Monday, October 26, 2009

Chicago!

I love Chicago! It's funny because all my life I always wanted to go to New York, never even giving a thought to ever going to Chicago. In fact, I had never even set foot in the mid-west until a year ago, when Rich asked me if I wanted to go along with him to Chicago on a business trip. I loved it so much that I jumped at the chance to go again this year, and we brought Emma along this time (thanks, Dad for the f.f. miles). In many ways, Chicago is like New York - a wonderful, big city - and in many ways it is even better. It feels to me like a smaller, more manageable New York. More condensed. And, I daresay Chicago is much prettier and cleaner and architecturally pleasing than New York. Add Lake Michigan and the Chicago River which flows through town - gorgeous!

The weather was such a surprise! We had been looking on weather.com the week before and we were expecting weather in the 40s. Well, the weatherman was wrong! When we arrived it was a balmy 65 degrees! The next two days, it dropped to the low 50s - brisk and refreshing - and not cold at all when you are wearing a coat and scarf. The last day, it dipped into the 40s and was quite chilly. Of course, then we came home to 90 degrees - I didn't like that! After our little taste of winter, I was ready for something other than a heatwave.

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Merchandise Mart

The hotel we stayed at was cool! It was connected to a building called the Merchandise Mart right on the Chicago River. The Merchandise Mart is the world's largest commercial building - 4.2 million gross square feet! It is 25 stories high and spans two whole city blocks. Our hotel was connected to the mart by a indoor bridge (see left of photo). It was fun to walk through and see the beautiful showrooms, and there was even a Starbucks, a food park, and retail shops. Very cool.

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Emma & I at "the Bean" (real name: Cloud Gate)

Wednesday upon arrival we took the El (elevated train) down to Millennium Park and then walked over to Navy Pier. Emma was so impressed with the scenery that she got desperate and used Rich and I as her subjects for a photo session! (see below) After snacking on the amazing Garrett's popcorn (you have to get some if you are ever in Chicago - the cheese corn/caramel corn mix with macadamia nuts is SO good), we then grabbed some deep dish pizza at the classic Pizzeria Uno for dinner. It takes 45 minutes to get your pizza and it is oh-so-worth it. Mmm.

Here are a couple photos Emma took of us with the beautiful fall foliage.

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Rich's workshop was held Thursday and part of Friday morning. Alone in the city, Emma and I started off Thursday with a stop at one of my favorite coffee places - Intelligentsia (if you didn't read my blog entry on my visit there here in L.A., click here). Emma got what she said was the best hot cocoa ever. And, I tasted it - she was so right. Great flavor and richness, yet not too sweet. She also grabbed a croissant, I got a coffee and a slice of chocolate zucchini bread. I didn't taste the zucchini as it was pure, rich chocolate, but I didn't mind. Breakfast in hand, off we went to shop. We went to all the usual faves, hitting the sale racks, and then found a fun place called Filene's basement - a big discount store kind of like a Marshall's but nicer. We each got a pair of shoes there - one of us got a pair of 4" black pointy-toed pumps, and the other a pair of Naturalizers. Can you guess who got what? Ha.

After a fun day of shopping, we met up with Rich at the hotel, changed into something a little nicer, and grabbed a cab to dinner at Morton's of Chicago. Very swanky. Very yummy. If you ever go, be sure to go to the original location - classic Chicago steakhouse.

The next day, after Starbucks at the Merchandise Mart, we hit a little more shopping...then met Rich for lunch. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Some friends from Chicago gave us the best insider tip! The 95th floor (yes the 95th) of the John Hancock building houses a restaurant called the Signature Room. The restaurant has all glass walls and we were fortunate enough to get a window table. So, basically, next to me was an unobstructed, breathtaking view of the whole city. The clouds kept rolling in and out, and it was so cool when they would blow away and the full city would come into view. It was like someone lifted a curtain and revealed a masterpiece. It was awesome! Surprisingly, the restaurant had good food and was not pricey for what kind of ambience you got with your lunch. The menu had salads and sandwiches for around $10, or you could get the lunch buffet for $18 which was really quite nice. It was a great experience - highly recommended if you ever go to Chicago. Forget paying $18 apiece to go up in the Sears Tower (now called Willis Tower) - for the same price or less you get lunch and a view! Thanks Justin and Katelyn- that was a superb tip.

OK, now what you've all been waiting for. The part of the trip where Rich takes us to one of Guy's "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives." Last time we were in Chicago, he took me to a breakfast place called the Cozy Corner for an amazing skillet breakfast. Never mind that it was a 45-minute voyage from downtown. I try to be good-natured about the journey that always seems to accompany most of Guy's locations, which to be honest, are often in really scary neighborhoods.

Well, this was no exception. We had seen Guy's episode where he goes to this joint called The American Depot diner that has this amazing homey food - pot roast, turkey dinner with all the fixings, and the like. Rich wanted the pot roast, but I had my heart set on that turkey dinner. Well, the place wasn't exactly easy to get to (to say the least), but the thought of that turkey dinner waiting for me kept me going. We took the following transportation to get there:

5 minute cab ride to train station - $6.

20 minute train ride to Oak Park - $2.50 each = $7.50.
(we missed the first train by literally seconds and had to wait 1/2 hour for the next)

20 minute cab ride to the restaurant - $16. (incidentally, it was only 3 miles but somehow took 20 minutes.)

We had no idea it would cost that much but at that point what could we do...

And of course, we had to do the whole thing in reverse to get back to the hotel. Ugh.

So, anyways, I have to admit I was struggling a bit to be cheerful after all that. But I was hanging in there. I knew this meant a lot to Rich to go to this place and by golly, I was going to be happy.

So, we finally arrive, in a really not-so-nice and not-so-safe neighborhood, and enter this kind of dingy and dead-looking diner with about 2 tables full of people. I immediately got the feeling that I didn't want to eat there, but I kept that to myself....

We got our table and Rich immediately recognized the cook as the guy from Guy's episode (the owner). He struck up a friendly conversation with him, telling him that we saw him on Guy's show and teasing him that we came all the way from California just to eat his food. Rich is having a blast - I'm still slightly grumpy, but starting to forget the whole travel thing/scary neighborhood thing and loosen up. The waiter then comes to our table, and says very plainly, "Uh...I just wanted to let you know that we're out of turkey." I could not believe my ears. I was like, ARE YOU KIDDING??? I must have unknowingly said that out loud about 4 times until my family assured me that he wasn't kidding and encouraged me to STOP IT. Well, if ever a straw broke a camel's back, that was it. Long, expensive ride, dingy diner, no turkey - aaargh!! And, did I mention, we were now totally pressed for time - because the ride there took so long, we only had about 45 minutes until we needed to turn around and head back - the last train was at 8:25 pm!

So anyways, I must say, we did end up with some decent food - but I do also have to say that Guy's show made it seem MUCH better than it was (all around). On the show, the diner was bustling with people, you don't see the outside of the diner or the neighborhood, and of course turkey dinner is on everyone's table! But, Rich loved his pot roast and enjoyed the whole experience, so in the end it was all good. Our cab was late picking us back up again after dinner, so we almost missed the train back - we had to run all the way up to the platform to make it! (good thing I had my Naturalizers on.) Needless to say, I was happy to arrive safe and sound back at our hotel.

Here's the youtube of the place we went - if you have a few minutes to watch you can see the food I almost had... and we were in such a hurry to get our cab that we didn't remember to order the donuts!! Bummer!!

On Saturday morning, Rich made up for the lack of the turkey dinner and took us to the Original Pancake House. Boy-oh-boy did he make up for the night before. We even had to wait in the 40 degree cold to get in and it was still worth it! I had the house specialty -the most amazing Puffed Pancake drenched in a cinnamon sauce with sauteed apples - truly divine and one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. And, the good news is - I found out there are locations in California -in Redondo Beach and Anaheim! Yippee!

So, I hope you enjoyed a little taste of Chicago. Not much sightseeing this time - as usual, it really is more about the food for the Harasicks! And Chicago is a great town for that and so much more. Go if you ever get the chance.

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2 comments:

Blessings Flow Down said...

You packed it in! What a fun time and good eats too. Chicago is a gorgeous town, especially in the fall. The Signture Room looked like fun, but I know I'd be seated at a table in the center...yowza! Great pictures Emma!

jkschroed said...

I'm glad you had such a great time! I think next time I want to go with you guys and get the food tour of the city! :)~k