This past weekend, I went for the first time to Chicago, for a little long weekend action. A fabulous city, a must visit! Here was my itinerary.
1:30PM: Lunch at Blackbird. I think this restaurant was the one with the biggest expectation vs reality chasm. We expected to have a nice simple lunch and we were blown away. First of all their lunch deal is insane. During weekdays you get a 3 course meal for $25. That is a ridiculous steal for how good the food is here. I had a burnt onion soup that was delicious and a hanger steak with concord grapes that was a bizarre yet super satisfying combination. (picture below my dad’s duck which was great too!) A lunch must!
4:00PM Architecture Boat Tour: Following that wonderful meal, we walked to the pier to get on the Chicago Architecture Boat tour. We were lucky that it was a gorgeous day and I would say this boat tour should be a must for any visitor of the city. You get to see all the wonderful buildings in a beautiful setting. The docent who gives the tour is so knowledgeable, and they are full of tidbits of the building, the architecture and the city. It is a gorgeous skyline and an architectural gem of a city and this tour was a wonderful first experience with it. Travel note: get the tickets in advance as they get sold out (we had bought ours before hand, but the whole day was sold out when we arrived there). Also, make sure you get there early to get a good seat, people start lining up way in advance. Here are some of the picture highlights of the tour:
5:45PM Millennium park : Beautiful park, beautiful sculptures.The highlight of course, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate.
8:00PM Dinner at Boka: The restaurant is gorgeous, very dark but beautifully decorated and with a bar that has a lovely vintage feeling. I had an olive oil poached halibut to start that was light and delicious and as a main, a perfectly cooked venison. for dessert: Hazelnut & Coffee: whole milk ice cream, praline, toasted milk caramel and apple.
We tried to have drinks at the Violet Hour after, but given the huge line and our refusal to cue, and their refusal to reserve a table, we decided that it was time to call it a night (we did take a red-eye in!)
9:00AM: Willis Tower Skydeck: Super important Travel Note: The discovery of the trip was the Early bird admission option of the skydeck. The extra money is totally worth it as you arrive before the crowds and you have the full of the skydeck for a very small group (There were 10 of us). Aside comment: It’s still the Sears tower to me, this whole Willis Tower sounds stupid.
We had a terribly cloudy and awful day, but since we have the early bird we managed to get some visibility before the visibility turned 0%. In any case at least we managed to get up there, see something and get some pictures in!
10:30am: Given the torrential rain, a mall is always a good option and we started with the 900 North Michigan Shops.
12:00pm Brunch at Frontera Grill: Unlike Blackbird, which exceeded expectations, I think Frontera was below expectations. I was curious to try Rick Bayless’ take on Mexican food, and although absolutely tasty, especially the grill items, it was just normal. It probably has to do with the fact that I love mexican food, so im constantly trying new things and this was nothing to write home about. maybe if we were in Topolobambo and not Frontera we would have been more excited, but there are definitely better examples of Mexican being done in the USA like Hugo’s in Houston or Cosme and Empellon in New York.
3:00pm: Magnificent mile: More rain, meant more shopping, so we decided to go all out in the magnificent mile. Our route: we started at Barneys and went down Oak Street and then South on Michigan avenue. Not only great boutiques but a good selection of department stores: Barneys, Bloomingdales, Saks and Neiman’s (all of them were hit of course)
7:30pm:Dinner at The Smyth : There were some fabulous things about this restaurants and some things I didn’t love as much. First thing I loved, the setting. Beautiful locale, with a gorgeous big open plan kitchen. The service was also tremendous. (do note the cool chef giving me ugly face when I was taking the picture)
For the food and drink, we decided to have the 12 course meal with wine pairings (Their wine list is not as strong as other places, and their pairings are excellent so def go for that option, they even gave me sake which I love). 12 courses 9 drinks in summary:
What I loved:
- Egg Yolk Soaked In Salted Licorice With Frozen Yogurt Meringue – so weird and inventive.
- Beef Tongue With Bone Marrow, Farro Koji And Cow’s Milk – I hate tongue and i liked this dish, that takes a lot of invention and flawless execution
- Barbequed Shima Aji Ribs – Ribs made of fish .. so cool
- butternut squash in savory and dessert – its my favorite vegetable!
What I didn’t love:
- the black carrots. Carrots and licorice to end the meal left me wanting some real sugar or a palate clenser
- the fact that I didnt get one of the dishes because they “forgot” about my allergy and had nothing for me
- how heavy it was. Too much uni for me (two dishes), with the added of a foie gras dish and a bone marrow dish on a 12 course progression was jsut too heavy and not in the type of way I like.
11:45pm: Drinks at The Aviary A wonderful and inventive bar. Here is a video of the bar “kitchen” behind the birdcage
The drinks were super inventful, although I have to say my limited alcohol intake could not take the 5 drink and food pairing they serve, but all the power to those who can. We just stayed for one drink and it was delicious and the place super cool. I had a drink called: Carrot Cake Ramos Rum Fizz which was literally a carrot cake in a glass and I loved it! My sister had the Feather Knows Best, which was presented with a great smoke at the table.
We did make a mistake, we ordered the drinks that had the least table appeal, we should have ordered based on cool tricks and not ingredients. The one that looked the coolest from other tables: The Bunker Pants
10:30AM: Art institute of Chicago. Travel note: get the Fastpass entrances, they are quite worth it, saving time by not having to do a line, especially in the cold. This museum was also one more thing that exceeded expectations in this city. I knew it was a very strong collection, but even I was impressed. A must visit in Chicago. I loved the architectural juxtaposition of the old building with the new modern wing designed by Renzo Piano.
As for the art you had the showstoppers:
I was impressed with how large their impressionist collection is, especially the amount of Degas and Renoir they have. The Tolouse- Lautrecs were amazing, and the Warhol room quite spectacular
1:00pm Lunch at The Publican Great brunch food, really interesting decoration, wonderful 80s playlist and super fast service.
2:30pm: We didn’t feel like hitting any more museums, but we definitely wanted to see the buildings at least, so we took a Car drive around Field museum, Soldier field, the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium which are all super close by. It is a great afternoon plan, we were just not in the mood to go in.
3:30pm: Instead we did a little walk around Michigan avenue with stops at: Garret popcorn to have some of the famous Garret mix (cheddar and caramel popcorn – so delicious) ….
…Hard Rock Hotel as part of a few buildings that were part of the Open House Chicago…
… and the Chicago cultural center to see the beautiful Tiffany glass ceiling
5:30Pm: Massages at the Peninsula Spa perfect unwind from the weekend.
9:30pm: Dinner at Alinea: SOO good it will have its own blog post! Watch this space for full details about the best part of the trip