Chicago: Tanta, Momotaro, and Blackbird
Chicago. I have some serious love for that city. Perhaps it’s because I travel there pretty often and have become comfortable with it… it’s easy to get around, the shopping is awesome, and of course, the food options are dizzying. There’s always an internal battle in my head as I attempt to make dining decisions for each visit, but this last trip was even more difficult because it was my BIRTHDAY week!
Instead of trying a bunch of new places like I normally would, I decided a mix of new and tried and true would be the best balance. Because it was such a special week, I wanted to be sure there was little room for error and all meals would be fabulous.
Over a year ago I ate at Tanta for the first time and fell in love. Even the free plantain chips they serve at the start of the meal have been stuck in my mind all this time. In fact, I’ve even tried to recreate the aji amarillo dipping sauce at home, though I haven’t quite perfected it to Tanta’s level. So when I realized the hotel I’d booked for this trip was just a hop, skip and jump away from Tanta, and I’d be arriving into town just in time for lunch, AND Tanta was launching a brand new al fresco lunch program on the day of my arrival…well, that’s fate, right?
If you’ve never tried Peruvian food, you seriously do not know what you’re missing out on, and I must insist that you eat here when you visit Chicago. I really don’t think I can step foot in that city again without eating there. It’s that good.
Tanta’s Caprese Salad
As for this latest meal, we (my co-worker and I) started with cebiche – the Cebiche Nikei with ahi tuna, tamarind-sesame oil leche de tigre, cilantro, habanero, cucumber, avocado, and nori. Perfectly light and refreshing for a hot day, particularly when dining on a rooftop. Then we followed with the Caprese Salad. I’m pretty certain this is nothing like any caprese you’ve had before. Made up of quinoa, burrata, basil, arugula, and an aji amarillo dressing, I swear I thought I’d died and gone to caprese salad heaven.
118 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
Sushi at Momataro, Chicago
When it came to picking the spot for my *actual* birthday dinner, I wanted it to be something special — not too fancy, but definitely not casual. Like Tanta, I’d also been to Momotaro on a previous Chicago trip, and I was completely dazzled by the space and the food. It definitely warranted a return visit.
Plus I haven’t had nearly enough sushi in Nashville lately, and I had a mad craving that needed to be satisfied. Momotaro certainly delivered.
A word of advice — do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help with the menu here. It’s large and is best navigated with professional assistance, namely, your server.
The service staff is great, and very knowledgeable. If you’re willing to letting them guide you a bit, I guarantee you’ll be happy. As for our dinner, I couldn’t even begin to tell you half of what we ate, partly due to the complex menu and partly due to the rounds of sake I consumed. It was my birthday after all!
My Birthday Dessert at Momotaro, Chicago
820 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60607
sweetbread pastrami, haricot vert, hazelnut, lemon balm, cilantro at Blackbird, Chicago
My meal at Blackbird was completely unplanned, and actually a bit of an accident. But what a happy accident it turned out to be! You see, I was dying to try Rick Bayless’ new restaurant, Lena Brava but couldn’t secure a reservation. After finding out that they’ll take some walk-ins each night, we decided we’d chance it, just show up at the door and hope they’d give us a table.
Negative. They were packed when we got there, and they said they don’t take any new walk ins after 8 pm. We arrived at 8:10. Oh well. I had a fail-safe backup plan! Or at least I thought it was fail-safe. Avec, another old favorite of mine, was just down the street, so we headed that way. Avec doesn’t take reservations anyway, so even if we’d planned to go there, we would have just been walking in.
Unfortunately, when we got to the door there was a sign posted announcing that they were closed for a private party. ACK. I didn’t have a third option in mind. Lucky for us, Blackbird is right next door. And while I had the fleeting thought that we may have been a bit under dressed for the sleek, white tablecloth space, I was undeterred.
Man, I seriously cannot believe I had never been to Blackbird before this experience. It was absolutely fantastic. I guess all those James Beard awards really do mean something.
suckling pig pavé and tenderloin, roasted sunchoke, almond, sunflower seed, lime, sport pepper at Blackbird, Chicago
619 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661