Spring Break, Chicago Style

Our college son was at the house for his spring break just a few short days ago.  The move for us was completed two months ago (he was away at school), so he had not yet seen his new “home” or any part of Chicago or the suburbs.  We decided to make part of the break a “mini-vacation.”  So, off went the college son and his Mom to the downtown area of Chicago for “Home Tourist 2015.” Prior to his arrival, tickets had been secured for the theater, symphony and reservations made at a brand new hotel offering some super “get to know us” rates.  Mom had also made dinner reservations at a couple “hot spots” to further enhance “HT 2015.”



Day One:  Arrived at the new Loews Hotel in Chicago. From the moment we arrived, we were treated as if we were the most important guest in the building.  Our view was incredible!!!  The room was spacious and quiet.  Access to our room well before check-in time was a huge perk!  With hunger on our minds, we asked for a suggestion and were quickly given “Rural Society” as our must eat lunch.  (Connected to hotel was an added perk!) Oh my goodness.  This place is so yummy.  The chicken sandwich was incredible.  The corn tamale melted in your mouth.  The service was outstanding.  The atmosphere matched the menu perfectly!  All the meats are wood grilled and the smell is intoxicating. Jose Garces, of Iron Chef fame, is the “brain” behind the food.  I cannot wait to just go back into the city to eat at Rural Society.  (Best part of the stay was watching the face of our bellman as we corrected his introduction of “Mr. and Mrs. McClellan.” One word.  Hilarious.)

Just a cool atmosphere.

Just a cool atmosphere.

The room was so well appointed. I had to walk away from the well stocked mini-bar…peanut M&M’s are my kryptonite. The robes were soft and cozy and just warm enough to take away that morning chill. My absolute favorite item in the room was the Julien Farel blow-dryer.  Seriously, I have never used a more effective blow-dryer.  I came home and tried to find one to purchase and learned they are on back-order.  Let’s just say I am on the wait list!  Superior linens on the beds, it was just a perfect place to stay.  (Parking is below the hotel and they will validate your ticket and add the discounted rate to your bill.)  Location is one block north of Michigan Avenue and the entrance to the Miracle Mile.  (Or maybe that’s northeast….but one block…that’s it.)

Check out the Loews Hotel-Chicago/Downtown at:  www.loewshotels.com/Chicago-Downtown

Most amazing blow-dryer ever at: http://www.julienfarel.com

We had theater tickets and dinner reservations for our first night, so what to do until then was the question….we decided to tackle the Magnificent Mile in “record speed.”  The shopping is wonderful, but it’s the architecture that surrounds you that keeps your attention.  Some of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in an US city.  I had my first adventure into a Bloomingdales.  Such a lovely store.  Great service and a super shoe department. (Y’all know how I love me some shoes!) Josh discovered the store Top Man.  Little sidenote on Bloomingdales…..the ranges in prices are wide and go from “ok, I can buy this” to “woah, second mortgage time.”  Check the price before you fall in love.  (There’s an awesome Bloomingdales outlet in Chicago that is worth the trip.)

Check it out at: http://www.themagnificentmile.com

The night began with reservations at Trattoria 10.  Oh my goodness.  The reviews were spot on.  This is a “must” when visiting Chicago, especially if you have theater tickets.  (It’s super close to all.) Reservations were made about two weeks prior.  We skipped the appetizer as we knew we wanted dessert.  I ordered the butternut and acorn squash ravioli with honey walnut butter and Josh ordered the Niman Ranch Pork Tenderloin.  The waiter had told us the ravioli was the longest running menu item and given my newly acquired love for this dish, I had to order.  Josh was feeling a tad carnivorous and opted for the meat option.  We were asked if we had theater tickets and I appreciated that being something our waiter desired to know.  The food. Simply, oh my goodness.  I cannot begin to describe the lightness of the ravioli and the perfect balance the sauce gave to the dish.  I was simply sad when it was all gone.  Josh’s dish came out looking divine.  Perfectly cooked medium pork tenderloin.  It was delicious.  The fingerling potatoes were incredible. Our dishes were promptly removed and dessert service set.  Josh ordered the classic tiramisu and I opted for the apple crostata.  Josh’s dessert came out looking like a slice of heaven.  A chocolate covered strawberry set aside the perfectly formed layers of tiramisu.  Not too much espresso on the lady-fingers, but the perfect balance.  My apple crostata came out warm with a nice side of vanilla gelato.  Garnished with some warm caramel and honey milk grove honey, it was wonderful.  The balance of granny smith apples to cranberries and raisins was perfect!  A delicious meal to start off the night on the town with my Josh.

Apple Heaven

Apple Heaven

Then came the theater.  We were at the Bank of America theater.  One of Belmont’s own, Candace Quarrels was the lead female role in the Book of Mormon.  (This is the primary reason we chose this ticket.)  The kids were fabulous and Candace…man that girl can sing.  Candace and Elder Cunningham stole the show for me.  Sure, there were some things I wish I hadn’t heard.  There was a scene I wanted to crawl under the foundation during and in that moment seriously regretted the ticket choice.  Yet, there were scenes that were so well done that I sat and was able to enjoy the majority of the play.  Would I see it again?  No.  Would i pay to see Candace Quarrels perform in another play?  Yes, without hesitation.  The theater is beautiful and it’s almost as if you have stepped back in time.  So ornate.  I can only imagine how the patrons dressed back in the day. You can just imagine women sitting in the boxes with their finest gowns and jewels on.  Loved that part of my night.

So grand.

So grand.

The next day started with a walk to Millennium Park and  the obligatory pictures at “The Bean.”

The Bean

The Bean

From there, it was the Art Institute of Chicago.  This was amazing.  Simply, no words can do it justice.  Four hours in and we still had not seen the entire second floor.

Monet after Monet after Monet

Monet after Monet after Monet

We still have so much left to see.  Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, AR, is wonderful, but to see such an impressive collection of art from as far back as 600 years ago here in Chicago….simply awe inspiring.  It’s worth the trip.  Worth the ticket.  In one day, I learned my son has favorite artists and to see him so excited to see not just one work, but multiple works by his favorites…priceless.

From there, it was a visit to Intelligentsia Coffee.  Run, do not walk to this place situated on East Randolph.  They have other Chicago locations and are also in LA and NYC.  This was the best cup of coffee I have ever tasted.  No, seriously.  I had the Gaspard Rwanda.  Using the Cremex to brew, this was hands down the best. It lived up to the hype, was worth the wait and if you are a coffee lover-it will change your life.  Ok, maybe not literally, but you will want this coffee daily.  I’m so thankful for a son that is a “coffee snob.”  I never would have known this even existed…or walked past it simply thinking it was just another coffee bar.

Check it out at: http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com

Before we knew it, the day had been quickly spent at various sites and it was time to get dressed up for our night at the symphony.  Dinner was at Tesori (located adjacent to the symphony hall) and it was ok.  I think the next visit we will skip the “ta-da” dinner and go with the flatbread pizza and a salad.  With Josh in his suit and me in my black dress, we then took our seats at symphony hall in the terrace.  Funny story….Josh ran into more people he knew this night than he did when visiting Arkansas..where he had grown up.  And then…..the first note by the strings.  Heavenly.  Angelic.  Beautiful.  Simply the  most incredible string section I have ever had the honor of hearing live.  Dutoit conducting Ravel.  Simply marvelous.  I cannot begin to express how fun it is to sit next to Josh at the symphony.  To see him know every nuance of a piece and eagerly be awaiting the arrival of a certain moment…priceless.  To hear him talk about the percussion section, some of which are friends of his through various summer festivals (Tanglewood and the Aspen Music Festival)…just so thankful to share this season with him.  We are already planning to return as soon as he gets back from school in May.  Who  knows, maybe one day CSO will be his employer!  Josh McClellan, principal timpanist Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Sounds kinda awesome!

Check it out at: http://www.cso.org

We return to the room after the symphony, and the third part of our trio had made his way into the city.  Time for rest…for Friday would be a full day!

We started our day at “Yolk” for breakfast.  It was packed!  One of my favorite things in Chicago so far is how Chicago does breakfast!  Yolk kept that positive trend going!  With proper nutrition in our system, we were off to the Shedd Aquarium.  We grabbed a taxi for the ride over…it was a very chilly morning.  Shedd Aquarium is probably the highlight of Chicago for kiddos.  Kindergartener’s were running around and could not get enough of the exhibits.  The Reef exhibit was our favorite part.

We found Nemo!

We found Nemo!

We have been, and that’s probably our one time visit.  From there, we began walking towards Millennium Park so that our third member could catch a glimpse into what all we saw the day before.  Before we knew it, we had walked from the Shedd to the edge of the Art Institute.  Stopping to enjoy various street musicians and pointing out various things we had taken in on our day one.  We were quickly back at our coffee spot and no one had to talk me into a second cup of coffee from Intelligentsia.  We had saved a trip to “Shake Shack” for when our third member was with us and soon it was time to trek over to get a taste of what was one of our favorite stops in New York City a few years back.  Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a great burger and a chocolate shake!

Our college kid was running out of steam and we knew we had a trek to make back out to the burbs.  This was the end to our little trip and our list wasn’t even close to being complete.  So thankful we did the hotel part of this break. It made it feel like a vacation and allowed us to truly enjoy the Chicago experience.  We can hardly wait to return when it’s warmer to see what everything looks like in the late spring and seeing what a Cubs game is like.

Boston still has my heart as my all-time favorite major city, but Chicago impressed me greatly.  Take some of what we love in NYC and bring it down a few notches crowd and noise wise…and that’s Chicago.  It didn’t feel nearly as touristy either, although I think Navy Pier may have that honor.  Still looking for those rink-side Blackhawk tickets that won’t break the bank….one day…one day.

Thank you Chicago for a great spring break!

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