Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chicago: A Four Star Weekend

Last month the coffee business brought me to Chicago for a few days to attend CoffeeFest, the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition and Executive Council meetings for the Barista Guild of America. I decided that I would make a crazy weekend of it by staying at the W Lakeshore and dining at both Charlie Trotter's and Alinea on consecutive Saturday and Sunday nights. Then, if I had it in me, I might go for a third night at the always enjoyable Chicago Chop House.

In the end, I never made it to the Chop House. I ended up gorging on pedestrian fare like the Chicago Hot Dog and Portillo's Italian Beef - both of which were quite tasty and a wonderful, greasy and cheap counterpoint to the rest of the weekend.

I've compiled the experiences a bit differently than Blogger likes to display posts. I've combined all four articles (including this one) in a time cascade meaning that you read the articles down the page in column format like you would a newspaper article, rather than the up reading, chronological format that is typical of Blogger.

So, in a nutshell, after finishing this, read the Trotter's article, then Alinea and then Compiled at the bottom of the page.

In short, the restaurants were amazing, educational and inspiring. I hope that all of you enjoy the images and the thoughts.



Steve said...

Hi Jay,

It was nice meeting you in person, and joined you and Matt for some greasy Italian beef sandwiches. It was too bad that we didn’t get to chat much, but I sense that you are a very easy going and personable. Hopefully we’ll meet again and hit the bars…



Vish said...


I've been following this discussion of four-star service on the
podcast and the boards. One major issue is that the paradigm of four-
star service in the setting of a formal premier restaurant (eg
Trotters, Per Se, etc) doesn't really have direct transference in the
more casual environ of a cafe. The question that always arises is
how to convey the level of passion and seriousness for the craft of
coffee along with top rate service in an environment that is usually
more simple, and staffed by the typical (very informal) 3W barista.
I had previously thought that in order to be taken seriously, some
proprietor was going to have to take the plunge and try an mimic the
four star dining establishments in the country, and formalize not
only the setting but the service. I went to a restaurant here in NYC
the other day that causes me to reconsider that notion. Next time
you are in the city, I suggest that you check out Momofuku Ssam Bar
in the East Village. This is a place with a chef, David Chang, that
is completely hardcore in his pursuit of his cuisine with no
apologies. This is cooking at some of the highest order in new
york. The room however, is sleek but informal, with tattooed, t-
shirt wearing waiters, not unlike the modern barista we know and
love. The key point is this: the level of service is as high as
you'd see in a four-star restaurant. They may be wearing t-shirts,
but you will never have to refill your wine glass; when you get up to
go to the bathroom your napkin will be refolded, and your setting
tidied up. It is really interesting, and even new in some ways for new york restaurants. This is a paradigm that could be shifted to
coffee to bring it to another level I think. You should check it out
online and in person next time you're here.