My cousin, Louie, needed to experience some of the best that Chicago had to offer. This meant showing him good food and good drinks. The places we took him weren't at the top of the list but definitely showed him the wealth of flavors Chicago was known for. We went to Hubbard Inn in River North. Seriously, Hubbard might be the most fantastic street ever in Chicago, but that's another story.
This sister restaurant of English, looks like somewhat of a speakeasy, boasting eccentric paintings and a boho vibe. Think wrought iron decor among dark wood. It was fit for a fun evening with friends or an intimate dinner for two. If you have friends who appreciate ironic, albeit interesting, paintings of cats and low yellow lighting, this is the place to go. There is something at Hubbard Inn for everyone, even vegetarians.
The menu encompassed a global sort of cuisine without advertising this international breadth. We had some Spanish sausage spread, the N'Duja, over crostini. By far one of the best sausage appetizers I've ever had. It had just enough spice to give it a unique flavor but the mousse-like texture made it easy to eat without it being too heavy. We shared a mushroom and asparagus flatbread. There was something special about this dark paste that was the base of the flatbread. Our server told us it was a "duxelles," or a paste of mushrooms and shallots that have been reduced with butter down to a paste-like consistency. It gave the flatbread a very woodsy and earthy flavor that made it stand out from any other kind of mushroom pizza I've ever tasted.
As for the mains, we each got a plate and were more than full with their portions, even though sharing is greatly encouraged here. Spencer ordered the braised rabbit that came with a bed of greens and potato gnocchi (left). The gnocchi was crispy and fluffy. It definitely made me want to try another gnocchi recipe until I've perfected it. The rabbit was served in a "pulled pork" format, being crispy and juicy at the same time. If the rabbit isn't juicy enough for you (are you crazy?) you can always scoop some of the sauce that the gnocchi (aka fantastic potato pillows) were swimming in to add extra juiciness to your spoonful.
My truffle sheep's milk ricotta ravioli (right) only came in three pieces. I was a little disappointed until I took a bite and realized how extremely decadent this dish was. You only need three pieces. I promise. The ricotta oozes as soon as you set your fork down the middle of the pasta. It's gooey and rich, and all you want to do is keep eating. Needless to say, my plate was wiped clean. Louie ordered the fried oyster sandwich. God knows why because the menu was chock-full of unique items. But! I will say that the oysters were crisp and Hubbard Inn gets extra points for serving the oysters in a buttery grilled brioche. The fries were also spectacular, but really, if they aren't then there is something extremely wrong in the world.
The beer list is pretty good--not extensive, but it includes some good ones: Founder's Dirty Bastard scotch ale, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace farmhouse ale, Hitochino white ale, and many more. We drank our beers down and realized we still had some room for dessert. There's no dessert menu, but everything is given verbally. We were ready for the chocolate mousse. It was topped with strawberries, whipped cream, and a chocolate sable cookie. The cookie almost reminded me of the world peace cookies--almost, minus the chocolate chunks that were missing. The sweetest surprise was a bit of strawberry coulis dabbled on the side of the glass deep within the mousse. You got this spoonful of smooth chocolate and a punch of strawberry. Dip the cookie in the whipped cream and you've got yourself a winning mouthful. It was a very simple dessert, but well-executed.
The next stop after Hubbard Inn was to walk, with full bellies, over to Gilt Bar for a nightcap. We needed to introduce Louie to the Moscow Mule. A simple cocktail, yes, but it is delicious and very refreshing. And on a hot Memorial Day weekend, it was perfect. Spencer's Old Fashioned, of course, was good as always. The large ice cubes that slowed the watering down process was very much appreciated. My new cocktail favorite at Gilt, however, had to be the Dark and Stormy. It's essentially a Moscow Mule but with dark rum swapped in for the vodka. Where the Moscow Mule had a slight tart flavor from the lime and the ginger beer, the Dark and Stormy was much like its namesake: bittersweet and brooding, with a molasses-like sweetness. It has the effect of making you feel as though you're on a veranda of some holiday home in Cuba. Nope...we were just at a table in a really crowded bar that Saturday evening.
For dessert, which we had anticipated to eat much later, we were thinking of ordering the carrot cake. Our friends had it before and we knew it was delicious, but with all three of us being chocoholics we ended up ordering brownies. Yes, brownies. And yes, we are all over the age of 10. Still. These brownies were able to be ordered a la mode, and so we went on an ordered our own ice creams to go on top of these sinfully good brownies. Louie got cookie dough, Spencer got mint chip (surprise, surprise), and I got coffee. The mint chip had to be the best ice cream. It had a distinctive mint flavor. And by distinctive I mean, you can taste the mint leaves. All of the ice creams were made in-house and it definitely showed. The extra effort put in to create these ice creams took our regular brownie order from good to amazing.
We all walked back to our hotel after this evening of indulgence, just in time to see the fireworks at Navy Pier shoot up into the sky. I'd like to say that this was all part of my perfectly timed plan, but no, it was just Chicago being the greatest city ever.