After a one year hiatus due to the Corona Virus, it was finally time to have my yearly birthday trip. This year I picked Chicago. I was there a little over a decade ago (you know you’re getting old if you can say “over a decade ago”), and I absolutely loved it. Of course I checked if there were any restaurants owned by Top Chef contestants. Lo and behold, there were actually six! It wasn’t easy, but I managed to make reservations for all of them, and below you will find my review of the three lunches I had at these awesome restaurants! I hope that if you’re from Chicago, or planning on visiting, you will seek out one (or all) of these spots.
Girl And The Goat
Whenever I told a Chicago native that I had a late lunch at Girl and The Goat, they all asked me how I got the reservation. That’s how popular this restaurant is. How? I guess I got lucky? I made it online one month ahead of time, and I got in there easy breezy. Girl And The Goat is one of Stephanie Izard‘s many restaurants, and it happens to be her first after appearing on Bravo’s Top Chef. Not only did she compete in season 4, but she won! She was the first female Top Chef. I had a taste of her food at a food festival dinner here in NYC, Harlem to be exact, and I honestly almost cried, it was so dang good. So you can say I was excited to dine here, and I was not disappointed.
Not only was it a late lunch (4:30 pm, right after landing at O’Hare airport), but it was a sizable one. Sharing with with my trusted side kick Sasha, we ordered a bunch of small plates. Our choices were: Blueberry – Pickled Pepper Cornbread with honey butter and peach jam (a-ma-zing), Sautéed Green Beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews (crowd favorite), Thai Style Elote with Coconut Caramel, cotija, tajin and garlic chips (honestly addictive), Wood Grilled Broccoli with smoked Bleu Cheese and spiced crispies (yum), Raw Kusshi Oysters with watermelon radish mignonette (outstanding), Goat Empanadas with smoked blueberry, piparra and idiazabal cheese (yes please), Confit Goat Belly with shrimp sauce, strawberry papaya salad and crispy shallots (unbelievably delicous), and Wood Fired Chicken Thighs with a baby carrot salad and coconut puffed rice crunch (my favorite of the meal). Yup. It’s a mouthful, we basically rolled out of there, stuffed to the rim, but trust and believe, we cleaned every single plate. It’s not just great food, it’s a culinary experience.
If you are a true Top Chef fan, then without a doubt you know Chef Fabio Viviani. An immigrant from Italy, he was seriously one of the most memorable chefs on the show. Spunky, funny and talented, he quickly became a fan favorite in Season 5. He made it to a respectable 4th place, but he stayed in most of us fans’ first grade memory. I was super excited to finally go to one of this restaurants.
We chose a brunch at Siena Tavern, and in true form, we ordered half the menu. I started out with a Bloody Mary, which not only was house made by the resident bartender, but it also donned a tiny slice of pizza, and a mini meatball sandwich. I totally loved it. Our other orders were: an Acai Bowl with toasted coconut, goji berries, crispy banana and heaven honey (super fresh), Smoked Biscuits and Gravy (giant biscuits, yummy gravy), Lobster Benedict with crispy Brussels sprout leaves, frisée, truffle hollandaise and polenta toast (very rich and delicious), and (my favorite) the Breakfast Pizza with Fireball pepperoni, shaved fingerling potatoes, pancetta bacon, mozzarella, roasted garlic cream and a baked egg (holy smokes, super delicious). It was such a fun experience, and I expected nothing less from Chef Fabio. Bravo! Pun intended.
Chef CJ Jacobson was also a fan favorite, not only for his awesome personality, but also for his height (he is 6 foot 8 according to the World Wide Web). He competed in seasons 3 and 10, and while he never took home the grand prize, he scored high, and scored even higher in our hearts. He is now a vey successful restauranteur with several restaurants all over the US. Lucky for me he owns Aba, a mediterranean restaurant in Chicago. It’s a very pretty restaurant, to which you have to take an elevator, with a huge terrace upstairs with lots of outside seating. I love Mediterranean food, so I couldn’t wait to dig in at this brunch.
Here we started out with Whipped Feta with crushed pistachio, olive oil and lemon zest. I ended up finishing it with a spoon, it was ridiculously good. We shared a Village Salad with mighty vine cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumber, red onion and a greek vinaigrette, which was super fresh, vinaigrette was on point, We followed it with an outstanding Spinach and Avocado Frittata with fresh grated tomato, parmesan, Aleppo and garlic. Last but not least: my favorite was a Shortrib Shakshuka with eggs, spicy harissa, graviera and roasted potatoes. I loved everything about this restaurant, another Top Chef success story!