The Windy City… It is surprising to me that I had never been to Chicago until last week, and on visiting, I can realize why some of my closest friends find it to be one of the most beautiful destinations for a quick trip or an awesome place to settle down. To give you a little background, I was born on the east coast (Baltimore, MD) and made plenty of trips up and down the Atlantic seaboard throughout my life. I was raised in Southern California, and lived in the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and Orange County, all for over a period of 5 years each. I’ve also had several extended stays in Asia, the longest of which was a 2 year period when I lived in Bundang, a suburb of Seoul, Korea. Finally, I traveled domestically to metropolitan and rural areas over the past 3 years for work. All this gives me quite a varied and unique perspective on cities in general. In any case, I have not been impressed by a city as much as Chicago.
Where would an awesome city be without great cuisine? Nowhere, and that’s the truth. Being a Los Angeles native means being exposed to a wide variety of ethic eateries on a daily basis. Though LA doesn’t show up at the top of any Michelin Guides, I would argue that it is what I would consider to be a foodie paradise. All that being said, Chicago definitely opened my eyes to new pleasures that definitely had me planning my next trip before I left. While there last week, I dined a 3 notable eateries of varying budgets and atmosphere. The first was Pizano’s. The staff, service, and flavor was second to none. I had an individual deep dish pizza (my first true taste of a Chicago-style deep dish) with a salad and drink. Toppings? Basil, garlic, bell peppers, and sausage. If I could change anything? Add jalapenos to their list of toppings and it would be perfect.
Dinners were an event to look forward to the whole day. One night, I visited Carmine’s which is an Italian restaurant on the famous Rush Street. Here, I started at the bar and made my way over to a table after a few drinks. I sampled their calamari, stuffed mushrooms, veal parmigiana, and several cakes for dessert. First off, while their prices aren’t cheap, you are definitely getting what you pay for. I’ve never seen a plate of veal about as big as a small tray almost edge to edge with the meat. Perfectly thin and lightly breaded with that warm melted cheese that capped the whole concoction, it was truly a sight to behold. It would have totally made my top 5 if the service was better, but to be honest, I may have been a bit spoiled (more on this later).
Tavern On Rush is where I had my last dinner before leaving Chi-town and thank God I did. I can honestly say, this may be my favorite steak house to date and I’ve been to quite a few. The evening started with some tuna tartare and humus, both of which were amazing. Then, as I was figuring out what I wanted to be the centerpiece of my last meal in Chicago, the server, Mike, brought out a platter of all the cuts of meat they offered, wrapped in clear plastic, showing me the marbling and texture in addition to recommending items off the menu. I ended up taking the lamb chops with spinach feta mashed potatoes. I know I may be wearing this word out, but it was awesome.
To wrap it all up, I was able to sample several desserts including the mud pie, salted caramel gelato, and banana cream cheesecake. Do I even need to say it? AWESOME. My favorite of the bunch was the banana cream cheesecake. While the gelato and mud pies were both amazing, they were a bit too rich for my taste and the semi-sweet (probably more sweet than semi, but not as rich as the other items) cheesecake was just right. I just want to add that I was in a pretty sizable group (10). Our orders were never mishandled and I remember distinctly calling the waiter to the table once and yet, they were constantly filling our glasses, clearing plates seamlessly, and occasionally ask how we were doing. Probably the best service I’ve had at ANY restaurant. It was like they could read our minds.
The meaning of the term nightlife has changed for me quite a bit over the years. Now, my favorite night outing includes a bar that isn’t too loud, luxurious surroundings, and elegant vistas. Drumbar did not disappoint. It is located on the roof of the Rafaello Hotel off Lake Shore Drive, and it is quite the little haven. It gave off that 1930’s art deco, country club coziness vibe that we see in period movies. Low lighting and leather high back chairs accented the old school bar feel. I felt like I stepped into a flick about Eliot Ness and his squad of Untouchables. In any case, the patio was what really made Drumbar special. It offered modern fireplaces, comfortable couches lined the edge of the roof and provided an awesome view of the surrounding buildings (one of which was the John Hancock Center) and glimpses of Lake Michigan. Very elegant and perfect for conversation.
I had the chance to walk around the city quite a bit with my colleagues. On one of the nights of our trip, we visited The Second City, a comedy club that’s been around for 50 years. We watched an improv show wherein the 4 actors on stage got scene, line, word, and action suggestions from the audience. I went in without high hopes, came out pleasantly surprised. It was entertaining and the hour and a half flew by. One thing I will say though is that glancing at the calendar made me wish I had gone the following night which promised a stand up set by D.L.Hugley, or any other day of that week which featured several comics I had the pleasure of seeing on TV.
I won’t say much about this particular reason because we ALL know what good service FEELS like. Every restaurant I went to surprised me with their level of attentiveness. Even walking around the stores on Michigan Avenue made me feel like a big shot. Sales associates and servers alike seemed to give that little extra and actually enjoy their jobs. I was very surprised since I always imagined Chicagoans to be loud, obnoxious assholes. Boy, was I wrong. They were totally NOT New Yorkers.
I did mention above that I had been a bit spoiled. I won’t go into what happened at Carmine’s other than to say that one of our orders was delayed and one of our dishes came out lukewarm. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if they had tried harder to fix these issues, but it felt like they had not. However, upon reflection, this isn’t that uncommon in New York, especially at restaurants that have a lot of guests during their dinner rushes (read: wait for 30+ minutes for a table). I think the biggest factor to my being disappointed was actually that all the other restaurants boasted service that was a textbook 100 points for customer satisfaction.
They say cleanliness is next to godliness. If that’s true, then God’s favorite metro area is probably Chicago. I won’t even compare it to the trash heap that is New York and the smell of vomit and urine that seems to assault your senses when walking around the city. I will however say that Chicago pretty much puts every other city to shame. It was CLEAN and gave off a very chic and urban vibe. If you have been to New York and not Chicago, I would say imagine New York if it there weren’t trash bags and bums everywhere, it wasn’t cramped, and parking was 5x’s better. That’s Chicago.
Oh… and who can deny this?
No one. That’s who.