Chi Town Adventures
I went to Chicago recently for work but managed to squeeze in a couple of delicious meals and walks through downtown. I was lucky enough to travel with a friend – a Mom-friend with a son the same age as Mason. Isn’t it great to have a travel buddy who’s on the same wavelength?! Although we were pretty swamped with work and networking from morning till night, below are a few highlights of the trip that were 100% about enjoyment & relaxation. I’d highly recommend any and all of the following to anyone who gets the opportunity to try them!
2524 N. Southport Ave, Chicago, Illinois
Amazing restaurant located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. We wanted to get away from the downtown area for a bit and this was just a quick 10 minute cab ride out. Very cool neighborhood, walk-friendly community with plenty of charm and pretty architecture. Ideally located on a corner, the interior’s dark wood tones, brick and warm lighting give it a welcoming, simple, comfortable type of ambiance. Our waitress was fantastic – actually I got the sense that all of their waitstaff were fantastic. The Monkey’s Paw is a whiskey bar, but since I’m really not a whiskey girl, I was psyched to see they also had a great beer selection. Tough decision but I settled on a draft Ommegang ale that turned out to be the perfect treat after a long day. Their farm-to-table themed menu was equally tough to decide on – everything sounded so good! We decided to order a few small and “in between” plates to share amongst three people – highly recommended because it allowed us to try a little of everything!
Pan Seared Diver Scallops – mmm, few things are better than a perfectly-cooked scallop! These were deliciously caramelized with onions, peas, oyster mushrooms, lemon and mint. Good size scallops and they definitely did not skimp on the portion, especially for a “small plate.”
Market Flatbread – changes depending on local produce, cheeses, etc. Ours had arugula (my favorite!) tomatoes and cheese and was seriously yummy!
Braised Pork Belly – one of those dishes that had me wondering how in the world someone could make something taste that good! Fork-tender with a nice crispiness from the braising and full of amazing flavor.
Poutine – never ever heard of this dish before, but later learned it’s like the French-Canadian take on cheese fries (gravy fries?) Monkey’s Paw makes it with local cheese curds, foie gras gravy and duck confit over fries. Basically take the most indulgent bad-for-you diner food you can think of, fancified. Totally worth it.
Four Cheese Truffled Mac and Cheese – need I say more?! Actually the kicker with this dish was the Slagel Farms pork sausage, but more about that later – holy moly! The mac is made with two different cheddars, fontina, parmesan and truffled breadcrumbs (because if you’re going to have bread, shouldn’t it be truffled?). THEN they mix in this amazing Slagel Farm sausage. It gives the dish incredible texture and kick without overpowering it – not too salty, not too sweet, not too spicy. Just right.
500 N. Franklin St, Chicago Illinois
Within walking distance of downtown Magnificent Mile, we had heard great things about this historic Chicago steakhouse and decided to check it out for ourselves. We were able to get same-day reservations for 8:30pm on a weekend night. Once there, we had a bit of a wait, so settled in for a glass of wine at the bar. We both ordered a Cline Ancient Vines red zinfandel. We had a good time just taking in our surroundings. Gene & Georgetti is old-school Chicago – we both felt like we had stepped back in time to a really cool era.
Grilled Calamari – we ordered this dish to share on a whim and I am STILL raving about it! It was definitely the star of the evening! I only managed to get one poorly lit pic on my phone, but the dish was so delish I thought even this grainy pic was worth sharing. Generous portion, great flavor to the calamari thanks to the fact it was perfectly grilled and the sauce (the sauce!) was the powerhouse secret ingredient! It gave the dish a smoky flavor that pulled it all together. We were even inspired to go old-school ourselves and dipped our fresh bread, and pumpernickel breadsticks into the sauce. So, so, so good!
Caesar Salad – plain and simple, nothing fancy – just straightforward, fresh and good.
Petite Filet – we both ordered filets, and were definitely impressed with the quality. Melt in your mouth beef, cooked simply – just the way it should be. I would normally have more to say about a steak this good, but to be honest, I’m still in shock over the calamari.
Nope. Not a restaurant. Nor a Chicago-attraction. But by fluke chance I got to see her speak while I was in Chicago and I was so impressed I just had to tell you about it. I don’t normally get star-struck, but Giada is UH-MAZING! I know what you’re thinking: “Ok. Hold up. Giada D is sooo pretty and sooo talented and sooo successful. What could she possibly have to say that might be of interest to a frumpy, old, small-town Mom like me?” Well let me tell you what – she manages to be all those things and relatable. She’s obviously and impressively smart, down-to-earth, hard-working and family-focused. I’ve used recipes from her Family Dinners cookbook for years, and even watched her Everyday Italian show back when I had a life of my own and time to actually watch television. What I loved about hearing her speak was how she was still so clearly connected to where she came from. And she is clearly in charge of where she’s going – talk about an inspirational woman! She talked about moving to the US from Italy as a child of about age 8 and how she struggled to learn a completely new language and fit in. She clearly draws a lot of strength and inspiration from her family which gave me a renewed respect for her. So cool to hear about her journey. She also shared some new recipe idea and suggestions for cooking with kids, so stay tuned – I plan to try them out!
At the end of the day I had a great time in Chi Town but was so, so happy to be back home to my boy and my favorite people. Missed him so much I caught an early flight home in time to snuggle up on the couch and share a special pre-bedtime treat with my cutest, sweetest popcorn aficionado. Until next time, Chicago.