Green City Market Chef's BBQ Recap Part 1

Sigh...almost a week has passed since I found myself at the foodie's true Taste of Chicago type event. The annual Chef's BBQ, put on by my lovely neighbors The Green City Market, allowed me to revisit some of the best places we've dined in the city, and add a few unexpected must-try's to my list.

Despite the weather (a rain or shine event in a not so lovely Chicago summer), the park was abuzz with wide-eyed foodies, and overjoyed chefs. This really is a great opportunity for restaurants to give back to their best customers, and often this means the executive chefs is the one serving up the food, along with about half their kitchen staff.

White coats were stirring behind each cute checkered table display, working an assembly line of small plates and turning over gourmet mass production. Puffs of smoke rimmed the area, lending the air a frangrant aroma of charred pork belly, a decidedly summery scent. Crowds moved as if they were browsing an open air flea market, sampling some, watching others with skepticism and occasionally, calling friends and partners back with an order- you've got to have this! That was me.

I've collected a few photos here to give a taste of the look and celebrity of the twilight event. I'm already excited for next year! Did anyone else attend- would love to hear your comments?

(LEFT) North Pond's seasonally correct chef Bruce Sherman shares goat summer sausage croutons slathered with apricot butter. Like all of the produce at the event, it's sourced locally and often from the Green City Market itself.

(RIGHT) Over at the Sola table, I took a liking to the cocktails. While mixologists stirred up drinks in a center 'island' and local vintners shared pours liberally, these stood out as the perfect blend. Blueberry puree mingled with housemade ginger ale and Maker's Mark bourbon. I might have had seconds...

(LEFT) The best thing about Green City Market- sourced cocktails are the freshness factor. A summer beverage is perfected when touches of fresh apricots, peaches and muddled mint color vodka, like the North Shore variety hosted by Prairie Grass Cafe. Love the glass spicket jar!

I promise, there was much more eating than drinking. Most chefs chose a literal interpretation of summer BBQ, with brioche mini-buns sandwiching everything from lamb patties, to barbequed chicken, and even salads were topped with braised meats like Elk (Naha), smoked beef ribs (Smoque), Sorghum cured pork belly (Big Jones), and a variety of sausages and hot links combining multiple ground meats (the Bristol, of course!)

(ABOVE: One of the local celebrities dishing out notorious samples was Stephanie Izard, Chicago's own Top Chef. Between restaurant ventures, and hosting a dinner series, she chose to showcase beer braised 'drunken' goat, atop a market vegetable slaw.)

Another star of the day, and an active member of the Green City Market's board of directors, was the king of fresh mex. Rick Bayless mingled and spoke Spanish with his staff, plating up the occasional 'Tacos al Pastor' to the starstuck fan (marinated grilled pork, served with grilled red onions, Frontera Grill's 3 chile salsa and nestled inside a homemade corn tortilla).

We unfortunately were too late to sample the street food that put Bayless in the final round of Top Chef Masters, but I'm sure it won't be the last opportunity.

Before I get ahead of myself, a few words on dessert. While the search for dessert was a little more difficult, and many restaurants offered both sweet and savory options to revisit, the most memorable was a surprising one. Kevin Hickey's Seasons Restaurant table showcased an deconstructed peach 'cobbler' with a grilled half peach, oatmeal crumbles and the most heavenly dollop of pecan carmel ice cream. In fact, it was so luxurious, it beat out Hot Chocolate's artisinal ice cream, despite their long line. I wish I had a photo, but frankly, it wasn't on the plate long enough to snap :)

In my next blog entry, I'll highlight a few surprising faves for the night. Until then, cheers!


Notes from the Road...

Have you ever indulged in a meal that felt as though you were perched at a long family-style table in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, sharing summer vegetables so sublime they echoed the rolling landscape and firm pasta made by hand. I was rewarded with such an experience recently at NYC's Del Posto, my first taste of Mario Batali's work.

While Chicago consistently blows me away on a culinary scale, I've been longing to experience the orange-clogged-one and my recent trip home was just the time. His cooking proved, as I had hoped, to truly exude rustic Italian charm and class, not just an Iron Chef but a true gustatory journeyman.

This particular Batali-Bastianich legend has an atmosphere steeped in luxury and dimly lit dark wood, and I sensed a stir in the air that I was in for a treat.

I started with a salad, which seemed to be a cop out in a place that treats meats so lovingly, but all reservations were gone by the time a virtual painter's palate was presented in front of me. I was blown away. My fork bounced from fava bean puree to edible herb and flower blossoms to marinated artichoke and rough crumbles of pumpernickel croutons for lapping up fresh goat's milk ricotta...

The pasta was delightfully springing and firm. My dad, who's been known to play it safe when venturing out to eat, was pleasantly surprised by his spaghetti roti (firm, chopped, large ropes of pasta) that nested chunks of dungeness crab, scallions and mild jalapenos.

I looked to our waiter for his spot on recommendations, and went with my gut with the white rabbit panzotti (large hand-formed packets filled with sausage like dark meat and ricotta), bathed in black truffle butter and sliced pencil asparagus. It transported me to that farm table in Italy. Simple ingredients, sunny and bright but so chewy and indulgent that I was left more than satisfied.

Dessert was a necessity at a place like this. The selection was difficult and daring, but my butterscotch semifreddo proved a study in contrasts. The buttery, coffee tones spooned up deliciously cool and creamy. Nestled beside it was a bouquet of baby mint leaves and a dollop of rhubarb marmalade. The semifreddo felt so old-world in it's comfort and indulgence, but the rhubarb and mint were surprisingly lightly simple yet modern nod to the fresh bounty of the season. Perhaps this tiny bowl captures the magic of Del Posto and Batali himself, combining rich Italian culinary sensibility while invoking the purest contemporary ingredients to bring the meal to life.

This week, I'm welcomed back to Chicago with an event I've truly been looking forward to: the famed Green City Market's annual Chef's BBQ. I can't wait to report on my favorite local chefs (64 in attendance!!)...and ones I'll be dying to visit on their own turf.