Tag Archives: Chicago

Semi Staycation: Chicago

Mark and I took a mini vacation to Chicago this weekend, and I know what you’re thinking: Why would you trade in the freezing cold and snow of Michigan for the freezing cold and even more snow of Chicago?  While it would be fabulous to head to the tropics at this time of year, Chicago is a fairly quick and easy trip for a relaxing weekend get-a-way.

The four hour Friday afternoon drive across the state of Michigan, through Indiana and up to Chicago was easy enough and uneventful.  As we started approaching the Chicago suburbs around 2:45pm traffic became heavy and the skies, which had already been quite grey, turned even darker.  It looked like dusk.  At 2:45!  In fairness, a snow storm was rolling in (typical), but I’m not sure the sun doesn’t actually set at 3 in Chicago.  It is on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone.  (Okay, I just looked it up.  Today’s sunset is at 4:21pm, which means by 3, it’s definitely starting to get dark.)

We made our way to the Dana Hotel on North State Street, just a block off of Michigan Avenue, or The Magnificent Mile, a main street full of world-class shopping.  We chose the Dana because it is centrally located, has a spa, and they were running a really cheap winter special (apparently Chicago hotels are quite reasonable in the snowy months which is great for us being so close and yet so far that we wouldn’t go for just the day).

IMG_1539 The Dana is a chic modern hotel with “the only” outdoor winter rooftop bar (which was really like a club whose music we could hear 5 floors below).  Everything was as you would expect in a avant-garde boutique hotel: exposed cement ceilings, low lighting, large doorless shower with a glass wall looking into the bedroom and a big rainshower shower-head, floor to ceiling windows with sleek blackout shades, high-end iPod speaker docking station, and fully stocked mini bar with full-sized champagne and gourmet treats neatly packaged in designer tins.

IMG_1540 Two story lobby bar

IMG_1568 The outdoor rooftop bar featured a bar made entirely of ice!  It was actually quite comfortable by these strategically placed fire towers or the fire pit.

Before the trip, I had done some research on where we should eat while in the Windy City.  There are SO many good restaurants, so I combed through Food and Wine magazine for ideas, and Mark and I asked for friends’ suggestions.  Unfortunately even three weeks out a lot of places were booked up for dinner either Friday or Saturday night.  Food and Wine listed the bar at Pump Room in Public (high end hotel) as a must-go-to spot, so I decided to look at the menu to see if we might be interested in eating at the attached restaurant.  It looked good and they had open reservations, so I booked a table for Friday night.

As I was reading Taste by Anthony Terlato about his life building an international wine empire based in Chicago, I noted that he mentioned working with Pump Room in the 1950s to be a leader in putting fine wines on their menu.  Previously, restaurants would just offer a red or a white, as most people were not accustomed to drinking wine with dinner.  He described Pump Room as an establishment restaurant (opened in the late 1930s), where many noteworthy people ate and drank, including members of the Rat Pack.  Apparently it was the place to see and be seen.

Not having gone to the Pump Room website ahead of time, I told Mark as we were walking there, “Look, this place is supposed to be good, but it could be old and stuffy, no idea.”  Upon arriving, it was apparent that the whole place had been renovated in the past few years into a sleek and chic bar/restaurant within the elegantly modern, clean-lined-but-not-in-a-sterile-way Public hotel.  It was clearly still the place to see and be seen.  Our reservation was at 9pm, but due to the obvious popularity of restaurant, we ended up having drinks and an appetizer in the loungy part of the bar until our table was ready at 9:30.  The bar itself was wall to wall with beautiful people: men in tailored suits and horn-rimmed glasses, women with perfectly blown out locks, impeccable make-up and not a skinny going-out jean in sight.

IMG_1518 Looking into the dining room. IMG_1521 Vaulted gold walls and ceiling of the Pump Room bar.

I’ve decided that people in Chicago are generally really good looking.  Everyone I saw, and not just at Pump Room, which I’m sure draws an upscale crowd comparatively, was well groomed, well put together and all around attractive.  Chicago would be a great place to live – always a lot going on socially, extensive cultural, shopping and food offerings, but I would have to step up my wardrobe, hair and make-up game.  Sounds tiring 😉


IMG_1524 Berry lychee champagne cocktail and garlic shrimp with chili peppers.  I gotta remember that I don’t like lychee….I think it tastes like soap.  The shrimp with crusty bread were delicious, however.


What I also had not realized about Pump Room prior to arrival is that it is a concept restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a James Beard Award-winning chef who is potentially one of the most famous chefs in the world with restaurants everywhere.  I just got more excited than I already was to be on vacation, dressed up and eating in such a swanky-feeling place.

We ordered (and ate) a lot.

IMG_1528 Perfectly charred scallops with roasted pumpkin and sesame seeds and spaghetti squash.

IMG_1529 Super crispy yet not dry fried chicken with spinach, basil jus and buttery habanero sauce.  Our waiter was amazing and gave us detailed descriptions of everything on the menu.  He was a skilled salesman because he a) was genuinely excited about the food, b) gave us straightforward answers about what were the best dishes (#1 fried chicken, #2 short ribs, #3 scallops) without trying up-sell us, and c) was successful in having us order every single thing he recommended.

We were there with one of Mark’s friends from grad school, so the extra person made it easier for us to justify ordering lots of things to try.  We obviously had to get the three most recommended entrees, so the three of us split the scallops and fried chicken to start, and then we each ordered our own short rib entree….We probably could have split that too because it was starting to be a lot of food.

IMG_1531 The short ribs were actually lightly fried to make them crispy on the outside and fork-tender on the inside, which was a different twist.  They were served with super creamy mashed potatoes, hot pepper rings, friend onions, and then to really make them pop: macerated sour cherries and somehow fried? crispy? baked? mint and basil leaves.  THESE WERE THE BEST THING EVER.  I have no idea how they made those leaves into dried flaky crunchies, but I could just eat them from a large bag like chips if given the opportunity.

Everything was fairly straight-forward and not “frou-frou” in terms of random, over the top ingredients, but the preparation was unique, unexpected, and made the meal special.

Our waiter was spot on again in his dessert recommendations.  There were a few we wanted to try, so we ordered the doughnuts with chocolate espresso glaze, the pecan tort with ice cream (salted caramel? I can’t remember), and the chocolate chip cookie with malt ice cream.

IMG_1534 Hot doughnuts with whipped cream covered warm espresso chocolate dipping sauce, served in an espresso cup.

IMG_1535 (You can see the espresso cup for the doughnuts in the background.)  When he said “deep dish”chocolate chip cookie he wasn’t kidding.  It was also like a molten chocolate lava cake in that it had a hot melted chocolate center that oozed out when you broke into the cookie.  Our waiter was like “You must order this.”  And he was completely right.  I could have forgone the other two desserts and eaten one of these myself without sharing.  Good thing we didn’t do that though, as I already had a hard enough time sleeping stuffed to the brim with the amount of food I did consume.

IMG_1537 Pecan tart…it was fine.  Nothing spesh.

This was definitely the best meal we had of the weekend, and when I woke up Saturday morning planning on meeting two good high school friends, their husbands, and one new baby for brunch, I wasn’t hungry one bit.  But vacation is not about eating only when you are hungry 🙂


We met them at Siena Tavern, an Italian restaurant from Executive Chef Fabio Viviani from Top Chef (Season 5).  My sister used to work with Fabio when she was on the PR team for the olive oil brand of which he was the face, and she said he does come to the restaurant fairly often.  We were on the look out, but given the super snowy coldness of the weekend, I would have stayed in California too if I were him.

IMG_1547 IMG_1546 IMG_1549 IMG_1552

Mark and I waited at the empty bar with some breakfast cocktails and rose champagne until the rest of our party arrived and we ordered appetizers to share: monkey bread (warm nubbins of chewy bread topped with caramel, hazelnut cream, and chopped hazelnuts) and bomboloni, large light doughnuts that you fill yourself from squeeze bottles of caramel, jam, or pumpkin vanilla cream.

IMG_1554 Me squeezing the pumpkin vanilla cream into the doughnut from the pointed tip of this bottle.  Note the caramel already inserted on the right-hand side.

I ordered the short rib ravioli with porcini mushrooms because, even though I was kinda short ribbed out from the night before, it’s what I had been eyeing on the menu for a few weeks.  They were pretty good; the sauce was delish but the inside of the ravioli was a little dry.  It didn’t matter though because these doughnuts were really the star of the whole breakfast.  That and the wonderful company…I loved meeting my friend’s new baby who was super tiny and cute, and hearing about my other friend’s new job (even though this means I can no longer commiserate with her in the unemployed high school friends club).

After brunch, Mark and I popped into Nordstrom (yay, first Nordstrom visit in months) to buy him a scarf because he can no longer get away with an exposed neck up in these parts.  I would have loved to stay longer but what with the Christmas crowds, it was overwhelming and claustrophobic.  We did make a plan to go (spend the day if I have my way) to the Nordstrom about an hour away in Troy, MI after the holidays though 🙂

We then headed back to the hotel for our afternoon massages.  Conde Nast Traveler has ranked the Spa at the Dana Hotel #34 of the top 75 US Hotel Spas for 2013.  I’m not sure why.  The spa was quiet, clean and the massage itself was good and reasonably priced, but I wasn’t blown away by the ambiance.  There was no sauna, hot/cold plunge pools or other amenities that I would expect in a high end spa, and the waiting/relaxation room was quite small such that multiple people didn’t have seats.  I’ve definitely been to more impressive establishments at The Four Seasons in Baltimore or at the Aria in Vegas (massages in both those places are probably at least 50% more expensive however).  In doing further research, I have now discovered that this was a readers’ poll, and there’s also a Top 100 Resort Spas in the US that is somehow different than hotel spas.  Either way, this was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, and I’m not going to look a gift massage in the mouth.

For dinner, Mark and I had a date night at David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Hotel.  A typical steakhouse known for their dry-aged hefty steaks, I chose the filet instead because I didn’t need that much more red meat in my weekend.  I liked the tan pebble leather tablecloths and the stylized mural on the room’s transom depicting fashionable businessmen and ladies.  I thought it may have been the same artist who did the paintings we saw at Chimney Rock winery in Napa, but in doing some Googling I think it was just an artist with a very similar style of portraiture.


We headed home early Sunday, and good thing we did, because we hit some lake-effect snow around Kalamazoo and while it wasn’t a white out, the roads were slick and skiddy.

IMG_1574 Chicago burbsIMG_1586 Bridge outta ChicagoIMG_1595 Dramatic electric linesIMG_1617Getting closer to home

To round out our mini-staycation we were so fortunate to get to go to the Ravens-Lions football game on Monday night.  Thanks goodness Ford Field is in a dome because it was faaa-reeezing in Detroit (my first foray to Detroit by the way).  It was a good game (because the Ravens won) that seemed to  be relatively fast-moving even though we only scored field goals the whole time.  Only two things put a damper on a fun evening: 1. Driving home was a snowy mess with barely one lane of semi-visible pavement and 2. Mark wore a BLUE shirt!  OMG that’s the Lions color…so annoying…how could he do this to me? (Just kidding…sort of)

IMG_1640 IMG_1642

What a great weekend full of fun activities and catching up with old friends.  Now it’s time to hunker down at home for the holidays.  Go Ravens!!!

It’s a Blog about Nothing! (DOING nothing that is.)

It’s been just about a month since moving to Ann Arbor, and it’s been crazy since the beginning, what with setting up the apartment, traveling home to Baltimore twice, hosting friends for the Notre Dame-UMich football game and going to visit friends in Chicago.  Now I’ve finally got a moment to breathe and all I want to do is veg out.  I’m feeling so exhausted and the thought of getting up and going out to find a job, make new friends and explore this place seems too daunting to do right now. Which isn’t to say I’m not excited to do those things eventually, but today I just want to be mindless.  George on “Seinfeld” created a pilot TV show “about nothing” so I’m doing the same with my blog this week.  Lots of pictures filling up space ahead.

Last week, I took Amtrak to Chicago to visit some high school friends who live there.  Amtrak is so cheap and easy here as opposed to on the East Coast: $70 roundtrip and a 10 minute walk from our apartment to the station in AA.  I got there at the butt-crack of dawn (well actually before that) for the 4 hour 20 minute ride to Chi-town.  ImageAA Amtrak station at night…such a smaller scale than any of the Penn Stations I’m used to…one track, one vending machine.

The train was a bit delayed, but oh well.  (Another story on the way home though…I was supposed to get in at 11:20pm, but instead we had to wait on the tracks about 50 miles outside of town for the West-bound train to pass, so that we could get onto the single track…didn’t get home until 1am…exhausting…but I got a lot of reading done until my Kindle died.)  I hit the tracks back to AA around sunset and captured some pretty colored skies and industrial rigs and buildings:





Some good Chicago pics, including one of a hunormous piece of lemon meringue pie at Gilt Bar…we ate until we were stuffed!


ImageView of Lake Michigan from the 96th floor of the Hancock Building….you can almost see the curve of the earth!  How did these spiders get up here on the outside of the windows?  Gross!  Or as my BMS Lower School classmates know to say instead: “Hooooow interesting!”



The friend with whom I stayed also moved to the Midwest for her husband and has been looking for a job as a lawyer.  It’s too bad we aren’t in the same city during this time of unemployment to get coffee and plan my wedding 🙂  She did, however, remind me of all the great talk shows on during the day!  

To that end, I’ve decided that I’m giving myself this week to completely veg in front of Ellen, Katie, Bethenny, The View and The Chew, while drinking coffee, eating crackers and taking intermittent naps.  I’m going to be a blob that may or may not wash her hair, respond to emails or answer the phone.  My skin may, in fact, start to grow into the fibers of the couch, like bark around an old sign nailed to a tree.

The only things I have to do this week are go to the dry cleaners, get a drink with a friend one evening and write this blog post.  It is difficult for me, however, to allow myself to be completely unproductive.  Today I created a recipe album full of magazine clipings and FoodNetwork.com recipes that I’ve been accumulating for years:


Tomorrow I’m going to work on my wedding album.

I love lists so much (feeling of organization and accomplishment) that I made myself a TO DO list for my week of leisure:


2. Read books

3. Read magazines

4. Watch TV

5. Nap

6. Make healthy dinners

Who has to write “nap” on a list of things to do?  LOL.  I’m clearly still getting used to this having no responsibility thing, even though it’s been three months since quitting my job and one and a half months since finishing up daily volunteer activities.  Wow, that’s so strange, because it really feels like just yesterday.

We had a great time hosting a bunch of friends for the Notre Dame-Michigan football game at the Big House a week ago.  A) It gave me the kick of motivation to finally put away last little bit of moving stuff that was lying around.  B) It was nice to see so many familiar faces all at once.  C) I got to see ESPN’s College Game Day in person!  This is the pregame show that visits a different college campus each week, however I don’t think they ever came to College Park (University of MD), and this is a show I watch fairly regularly, so it was incredibly exciting to see them broadcast live!  


ImageUMich clock tower

ImageCollege Game Day bus


ImageStudents trying to get on TV



ImageBand’s instrument cases

D) We had tons o fun bar-hopping, t-shirt hunting (since we were turned down for free t-shirts for not being students) and gawking at college shenans leading up to the 8pm kick off.  

ImageMy newly purchased UMich t-shirt….”Gotta support the team!”

Image“Bash The Irish” car with a sledge hammer…$3 per whack or $3 for 5.

ImageCollege pre-game parties

ImageBecause making a vodka-Sprite in your mouth is so much more efficient than wasting a cup!  And no one’s drinking water, so we may as well spray people with it instead!

E) The game itself was slow-moving, but a crazy good atmosphere, and we were part of history as the largest college football crowd ever, anywhere…until maybe later this season 🙂

ImageFlyover…one of many

ImageShiny Notre Dame helmets

ImageFor being the largest stadium in the US, they didn’t actually have lights to be able to play at night until a few years ago!


ImageGiveaways included these cool “M” light up bracelets (please ignore the sunspots on my hand).  Here they are in action:

ImageWe also got fun yellow pom-poms….I’m going to start a Michigan bulletin board with all the souvenirs of our time here….Like game tickets…and the coupon for a weed-paraphernalia shop that someone was handing out on the street corner.



Here’s a ‘do that looks like it took some precision.  Definitely “supporting the team” – stop making my t-shirt look bad!



It’s finally coming into fall a bit here with cooler weather grayer skies.  These trees outside our apartment have the first twinges of fall-colored leaves:


Until next time…xoxo