Dining & Entertainment

Chae’s Summer Adventures

Chae’s Adventureschae_la festa_cropped in the Windy City
Summertime is when I recharge for the upcoming season and hope to learn something in the catering and events industry.  Every summer I try to attend NACE, the National Association of Catering and Events.  I hope to come away with new ideas and meet new vendors.  This year the conference is in beautiful and exciting Chicago.  I love Chicago!  There’s so much to do here…unfortunately I can’t do them all.

My first evening, I went to the River East Arts Center where we had our opening reception.  The theme was a white party, it was themed after The Devil in the White City a novel by Erik Larson. It’s a little morbid to have a event themed based on a murder mystery novel but I’m going with the flow…I walk into the Arts Center and I am overwhelmed with a sea of white.  Almost everyone wore white (I also wore white) and the decor was…yes white.  Music was pumping and the beverages were flowing and then I see these…
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This gentleman is pedaling around offering wine to all the guests. I’ve not seen this before.  I’ve seen trapeze artists pour wine at different events so this is a little twist on that concept.

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These young ladies are actual living statue food stations.  I wanted to introduces these ideas to you…they are great conversation pieces at events.

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Then of course if you need a napkin for your cocktail or hors d’oeuvres…pick your own from this bev nap girl.

I do enjoy this conference because it offers educational sessions however the food always falls short or maybe I am just used to the great food we have at Toscana.  I do a little sampling thinking one of these days, I will be proven wrong, but again, not this time.  So what I like to do is to explore and try out restaurants near by.

The first place that was recommended by my cab driver, the bellman and concierge was Shaw’s Crab House.  I love seafood, so I go…

Shaw’s Crab House was hopping!  It’s crowded on a Monday night!  I ask the maitre d for a table and there is a long wait but recommended the Oyster Bar.  It too was crowded but I got lucky.  As I was looking for a stool at the Oyster Bar, I see a gentleman; he motions to me that he was leaving so I nabbed his bar stool.  I love sitting at a bar…just want to clarify that I am not a bar fly.  I enjoy the bar menu, conversation at the bar and that’s usually where you will find some sort of live music.

And that’s exactly what I found at Shaw’s Oyster Bar.  There’s live blues music in the corner and the vibe is fantastic.  The band consisted of 3 white men in their 50’s??? playing real gritty down home blues…Loved it!  They were all very talented and they all had great voices.

I started off with a Ketel One up, shaken not stirred in a very chilled martini glass with bleu cheese stuffed olives – gosh I LOVE bleu cheese olives!  What pairs well with vodka…well, oysters of course!  Shaw’s has an amazing selection of oysters…10 different types I believe and I’ve not heard 60% of them.  I had to go with my favorite…Kumamotos.  I ordered a half dozen of Kumamoto and they were delicious – briny, sweet and rich.  They were so good I wanted another half dozen but wanted to try something different.  I asked my bartender what he recommended.  He said it’s hard going to something when you just had the best but he recommended Kusshi when I told him that I like Pacific Northwest Oysters vs East Coast.  His recommendation was right on; they were delicious but maybe not as good as my first oysters.

Ok, it was a long day of breakout sessions and I was starving.  So, I’m perusing the menu and there’s something I never heard of… Golden Alaskan Crabs.  I asked my bartender about those and he said they are the “little brothers to the Alaskan King Crabs”.  Sounds good to me as long as they were not those small skinny Snow Crabs.  I ordered the “little brothers” and I have to say they were delicious.  They looked like King Crabs and tasted like them too, but to me, they tasted a little sweeter.  To complement the crab, I ordered a nice William LeFevre Chablis and it was served ice cold which was especially nice since it was so hot and humid in Chicago.

Ok… I talked about the live music, the food and now the conversation at the bar.  I’m not sure exactly how my conversation started with the 2 gentlemen sitting next to me but I think I was asked if I was was from Chicago or visiting.  I told them I was visiting and here in Chicago for a conference.  They said it’s odd that I am out when most conventions provide meals.  I told them I had a couple of free evenings and admitted that I would rather try out restaurants than being stuck with mediocre banquet food.  I told them Shaw’s was recommended so I had to try it out.  Carmines Italian Restaurant was also recommended and they told me not to go there and that I should go to Frontera Grill.  I asked what kind of food Frontera Grill offered and they told me Mexican.  Well, coming from Southern California I think I’ve had my share of Mexican food and I told them that.  They both replied…you have not had Mexican until you had Rick Bayless Authentic Mexican food!  Ok…who is Rick Bayless?  Both replied, “You don’t know Rick Bayless???”  I guess not…I was told he is world famous.  I told them I don’t recall his name but there are so many great chefs and I named off Jose Garces, Jose Andres, Aaron Sanchez…I guess I offended them alittle because Rick Bayless is a renowned chef based out of Chicago and those two gentlemen were managers at that restaurant.   Ahhhh…now I get it.  I ask about the menu, I ask about the restaurant and they told me I had to come and eat at their restaurant.  I told them I will have another free night and would like to check them out.  I was given a hand written napkin with the name of the restaurant, the manager’s name and his email address and was told to contact him if I did decide to coming.

After they left, I was told by the bartender that Frontera Grill was a great restaurant and I should go there.  I texted my friend who lives in Chicago about Frontera and he said he’s been wanting to go but Frontera never takes dinner reservations and usually there’s a long wait but it’s a great restaurant and I should try it.

The next day, I emailed the manager at Frontera and told him that I would love to come check out real Mexican food because I guess there are no real Mexican food in Southern California.  I told him that I would love a reservation at 7:30pm Wednesday evening.  I got an email from him and that my reservation is at 7:30 and everything was set…looking forward to seeing me.

So I am excited to try out this Frontera Grill owned by Rick Bayless.  My friend is excited that we even have a reservation but I am thinking… maybe he won’t be there,maybe they do not take reservations and maybe we will have to wait 2 hours like the rest of the patrons…oh god!  I guess I will see Wednesday night.

What’s nice is that during my visit, Frontera Grill had been highly recommended by pretty much all native Chicagoans.  They did confirm that the restaurant does not take dinner reservations but it’s worth the wait…again I guess I will see Wednesday night.

Stay tuned for more of Chae’s Adventures in the the Windy City!

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