Oh how I wish I’d planned to spend more time in Chicago. I’m not sure why I thought a day and a bit would be enough (I arrived in the afternoon on the 1st, had the 2nd to play, then left on the morning of the 3rd: error) because it wasn’t! Not at all! There was so much to see and do, so many to play with, so much to eat, and yet I only gave myself that weenie amount of time. Oy-vey. I didn’t try an Italian beef sub, I didn’t even get deep-dish (or stuffed) pizza; what a disaster!
However, it’s not all a loss because I can always return, and after meeting the wonderful Alice, Mara and Mike, I know I have plenty of good company in town too! And although I didn’t get to try “typical” Chicago fare, I did have the best meal of my life when I was there, a meal that I would happily get on a plane and return for, in fact that I would specifically travel to Chicago just to have again. If that’s not a reason to love the Windy City then I don’t know what is. Thanks to Alice, Mara & Mike, and, of course, my baby cousin Lorraine, for the food, the fun and the complete awesomeness. You guys were the best!
On Being a Tourist
I actually greatly dislike being a tourist. I don’t like not knowing where I’m going, or sticking out like a sore thumb. But when you have a large camera like mine, look like a 16-year-old most of the time (I’m sure I’ll be thanking my genes for that, later) and have a terrible sense of direction, it sometimes can’t be helped. In such cases, embrace it. Wear the tourist badge loud and proud and get thee to the most touristy spots in town.
The Bean is great fun, the face fountains too, and The Art Institute of Chicago is stunning. Go.
The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Evanston: The Stained Glass
I always wanted a sister. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my older brother, but I always wanted a younger sister. The elder of my two baby cousins, Lorraine, and I are pretty close. We really bonded when I was living in Portland, as she’d just started at Northwestern in Chicago and the two of us would send text messages to each other, comparing college experiences. Though she lives in LA and I live in London, we communicate on a fairly regular basis, Skype and Facebook playing a large part in our relationship. Though she’s only three and a half years younger than me, she and her younger sister Justine will always be my baby cousins, but our friendship is such that now I am also their surrogate older sister. I asked for one and I got two: it couldn’t have worked out any better.
Belly pork with a coconut cream gelee, watercress and a fruit glaze; crab cakes with crispy carrot; filet mignon with a vegetable jus and potato presse; roast rack of lamb with white truffle creme brulee, chanterelle mushrooms, a parmesan hollandaise and green beans; cappuccino; white chocolate panna cotta with berries and hidden peach.
Lorraine had booked us in for dinner at The Stained Glass, a lovely little restaurant in downtown Evanston, not far from her college digs. What followed was a delightful and delicious meal, a belated birthday surprise, fantastic service and a (decent) tab picked up by my baby cousin. I guess I should stop calling her my baby if she’s paying for my dinner!
The only downside was when an obnoxious punter a table over watched me take photos of our food then exclaimed (very loudly), “I’ve heard of people from other cultures taking photos of their food, but I’ve never actually witnessed it! How fascinating!” He then went on to claim that Hong Kong was a third-world country and how much better Americans were than “those people”. It was enlightening for sure.
Still, obnoxious older gentlemen aside, it was a wonderful meal; I highly recommend it.
The Stained Glass
1735 Benson Avenue
After dinner we wandered around the Northwestern campus for a while. There are fewer things in life that I enjoy more than photography at night, I’ve discovered. There is so much to see when the sun goes down and the night lights come up: you should try it sometime. Great fun.
Lorraine and her boyfriend Will.
In order to paint this rock you must guard it for 24 hours, then you’re free to design it at your will. Bizarre college traditions.
When I was in Chicago of course I had to meet up with Alice from Eat A Duck I Must. Alice and Jared recently welcomed a little fella into the world which has been an adventure and a half, so I was glad that I could steal the lovely Alice away from work for an hour or so to have lunch at Rick Bayless’ Mexican-inspired restaurant XOCO.
It’s always such a pleasure to meet with like-minded people, especially people who amaze and inspire you from so far away, and Alice was so very wonderful in person (and not at all a disappointment, as she was worried she would be! Silly Ducky Lady).
Alice had the Ahogada torta – a pork sandwich in a spicy tomato broth/sauce – and I had the Carnitas Caldo – a spicy, salty carnitas soup with potato dumplings. The food was tasty, if a little pricey for what it was. Still, a good call! I’d go back. Not to mention the company was wonderful – thanks Alice!
449 North Clark Street
When told by multiple people that I am about to experience the best meal of my life, I’m inclined to not believe them. I know, that’s terribly stubborn of me, but the reason is because reality very rarely exceeds, or even matches, my expectations. I have such high standards that it’s sometimes hard for me to enjoy things, nit-picker that I am. Whilst this works rather well in some respects, in others, such as when dining out at a highly-acclaimed restaurant, I can’t help but feel disappointed at the end of my meal.
However, Grant Achatz’s Alinea was, I’m happy to say, the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. It’s hard to explain just how wonderful it was, I’m still trying to pull my thoughts together on the matter, but suffice to say that I was like a child who had just discovered food. Pure wonder and joy.
Photo credits: Mara Rosenbloom.
A more detailed review will be available in The Arbuturian soon, but in the meantime you should head over to see Mara’s fantastic Alinea write-up, who was my wonderful and beautiful company for the evening! And if you get the opportunity you should go: it truly was the most beautifully presented, delicious and incredible meal I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. And for 21-courses, plus wine and tip? About $300. Money very well spent, I might add, but not a casual dining affair, definitely special occasion material.
1723 N Halsted St.
So that’s all for Chicago! I told you: I didn’t have long enough there. If you’re in the Chicago area you should check out all of those places, and also follow Mike & Chao on Twitter, and read their blog, particularly as they will shortly be opening their brand-spanking new Japanese restaurant Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar. I had the pleasure of having a chat with Mike over a beer, hearing all about their recent adventures in Southeast Asia and their plans for the restaurant – it all sounds incredibly exciting! I’ll be sending the baby cousin over to the restaurant when they open up, and it’ll be a good excuse for me to return to Chicago in the summer… and maybe experience the magic of Alinea all over again.
Massive thanks to Lorraine for the hospitality and love, Mara, Alice and Mike for the food and drinks – it was a pleasure! I’ll be back for more adventures, promise! Until next time – peace and love.