Wednesday, May 14, 2008


For a week and a half Chicago was our kind of town. We stayed at the stately Belden-Stratford located in Lincoln Park across the street from the zoo. Go on line and check out the lobby area. Very posh. The place stands 15 stories and has one bedroom apartments to rent out per night. They put us on the 15th floor with a grand view of downtown and the lake.

If you go, make sure you take your walking shoes. While we made good use of the trains, we still walked our fannies off. We mainly kept to the Lincoln Park and Loop areas and could have gazed at the different architectural facets for another week and a half.

Besides the restaurants (which will be tackled in subsequent posts) we had a grand time just “doing” the town. Here are the highlights in no particular order:

Millennium, Grant, and Bicentennial Parks – This seemed like one big park to us. We loved the tulip and pansy flower beds. And then, of course, the Pritzker Theater designed by Frank Gehry and don’t forget the serpentine bridge over the highway. The sculptures included a mirrored bean (Cloud Gate), brightly painted metal, rusted construction vehicle parts, glass brick rectangular fountains (with spitting videos!), car part flowers, and a mob of giant metal headless figures. All against a backdrop of dizzyingly tall buildings. And where most of the art is relatively new, the old standby remains Buckingham Fountain with its incredible water jets.

Toast of the Town – A huge wine tasting event at the Field Museum put on by Wine Enthusiast. We were able to toast Sue, the dinosaur and encountered quite a few tasty beverages. Some of the memorable wines included:

Terlato Family Vineyards 2004 Syrah Dry Creek Valley
De Tierra 2005 Silacci Vineyard Pinot Noir Monterey
Leasingham 2004 Bin 61 Shiraz Clare Valley
Hogue 2005 Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
Chateau Trimoulet 2003 St. Emilion
Artezin 2006 Zinfandel Mendocino County
Castello Romitorio 2004 Romito del Romitorio Sant’Antimo
Santuary 2004 Usibelli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
Marques de Murrieta 2000 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial Rioja
Chateau St. Jean 2003 Cinq Cepages Sonoma County
Kenwood 2003 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County
Masi 2004 Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur France

We also were impressed by two restaurants at the event – Blueprint serving Kona Kampachi in Crispy Wonton Cup with Yuzu and Tarragon and Blue Water Grill serving Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Caramel Sauce and Smoked Black Sea Salt (more about these in subsequent posts).

Navy Pier – It’s a far piece to walk to the Navy Pier from the subway stop. We managed to take the free trolley back. We just had to ride the huge Ferris wheel. On this cloudy day, the place was not as busy and we were able to get a seat by ourselves. The wheel offered a grand view of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan. It was too early in the day for the beer garden to be open, but we did visit the free stained glass museum and then gawked at all of the touristy shops.

Lincoln Park Zoo – One of our favorite places and it was free! Since we were staying across the street we managed to stroll through to check out what the lions, tigers, and leopards were doing on several days. 4 PM seemed to be the pacing hour, while earlier in the afternoon was sleepy time.

Blue Man Group – Yes, an incredible show and the first time we had seen the performance. Since Chicago is a permanent location, check to see if you can get same day half price tickets at a Hot Tix outlet. That’s what we did and even though we were seated in the back of the middle section, the Briar Street Theater was fairly intimate and the seats were more like stadium seat than regular theater seats. I was able to see everything and at half the cost.

Cooking Class at The Chopping Block – Located in the Merchandise Mart. We attended the Roman food class and made veal stuffed manicotti, bruschetta, and a ricotta and pine nut pie. The class was small and included a couple from Singapore.

Frank Lloyd Wright House in Oak Park – We had to take the green line almost to the end to get to the charming Oak Park area. The route to Frank’s house took us by lovely Victorian structure (which Frank apparently loathed) as well as a number of houses that he designed. Make sure you go here when it is not too busy (we only had to contend with school groups). The flow of the tour can be awkward and I can’t imagine how they would accommodate mobs of folks. The dining room and the barrel shaped children’s room were my favorites.

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Boat Tour – It was spitting rain and cold as we sat on the roofless top of the boat (we had to be able to see everything), but still well worth it. We became acquainted with the four architectural phases or genres for Chicago buildings – beaux arts, art deco, modern (a la Mies van de Rohe), and post-modern. We had a fine view of the Sears Tower and we marveled at the Boeing building where part of it is cantilevered.

Museum of Contemporary Art – We went here on a Tuesday which was free admission day. And thank goodness. 2/3’s of the exhibit area was closed off for installations and most of the other art did not appeal to us, although “The Other Vietnam Wall” intrigued us. We actually preferred the River East Art Center which was featuring contemporary South American artists.

Pops for Champagne – A champagne bar with a jazz club in the basement. The place features over 100 different champagnes and sparkling wines. We were amazed that more people were just at the bar rather than enjoying the jazz trio downstairs. All the better for us. And we had an incredible champagne while we listed to the group.

Art Institute – A fantastic museum that features a little of everything plus some major works. The big draw this time was the special exhibits – Watercolors of Winslow Homer and Paintings of Edward Hopper including the iconic Nighthawks. The Hopper exhibit was my favorite with his sparseness and clean lines.

Notebaert Nature Museum – This place, which is free on Thursdays, was jammed with kids and most of the exhibits were kid-focused. But they had a wonderful Butterfly Haven with myriad-colored winged beauties.

If you needed more evidence that Chicago is a great place, check out the slide show:

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