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Notes from the Road – Chicago

Last week was a trip to Chicago, Illinois for the National Restaurant Association Show for meetings and outstanding food & beverage experiences.


After heading Downtown from another airport adventure at O’Hare, we started our Saturday night with a visit to the Gage (, which is located right on Michigan Avenue and across from Millennium Park.  This restaurant and bar isn’t so much a Gastropub as it is a really good restaurant with a damn cool bar.  Highlights were definitely their sausages, Duck rillettes and the service of Megan in the bar.  Next, we moved onto Sepia (, over on Jefferson Street, around the corner from Blackbird.  If you haven’t had a chance to visit this rustic spot yet – run!  Great cocktails were being created by Peter the bartender, including Veronica’s Vacation.


Last stop of the evening was for ‘dinner’, which the group didn’t need since we were already full, to Custom House, (, Shawn McClain’s take on an American Steakhouse.  His command of vegetables along with classic presentations coupled with a busy room make this place a winner.


Sunday morning began with a quick visit to Argo Tea, ( one of my favorite places in the country to sample amazing and fresh varieties of tea.  And the concept was created in Chicago as well!  Then I continued onto the NRA show for meetings and a walk-through with a variety of companies, organizations and universities.


In the late afternoon we headed over to participate in the MFHA/Johnson & Wales Cocktail Reception held at the Mid-America Club at the AON Building.  It was a great event highlighting the contributions of each organization and the people who drive the efforts.


We then continued on to one of our favorite Chicago Restaurants, Naha, ( and a chance to visit with two true professionals – Michael (GM) and Carrie Nahabedian (Exec. Chef).  These cousins have leveraged their abilities and knowledge in creating one of the most respected restaurants in Chicago.  Also, Foie Gras had just become legal to serve again in the city earlier in the week, so the luxury item was prevalent on the menu!  After dinner we caught up with additional friends in the bar and sampled at least another 6 bottles of wine brought by Michael – fun times!


Monday was another day at the NRA show with more meetings, appointments and chance encounters.  We headed out early and were able to enjoy a late lunch at Quartino, ( a great take on an Italian urban restaurant and bar, serving small plates in a boisterous environment.  Since it was the NRA Show and Chicago is one of those kinds of cities, we of course ran into some chefs we knew – namely, David Burke and John Hogan (Keefer’s).  After that we continued to grab a quick drink at Tavern on Rush, still civilized before its post 5:00pm rush.


Later that evening was dinner at Mercat a la Planxa, ( a new addition to Chicago by Sage Restaurant Group from Denver.  It was a classic take on a Spanish tapas bar in a big city environment, a sparkling design located on the 2nd floor of the Blackstone Hotel.  The most outstanding dish by far was the Rabbit Parpadelle, fantastic flavors in a luxurious sauce.  The last stop of the evening was over to the Old Town Brasserie, ( for some wine, a simple place right off Division Street, which should fill a void in that area.


Tuesday was the final day of the NRA Show and my most involved day of walking - learning about new products, running into old friends and taking it all in.  Later on in the evening, I continued out to have some wine and cheese at a very cool concept, ENO ( at the InterContinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue.  One of my favorite features of the venue is that they’ll open any bottle on their wine list under $100.00 to sell you 2 glasses to try – very fun and interesting!


After ENO, I made a quick stop back to Naha to say hello to Carrie and some chefs from Chicago – sharing some great Brut Rose and conversation.  Dinner was with a Las Vegas Group (Tabu Ultra Lounge representatives) over at Keefer’s ( for a classic American cuisine meal with fresh produce (asparagus, pea tendrils, etc.) and in-season Alaskan Halibut, which was cooked perfectly.


So that was Chicago!  Whew…I need a diet.  I actually left out some places on the visit, but wanted to give you all a taste (pun fully intended) of what a great food city Chicago is and the red carpet treatment it gives the attendees for the NRA Show each year.  Next stop on the tour in New York City, so stay tuned and:


Keep eating and drinking!

blogCraig Nyman