Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Everything else Chicago

There was much more to the weekend than a sweaty 26.2!

Despite being a Midwestern through and through, besides a Wrigley Field trip several years ago with Dad, I've spent very little time in Chicago.  When I signed up for the marathon, I resigned myself to staying out in the suburbs and taking a train in on race day to save money. Then I decided that my sensible plan sounded boring and found a reservation through the marathon's website that must have been the result of a cancellation because of its location and price (in a good way).  I grabbed it! 

We stayed at a boutique hotel called the Inn of Chicago a block off Michigan Avenue and its Magnificent Mile shopping stretch.  Michigan Avenue was chaos that surpasses anything in Minneapolis or St. Paul in terms of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.  This is a glimpse of it from our hotel room on the 19th floor.  The people look like ants, but you can see the traffic, which seemed pretty much constant:

The location turned out to be wonderful: less than a mile to the start and finish and so close to great restaurants and Navy Pier.  It was also conveniently close to Niketown and its abundant marathon merchandise!  There was a rooftop bar that we never visited at night, but check out the view during the day:

The big-time, pie-in-the-sky goal for the trip was to score a table at Frontera Grill, one of the restaurants owned by Mexico: One Plate at a Time chef Rick Bayless.  Josh and I have been watching One Plate on PBS for years and we are major Rick fans.  I missed getting a reservation, but the restaurant is split between walk-ins and reservations, so we decided to try for a table on Friday night promptly at 5 p.m.

Josh and I were a little worried that we'd show up at 5:00 to an empty restaurant and bemused staff, but upon arrival we took our spot at the end of a line of about 10 parties seeking walk-in tables, filed our request and walked to a nearby bar for happy hour.  An hour and a half later, it was our turn for a table!  

We started with guacamole and ceviche yucateco (per the menu: steamed Mexican blue shrimp and calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jcama and cilantro) and I ordered pescado en crema de calabaza (wood-grilled day-boat catch with salsa negra glaze, spicy/smoky butternut crema, roasted garlic spaghetti squash and lime-dressed arugula).  

It was a beautiful restaurant with warm, cheerful colors.  I couldn't shut up about how much I loved a painting hanging on the wall with bicycles, bright colors, and fields of flowers.  Back home, I found it on the website!
Credit to rickbayless.com
I played it cool and did not take photographs in the restaurant, but I did snap this shot of the hallway going into the main dining area:

No doubt: Josh and I decided it was one of the best meals we've ever had.  I will dream about returning to Frontera.  Afterward, we went next door to Rick's more casual cafe, Xoco, for churros.  I would go here all the time if I lived in Chicago.  There was a big line for tables, but we bypassed it to take our churros to go so we could eat them on the walk home - kind of the way churros are meant to be consumed, no? 

The next day we visited Al's Beef based on a rec from Jeff Mauro of The Next Food Network Star fame and our new friend.  No, I'm kidding -we don't actually know him.  He was just kind enough to respond to Josh's tweet asking for sandwich recommendations near our hotel.  (Yeep! Best Twitter run-in ever!)  Josh was pleased as punch with his Italian beef sandwich, a Chicago food staple:

We also checked out Navy Pier:

The weather was warm for running but perfect for puttering around the city - around 80 each day we were there.  At Navy Pier, we sat on a bench in the shade, watched the boats on Lake Michigan and ate Garrett's Chicago popcorn.  To the uninitiated, this is cheese popcorn mixed with caramel popcorn.  I was fairly confident that the popcorn didn't fall under the umbrella of traditional carbo-loading, so I didn't go nuts, but it was so good.  We headed back to the hotel, ordered pasta up to the room and watching Tennessee's tough loss to Georgia (boo) and then the Tigers-Rangers baseball game.  Perfecto pre-race evening.

Then I ran a race.  You heard all about that already. 

After a marathon, it's pretty common to not feel hungry right away, and true to form, I was not interested in food for a few hours after I crossed the finish line.  As soon as I found Josh afterward, though, I guess I might have noted a million times once or twice that a fountain soda would benefit me. Maybe I didn't stop repeating that fab idea until I was clutching a icy cup of root beer.  We walked back to the hotel and I was probably crowing about the wonders of root beer the whole way.  I should take a moment here to thank Josh again for his patience and support. 

By 4:00, it was Pizza Time in a big way.  We walked a block to Pizzeria Uno, put in our order and waited 30 minutes for both the deep-dish process and the getting-a-table process. There was Grade A people-watching going on during this time, including a trio of young women who asked the host to move their reservation up because they ran the marathon, not noticing a restaurant full of runners eating or waiting for tables.  Their reservation was not moved.

I took pictures here because 1) we were sitting outside and I could skip the flash and 2) the lady at the table next to us got up and actually exited the seating area to take a picture of her husband from the street and then had the waitress take their picture together at a different table to get a better vantage point.  Josh said he saw my future unfolding in front of us, but I was determined to be more subtle.

Look at this pizza!!!  Do you see the sausage patty layered between the cheese and the other toppings?!!?

These Chicago pizzas are massive and probably equivalent to about eight meals per person, so we ordered a small.  I asked Josh to take a photo of me with the pizza, and somehow this was the result.  Interpret as you wish.  I might have been facepalming to express regret over finishing the second monstrous piece.

Nah.  Plain and simple, a post-race pizza is a beautiful thing - and a great cap to a Windy City weekend.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! I am glad you guys were able to snag a table at Frontera Grill! Ben went to Xoco last summer without me and I am still so jealous :P