Monday, January 3, 2011

Eating my way through Chicago - Dinner at Gage

As I've mentioned many times in the past, one of the perks of my job is travel. What I really enjoy about travelling around the country is the opportunity to enjoy the amazing regional food that each area has to offer. Every city has a Cheesecake Factory or PF Changs, so why go to a chain restaurant, when I can try something new and unique that only that city has to offer?

A few weeks ago when I was in Chicago I was able to do just what I was looking for, which was to eat an amazing, regional meal.

I met Emi's friend Anna for dinner at a very cool spot she picked out called Gage. Gage had been recommended to Anna in the past and she thought this might be a great occasion to try it out for the first time. I love Chicago, but had never been in the winter before, so this was my first MidWest winter experience! The restaurant was only a few blocks from my hotel so I decided to walk instead of cabbing it....longest, coldest, windiest walk off of my life. At each intersection I was hit by a gust of bone chilling wind. I definitely thought, "this meal better be worth it", and it was.

I apologize in advance for the crappy photos. Ever since the "Gatorade incident" in Hawaii, we've had to use Emi's mom's old digital camera. It gets the job done, but doesn't really take the best photos. Also since this was a nicer establishment, I didn't really want my flash to startle all of the patrons. However this meal was too good not to document, so went with a more subtle approach, hence the dark, blurry photos... Good news though! This past Black Friday we bought our old, yet nicer camera again as a replacement, so the photos should improve in quality again.

The waiter let us know that Gage specializes in sustainable, local food. Sustainable is great and all, but honestly I just hear "more expensive" so it better taste good. I was happy to learn that the food was good, even great, and I knew I was getting a great regional Chicago food experience.

We started out with the duck fat nuts. Now the name itself intrigued me enough to want to try them and Anna heard they were good too. Basically they take a hotel size pan dump in a large assortment of nuts and cook them in duck fat with other seasonings, I tasted salt, rosemary, and cayenne. They served the nuts in a small Mason/Kerr jar, which was a cool presentation. They were salty, savory (from the fat), and a little spicy. They went great with our cocktails.

The second dish was definitely one of the highlights of the meal. The mussels in Vindaloo sauce with toast was amazing. The waiter recommended this dish because he said it was the best bang for your buck and he was right. Anna and I could have probably been satisfied and happily full after sharing these delicious mussels. They were cooked in white wine, garlic, and whatever else goes in a Vindaloo (curry like) sauce. It took us forever to get through them and the sauce was the star of the dish. We were probably full because we ended up dipping the whole loaf of bread on the side into the sauce.

Since this was a special occasion (Holidays, trip out to Chicago, hanging out with Anna, and I'll use any reason to celebrate with a good meal) we also splurged and each got the Gunthorp Farm's Pork Chop. Hands down the best pork chop I have ever eaten. The outside was nicely charred and seasoned so each bite was juicy, salty, and peppery. That first bite was into the crunchy seared crust and then into the juicy brined meat. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything less knowing that the midwest is known for their meat. It was also about an inch thick and on the bone and I loved picking it clean. The pork chop was also served with a sweet potato mash, pomegranate salad, and this strange white like powder. The powder was a little too over the top for me. It melted in your mouth and tasted like smoke. The waiter said it was tapioca powder that had been flavored with smoke.

On the side we ordered the seasonal brussel sprouts, brie, and applewood bacon. As you may know Emi loves brussel sprouts so I knew I had to try this new variation to report back to her. The brie was a great creamy, sweet addition, but in the end I still like Tom Douglas's and now Emi's better.

Great dinner Anna! She was a trooper too and ate everything in front of her, very impressive! We were too stuffed for dessert, but what a memorable meal.
Happy New Year and to another great year of eating!
- Kyle

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