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Favorites from the Windy City

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IMG_8593When I plan a vacation, my top concerns are breakfast, lunch and dinner… oh, and dessert. Several months ago, Matt and I realized it was time for us to have a trip just the two of us. We had not been on a trip alone since right before I got pregnant with Charlotte and after nine months of pregnancy and almost a year of nursing, all the logistics would finally work out. Plus, a certain someone was turning 30 December 22nd. We talked about several locations and finally decided on Chicago. Matt had been several times when he was a child, but I had never been.

Taking the train… taking a train somewhere was on our bucket list and the trip from MEM to CHI is a straight shot, so we thought this would be a good time to try it. The train to and from Chicago is an overnight train. We went for coach seats instead of the sleeper cars. It’s much like sleeping on an airplane. The seats recline but not all the way, so you’re sleeping in the semi-upright position the whole night. It’s not the world’s best night of sleep but it got us four full days in Chicago (we arrived at 8 AM on our first day and didn’t leave until 9 PM on our last day) and we only had to pay for three nights in the hotel. Plus, it’s way less chaotic than an airport.

Hotel… The same day we decided on Chicago I saw a Jetsetter deal for the Public Chicago hotel. It’s in the Gold Coast district. We loved, loved, loved this hotel. Ian Schrager took an old hotel and completely transformed it, keeping the character of the past but with modern furniture and finishings. The customer service was outstanding. Check-in was at 12 noon, so we went by when we got in town to drop our luggage off. We asked if it might be possible to get early check-in and they not only agreed but upgraded our room so we could go immediately. Any hotel with its own library is a winner in my book, and we wanted to move into this one.

Restaurants… Oh goodness, here’s where it’s at…

Our favorite restaurant (and dare-I-say-it best meal of my life) was Girl and the Goat. Chef Stephanie Izard (winner of Top Chef) had me at the name of the place (surely, by now you know my slight obsession with goats) but the food… oh, the food. It’s the kind of food that’s fun, different and perfect for sharing. Goat blue breads with fig butter and fennel-onion jam, loup de mer with goat sausage, crisp braised pork shank with shiitake kimchee, sauteed green beans with a fish sauce vinaigrette and for dessert apple buckle with brown butter gelato. Here’s the deal… you must make reservations early. We made ours 2.5 months out and still ended up eating dinner at 4:45 PM, not that I was complaining one bit though. Because then we went across the street and got two chocolate croissants from The Little Goat bakery for a midnight snack.

Now, you simply cannot go to Chicago and not consume vast quantities of deep-dish pizza. At least you can’t if you’re me and pizza is your love language. Hands down, our favorite was Lou Malnati’s. I’m not going to tell you how many times we had their Chicago Classic (sausage on their famous buttercrust) but I will say I consumed pizza every. single. day. (Thank goodness for that marathon training.)

If deep-dish pizza is a must on any trip to Chicago, a steak isn’t a bad idea either. Thanks to the recommendation of my friend Anna who had been to Chicago just a few months before, we went to Bavette’s. The place felt very Mad Men and I was wearing a leopard-print dress and red lipstick, so basically this night was the total opposite of my regular life. I think we spent more than two hours at dinner until we couldn’t stuff another bite into our mouths and thus couldn’t talk anymore for fear seams would start ripping. We both had filets medium-rare, and I had this scrumptious side called Elote Style Corn with chili, lime and parmesan.

Before the Bulls game, we went to Little Goat Diner. After our delicious meal at Girl and the Goat we wanted to try Izard’s take on an upscale diner. Matt and I split the Patty Melt with Slagel beef and caramelized onions on pretzel rye. And some goat chili cheese fries. Perfect cold-weather, pre-game food. Unlike Girl and the Goat, Little Goat doesn’t do reservations so you don’t have to think too far ahead. Just get there a little early since they get really busy.

Something about brunch just screams, “Celebration!” and Matt and I love us some breakfast style food, so for his actual birthday, the 22nd, we went to Perennial Virant. Matt had the french toast with carrot jam and candied pecans (think carrot cake meets french toast) and I had the artichoke and asparagus quiche with its flaky, buttery crust and delicate, cheesy center. Snowflakes were falling outside and we sat and toasted 30 and the man I love.

What we did… Even though it sounds like all we did was eat, I promise we didn’t. We walked all over Chicago, probably logging close to ten miles a day. We took a taxi a few times, but mostly we walked and talked and saw and savored the Windy City. We love us some museums. (Nerdy, I know, but we’re okay with that.) Our first day we went to the Chicago Art Institute. This place is huge and you could easily get lost, but our favorite was the Neapolitan Crèche exhibit featured for only a few weeks at Christmas each year. It’s from the mid-18th-century and features over 200 figures. I have this thing with nativities, and I’ll never forget the beauty of that piece. Another day we went to the Shedd Aquarium. Little known fact, before 5th grade when I decided I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I think it happened after our trip to Sea World, but I still love aquariums. We happened across a training session with the Beluga whales and it was fun to see these creatures up close. We got to meet Sue, a giant dinosaur at the Field Museum. They also had an interesting special exhibit on Nazi propaganda on loan from the Holocaust Museum. Having just finished The Book Thief, this was especially poignant to me. If you like museums, I highly recommend the City Pass. It saves you money and you get to go straight to the front of the line. I hate lines. So, this was a huge plus to me.

We also got to see the Bulls beat the Cavaliers, and we were wishing Derrick Rose wasn’t injured so we could have seen him play. (I’m pretty sure the Bulls wish he wasn’t injured too.) We went up the John Hancock building, played at LegoLand, stopped by American Girl Place (where I lamented the fact that they are retiring my American Girl doll, Molly,) walked down Michigan Avenue lit up with twinkly lights, drank 49 hot drinks (coffee for Matt, caramel apple spice for me) a day to keep warm and soaked in the sights and sounds and flavors of the Windy City.

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