lunch special of halibut. He said he was a meat and potatoes guy, himself, and was of no help at all. So I went for the whitefish, which has always been a favorite of mine, and my husband ordered the sauerbraten. We shared the assorted rye breads (three kinds), all very good, and each had a stein of rootbeer, which we love. My husband thought the sauerbraten (served with mashed potatoes and carrots) was delicious -- beef tender and sliced thin, carrots nicely done, thick "real" mashed potatoes. My whitefish was fine, but as I should have remembered from my last visit with my brother, they serve it now over assorted grilled sliced vegetables (which were fine) with a lemon caper sauce (good, but in my view, unnecessary). I really liked the whitefish as they used to serve it -- very plain, planked -- but that's just me. Having had it the new way twice now, though, I'd probably either go with a plain fish special (like the seared halibut) or maybe try the rotisserie duck, next time. The only thing that remotely distracted us was that at a nearby table, with two couples, one of the women was watching "The Daily Show" on a handheld device, oblivious to her table companions. I have nothing against "The Daily Show," but it was audible to us, and I have to say that I find it very rude -- which is probably a reflection of how old and old-fashioned I am.
We went back to the hotel to rest up and change for the gala (with a curtain time of 5 p.m.). Buying a ticket to this meant that you got to enter the Lyric at 4 p.m., have a "free" glass of champagne, and partake of "assorted hors d'oeuvres" which were set out on tables in the main lobby. I won't go into all that in detail, other than to say I have never, in my life, seen so many elegantly dressed (tuxedos, long gowns) audience members dive bomb food tables like starving creatures. We couldn't even get near the tables on the main level, but up at the dress circle (first balcony) level, where our seats were, they did have one small table with one appetizer -- flatbread with caramelized onions and mushrooms -- set out. We got our champagne, but passed on the food.
The opera performance was excellent, despite the fact that the singer who was playing Iago had allergies, and after the first scene, they announced that he was being replaced by his understudy. We all thought the understudy did a great job -- a really seamless performance.
The other thing I noticed was the ubiquity of handheld devices -- again, all these elegantly-dressed people taking photos of one another -- mercifully, not during the performance. But it was just weird to me seeing people doing this at the opera -- especially an opening night gala. At least to me it was weird.
Anyway, after the opera, we went back to the hotel and crashed, putting on WFMT's "Midnight Special" to go to sleep to.
Sunday morning, before leaving Chicago, my husband went down the street to Do-Rite Donuts
He brought back a Toasted Coconut "Bar" (filled with coconut cream and glazed with toasted coconut on top), a Valrhona Chocolate glazed cake donut, a Vanilla Bean glazed yeast donut, a Pistachio-Meyer Lemon cake donut (glazed with meyer lemon and topped with toasted pistachios), a Chocolate "Old Fashioned" (buttermilk old fashioned glazed with chocolate), and a special pumpkin cake donut filled with kind of spiced cream and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds. We sampled them all and took home the ones that didn't have cream filling (we were afraid TSA would confiscate those at the airport). Everything was delicious. My husband liked the Pistachio-Meyer Lemon one best; we both thought the Old Fashioned (which reminded me of the fried "cakes" I used to get at Wegman's
in Rochester, NY) was the best of the two chocolate donuts eaten fresh, but that the cake donut "traveled" better (and was still very tasty the second day, whereas the Old Fashioned dried out). I loved the coconut "bar," and the Vanilla Bean glazed yeast was a very good example of that type of donut. I'd gone to Firecakes
when I was in Chicago this past July; I enjoyed the coconut cream donut I got there, but I thought Do-Rite's
version was superior.
After that, we headed to Midway, and home.
A brief explanation of why we didn't have more meals in Chicago -- I had been in Philadelphia to speak at a conference, and my husband had just returned from a trip to Italy, so we were pretty tired (and he was still jet-lagged). So we didn't have quite the energy or capacity to have as many meals as we would have liked. But that said, we enjoyed the ones we DID have, very much!