Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Home Chicago

Tracking our vacation, and my bookend stops in Chicago...

Fri., 5:30 AM - We depart Arlington early as to avoid the bulk of the 270 traffic

Fri., 11:00 AM - We make our much anticipated stop at Cranberry Twp's Primanti Bros. location, whose lovely wait staff allows us to eat on the patio so our puppy can sit with us.

(I purposefully bypassed the Sheetz breakfast sandwich en route - not an easy decision for me as availability of Sheetz is limited within the Beltway - in order preserve the Primanti Bros. calories).

Fri., 2:00 PM - Emergency caffeine stop at Interstate 80/90 Ohio rest stop (though the tank was full, the aforementioned sandwich was taking its sleepiness toll). Also noteworthy, this is not the pair of farthest west Ohio rest stops (both sides of Toll Road) - do NOT stop at either; they are nasty.

Fri., 4:30 PM - Arrival in Michigan

Fri., 7:00 PM - As per usual operating procedure, we head out to the local Elk's Club, or a similar fish-frying bar, to enjoy one of my favorites - lake perch. Cannot get enough.

Sat., 9:00 AM - Kissing baby boy goodbye (first time mom has been away from him for the night), mom and dad head to the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Ave. via the South Shore for our dear friends' wedding. By the way, check out the pool - it's the original pool from 1928, when the hotel was built as the Medinah Athletic Club - how cool is that?

Sat., 12:30 PM, to Central time - Arriving in town, we are hungry for a little Midwestern goodness. We head out and take a hungry walk to determine our close-by options. Well, it's Michigan Avenue, so mostly chains. We do, however, locate Bandera (part of the Cali-based Hillstone Restaurant Group), which we loved when we lived in SoCal. It is very yummy yet again. Things to get here: cornbread (also in crouton form in my favorite, the Macho salad), prime rib french dip, and ribs - go big, or home.

Sat., 3:00 PM - Feeling like tourists, we have so much fun on the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour (note - take the tour during the day; it could be hot, but there are bugs at night).

(At some point in time, we also hit up Nordstrom for something we forgot to pack. I locate the most beautiful pair of Calvin Klein shoes - alas, they don’t have them in my size, but Tyson's Corner does! I love Nordstrom!) 

Sat., 7:00 PM - Wedding rehearsal dinner at Wildfire, part of Chicago's very own Lettuce Entertain You chain.

Sat., 11:30 PM- After a couple of bar fails (it's a crowded night out there), we settle in at Eno at the hotel. This works out well, as they have a dessert wine flight. The chocolate flights, however, are a bit of a ripoff.

Sun., 9:00 AM - C has groomsman responsibilities, so I'm left to entertain myself. I grab a granola bar from our wedding welcome bag before heading out for a lovely run along Lake Michigan (so, so nice).

Sun., 1:00 PM - I wander in search of sustenance and locate Eggsperience. It's simple and tasty breakfast fare (I had the mushroom and spinach skillet), and the pancakes are fluffy fabulous-ness.

Sun., 4:00 PM - It's a wedding - we all know what to expect in terms of food - okay, maybe not so much. C alone puts away no less than 50 pieces of sashimi at the cocktail hour sushi bar, and I fail to count how many sliders he has at the burger and fry bar (this is pre-dinner, mind you). Also, for dessert, rice crispie treats on sticks, with chocolate for dipping. For future reference, I encourage this at weddings. In pictures, you can actually see photographic evidence of my stomach expanding in my dress as the night progresses. That, I don't so much encourage at weddings.

Mon., 8:00 AM - An early morning train prevents us from joining the rest of the wedding crowd for brunch (as if we needed more food). I grab a Descartes coffee on the way to the station.

Mon. Afternoon through Sat. morning - We rent an island cottage which leads to some memorable meals, including the aforementioned biscuits and gravy, some perfect summer salads, an all-in family fish fry, and S'Mores pie.

Sat., 3:00 PM - A family reunion feast of pulled pork, some ridiculously good cornbread and honey butter, and desserts to feed about 300 (approximately 60 were in attendance).

Sun. - Reverse version of the previous drive.

Mon., 1:00 PM - I'm back in Chicago. Yup, that's right, I drove home and then flew right back for work.

Mon., 3:00 PM - After getting checked in and taking a run, I attempt to pop into Blackbird for lunch, but they have already stopped serving. Next door, avec is closed for a month or so. Bummer. However, the Blackbird folks have a suggestion in province just around the corner. I try the smoked Arctic Char, served with preserved Meyer lemon and capers (much too salty) and the squash and goat cheese sandwich (not terrible, but a little bland).

Mon., 7:30 PM - Repeatedly attempt to order food while at a Second City show with no success (at one point, I plead with the waiter, "Look, I've got a headache. Can I at least get a piece of bread?"). Unfortunately, when I do not eat, my blood sugar tanks and I get rather grumpy, finding just about nothing funny. By the third act, I have to leave because my stomach is eating itself. We pour into the Old Town location of Adobe Grill, right next door. Honestly, I wish I could tell you what the food tasted like, but I practically swallowed my meal whole - it seemed good. The same night, colleagues hit up Japonais and Sushi Samba, to rave reviews.

Tues., 1:00 PM - In an attempt to preserve as many calories and taste buds for coming Rick Bayless goodness, I skip the Polish sausage I really want and grab a rather run of the mill salad at South Water Kitchen. There are much better options - why did we go here? My fault.

Tues., 7:00 PM - Drinks at the Signature Room in the Hancock Building. I have no idea why I am possessed to order a Bubble Gum Martini, but it's fabulous (and has a clearly high alcohol content).

Tues., 8:45 PM - Finally, FINALLY, my long-awaited Topolobampo reservation becomes a reality. Well, it just wasn't what I expected. More on that tomorrow (I know, I'm like American Idol with the anticipation factor).

Wed., 1:00 PM - Given it's proximity to my hotel, Giordano's becomes my Chicago pizza of choice for this particular journey. I don't know why they call it "stuffed" - it's Chicago deep dish, just like all the others. Lou Malnati's, still my favorite, but no complaints with the Giordano's pie.

Wed., 4:00 PM - Everyone's still tired from the night before, and not up for Graham Elliott, so I cancel my reservation. Glad it wasn't the previous Wednesday - I would have been rather bitter had I missed a presidential dinner (with Oprah, no less!).

Wed., 7:30 PM - Low-key night in Greektown. Greek Islands, specifically, where my gyros platter is also enough for lunch tomorrow.

Wed., 11:00 PM - I really do plan to spend a low-key evening reading in my hotel room, but my friends call from Blue Chicago, reporting that I have to check this bar out. They are right. It's a dive with fantastic music.

Thurs., 7:30 PM - Dinner at Cibo Matto. I cannot rave enough, so yes, that will be another post this week. As I just explained to C, this laptop is getting hot in my lap, and this is already obnoxiously long.

Thurs., 11:30 PM - After discovering that we prefer a quieter setting to the uber-posh Roof at the Wit (it's quite cool, but the vibe has to be your thing), we head back to the Signature Room to grab one last glimpse at the spectacle that is the Chicago skyline.

Fri., 9:00 AM - Bagel at ORD. I'm heading home folks.

Since my trip(s), I've had this gradually increasing feeling I cannot escape. It's magnetic, as if the Great Lakes are my own personal pole. It's likely just nostalgia, but something in the back of my head keeps telling me that I need to return to the Midwest. I do not know why I have this feeling - I have a very happy life here in DC, but Chicago, you left your mark. I cannot put my finger on it, but the "big city", if you will (it was the closest Metropolitan area growing up), really has a grasp on me right now. I know C wants me to forget it and be done with it, but I can't. I am loving me some Chicago right now - I don't know what it is - that the pizza is anything but artisanal, that every street in the city is an honorary way for somebody (I'm fairly certain there's one for Bartman), that Wrigley is the best sports venue in the world, or that dancing the Super Bowl Shuffle is one of my oldest and dearest memories, or maybe, it's that Chicago is cool enough that a White House chief of staff wants to be mayor. I dunno, but Chicago, you feel like sweet home to me. 

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