By Linda Li
I recently visited Steph in Chicago for Spring Break. As a New Zealand native and east coast college student, I had never visited the city before. To my surprise, Chicago was grand but not imposing, filled with smart and friendly people, and featured an incredible number of things to see, do, and eat. To those seeking an urban adventure or weekend getaway, I cannot recommend Chicago enough. Here are some of the highlights from my trip:
I flew into Chicago on a Wednesday afternoon and after dropping off my stuff at Steph’s gorgeous lakefront studio, I met her downtown for dinner. After carefully reviewing the options on Yelp, we decided to meet at Big & Little’s, a fast food place that specialized in gourmet offerings of classic diner standbys. I ordered the pork belly po’ boy, which was filled with little pieces of pork belly that crunched pleasantly like chicharrones, while Steph ordered the fish tacos. We split the foie gras fries which, let’s be honest, was why I wanted to go there in the first place. The fries did not disappoint – the combination of deep fried carbs and foie gras was decadent beyond imagination.
We followed up dinner with drinks at Charcoal Bar, a subterranean establishment in the beneath a Japanese restaurant. The bartender there was extremely knowledgeable about her craft and, after discovering that I liked gin, made me a Last Word, a sharp and delicious concoction consisting of equal parts gin, Chartreuse, maraschino cherry liqueur, and lime juice.
Steph went to work early in the morning, so I was left to my own devices until dinner that evening. I began the day with brunch at Ann Sather Restaurant in Lakeview, where I had the Swedish Breakfast Sampler. This involved a ginormous Swedish meatball that was like a richer, more sophisticated version of what I had tried before at IKEA (my only reference point for Swedish food).
After brunch, I took the bus south along the lake to Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo. One of the best things about traveling alone is you have complete control over your itinerary and can do precisely what you want to do – like go to the conservatory and the zoo, which few of my college-age friends would have an interest in seeing.
To Chicago’s credit, the conservatory and zoo (both of which are free to the public) were stunning, and I managed to get some good pictures while walking off the one and a half absurdly large Swedish pancakes that I consumed. I’ve always had a lot of respect for cities that make their cultural institutions free to the public. To me, that demonstrates commitment towards the civic and cultural betterment of that city’s people.
Of course, no visit to Chicago would be complete without visiting the Cloud Gate at Millennium Park 🙂
For dinner, I met Steph at The Purple Pig, a lively small plates style restaurant on Magnificent Mile that I would conservatively describe as a kosher Jew’s worst nightmare. But it was perfect for adventurous foodies like Steph and myself: the Purple Pig prides itself on a multitude of tapas-style dishes that push the boundaries of cooking swine. We ordered the pig’s ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers & fried egg (my favorite), the roasted bone marrow with herbs (unexpected), the milk-fed suckling pig pork belly (delicious, but tiny), and the roast pork tenderloin (enormous).
Continuing with the theme of doing whatever the heck I wanted to do in Chicago, I visited Shedd Aquarium. According to Wikipedia (#college), the Shedd Aquarium is the largest indoor public aquarium in the world and contains over 25,000 fish. Unlike modern aquaria, which seem to stress sleek minimalism and function, the beaux-arts architecture of the octagonal aquarium meant that there were ornate and beautiful things to look at in every ceiling, lamp, and tile – which made the 40 minute wait in line somewhat more bearable.
I saw some really cool specimens, including:
For dinner, I joined Steph and her coworker at Tank Noodle for a steaming hot bowl of pho.
I had been feeling under the weather so this pho definitely hit the spot – and gave me the strength to partake in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations the next morning!
Thanks so much for being a wonderful hostess, Steph, and for letting me share some of my favorite Chicago experiences on your blog!
and Thank you Linda, for joining my pure barre workout madness at 8am, partaking in Wrigley Field’s St. Patty’s Day celebration and reminding me of how amazing Chicago is, even as a stare out into the pile of snow slash slush right now.