Friday, October 06, 2006

Chi-town: Eating, Drinking and More Eating Highlights

I recently took a long weekend mini-vacation to Chicago with my friend Melissa a couple weekends ago. I've visited Chicago a few times for work in the past but have never had the chance to explore the city.

Neither of us did much research on Chi-town before our trip and I wished I had asked around more for suggestions beforehand. So, next time you're headed to Chicago, here are a few Chicagoan highlights which we stumbled upon while we were there. (We stayed in downtown Chicago by the Loop but mainly went out in Wicker Park.)

SHARING A CAB FROM MIDWAY WITH A STRANGER: Opposed to the rushed and rude LAX taxi stand guys, the Midway Taxi guys are friendly, fast and will do their best to help you save money on the fare; if you want, they will pair together single travelers traveling into the city together for a cheaper fare so make sure to ask. ($22 for a ride into the city alone, $14 if you share with a stranger). It's about 5 bucks more from O'Hare, but you can also share there too.

DOWNTOWN CHICAGO LUNCH: We stayed at the House of Blues Hotel,(pretty pricey but cheaper on, garish (in a good way), tripping-on-acid style decor, ultra-friendly service and patient concierge desk which we hounded for suggestions before every time we stepped out of the hotel). Both concierge's we talked to suggested lunch at Rockit Bar & Grill , an upscale brewery a couple blocks from the hotel. Their roasted butternut squash soup studded with pomegranate seeds and truffle oil($4) and Southwest BBQ Chicken Salad($12)were so good that we decided to return for lunch the next day rather than try something else new; a big deal considering I'm typically all about exploring as many new spots as possible. Their brown sugar-dusted sweet potato fries and cheesy mac and cheese ($5 each)also helped persuade us.

WICKER PARK/BUCKTOWN (off the blue line on the L): I was told by several people that Wicker Park/Bucktown area is the artsy/edgy, Chicago-style version of L.A.'s Silverlake/Los Feliz. It's hard to equate artsy/edgy with sports bar-laden part of town but given Chicago is a sports bar-laden city in general, it was definitely the spot we found with the most bars, restaurants and boutiques that we liked, including;

Bongo Room: Chocolately goodness for breakfast. We couldn't decide between the chocolate-banana pancakes or the lemon pancakes with fresh raspberry coulis so we ordered one of each and shared. The veggie croissant breakfast sandwich we shared would have been better toasted but it's all about the pancakes here anyway. (Total bill $21) The wait is supposedly horrendous during the weekends but we got a eat immediately on a Monday morning. Check out blogger RachelleB's site for pics of the decadent-looking pancakes.*There's another location in downtown Chicago by the South end of Grant Park too.
Bravo Tapas & Lounge: We hit up one of the more shi-shi'ish spots in Wicker Park area for our last night. Generous tapas helpings of seafood salad, eggplant drizzled with Moroccan honey, seared scallops over mashed sweet potato and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, potato frittata and spicy papatas bravas were pretty good, if not amazing, yet ended up being a little pricey ($70 for two) but that also included our pineapple mojito and Rose Cava and a flamenco show.
Danny's Tavern IN BUCKTOWN: After a few misses (Celebrity: We were lured by the fun-looking neon $$$ signs outside. The sleek, try-hard loungey atmosphere was broken by the NFL game playing over the bar. And the crowd of suits hovering under it cheering. Cans: as in 'beer cans', yeah....a little too "frat-boy sports bar" for our liking and Lakeview Broadcasting Company it sounded like it had potential based on this citysearch review: but being located in Boystown, it was a little more gay and less coed as we would have liked), we finally found this fun Wicker Park bar housed in a cute little wooden house-looking exterior located on the corner of Damen & Dickens. The crowd was cool and the danceable tunes even better(soul/funk,salsa-tinged rock, reggaetone medleys and then more soul/funk); making a night of dancing at Danny's one of the highlights of our trip.
Rodan: Yes, named after Godzilla's monster nemisis. Our skater-punk waiter at Rockit recommended this Wicker Park spot. This diner-looking lounge had a three-piece band playing in the back area but was pretty chill where we were sitting by the counter bar. It wasn't super-mingley but had interesting people-watching (a hetero-guy wearing an arm scarf, a couple sightings of both sexes rocking the folded bandanna look)and fun drinks (I got a fruity vodka martini with boba balls).

Millenium Park: Gorgeous way to spend our last sunny afternoon in Chicago; a fanciful Frank Lloyd Wright metallic sculptured outdoor ampitheater, picturesque, side-by-side background lake and skyscraper views and snowglobe-like mirrored jellybean which reflected it all.

AIRPORT FOOD: Facing the equally disheartening prospects of skipping dinner on my 4 1/2hr flight home or worse, dining out of a Nabisco Snack Box, I hit up the food court at Midway. Lo and behold, saving airport travelers from crappy food was a Midway outpost of the famed Harry Caray's steakhouse. And, unlike McDonalds where LAX Big Macs cost more than one a mile away from the airport, the prices weren't jacked up either. It was crowded like a sports bar but I got seated right away. My gigantic chopped salad with chicken, pancetta, avocado, gorgonzola cheese and mixed greens in sweet herb vinaigrette ($10.95) was so delicious, I stayed and ate the entire heaping plate even though they had started boarding.

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