A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Fulton River District Edition

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Fulton River District Edition

So, last week I told you a little bit about some of the West Loop restaurants that we have been visiting lately. The West Loop is known around Chicago as being the hub for the city's hottest new restaurants, but just north east of that area is a quieter neighborhood that is small, but home to several restaurants-- and some renowned ones at that. And surprise-- it's the neighborhood that I have called home for almost 4 years now! Even after living here for that long though, I haven't ventured into some of the hottest food spots in the Fulton River District until recently... and now I get to tell you all about it. Here's the lowdown on the new, old, good, and bad in Chicago's Fulton River District:

Trattoria Isabella
Fulton River District

Isabella is a real hidden gem of a restaurant-- especially in the summertime. They have a spacious and romantic outdoor patio tucked away in a quieter corner of the neighborhood. It is the perfect place for a laidback date night or for catching up with friends. We have dined here several times and only once inside the restaurant-- the patio seating is too good to pass up! The food here is great too. Big portions of both classic and modern Italian dishes. Alex almost orders pizza here and he and my dad have ordered the beef carpaccio a few times too (I'm not a fan, in general). I am a sucker for their pasta dishes and have tried several of them. I always go back to their rigatoni alla vodka-- the sauce is the perfect balance of tangy tomato with just a touch of cream. This time around I also tried a summer insalata de fagioli: a salad of blanched green beans, tomatoes, and red onion topped with bleu cheese and vinaigrette.
Trattoria Isabella on Urbanspoon

Saigon Sisters
Fulton River District

Saigon Sisters is a super modern and intimate little restaurant and their specialty is Vietnamese cuisine. They began their business in the nearby French Market as a banh mi sandwich stall and then gained so much momentum there that they opened the full service restaurant two blocks away. Alex and I are a bit picky about Asian food (neither of us eats sushi... we really are a perfect match), but this place has received such great reviews that when I found a Bloomspot deal for dinner here, I couldn't pass it up. So glad that I didn't! We started by sharing the pork belly banh bao (which my Instagram followers pointed out looks like a monkey-- top left). The belly was soft and salty and paired with pickled onions, it was a delicious starter. We also shared a special seared scallop spring roll. It was simple, fresh, and packed with whole scallops. For entrees, Alex got ambitious and ordered the beef pho which included oxtail and a veal heart. It must have been good since he finished it! I ordered a special entree: Shrimp with clear noodles, cabbage, and onions in a surprisingly spicy sauce. Saigon Sisters is pricier, but it's really good quality Asian food in a laidback atmosphere, which can be hard to find. I want to come back for lunch and try out the banh mi menu-- so many options and they all look great!
Saigon Sisters on Urbanspoon

Blue Agave
Fulton River District

Blue Agave is one of the only spots for Mexican food in the Fulton River District. The space is huge and very cool and the prices are reasonable, but the food is just sort of average. Recently we went in for drinks and appetizers at the bar. The guacamole sampler and the nachos were both good, but tasted like they would at any run of the mill Mexican chain restaurant. With two really good Mexican places like de cero and Taco Joint in nearby neighborhoods, I would rather take a bit of a walk to find a better meal.
Blue Agave on Urbanspoon

Little Goat Bread
Fulton River District

Are you sick of me gushing about Stephanie Izard's restaurants? Well sorry, it's that time again! Like Little Goat Diner is the cheaper and more casual little sister to Girl & The Goat, Little Goat Bread is to Little Goat Diner. This stall in Chicago's French Market has a simple menu of sandwiches, sides, pastries, and beverages-- all with Stephanie Izard's creative twist. You can even buy Stephanie's rubs, sauces, and Goat-themed swag like mugs and shirts here too.

The sandwiches are served on freshly baked bread and are named things like The Turkey and The Beef, for instance. These are the sandwiches that Alex and I ordered, respectively, and we both loved them. The Turkey is served with a crazy but delicious mix of chimichurri, hummus, pickled peppers, potato sticks, and garlic mayo. Alex's The Beef included kimchi, horseradish, and pickles. Oh, all of the sandwiches are also served in really cheeky wrapping as well.

I also ordered a side of the broccoli salad, of which I wasn't such a fan. The rich and soft chocolate cookie more than made up for it.
Little Goat Bread on Urbanspoon

The Publican
West Loop / Fulton River District

After many years of waiting for the "right" occasion to dine at the Publican, we were finally presented with one when my brother-in-law was in town recently. Even living in Dallas, he had heard great things about the Publican so we decided to take him here for a belated birthday dinner. What an excellent decision this was, if I do say so myself.

Dinner at the Publican was one of the best meals I have had in Chicago. The atmosphere is surprisingly casual with long communal-style dining tables that lend perfectly to the Publican's farm-to-table/beer hall theme. Patrick was excited about going because of the extensive and eclectic selection of craft beers they serve. As for food, the Publican is a meat lover's paradise-- known especially for their oysters and their pork dishes. Even as someone who could really take or leave meat most of the time, this meal was really amazing.

The food here is all intended for sharing. We ordered several dishes to share, beginning with a few appetizers: the Daily Pickle, a plate of various pickled vegetables (including cauliflower, which was my favorite), a Taste of Three Hams-- a selection of serrano ham, prosciutto, and country ham served with bread and butter, and the Publican's famous pork rinds. Truthfully, I am not big fan of pork rinds so these weren't my favorites, but I had to try them since we were there. The boys seemed to like them though! The Three Hams was much more my speed-- really good quality, salty, and perfect with the crusty bread.

Taste of Three Hams

For entrees, Alex opted for the country ribs (which is actually pork shoulder) served along with some delicious grilled peaches. Patrick chose the pork belly served with littleneck clams, which was cooked perfectly and almost falling apart. I went with the half farm chicken and it was amazing-- the boys agreed (thankfully they helped, since it was huge). The chicken is roasted and full of flavor and served with frites and summer sausage on the side. I would order it again in a heartbeat. It was so good. Not pictured here, we also ordered a side of sweet peppers with burrata (which was amazing) and we split the angel food cake for dessert.

I have heard that as good as dinner is here, that brunch is even better. I guess that's going on my To Eat list too!
The Publican on Urbanspoon
Country Ribs
Half Chicken
Pork Belly

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