Sometimes you just need to kick off the beginning of fall with a last-minute trip – or you are married to a TV producer who sometimes has to travel in the line of duty and you stow away! So, a couple of weeks ago in the post-Maui haze, on September 11th in fact (though I didn’t realize until right before the plane took and hour after I’d asked Mr. TGFRL why so many news vans were at the airport) the TGFRL Family took off for 5 days in Chicago with 12 hours notice. Here I am strolling along in a dress by Madewell (similar one here,) my trusty, comfy J. Crew Cece flats , some simple, oversized Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses and signature red lips (this is NARS Heatwave.) This is pretty much my go to “first day of urban exploring” look. Simple, “easy on easy off “dress for shopping, unfussy, AKA messy hair, comfy shoes for walking. Matching lips and dress and oversized shades to make it all seem like I’ve thought about it a little.
So, it had been YEARS since I had been to Chi-town. So many in fact that all I really remember was that the bitter cold March wind was messing up my contacts and the streets were like NY but since I am from NY I “get” NY streets.” Chicago, I remembered, as a big, confusing, windy mess. I have an ex who can attest to the fit I threw during that trip.
Surprisingly, this trip to Chicago was like meeting someone for the second time and falling in love instantly. Warm to cool breezy days, balmy, comfortable nights by Lake Michigan. The BEST food, great shopping and a deliriously beautiful cityscape. It felt like a much more low-key, mini-NY in the middle of the country! I loved it so much I wished I could stay a whole month and my little C-Bomb wanted to move there, but Los Angeles needed us back.
Only downside? My little C-comb doesn’t have an American Girl doll yet and is currently obsessed. It seems to be a modern rite of passage that I have tried desperately to put off, but with an upcoming 5th birthday and the most fantastic best friend (and mom of best friend ever) I have learned that my days are officially numbered. Anyway, in all my denial, I did NOT get the memo that the cultish American Girl dynasty started and is thriving in Chicago. In fact there are little prim, coiffed dolls in glass boxes in the lobbies of ALL the swank hotels. We stayed in a hotel around the block from the flagship store and I constantly worried that through its gaping doors is a place my child would disappear to and never return.
Up Side? EVERYTHING! I went crazy for great food and lots of great window shopping (and actual shopping) to burn off all the food. Here are four spots I am now in love with:
Although I am a devoted espresso girl (I need a very strong, rich morning beverage) the fancy shmancy, low-tech, “self- brew at the table,” Belgian cafe au lait I had here was a delectable experience. I personally would prefer 5 pods of coffee instead of the one that comes in an order but the way it is served is so chic, I was instantly hooked. Also to die for? Chicken curry salad, lentil salad, asparagus soup, leek soup and bread. Oh, and bread, transformative bread. Soft centered, crusty outside, bread. Ah midwest, leave it to you to rock a grain like you mean it. I was part glad I had only 5 days in the Windy City, because otherwise I would have inhaled enough of it to resemble a loaf myself. Bread is a drug. If it’s this good, we have a problem.
See this fancy filter I’m holding? Its disposable, has a coffee pod in it and is dripping into my steamed milk. I am a sucker for style, form and function. This self-drip cafe au latte rocks.
Sunny Side Up
TGFRL fam is all about breakfast. I am convinced that the tone of my day is set by the nutrition and flavor profile of my first meal.
Sunny Side Up is in an old Chicago building with great character and a cozy interior that feels like you are eating a your wealthy great aunt’s house (with a few other people.) They make biscuits and gravy that in moderation should be a food group – period. They crafted an amazing espresso, perfect buckwheat pancakes and the whole meal was tasty and well made…I was half asleep so no pictures of actual food, but look at what people on Yelp took if you need more inspiration than my word alone.
I have been vegan, I was a vegetarian for years, I try to limit things that will shorten my lifespan where I can. But inside, not too far, lies a totally midwestern (only symbolically) meat and potatoes girl. Plus spinach. I mean you can’t very well eat potatoes au gratin and a NY strip steak (1/3 of it of course) and not eat something yummy and green and steamed. (The wedge salad didn’t really count since bacon and blue cheese sort of detract from the few health effects provided by iceberg lettuce.)
Also super happy- making? The Best Filthy Vodka Gibson made by someone who isn’t me or my friend Hector who is a natural born bartender when he isn’t being a lawyer. The perfect blend of vodka, onion brine and cocktail onions perfectly shaken and happily imbibed. We said “No, thank you” to dessert and left more than half of the food we ordered behind. The sweet, tuxedoed waiter looked into our C-bomb’s big brown eyes, did NOT buy our “we are from LA and may die if we eat another bit of this rich food” speech and gave us a chocolate mousse on him. “Oh well,” we said. “Next meal will be all veggies” we declared to no one in particular.
That mysterious cast iron skillet if full of potatoes and cheese and paprika…..sigh. Thank God for Bar Method.
The Filthy Gibson.
Now for the BEST THING in Chicago? Oh, I interrup the flow to admit that our next meal was not all vegetables. It was more like THIS:
Thank you to Bill and Giuliana Rancic and partners for creating a chic, dining “experience” and providing people with some amazing, fresh and inspired Italian cuisine. We ate there twice in 5 days and have been talking about each and every dish since we returned. Full disclosure, Mr. TGFRL works on Bill and Giuliana’s television show Giuliana and Bill on E! and that is why we were in Chi-town in the first place. But our complete adoration was based wholly on a perfectly decorated, amazingly staffed high-end eatery that delivered stunning, mouth-watering everything! If you are in Chicago now or ever, GO!!! Run don’t walk. Pictures to convince you to follow.
This off menu special involved copious amounts of lobster and truffles. What else is there to say?
Simple grilled giant prawns with herbs and olive oil.
Naughty but Necessary. Garlic whipped potatoes with Gorgonzola piccante.
From the Cicchetti/small bites menu, simple, gorgeous tangy provolone stuffed peppers.
It’s just not a proper Italian night out without pistachio cannoli with flecks of chocolate and candied orange peels…um, and…
Yes, that’s a second dessert. It’s life- altering special mint chip gelato. There is a whole mint branch in there somewhere along with torn bits of mint. I think grilled prawns and mint chocolate gelato may become my main food groups after this.
I’ll leave you for with this dreamy picture taken from the fascinating Architectural Tour of Chicago we took on the Chicago River. The guide spent 75 minutes filling us in on the city’s riveting architectural history and gave us tons of amazing facts and figures during the relaxing tour of the gorgeous cityscape. I would definitely encourage people who haven’t to take advantage of this tour by the Wendella Sightseeing Company– in business since 1935. It was so lovely I would do it again! Remember to bring a fabulous scarf, you will need it!