Chicago: Day 1

Last month, Steve came home from work and told me that he had good news and bad news. The good news was that we were going to Chicago. The bad news was that it needed to take place before South Africa. We pulled out our calendars, called my mom, analyzed airline schedules, and schemed a way to make it happen. So last week, Steve and I took a crazy quick trip to the Windy City. 

Chicago is home to Rick Bayless, the king of modern Mexican cuisine. Steve and my brother, Sam, took a business trip to Chicago almost six years ago, back when Adam was a tiny little baby. Kacie was pregnant with India, and we were both a little bothered that our husbands went away for four days of restaurant eating without us. After that, Steve was forbidden to visit Chicago again without me. 

But before we get into Chicacgo, I probably ought to document this. The mustache lasted less than a week. Here's one last look before he shaved it off: 

The plan was to leave the mustache for Chicago and the Junior League fundraiser. But I couldn't handle it anymore. I begged Steve to grow a mustache for two years. Partly because I think they are funny and partly because I didn't think he'd really do it. But then he said something rude to me, and the mustache was his peace offering. A few days later. . . 

Me: (giggling) I love it. 
Steve: You can't look at me without laughing, can you?
Me: Nope, it's funny. 
Steve: Yeah, but it feels like you are laughing at me. 
Me: Well, I guess am. 

So then I put an end to his penance and told him he could shave it off. 

Back to Chicago. Or the process of getting there. Delta has always been my favorite airline. But I'm starting to reconsider. 

Strike 1: Horribly dirty windows: 

Strike 2: Delayed luggage: 

I filled out an online complaint form and they did respond right away with an apology. And 3,700 bonus SkyMiles. So I guess that's better than nothing. 

By April, Utah is green and the trees are starting to bud. From the air, Chicago looked brown and dreary, more what I would have expected in February.  

My first favorable impression of Chicago? These sanitary toilets in the airport bathrooms. Can you tell what that is? An automatically dispensing toilet seat cover. I took this picture for my daughter, the one who cares about things like this. 

I took pictures of lots of random things that I thought she would enjoy. Like this charger for electric vehicles:

And this giant abacus. (I want one.)

We hadn't planned on renting a car. But since we had to wait for our luggage, it didn't make much sense to take a shuttle and then come back. So we decided to rent a car, find somewhere close to eat, and then go back to the airport. By the time we finally had our luggage, we were stuck in rush hour traffic. It took us two maddening hours to drive the 17 miles from the airport to our hotel.

Steve figured that surely the side roads would be faster than the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway. Nope. 

But at least we got to see some city life. 

We finally made it to our hotel. Our fancy hotel. It was only slightly more expensive than the other hotels in downtown Chicago, and I couldn't pass up on the chance to stay at a Radisson Blu

Aqua is the name of the 86-story mixed-use residential skyscraper, the first of its kind in downtown Chicago. It is also the tallest building in the world to have a female lead architect. Jeanne Gang designed the exterior of the building with irregularly shaped concrete floor slabs, which give the building a sculptural look. The terrace extensions were also designed to maximize solar shading. The Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel is housed in the first 18 floors of the skyscraper and was the first Radisson Blu in the United States. (The second Radisson Blu opened last month in Minneapolis at the Mall of America.) 

Many other efforts towards sustainability were implemented into Aqua's design including cool things like rainwater collection. The green roof on top of the tower base is the largest in Chicago and boasts an outdoor running track, lap pool, hot tub, sundeck, fire pits, cabanas, and even a dedicated yoga area. 

We parked, checked in, quickly changed our clothes, and then ran to the restaurant for dinner. I'm serious about the running part. I tried to stop to take a quick picture and Steve hollered at me to hurry. Oh yeah. And I forgot my socks. So I ran about a mile in leather boots with no socks. Good times. 

The main purpose of the trip was to eat at Rick Bayless's restaurant, Topolobampo. Rick Bayless is an American chef who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine with modern interpretations. Topolobampo was one of America's first fine-dining Mexican restaurants, and it was also mentioned on NPR as one of President Obama's favorite Chicago restaurants. Topolo, as people-in-the-know call it, doesn't look like much from the outside: 

Frontera Grill, the sister restaurant, shares the front door and bar: 

We talked Tyson, Karen, and Lilly into driving from Iowa to meet us for dinner. 

Which worked out perfectly because it was Karen's birthday: 

Servers are never impressed when we don't order alcohol. . . but this apple drink was awesome.

Taking pictures is an important part of going to a restaurant with Steve. I take my responsibilities as food photographer very seriously. Mostly because I want to be invited back on the next trip.

My favorite sister randomly sent me an email last week telling me that I needed to get the Canon f/1.8 II camera lens. And that I would thank her later. I bought it right before our trip, and I clearly need some more practice. That being said, the lighting in the restaurant was really dark. So even though the pictures aren't fantastic, at least we can remember what we ate.

This is the little taste from the chef before our meal:

And since this trip was all about the food, I am going to tell you all about the food. (I took pictures of the menu as well.)

Tres Bocaditos Oaxaquenos - three bites of Oaxaca - red chile pork loin cecina (avocado-tomatillo salsa, pickled radish pods & tomatillos); aged beef tenderloin tasajo (black beans); classic chorizo (Oaxacan pasilla salsa, quail egg):

Mogo Mogo - golden sweet plantain around beef short rib "wedding stew"; homemade fresh cheese & whey, spiced pineapple dust:

Sopa Azteca - dark broth flavored with pasilla, with grilled chicken, avocado, Meadow Valley Farm handmade Jack cheese, thick cream, crisp tortilla strips: (President Obama's fav)

Cochinita Pibil - Gunthrop suckling pig slow-roasted overnight in the wood oven (achiote marinade, banana leaf wrapping), fava-kohlrabi mash, City Farm mache, pickled red onion jewels:

Esturion a la Talla - ember-roasted, wild-caught Columbia River white sturgeon with 3-chile adobo & garlic mayo, arroz cremoso (black & white rice, banana leaf, crema, fish essence), green salsa "jus", pickled guero chile:

Carne Asada en Mole Negro - wood-roasted 28-day aged prime ribeye in classic Oaxacan black mole (chilhuacle chiles & 28 other ingredients), chipil tamal, black beans, smoky green beans:

Chayote en Mole Verde - braised chayote in aroma of acorn squash, herby green pumpkinseed mole, creamy pumpkinseed tamal, yogurt-infused chayote pearls:

I know it's not clear, but I still like this picture of Karen & Lilly: 

Crepas con Cajeta, Platano y Chocolate - warm, buttery crepes filled with ripe plantain & bittersweet chocolate, cajeta (goats milk caramel), caramelized plantain ice cream, toasted meringue, Spence Farm whole wheat crumble:

Ante de Limon Meyer - Meyer lemon cake, Meyer lemon curd, gooey meringue, "mantequilla" ice cream, lemon-infused mezcal gelatinas:

Parfait de Coco - five favorite faces of coconut: coconut-rum mousse, creamy sorbet, coconut water crystals, tender young pieces, rich sticky pudding; cracked chocolate shell, Beck Grove lime, kaffir lime pearls:

Helados Caseros - Baja olive oil homemade ice cream with toasted pine nuts:

Oaxacan Hot Chocolate: 

Everything was so good. I think my favorites were the Mogo Mogo, the Chayote en Mole Verde, the Oaxacan Hot Chocolate, the Baja olive oil restaurant, and the Ante de Limon Meyer.

Here's a picture of Tyson, Karen, and sleepy Lilly: 

One more Harris Family photo, with the city in the background: 

Steve and I walked back to our hotel. Slowly enough that I was allowed to take a few pictures: 

The streets were eerily quiet. I expected to see more people out and about, but the towering skyscrapers were surrounded by silence. 


Gloria said...

Love the trip synopsis!

Mindy said...

I love when you do day by day trip posts! I've only been to Chicago once, but I loved it. Such a fun city. Can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store. Oh, by the way, I can't read/pronounce most of the words this post. So thanks for including pics for gringos like me.

Mindy said...

How could I forget to comment on the mustache?! Steve, you're a good sport dude. Emily, thank you for the laugh.

The Clawsons said...

That's my idea of a business trip! I will admit to hitting EVERY bakery in any given city when we travel, but I think the restaurant thing would be really nice! And I love the new camera lens!! I've had it for a few years, and it's the one on my camera most of the time. The only complaint I have is the blurry pictures some times. Just keep shooting is all I can say, and take at least 3 of everything to limit only having blurry images. It usually happens when it's your favorite picture.

Karen said...

Thanks for inviting us to dinner. The food was so yummy and we had a lot of fun.