A last minute-trip to Chicago left me wondering not so much what hotel to stay in or what museums to visit, but where to eat.
I put that question out to the people who occasionally read this blog, and got lots of good advice. One reader mentioned The Purple Pig. When I saw the tag line of "cheese, swine & wine," it quickly made a place onto the short list. When I saw the menu, it went to the top.
It was a rainy, miserable day in Chicago when we arrived, and we didn't have a lot of time to fit in our first meal. On the bright side, we had chosen a hotel right across the street from The Purple Pig on N. Michigan Ave, so we could check-in and run across the street to eat. On the not very bright side, the hotel wasn't to our liking, and we had to call an audible, ultimately landing at The James a few blocks away. Much better. By the time we got back to The Purple Pig, we were sweaty, stressed, and wouldn't you know it, the place was a madhouse.
Rather than follow my instincts and bail before finding out how long the wait would be, I did have the sense to ask. We were told it would only be about 5 minutes, which turned out to be accurate.
The place isn't very large, considering its location right on N. Michigan Ave. The bar probably holds 20 people, and much of the seating is communal. Thankfully we got a two top, with just enough room between us and the couple next to us to be comfortable, which translates to about 5 times the space you'd find in a NYC restaurant.
We had obligations that afternoon, which gave us only about 40 minutes to eat. This is not preferable, but the server was nice enough to expedite for us. Here's what he expedited:
Do I have any recollection of this cocktail? Of course not. Looks like egg whites, though. What I do recall is the cocktail list looked pretty darned interesting, and this one was executed well. Given more time I would have had a lot of fun exploring the list.
The first dish to hit the table (I was told they come out when they're ready, which is fine with me) was octopus with green beans, potatoes, and salsa verde. Either the processed cheddar and crackers at the United Club 5 hours earlier didn't hold me over and I was famished, or, they just knocked it out of the park with this dish. I'm going with the latter. And lucky me, there was decent light for some hassle-free photography. I've come to learn that people like looking at pictures.
Scallops on a stick with herbs and stuff. Herbs, crispy shallots, a bit of slightly sweet glaze, a stick, and correctly cooked scallops. I'd order two next time.
You might assume that a squash salad would take a backseat to octopus and scallops, and you'd assume wrong in this case. Thinly shaved and slightly dressed/marinated squash, ricotta salata, peanuts, some dried fruit of some sort (hey, listen, I'm not taking notes here, I'm eating and drinking and trying to take pictures without looking like a complete douche), and herbs. This is definitely going into rotation in my kitchen. A great use of squash, which is too often grilled into a mushy, nasty mess. A great use indeed.
We didn't even scratch the surface of the menu. The cheese and meats and "smears" (for example, roasted bone marrow, and then there's pork neck rillette) will have me coming back the next time the t:e organization rolls into Chi-caga.
As you will find at many places in Europe, the folks running the The Purple Pig are smart enough to know that people like water with meals, and providing that water in a bottle, on the table, is probably the most effecient method to distribute that water. Oh, and they also had guys coming around refilling your glass with fresh ice water. Lots of water here, which is always preferable.
As you will find at pretty much all of the Chicago restaurants I visited this time around, it's loud as all get out at The Purple Pig. Loud music. Loud people. Loud room. Hey look, I have no problem with loud. I've spent the better part of my life standing feet away from PAs at clubs. I've bothered many neighbors over the years with my music. But when it gets to the point where you can't hear your dining partner or the server, it might be time to turn it down.
Or maybe my old grumpy ears are just completely shot from half a lifetime of loud music.
The Purple Pig : 500 N. Michigan Ave : Chicago, IL : 312.464.1744 (that's 1PIG)