Goodness. It's been a while hasn't it? Sorry, that wasn't my intention, but being under the weather and extremely busy with work for the last few weeks hasn't left me a lot of time to write. It's actually kind of a shame, because I have some things I've been wanting to tell you. First though, let's wrap up Chicago, shall we?
Our last day in the Windy City was spent walking up the stretch of Michigan Avenue known as the "Magnificent Mile" and back down to the Chicago Art Institute. The "Mag Mile" is reknowned for its shopping, though these days, somewhat depressingly, it's just full of the same mall stores you see everywhere else. The tulips were its saving grace.
Gorgeous, endless beds of them were planted on the City's major thoroughfares throughout the months of April and May as a sort of public art exhibition. They lined the full length of the Magnificent Mile and the riverfront along Wacker Drive, and huge beds of them filled Millenium Park. Each bed was carefully designed and color coordinated like an enormous flower arrangement. It was truly something to behold.
We didn't do a lot of actual shopping on the Magnificent Mile, but my mother could not resist the American Girl Place doll store.
I'm not much of a doll person myself, but even I fell for some of the more elaborately costumed ones and their furnishings, like the Swedish table and chairs set below. I was gaga over the "Josefina" doll's jade green bed with woven Mexican blanket and sheepskin rug - and the seventies "Julie" doll with her roller skates and lunch box with miniature Hostess cupcake.
Upstairs they have the "regular" dolls - which come in different colors, hairstyles and features to offer the owners their best chance at finding a match for themselves. These come with pink hoodie sweatshirts and other less elaborate but still adorable "modern" outfits. Also on this floor was the tearoom - which had a surprisingly elegant menu, and plenty of tables available even though it was Mother's Day.
We also saw the doll "Hair Salon," where you can get your doll an updo or ponytail for around $10.00 - and the Doll Hospital, where a box of tissues sat on the counter next to the debit card terminal.
Moving on down Michigan Avenue, we decided to stroll into the Drake Hotel, one of Chicago's oldest and grandest, to see what was going on. Mothers' Day brunch was being served in the ballroom and tea was being offered in the lobby, complete with costumed Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. I love old classic hotels, and the Drake just has that feel of one of those hotels that has always been and still is in the middle of the action - like the Plaza in New York or the St. Francis in San Francisco.
On the way back down Michigan Ave. I snapped this photo of a classic "gangster moll" gown in the window of a nearby shop. It truly looked like it belonged in Chicago and nowhere else.
We made our way back down Michigan Avenue to Millenium Park and and the Chicago Art Institute. Sadly we were a week too early for the opening of the new Renzo Piano designed Modern wing - and by extension the new fancy restaurant. We ate a surprisingly forgettable lunch in their basement cafeteria. Normally I love museum cafes, but this one was the pits - as my mom likes to say.
After lunch we toured the galleries and saw some of the most famous artworks of our time. Did you know that American Gothic is supposed to depict a farmer and his daughter? All this time I thought they were a couple. Oops.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper was one of the works I most looked forward to seeing. It's so evocative and has wonderful color and dimension.
This is probably the crown jewel in the museum's collection - Georges Seurat's Sunday Afernoon on La Grande Jatte. It even inspired the Sondheim musical "Sunday in the Park with George." It's lovely in person - I especially like that the woman on the far right has a monkey on a leash. We also saw several original Toulouse Lautrec posters and works. I got a little overdose of those in the 90's, but they're still spectacular in their full size original versions.
I especially enjoyed the stunning design and decorative arts collections. The skyscraper art deco bookshelf in the background and modern furnishings are still cool...
and I just loved this Viennese coffee service.
After soaking up as much culture as we could stand, we walked back down Michigan Ave to our hotel on the riverfront. Chicago is chock full of these amazing art deco office buildings that once housed the offices of companies (even whole industries) that no longer exist. For example the Carbide and Carbon building which has been converted into the Hard Rock Hotel. Thankfully all of the stunning art deco details of these buildings have been preserved - just look at those light fixtures, would you?
Dinner that night was at Cafe Spiaggia - the slightly less expensive and more casual wing of the Obama's favorite Chicago restaurant, Spiaggia. It's a little hard to find, up a couple of floors in a rather nondescript office building on the North end of Michigan Avenue. The cafe is a warren of hallways and narrow spaces. Ask for one of the tables in the window bays - they're much more comfortable. (The photo above is of our 1st table - sandwiched between the bar and a party of six - which we left when one of the window seats came available.)
The service wasn't the snappiest, and the atmosphere was a little loud and cramped, but the food we ate at Cafe Spiaggia was some of the best of the trip. This chicken under a brick (which I believe they also serve in the main restaurant) was as crispy as duck confit and served with a nicely balanced vinegar-spiked demi glace over spaetzle - slyly adding some distinctive German flavors to an Italian dish. I think that might even be rosemary on top - normally it's my kryptonite, but this dish was so good I didn't even notice.
Our second dish was a carbonara-like pasta, topped with a softly poached egg and tossed with asparagus and crisp prosciutto. The housemade pasta was al dente yet tender and though it had cooled a tad too much by the time I got a bite (already holding its curled shapes) the flavors were nicely balanced and the egg was perfectly cooked.
One of my biggest regrets as we got ready to leave the next day was that I didn't make it to Hot Doug's - the hog dog stand out in the suburbs that specializes in duck fat fries. That will have to wait for another trip (and there will be another trip) but I did manage to squeeze in a pretty respectable Chicago dog at Gold Coast Dogs at Midway Airport. (By the way - can I get a hell yeah for Sluggos - the Chicago dog place that used to be in La Jolla and UTC back in the 80's? I miss them like crazy.) I had a Polish dog with everything, and I have to say, it was a lot better than the one I had from Superdawg on the other end of the airport on a previous visit. Nice snap, good charred flavor, plenty of condiments - very satisfying.
After we finished our dogs, at my mom's urging, we got in line for popcorn at Nuts on Clark, just around the corner. I was skeptical - after all, packaged cheese and caramel corn is usually pretty stale - but the line doesn't lie. If you're flying through Midway - after your Gold Coast dog - do yourself a favor. Ignore the chocolate and nuts and get yourself a bag of mixed cheese and caramel popcorn for the plane - maybe a few gift bags too. You'll pay a little more for it than you really think you should, but I'm willing to bet you'll be darned glad you did when that drink cart comes rolling down the aisle.
980 N. Michigan Avenue
dinner only - recommend the Chicken Under a Brick
Gold Coast Dogs
Loop Location (check their website for others)
159 N Wabash Ave
Nuts on Clark
3830 N. Clark Street
also at Midway Airport, Union Station and Water Tower Place.