Tuesday, July 04, 2006


We spent the holiday weekend in Chicago. I'm actually still here at the House of Blues hotel, recovering from all the food we've consumed over a 4-day period and contemplating a diet in my very near future.

It all began after a long, traffic-filled drive to the city that brought us to Taste of Chicago in Grant Park. Sure, it was 95 degrees outside, but that didn't stop us from eating steak tacos, lobster beignets, stuffed sausage pizza, and a ginormous chocolate turtle, all washed down with some cold Miller Lite. Fine dining it was not, but satisfying nibbles nonetheless. After successfully navigating through the hordes of people, we felt completely justified in plopping down on the grass in front of one of the music stages to take a restorative afternoon nap.

Sunday morning we ate brunch at a wonderful and unique spot in Evanston called Le Peep (similar to First Watch but with more unique menu selections). Later we got snacks in the Water Tower mall at Foodlife, an interesting experience in which you can sample cuisines from all over the world. And we topped off the day with a wine, cheese and charcuterie tasting at Bin 36, conveniently located in our hotel. It was my third visit, and each time I love this place more. They’ve removed any unnecessary snottiness and scariness from the wine drinking experience, and the “flights” make it fun to try a variety of wines all at once. We sat up at the cheese counter and made fast friends with the restaurant’s cheese monger (I’ll admit I didn’t know that title existed anywhere) from Mexico City. He not only gave us his favorite tallegio, but also shared a Persian feta made in Australia as well as a cheese that tasted exactly like stinky feet. Wine, cheese, and a little sausage made us happy, stuffed Chicagoans.

Monday we were so full we didn’t eat until lunchtime, but what a lunch it was. A friend took us to Harry Caray’s, which would’ve been worth the experience just to see inside this historic restaurant and check out all the cool sports memorabilia. We dined on the best (and I might add, largest) burgers I’ve had in a long time. I had a lamb burger topped with goat cheese served with sweet potato fries. I think I’m in love.

But lest you think we were so full that we couldn’t eat dinner, fear not, because we rose t to the challenge and managed to fit even more food in. Monday evening by far our best meal. After a fantastic boat ride to see the best of the city’s architecture, we cast off our grubby walking/sightseeing clothes, got all cleaned up, and headed for the very exclusive, by invitation only Foundation Room at the House of Blues. The two kids from Cincinnati felt like rock stars in the ultra-cool yet friendly, candlelit top floor room where we enjoyed a delicious (and very expensive) martini for me, and wine for Peter. Since the Foundation Room's dining room was closed for the evening, we opted for the Smith & Wollensky restaurant we've been eyeing all weekend. We secured a lovely table outside overlooking the river and perused the traditional yet solid menu selections. Peter and I fought over the bacon chunks on my Wollensky Salad, and he tried to lick the bottom of his bowl of the day's Tortilla Soup. Our steaks were simply prepared and cooked to perfection. I couldn’t resist getting my filet “Oscar style” and wasn’t disappointed by the generous amount of crab and hollandaise on top of my tender, medium-rare beef. We didn’t really need the truffled mac and cheese as a side, but it sounded (and was) so very decadent. We took our server’s recommendation for dessert and went with the Coconut Cake. Cake is hit or miss for me, but this one was a surefire hit. The layers of soft cake and whipped cream icing were the perfect balance for the fresh coconut shavings and mango sauce.

We ate breakfast in Boys’ Town this morning, and not surprisingly all I could manage was an egg white omelet. My only consolation is that in addition to my stomach expanding, my calves are sore from all the walking we did, so I’ll hope that at the end of the day the two canceled each other out.

How can you not love Chicago? So much to do, so much to explore, and so much to EAT! But what I really found delightful is that everyone we met here was so genuinely friendly. Store clerks, valet parkers, cheese mongers, and strangers alike were kind, accommodating, and happy to have us here. I think we just might be able to live here…

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