Monday, October 11, 2010

October Feast

Last week I attended the 2nd Annual River North Business Association's October Feast with my friend Rachel. By chance, our friend Scott had gotten a free ticket from his new job. I didn't really know what to expect out of the event, but Rachel assured me that it would be a good time. I learned my lesson from foodie events when I wore jeans and a t-shirt to Vermillion. So this time I tossed on my button down shirt and headed to the start of the event at the Merchandise Mart.

The event attendees were split into different touring groups. Each group had a list of 4 restaurants to go to before ending the evening at the Hard Rock Cafe. There were over 20 restaurants involved, and with a media pass I could jump from place to place. Still, the restaurants were spaced out quite a bit and some had time constraints. So I only hit up 6 places, which was plenty. The only requirement of each place was that they serve a drink and some kind of food item. Some did this better than others.

Instead of breaking it down in one large food section, I'm just going to go by each restaurant.

Ai Japanese
This was the first spot on our tour. Our group of 20 or so people filled up their lounge in back. They passed out a white sangria and hot sake. I wasn't sure what white sangria had to do with Japanese cuisine, but the sake was good. Then they served a Crispy Spicy Tuna Roll, some kind of Shrimp Roll, and a Sweet Potato Crisp with a piece of filet. I thought the food was pretty good, but I don't think the other people with me were in agreement on this one.

The Sweet Potato Crisp

The first thing I thought when I walked in was how nice it looked. They put us at their bar which was far too crowded, and I don't think they were ready for us. We got a Pear Martini of sorts which tasted mysteriously like the sangria from Ai. The only food they served was crab cake balls that were the size cheddar cubes. It was pretty disappointing from the food standpoint, and we left there in a hurry.

I'd heard that they've got some good happy hour deals during the week, so I was excited to check out Elate. They stuck us in this back room that seemed like it was normally the coat closet. We were given some regular champagne which was fine except I can never seem to drink from a fluted glass without looking like an idiot. For food they had Fried Dough Balls with pesto. They were good but not really all that substantial. At this point Scott, Rachel, and I decided to jump to a different group.

The Fried Dough Balls with Pesto

La Madia
Since we changed groups, we kinda came in late on this one but still reaped all of the benefits. They were serving wine and pizza. The pizzas were really interesting, and it was basically all you could eat in the short amount of time we were there. They had a kind of Grape and Brie Cheese Pizza as well as an Anaheim Chile Pizza and a Ground Lamb Pizza that were all fantastic. The first tasted like a baked brie, and the chile pizza packed a real punch.

 The Margherita and Ground Lamb Pizzas

Normally when I think of English I think of pricey drinks, large crowds, and Schneider dancing to Party in the USA, so I wasn't the keenest on stopping by, but I'm glad I did. For drinks they were passing out bottles of Matilda, which was definitely the best drink option of the night. The main dish here was the Lobster and White Truffle Mac N' Cheese. It was insanely rich and gooey. I was especially impressed that it came out so well even though it was served buffet style. I didn't think I would have said this, but it was one of my favorite spots on the tour hands down.

 The Lobster and White Truffle Mac N' Cheese

When I saw that Sunda made the list of places I could try, I was very excited. I'd heard so much about how I have to try here. We were in the lounge area, and the group was kind of big. This made things pretty cramped. Now I don't know if there was some kind of pear surplus in Chicago, but they had a pear based fizzy drink as well. It was tough to get food with the big crowd, but they had a few different types of sushi and a pastry of sorts topped with raw tuna. The sushi didn't necessarily wow me, but the pastry was great. It had a nice exterior firmness with a soft gooey interior. It was warm, and the tuna on top maintained its coolness and flavor. Not everything was as great as I'd hoped, but I'm definitely still eager to try Sunda for a full meal.

 The Pastry with Tuna (clearly not the dish's real name)

I thought the event was a ton of fun. I got a bunch of drinks and snacks in that were creative and tasty. It seemed like some restaurants had a better idea of what to do than others, so your experience could be varied based on the luck of the draw. Because of this event, I was awakened to some excellent spots in River North. I can't wait to get back to La Madia, Sunda, and even English for dinner sometime soon.


  1. Great post, I've been wanting to try Sunda for quite some time now as well. I just reviewed Blue Ocean in uptown; it's definitely worth checking out.



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