Chicago Gourmet, one of our favorite foodie events in Chicago, was last weekend and it was an amazing, gluttonous experience, as always. This year was especially good – since I got to go to the event with both M and my mom – which was not only fun, but helped with the strategic planning and maximized the food! This year was unseasonably warm – with temperatures pushing 95 degrees – so we knew we had to strategize especially well to keep backtracking to a minimum. This year’s Chicago Gourmet was set up similarly to previous years, with wine distributors in an aisle in the middle and themed chef tents and individual sponsors on the outside perimeter of the Pritzker Pavilion area in Millennium Park.
There were 11 themed tasting pavilions this year, each featuring two rotations of 3-5 chefs. We headed to the seafood pavilion right away, always a fan favorite (and the booth with the longest line). Next up was the BBQ tent, featuring not only BBQ restaurants, but the ever-popular Stella Artois booth with its signature glasses. There was also an unusual habanero custard dessert made with dry ice on offer in the Stella Artois booth, served by none other than Top Chef contestant Katsuji Tanabe.
Always on the hunt for international eats, we liked that there were two dedicated international tents this year: Thailand and Mexico. However, there were no sister cities represented, as there were last year. The Thai booth featured two rounds of Thai restaurants from the Chicago area, while the Mexico tent featured a different region on each day of the festival. Chefs from restaurants in each region were present, with Saturday featuring Guadalajara and the Yucatán on Sunday. We were pretty excited because Yucatán food is some of our favorite in Mexico.
So what were our favorite eats at 2017 Chicago Gourmet?:
- Pork Rib from Big Ed’s BBQ in Waukegan. This pork rib was perfectly smoked – it didn’t even need sauce – the true test of good BBQ. Though the sauce was good too. The portion was big, and we didn’t mind at all.
- Smoked salmon toast from Roanoke Restaurant (top left above). This was the first bite we had at Chicago Gourmet, and it ended up being one of our favorites. The salmon was delicate and creamy, and paired well with the crunchy chip.
- Cochinita pibil from Manjar Blanco Restaurant in Mérida, Yucatán (pictured above). The Mexican tent featured three chefs from Manjar Blanco restaurant, and 3 different types of pork tacos. Our favorites ended up being the flavorful cochinita pibil, spiced up with a little habanero sauce.
- Thai rice salad from Choun’s in Wheaton (pictured above). Though this dish was only called “rice salad” it reminded us of Nam Khao Tod, and consisted of crispy fried rice, chicken, onions, cilantro, mint and lime – all of our favorite flavors. We had never heard of this restaurant before and are looking forward to visiting them.
- Salted caramel brownie from Bittersweet Pastry (Pictured above). This was a perfectly executed brownie with caramel sauce, what could be better?
- Though we agreed on most of our favorite dishes, there were a few where we diverged. M liked the terrine from Bohemian House, and I liked the inventive tempura shrimp taco served in a crunchy taro root chip shell from Arbella.
We have to say that this year, the desserts particularly stood out. Aside from our previously mentioned top picks, we liked the tasty cherry cobbler from Bang Bang Pie shop and the delicate, layered, Dobos-Torte-like creation from Beacon Tavern. Of course M was particularly happy that there were 2 donut stations at Chicago Gourmet – Firecakes and Stan’s Donuts. The Loacker cookie company also was there with their signature waffle sandwich cookies, and Mariano’s peddled gelato (though it ran out pretty much right away).
Chicago Gourmet is always a great place to try international spirits, and this year was no exception. Glenlivet and Glenmorangie whiskey tastings are always favorites, but there were a few more unusual choices this year, including Švyturys, the #1 beer in Lithuania. And of course, to stay cool, an Aperol Spritz was essential (see below). Though we have to say, one change that would be nice for future Chicago Gourmets is to have more non-alcoholic beverages – Bai drinks and Counter Culture Coffee provided a nice respite from the alcohol this year.
There are also demos and master classes on the main Pritzker Pavilion Stage and tents on the lawn perimeter. We always try to attend one of these, and it is a great chance to see some great chefs in their element. This year we saw two iconic Chicago chefs – Stephanie Izard and Sarah Grueneberg – conduct a recipe demo of dumplings and pasta from scratch. Each created an Italian/Chinese fusion dish and they were each really funny and engaging in person. The demos, aside from being fun and informative, are also a good reason to get out of the sun. We stayed until the bitter end on Sunday, despite the punishing heat and sun. We are looking forward to another Chicago Gourmet next year (though we hope it will be a little cooler)!