Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wanderlust | Chicago

During my trip to Illinois earlier this month, I stopped in Chicago for a little over 24 hours for some eating, drinking, and touristy things. So here's a summary of what I ate, what I drank and sipped, and what I saw during my brief time in town -- essentially a little guide of sorts for those wondering what's good in the Windy City.

My mom and I took a train in from the Illinois surbubs into Chicago Union Station, where we briefly walked around to see The Great Hall, the transportation hub's ornate, Beaux-Arts inspired waiting area which boasts a 110'-high atrium capped by a large barrel-vaulted skylight. Gorgeous, gorgeous architecture!

In between getting to my airbnb apartment and our early lunch reservation, {1} we stopped into Bow Truss Coffee Roasters (another fantastic recommendation from Alice) in River North for coffee and tea. I loved {4,5} the paraphernalia of recreational sports -- you know, the kind of equipment you'd find at a youth sleep-away camp -- {3,5,6} as well as the industrial furniture sprinkled throughout the space. While I had a nicely steeped cup of black tea, {2} my mom had a cappuccino which used its house espresso blend called Foundation. This espresso has both "toffee and caramel notes along with a zest of lime lingering in the finish," which my mom really loved so much that we bought some to take home. Plus, can't help a little love for a latté heart.

Coffee at Bow Truss was followed by a delightful lunch at GT Fish & Oyster (see review here) down the block. Different portions of well-crafted plates are available to order for lunch (the clam chowder pictured above was eye-opening), along with a half dozen oyster varieties from both the East and West coasts. Noteworthy things to definitely order include the Prince Edward Island mussels in a rich roasted tomato sauce and anything off of the lemonade beverage menu (available spiked, too).

SAM_0074 SAM_0076
After lunch, my mom and I took a nice stroll into the heart of Chicago to visit the John Hancock Observatory (now called 360 CHICAGO), located on the 95th floor of the iconic John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue.

The observatory spans the entire 95th floor with 360 degrees of captivating Chicago skyline to go around. Seen here is Navy Pier that spans out into Lake Michigan.

And of course, more skyscraper and concrete jungles, including the (in)famous Willis Tower (formerly and best known as the Sears Tower).

Untitled Untitled
One of my favorite things to do whenever I'm in Chicago is to make a visit to The Art Institute of Chicago and to its "new" annex, The Modern Wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano. I've enjoyed every exhibit that I've been to here, particularly the ones that revolve around Impressionism and Modern Art.

If you haven't noticed already, Chicago is pretty big for its architecture (rightfully so). To the north of The Art Institute is Millenium Park, which houses the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by architect Frank Gehry. There are plenty of outdoor concerts that play throughout the year here, but when there aren't, passersby can enjoy the atmosphere and lounge around on the grass.

Created by Anish Kapoor, The Cloud Gate (informally also known as The Bean) also sits inside Millenium Park and is also my top haunt whenever I'm in Chicago. I've seen it several times before, but I never tire of walking around it, under it, and through it.

And of course, I have several portraits like these, but it's nice to document each visit as the sky looks different each and every time.

Later that evening, I met up with Andrew for dinner at Blackbird (see review here), where the cuisine redefines modern classics in the kitchen of Chef Paul Kahan. Along its lovely courses on the menu (the roasted foie gras is exquisite), the wine/beer list and cocktail offerings are great.

Aviary 07
If you are looking for an eye-opening adventure in the land of cocktails and spirits, you must go to The Aviary (see review here). The Aviary will easily become part (if it hasn't already! :P) of the authentic Chicago experience for foodie and drink enthusiasts alike -- it is completely unlike most cocktail bars and lounges that it'll leave quite an impression with you going forward. The gadgetry alone should be enough to pique your curiosity.

Then the next morning, I made my second attempt to get to {1,3Doughnut Vault early enough before it closes shop once all the doughnuts are sold out (I went around 1 PM the afternoon before, when they had already been cleared out -- the shop closes once its inventory of baked goods is cleared out). Oh, and remember, it's a cash-only establishment!

{5} On weekdays, the shop opens at 8:30 AM, but when I arrived a bit after 8 AM, the line was already wrapping around the block. I guess Cronuts aren't the only things that warrant early beelines. {3,7} The windows and interior of the bakery's broom-closet sized space was reminiscent of an old time bank vault meets Western saloon, with the glitzy antiques and vintage crystal chandelier. Once it hit 8:30, the line moved really quickly, so it's no drawn out wait like you'd normally find in NYC. By the time it was my turn to order, I wanted to order all of the flavors, but with my eyes being bigger than my stomach, I decided against that, leaving me to narrow it down to two of the tenured flavors -- {4} buttermilk old fashioned and {5} chocolate glazed. Let me just say this now -- Doughnut Plant's varieties in New York City pales with the buttermilk old fashioned from Doughnut Vault. It had loosely firm density to it, like a really good pound cake, with the perfect, rich lacquer of buttermilk glaze. The chocolate glazed was a different consistency altogether -- the right combination of chocolatey and sprinkly glaze with an airy puff of dough that collapses right onto your palate as you take a bite in. No trip to Chicago will be complete without a doughnut from Doughnut Vault -- just get there early enough to nab a few to share!

For my last culinary mission during this visit to Chicago , I made my way over to Avondale for {1Hot Doug's, the (in)famous "sausage superstore and encased meat emporium" seen on many television programs like No Reservations and on many foodie must lists for Chi-town.

Hot Doug's
{4} The hot dog joint opens at 10:30 AM daily, but even at 10 AM on that very Friday, there was already a queue of hungry individuals waiting for the doors to open. {3,8}The interiors are backdropped with bold, primary colors and are decked out with the most random hot dog/encased meat trinkets all along the walls. {6}There's the regular menu of offerings (e.g., a Chicago dog, a corn dog, etc.) and {7}the menu of specials, for which Hot Doug's is most famous, particularly the most talked about items -- {5} the foie gras dog and {2} the duck fat fries (only available on Fridays and Saturdays).

HD foie
Of course, I made sure to order the foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse, and fleur de sel as well as the duck fat fries -- the richest combination of things you can ever eat at a hot dog joint, for sure. The foie gras on top were thick cuts of terrine topped with fleur de sel.

Other Recommendations from Past Visits
  • MK Restaurant (see photos here): Solid fine dining experience if you're looking for some good American fare.
  • Frederick C. Robie House (see photos here) and self-guided walking tours in Oak Park: For you architecture junkies out there, especially if you're a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. Prairie-style galore!
  • Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise (see photos here): One of the best tours I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Super informative docents and the visual experience of experiencing the Windy City along the Chicago River from a whole other perspective. Much of Chicago's history can be told through its skyline, and this is a great way to learn about it.
  • *Alinea (see reviews here and here): Had two unforgettable meals here of the Modernist cuisine persuasion. Mind-blowing doesn't begin to describe it.
  • *Filini (see review here): Housed inside the beautifully built Aqua Tower within a Radisson Blu hotel, you will find some bright Italian cuisine here in a very modern setting.
  • The Bristol (see review here): A great farm-to-table find of a restaurant.

Price point: $3 for each cappuccino at Bow Truss Coffee Roasters; $18 per person for admission to the John Hancock Observatory; $23 per person for admission to The Art Institute of Chicago; $3 for each doughnut at Doughnut Vault; $10 for each hot dog and $3.50 for duck fat fries at Hot Doug's.

--June 6-7, 2013

The Great Hall
Chicago Union Station
500 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60661

*Bow Truss Coffee Roasters (River North)
406 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60654

*GT Fish & Oyster
 531 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60654

*360 CHICAGO (fka John Hancock Observatory)
John Hancock Center
875 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611

*The Art Institute of Chicago (+ The Modern Wing)
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60603

The Cloud Gate + Jay Pritzker Pavilion + Lurie Garden
*Millenium Park
201 East Randolph Street
Chicago, IL, 60601

619 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661

*The Aviary
955 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

*Doughnut Vault
400 North Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60654

*Hot Doug's
3324 North California Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618


  1. Great stuff!

    "*John Hancock Observatory
    John Hancock Center
    875 North Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60611"

    They moved to a new website, would you adjust the links please?



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