Thursday, September 11, 2014

XOCO Wicker Park: A Review with Views


As I have mentioned before, I absolutely adore churros con chocolate.  (Click here for a related post.)  I’m also a fan of Rick Bayless’s restaurants, cookbooks, and salsas.  So, when Rick Bayless opened XOCO a few years ago, I expressed a fervent desire to go there.  However, we kept on hearing about how difficult it was to get in—even if you were lucky enough to find parking.  It always seemed like we couldn’t go there on a Saturday (and impossible to go to downtown Chicago on a weekday), but XOCO was not open on a Sunday.  So we never did make it down there.

Then, lo and behold, we were excited to hear that XOCO would open up in Wicker Park.  Much more convenient a location for us!  And when it finally opened late this summer, we saw that they had Sunday brunch hours—along with a much larger space that would seat more people.  Our enthusiasm abated a bit when we read Yelp reviews grousing about small portions, expensive prices, and—gasp!—untasty food.  We weren’t inexperienced with unreasonable complaints about portions and prices, but we found ourselves a bit dismayed and surprised at criticisms of Rick Bayless’s food.

This past weekend, we decided that we’d risk disappointment.  We made our way down to 1471 N. Milwaukee and found ourselves directly opposite the Bongo Room.  When we saw people waiting outside the Bongo Room, we expected the worst and prepared ourselves for a wait at XOCO.  However, the place was HUGE!  We were shown a table too close to a drafty door, and then promptly moved to a nicer table when we asked for a change. 

Lots of waitstaff, and all very friendly.  In fact, three people felt the need to usher us to the new table, and they insisted that we not lift a finger when we said we could grab our menus!  Then two of the three returned in the next few minutes—separately—to ask if we were warmer.  A different person then filled our water glasses, and then yet another came to refill them and take away the half-full water carafe so that we could get a new one.  We were starting to wonder whether they were actually OVER-staffed since everyone was so eager to do something…anything!


Though I wished, after-the-fact, that we had considered trying one of the caldos (which apparently are served after 11), we enjoyed the food we did order.  Will was especially delighted with my zucchini-egg-poblano torta (pictured above).  I agree that the zucchini and poblano were nicely roasted, but I almost think that he was reacting more to the size of the dish.  At $7.50, my torta was much more substantial than his $10 Pork Belly Chilaquiles (pictured at the top of post).  Will’s dish might have been the tastier of the two, on its own, without consideration of price.  But, having biked that morning, Will needed something more filling.  On the whole, the combination worked out well.  (Click here for a pdf of the Wicker Park menu.)


I know we should be too worldly to complain about things like this, but I do wish I could get at least one refill of coffee.  We’ve traveled much and know that bottomless cups of coffee are a U.S. phenomenon.  I would never expect “free” refills of coffee in Paris or Vienna or Florence—or, for that matter, in Starbucks.  But, when I go to a sit-down restaurant in the U.S. paying $10 for a small breakfast entrée, I think it is not an unreasonable expectation to get 2 cups of drip coffee.  So when you do order, I would suggest the Americano.  At $1.75, you could get two cups for $3.50.  Since Will’s Americano was much hotter than my café con leche ($3) or the two sizes of café presses, that would be the path I will take next time.


Will there be a next time?  I think so.  We were planning on ordering churros after our meal anyway—to cap our experience—but in any case we ended up NEEDING the churros to augment our portions.  We ordered 3 churros for $4 (much better deal than 1 per $1.60), along with a “shot of chocolate” (for $1.25).  The churros could actually use less sugar, but the dough was nicely fried.  And Will was very satisfied with his shot of cinnamon-y dark chocolate.  Not as good as we had in Astorga, Spain, but Wicker Park is a bit closer…

The coda to this brunch though was that we decided to take advantage of the 20 extra minutes we had for our parking space by walking down to Stan’s Donuts.  There, we got possibly the best Boston Cream Donut one could have (with vanilla beans in the custard!)—and a dark roast Intelligentsia coffee…large.





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