Welcome to Chicago! This town's wide diversity of cuisines makes it the perfect backdrop to our fourth season -- from the gutsy cooking of Paul Kahan at Avec and Bluebird, to Rick Bayless' Nuevo Mexico to the avant-garde cuisine at Alinea where Grant Achatz's experimental style would have Marcel spinning in circles. Chicago boasts the country's most prolific restaurateur -- Rich Melman, whose company consistently turns out high-concept, high-quality restaurants like The Big Bowl and Cafe Ba Ba Ree Ba!. His company, Lettuce Entertain You, is this country's largest independent restaurant group, and it's fitting that Chicago is his home base. The town is awash in great ethnic food, like luscious Polish stuffed cabbage, German bratwurst, and spicy Korean bibimbap. And then there are Chicago's famous hot dogs, deep dish pizzas, and "wet beef" sandwiches, which don't sound like they taste good, but do. From day one, I was well taken care of by Chicago's chefs and shopkeepers, but the highlight probably was LuLa Cafe where Amalea Tshilds and Jason Hammel spoiled me and my wife with their organic brunch. We're still dreaming of the duck breast and braised endive omelet and ricotta-stuffed French toast.
On a personal (non-food) note, the music scene here is incredible. On my time off, I got to listen to great blues in several different bars and tool around for hours with vintage guitars at the Chicago Music Exchange. I caught a terrific Springsteen show at the United Center (I'm a Jersey boy -- whither Bruce goest, I go) but the highlight of my Chicago music adventures was seeing Bob Dylan (with Elvis Costello opening) at the Chicago theater. Amazing.