Eating Chicago: Hot Doug’s and Blackbird

1 May

Perhaps our most ambitious dining day included lunch at Hot Doug’s, the renowned Chicago hot-dog “superstore,” and dinner at Chef Paul Kahan’s seasonally-inspired restaurant, Blackbird.  Our strategy was not produced by mere gluttony; our hotel was a train ride from Chicago, so we wanted to hit some culinary hot-spots while we were in. 

We arrived at Hot Doug’s at 9:40 AM, but that was not as drastic as it sounds; we already had a posse of six in front of us in line.  Those who know Hot Doug’s reputation for a line are well aware that coming at 10:30 for lunch (opening time) is not the same as eating at ten thirty.  It requires a wait in line behind about one hundred other hungry jacks.  Check out the ten thirty line below.

We were fortunate no to be in the back, and when Doug’s opened, we walked in and placed our enormous order:

Me: The brown ale buffalo dog, grilled, with blue cheese and cheddar cheese and chipotle garlic mayo and a T-shirt with the slogan, “There are no two finer words in the English language than ‘encased meats,’ my friends.

My sister:  A chicken, apple, and cranberry (I think..) hot dog with cranberry cheese and mustard and a corn dog

My dad: The classic Chicago dog with relish, a pickle, tomato, and onions and the andouille dog with grilled onions


Needless to say, the choices were all good ones, although the prospects of getting out alive after such a meal were dubious.

Somehow, I was able to walk on two feet after this injection of fatty goodness, and, as one could guess, the pilgrimage was well worth-it.

Later, we worked up an appetite for dinner by walking through the Art Institute and down the Magnificent Mile.  By the time we got to Blackbird, my stomach was up and rumbling, and I was ready to eaet once again.

The bread was above average; one pumpernickel with caraway seeds and one multigrain were served to each diner, and a round of butter covered in herbs was a nice touch.

To start, I ordered the lamb charcuterie, which included a warm lamb country pate, pickled lamb’s toungue, and rhubarb.  This dish was delicious, and the ricotta “canneloni” on the plate were fresh tasting and light.

My dad ordered the salad with smoked morels, lavender cake, taleggio, white asparagus, and pickled shallots.  This was my second choice for apps, and it was amazing!  The taleggio was melted beautifully onto the cake, a fluffy, aromatic tribute to lavender.  The morels were pleasantly earthy, and the delicacy of the salad was just outstanding.

My sister ordered the jerusalem artichoke bisque with jonah crab and peas.  The bisque was silky, and all of the flavors complimented each other.  The peas tasted perfectly fresh, and my sister really liked the hint of lime that amped up the soup.

My main course was the sturgeon with braised peanuts, pancetta, and peas.  The fish was cooked to perfection; it was both delicate and meaty.  In addition, the flavor was like an adventure through the woods.  It was almost earthy, and I thought that the peas were an ideal pairing to exhibit that.  Like any good backup singer, the peas were reminders of why the lead singer (the sturgeon) was so successful.  The peanuts were supposed to have a bourbon caramel flavor, and while it was subtle, it was a funky addition to the natural tasting dish.  Obviously, the pancetta added a nice pop to the overall flavor combo, and a couple of grit cakes brought a welcoming feel to the plate.  Elegance combined with some radical and comforting flavors seems to have been a success.

My dad ordered the bacon cured duck with baby carrots, radishes, cucumber, and tamarind.  The duck was cooked very nicely, and it was a well portioned dish, unlike those scant duck breast entrees that so many restaurants serve.

Since my sister was not hungry enough for an entree, she ordered another appetizer–the duck tartare with A1, strawberries, and tots.  It seems like a strange combination on the menu, but actually the concept flows like a sort of geometric truth statement series. 

Let duck= steak

If steak +tots–>duck+tots:

If duck–>game

If game–>berries

By the chain rule, If duck–>berries

So, If steak+tots–>berries+tots! 

So all of the items go together; and by the new geometric Law of Madison (my sister), if steak+potatoes–>A1. 

Therefore, the however strange the dish looked on paper, it was a geometric truth as well as an insane party in my mouth. 

We finished the night with two desserts– the white chocolate mousse with green tea strussel, cara cara sorbet, and candied kumquats and the parsnip coffee cake with black walnut daquoise and coconut pudding.  While both were very good, we later decided that we have had better desserts elsewhere. 

Blackbird was an extremely enjoyable meal; the clean and sleek space gave the spotlight to the dishes.  All of the ingredients were fresh and in season, which shows the chef’s respect for food.  While the food is gourmet, it is also approachable and didactic for those who are wary of fine dining; it teaches diners how to have fun eating a well prepared meal.


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