Monday, February 08, 2016

A Great Deal of Fine Food: Recapping Another Appetizing Chicago Restaurant Week -- 2016

Although it doesn't seem to get the same type of media coverage as Taste of Chicago, in a different way Chicago Restaurant Week serves a similar purpose:

To encourage locals and tourists to discover, try and savor Chicagoland dining establishments, in a bit more economical fashion.

I've long been a Taste of Chicago fan and attendee, but particularly for those who don't love waiting in line at food booths and devouring a wide variety of food types arpeggio-style while squeezing among the masses, the Restaurant Week promotion offers a nice alternative for those who love to eat--and who appreciate restaurants lowering their prices to entice new patrons.

According to the CRW page on the Choose Chicago website, this was the 9th edition of Chicago Restaurant Week, though I only recall having heard of it--or at least partaking in it--for the past 3 or 4 years. I've also savored Restaurant Week in New York City, which I believe well predates the one here.

Though it actually lasted 2 weeks--from January 22 through February 4--Chicago Restaurant Week 2016 is now officially over, so the participating restaurants and their promotional menus are no longer listed on the website.

But several of the 350+ places that had participated in what has supposedly been the most successful CRW to date have extended their offerings at the aligned prix fixe prices--some until the end of February--as Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel detailed here.

With menu selections up to the participating restaurants, and a few variances in structure and/or price, generally a 3-course appetizer/entree/dessert lunch during Chicago Restaurant Week is $22, with dinner being either $33 or $44.

As in years past, I found myself enjoying the opportunity to eat at some excellent restaurants, many for the first time, often in the company of friends I hadn't dined with previously, but also with longtime friends.

Finding a good steak dinner (with salad, side and dessert) for just $44 a particular bargain, during CRW 2014 I ate at Smith & Wollensky and McCormick's & Schmick's (the latter for lunch) and enjoyed The Capital Grille in Rosemont last year.

In 2015, I also tried Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill for the first time, as well as Evanston's fine Oceanique. And though a snowy night postponed the visit until after Restaurant Week, the promotion deserves credit for prompting an initial visit to Frontier.

With regular companions Paolo and Dave also well indoctrinated to the value offered by Chicago Restaurant Week, we chose Del Frisco's for 2016's CRW Steak Dinner outing, along with another friend.

Paolo was already quite a fan of the steakhouse, located on Oak Street in the old Esquire Theater, from which signage is retained both outside and inside, but it was the first time there for the rest of us.

Each course offered a variety of choices--typically at least 3--with additional options entailing an upcharge.

I enjoyed a Caesar's Salad, a bonus Tomato Basil soup because Dave declined any of the first course selections, an 8-oz. filet mignon accompanied by mashed potatoes and green beans (or maybe it was asparagus; see the photo and let me know) and a piece of cheesecake with butterscotch sauce.

It was all terrific, especially the steak, which my pals corroborated. One paid extra for Prime Ribeye and said it too was excellent.

Chronologically, Del Frisco's was my third--and presumably last--CRW 2016 excursion, coming on the final day of the official promotion.

But during a period in which I also enjoyed breaking bread with some former colleagues at non-Restaurant Week joints, the smorgasbord of savings provided some well-received suggestions for places to meet/eat--initially or infrequently in these cases--with other friends.

(Because I wasn't as comfortable being my shutterbug-schmuck self as I am with Paolo & Dave, I do not have photos of the food I consumed at the following establishments.)

At 5:30 on a Saturday night, before the chattering reached supersonic decibels, I met up at Mercadito--the one on Kinzie; the one on Delaware being now closed--with a fun married couple I had befriended after sitting next to them at a concert last year.

Mercadito is a Mexican restaurant, one of several whose CRW menus appealed to me (Cantina Laredo and El Mariachi being others). I included the menu above and you can see they deviated a bit from the norm by offering selections--2 types of guacamole, 1 cerviche, 4 taco varieties, 1 side and a trio of flan desserts--to be ordered for the table.

This was just $33, with the option to add a drink for $7; I got something that equated to a fruity margarita (I forget which flavor).

Everything we had was wonderful, most demonstrably the Estilo Baja taco comprised of beer-battered Mahi Mahi. The other tacos (the first 4 listed on the menu), the Mango and Blanco guacamole, Dorado (mahi mahi) cerviche and Fried Plantains were also delicious. I'm not so big on flan, but all three were good, too.

I also had the pleasure of meeting an old co-worker for lunch at the Grillhouse by David Burke in Schaumburg.

A few years back, I had enjoyed a great steak at David Burke's Primehouse in Chicago; some prime cuts were on the suburban outpost's lunch menu, but not as part of the Restaurant Week pricing.

Yet quite generously, for just $20--yes, $2 off the already appreciable CRW norm--I got lobster bisque, a venison cheeseburger, fries and crème brûlée.

Again, I was quite delighted with everything I had, as was my friend who went a good bit healthier with a salmon entree he proclaimed as great.  

With so many appetizing Chicagoland restaurants I haven't tried, including among 2016 Chicago Restaurant Week participants, I don't know that I'll realistically soon get back to Del Frisco's, Mercadito or Grillhouse by David Burke, but I would never mind doing so.

All served themselves quite well by providing beautiful meals at handsome prices, and I appreciate it, even if--this year and others--a few participants have been a bit lackadaisical about offering up CRW Menus unless asked.

With the economic challenges the city faces in paying teachers, putting more cops on the street, etc., it's understandable if some of Chicago's great communal festivals--Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest, Jazz Fest, etc.--continue to be downsized.

But with the city seemingly only having to foot the bill for some Chicago Restaurant Week publicity, this is a terrific city promotion that should have considerable staying power--and only get bigger and better.

Whether still this year among extracurricular participants, by patronizing restaurants learned about via CRW 2016 or in years hence, you would be very well-served--and, of course, well-fed--to take part. 

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