My Fabulous Chicago Weekend
The cast of characters: Ellie, Amanda, Mandy, and me
Word of Warning: This may be the longest post I’ve written thus far, so you may want to grab a drink and a snack before you begin.
Let me start this story by explaining that I am not a “spur of the moment” kind of girl. I’m a planner. I take weeks, sometimes even months, to plan and research my vacations. So when my friend Amanda called me up one night in late October and asked if I wanted to go to Chicago in 2 weeks, it’s completely crazy that I said yes and booked the ticket while we were still on the phone.
One of my best friends from college, Libby, lives in Chicago, so it’s not at all unusual that I would want to go, just unusual that I made such a hasty decision with so little time to plan. Actually, I’ve been taking an annual girls trip there (usually in November) for the past several years with some of my other best girlies from college. But this year, since Libby had a newborn at home, we just hadn’t gotten around to planning anything. I LOVE Chicago, and it’s been a whole 8 months since my last visit, so when Amanda asked, I jumped at the chance.
But here’s the thing- Amanda doesn’t even know Libby, and neither do Ellie and Mandy, the other girls going on this trip. Never fear, I knew they would love Lib! Even if she could only get out of the house for a little bit, at least I would get to see her and meet the new little guy she just gave birth to (on my anniversary, btw, Oct 4th!). So I booked my flight, then forwarded my flight itenerary to Lib letting her know I was coming to town. The next morning Lib calls, and what do you know? She’s going out of town the weekend I am coming!!! Never in a million years would I have thought that someone that just gave birth weeks before would be packing up and going anywhere. Of course, I’ve never given birth, so I don’t really know how these things work, but I picture myself staying in pajamas for about 2 full months and everyone waiting on me hand and foot. Is that not how it works?
Needless to say, I was a little bummed that I would not see my good friend- because Chicago is not Chicago without her. Libbers, if you’re reading, yes, I had a completely fabulous time, but I also missed you madly!
Okay, enough with the background story. I know you really want to know about the trip itself. Our Friday began by consuming Bloody Marys and Hot Cocoa with Bailey’s Irish Cream on our 8 a.m. Southwest flight. Gotta love those free drink tickets.
We arrived at our incredible hotel, The Peninsula, to a swirl of paparazzi, police, and men in dark coats, shades, and earpieces. Someone famous was here! Who could it be?? Flirting with security on the elevator didn’t get us far in satisfying our curiosity. Those guys were serious. But they did suggest that we check the news- so Mandy quickly pulled out her phone and with the click of a few buttons, found some suspects: Ellen DeGeneres, Snoop Dogg, and Miley Cyrus.
After dropping our bags with the concierge, it was time to find lunch but not before we paused for a few minutes on the corner hoping that maybe the celeb would show his/her face. No such luck. Our growling bellies were more interested in food than stars. On the way to lunch we had some fun contemplating who we would rather run into of the 3….partying with Snoop Dogg could be fun, but dangerous. Miley-uh, no. But Ellen? Now she would be a blast. Turns out it WAS in fact Ellen and Portia. Sadly, we never saw them, which is truly unfortunate for them too because they would have loved hanging with us.
As for my lunch at Luxbar, I splurged and went for the Kobe Burger topped with truffle butter and caramelized onions and a side of truffle fries. Me oh my. I convinced myself I would burn it off with our full day of shopping on Michigan Avenue….
Speaking of Michigan Ave., one of the first things that caught my eye was this window display at Crate and Barrel. I wanted every piece of it…and then I noticed the placecard. Can you see? It has my name on it. This display literally had my name written all over it. Okay, maybe not ALL over it, but it was written on it. Fate.
Hours upon hours of shopping later, our tootsies were tired and we were thirsty. Time to stop at Nomi for some cocktails before heading back to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner.
My cocktails at Nomi:
Sparkling Wine, Ketel One Vodka, Rose Essence, Lychee Puree, Chambord
Square One Botanical Gin, Campari, OJ
(does anyone remember this post on the Square One Botanical back in May?)
615 W Randolph
Fast forward to dinner: Avec doesn’t take reservations, and the wait times can be pretty incredible. Ours? 2 hours. Funny thing is, they don’t have a bar to wait in, so they send you down the street to a sushi bar to drink while you wait. Two saketinis later and we were finally seated for dinner around 10:30 p.m. Even though that sounds really late, it didn’t seem late because the place was still completely bustling.
Whipped Brandade with Garlic Bread
(for those that don’t know- brandade is basically a rich, whipped, cod flavored cheese dip. I’m sure it appeals to some and a couple of the girls loved it, as did the couple seated next to us, but me? Can’t say I’m a fan)
Swordfish with White Beans
(I know that’s not terribly descriptive, but it was a special, so I can’t reference the menu to be reminded what was in it. Just know this: it was delicious with a capital D)
Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates with Smoked Bacon and Piquillo Pepper-Tomato Sauce
3423 N Southport Avenue
Typically when I go to a city, I like to try new places, but every now and then I like to go back to an old favorite. This particular restaurant has one item on the menu that I could eat over and over and over again and never tire of, so I wanted to take the girls and let them experience it. The Jibarito, an appetizer dish consisting of jerked chicken layered between caramelized plantains and served with red onion-orange marmalade. I still remember the first time Libby and I ordered it. Pure joy. Then even more joy when the waiter, seeing how happy the dish made us, gave us another one for free! Apparently the kitchen accidentally made too many and instead of tossing it, he gave it to us. And it didn’t end there. Libby’s cousin Darren joined us a while later and we made him order it. And we ate some more. That’s how good it is.
I’ve been back since and had it again, and yes, it was as good as I remembered. I tell you all that so you know how excited I was to take the girls and see the pleasure on their faces when they had their first taste. Problem- it’s not on the brunch menu. And even being as polite and sweet as possible and laying on the Southern charm does not get it for you on a Saturday at brunch. But as you’ll see below, we didn’t starve:
Our Brunch Spread
Breakfast Empanadas: Flaky Pastry Stuffed with Eggs, Sausage and Aged Manchego Cheese
Creamy Chorizo Country Gravy over Homemade Fluffy Manchego Cheese Biscuits
Grilled Chicken Breast Marinated in a Spicy Brazilian “Piri Piri” Sauce with Avocado, Lettuce, Tomato and Red Onion-Orange Marmalade on a Toasted Roll
Lean Ground Turkey seasoned with Smoked Tomato Sauce, Ground Mexican Chiles, Diced Caramelized Plantains and Cumin on a Toasted Bun with a Hand-Rolled Spicy Pork Tamale
Chile Dusted Tater Tots
Then it was time for shopping….lots and lots of shopping. You would think that enormous brunch would hold us over until dinner, but apparently power shopping works up quite an appetite. As we walked down the street I suddenly had a hankering for a cookie. I have no idea why a cookie, but I needed a cookie. Like right then. I turned to Amanda and said, “I need a cookie”. Miraculously, just a few steps further and what appears before us? A window filled with goodies!!
3751 N Southport
We took what seemed like an eternity to make our selections- how to choose just one?? Well, I couldn’t. I got a pumpkin iced cookie and a molasses iced cookie, and let me tell you , they were GOOD. Sugar rush achieved, it was time to hit the streets for more shopping.
Then finally, it was back to the hotel to get ready for a night out on the town.
1800 N Lincoln Avenue
Wow. This was probably one of the very best meals I’ve had in a long, long time. Perennial was recently chosen as one of the top new restaurants in a Time Out Chicago poll, and for good reason. I really think the next time I visit the city, I’ll make a second appearance here. All of the food was very fresh and seasonal. It’s a “farm to table” concept, with the restaurant purchasing many of their ingredients from the Green City Market that’s just across the street.
G.C.M. Red Kuri Squash Risotto, Laughing Bird Shrimp, Toasted Curried Pumpkin Seeds
The other girls ordered:
Ellie – same as me (smart girl), the Salmon
Amanda – Poached Alaskan Halibut, Clams, Chorizo, Leeks, Smoked Onions, Spicy Tomato Broth
Mandy – Grilled Chicken Breast, G.C.M. Baked Apple Puree, Savoy Cabbage and Foie Gras Crepe, Sweet Potatoes
A note on Mandy’s Cabbage Crepe- although she didn’t eat a bite of it (not a cabbage fan), the 3 of us gobbled it up. I couldn’t get enough and am planning to contact the restaurant to see if they’ll tell me how to make it. Wowza.
The Violet Hour
1520 N Damen Avenue
We left the meal satisfied, but not stuffed, which was exactly what we’d hoped since we still had a big night of creative concoctions ahead at The Violet Hour. You may or may not recall my brief mention of VH in this blog post about Nashville’s The Patterson House. Libby took me to Violet Hour long before TPH was even a concept in anyone’s mind, and you better believe that it thoroughly impressed me. Never before had I seen such a serious list of cocktails.
Since the other girls had never been before, Amanda and I knew VH was a must do during our stay. I also knew the line to get in the front door would be long (40+ people it turns out), so I enlisted a little help from some friends to get us on “the list”. (a big, huge thank you, “friends”!)
Not only did we get in the door in a snap, we also got the best seats in the house, right at the bar with mixologist extraordinaire, Michael. This man is fantastic. He truly made the evening (okay, the incredible drinks helped too). Watching him in action –the moves he makes as he’s going to town with that shaker –is truly a sight to see.
My drink choices:
Plymouth Gin, Lime, Lavender Syrup, Tonic
Death’s Door Gin, Lemon Creme de Cacoa White, Lillet
Gin, Ginger, Lime, Mint and Tonic
Michael, if you’re out there- we are waiting with bated breath for you to make a trip to Nashville as you promised. I’m still not sure why you haven’t visited us before, especially since you’re opening a honky tonk. How is it possible to do that without first doing some research in Music City, USA?!?
Before we knew it, it was Sunday, our last day in Chicago. I forgot to mention the gorgeous weather we experienced over the weekend- no need for wool coats this trip. With temps in the 60’s, we couldn’t have been happier. Or at least we thought, until Sunday reached up into the 70’s and the sun was shining down on us as we trekked down Michigan Avenue one last time. Ah, it doesn’t get any better.
RL (Ralph Lauren Restaurant)
115 East Chicago Avenue