5.29.2012

On Holiday in Chicago


For our seventh wedding anniversary, we left Lilah and James with Grandma and Grandpa Weaver and headed into the windy city. This was our first night away since Lilah was born. (She'll be one in two weeks). We wanted to maximize our time together, but we also didn't want to venture too far away from the grandparents' house in Bollingbrook. Of course, the kids and grandparents were totally fine. In fact, I think they had as much fun as we did, which is really saying something because we had a wonderfully, fabulous weekend.

We visited some top notch places to share them with you.

Our first stop was Oak Street Beach.
Oak Street Beach is nestled just minutes away from bustling Michigan Ave.

We found some great street parking in front of the W hotel. Street parking is definitely the way to go if you drive into Chicago. We paid $3.50 an hour, which is far better than the $20 minimum in parking garages. There are hardly any painted lines but a local told us they're quick to ticket you if you're not all the way in your spot, so we tucked our orange Honda Fit carefully into it's parallel space and crossed under the street to the beach.

The beaches were just being re-opened for the summer season that weekend so there were several enthusiastic families, sunbathers, and open water swimmers sharing the space. We'd heard Oak Street rivaled the Bay Area beaches. However, after visiting for ourselves, we have to respectfully disagree. Yes, Oak Street is a quaint strip of sand in the heart of a major city, next to a giant body of water, but it's no Baker Beach, not even close. We were also surprised to see quite a bit a litter along the sand--too bad. That said, we had a nice time walking barefoot through the sand, watching the swimmers and gulls soar, and taking in the cool breezes coming off the water.



After the beach we walked hand in hand back to the hubbub of the Chicago shopping district. I'd read about 676 and wanted to try it for lunch.


From their website:




Chef Daven Wardynski accentuates the food selection with an ever changing selection of hand-made house charcuterie, honey from his own hive, produce from rooftop gardens located on the sundeck at the Omni Chicago Hotel and pork from the exclusive Acorn Edition IV pig out of Norwalk, Iowa. Chef Wardynski and his culinary team's dishes will bring back memories of fishing from the dock for bluegill, hunting game in the north woods, summers spent picking apples from the orchard trees hoping not to get caught and standing in awe at the plethora of jarred food under grandma’s basement stairs. That is the Midwest. That is 676.

Local farm partners include Great Lakes fisheries, Midwest cheese makers such as Capriole Farms (Greenville, Indiana) and Zingerman's Creamery (Ann Arbor, Michigan). We also support Chicago's only year-round farmers market and promote local farmers, producers and chefs by connecting them to the public through educational programming and special events.

With unparalleled views of Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile, this unique restaurant experience is augmented with rustic touches such as jars, copper, communal plates and a bit of nostalgia of the foods you remember as a kid. 676 is devoted to practicing environmental wellness initiatives because we feel our guests need to know where their food comes from, how it is grown and who is growing it.




We sat outside in their "seasonal sidewalk cafe" and people watched. 676 is a fabulous location for people watching. We ordered off their meat and cheese menu. We chose the brie (and black jam), cheddar (and bacon jam), blue (and spiced apricot jam), venison pepperoni (and apple fennel jam) and the coppa (with corn pesto). The jams were amazing. The cheeses were wonderful, particularly the blue and brie. Both of these cheese paired well with the glass of dry champagne I ordered.  We both agreed the pepperoni was among the best we'd  tried. We're big pepperoni people. This was also the first time I've ever liked venison, ever.  The coppa was just okay. Chris ordered a glass of Malbec, which came chilled. The server explained they always serve their reds chilled outside because it gets so hot they don't open up otherwise. That would make sense, if it were hot. It wasn't. It was 65 degrees. We sent the wine back (feeling a little snobby) and they brought Chris a room temperature glass of wine. This was our most expensive meal of the trip, but the flavors were fantastic. Plus, this was definitely not a place we could have taken our kids. If you are out with your honey and looking for a fancy lunch spot on the magnificent mile, 676 won't disappoint.

After lunch we window shopped a little and rode the escalator up all four levels of Crate and Barrel. Our meter money was almost up and we were ready to get away from the crowds so we pulled our little orange car back onto the freeway and headed into Oak Park to check into our B&B.

The Garden Room at the Harvey House B&B
My mother-in-law had read about the Harvey House and wanted us to check it out. She and her husband are big Frank Llyod Wright fans. In fact if you're in Oak Park they highly recommend the Frank Lloyd Wright walking tour. We did not go on the tour, instead we enjoyed the chocolate chip blondie brownies that had just come out of the oven. Then we took a delicious uninterrupted nap in our big bed.  When we woke up it was almost time to get ready for dinner. Before I tell you about dinner, let me tell you a little bit more about the Harvey House. For more info you can go to their website by clicking here.

We had a wonderful stay. Our room was spacious. It had great light during the day and room darkening shades for night. There was a fireplace, large Jacuzzi tub and a waterfall shower. When we came back from dinner the owner's assistant was making a plate of chocolates and offered us a bottle of house wine. When we told her we thought we'd take the wine outside she ran ahead to light candles for us.

Breakfast was great and leisurely. We also took breakfast outside. To start, they make the whole assortment of coffee drinks. I had two lattes.   Breakfast came in courses. Our first course was sweet, homemade granola, a big bowl of fresh fruit and a carafe of milk.  Twenty minutes later came baked french toast with caramelized apples and blackberries, followed by savory egg cups in little pastries. The egg cups were my favorite. After more than an hour of eating breakfast, we were ready to either move or melt into a food coma. we opted for moving and hence bid the sweet B&B adieu. If you are looking for a romantic spot to stay anywhere near Oak Park, look no farther than the Harvey House.

Okay, let's back track a bit. For dinner, we'd made reservations at Maya Del Sol. I'd read that it was the hot place in Oak Park. In fact even our server at 676 said she couldn't wait to try it. Wow, this restaurant likes to celebrate. So do we. To start when we called for reservations, Chris mentioned we were celebrating our anniversary and so the hostess offered to send their funky, fabulous, complimentary house limo. Check it out.

House Limo at Maya Del Sol

It was fun(ny) arriving in such style. Turns out Maya del Sol is only .3 miles from the Harvey House. It was a beautiful night, so we thanked the driver, but told him we'd just walk back after dinner.  The patio is open seating so I was pretty thrilled that there were some tables available when we walked in. What a great patio for dinner., solid bright colored umbrellas, carefully spaced tables so you are not eating on top of anyone, and blankets at the ready if you get cold.

Our server heard it was our anniversary so he started us off with two glasses on champagne. The menu is great. We asked our server for his recommendations. He said definitely the nachos del sol. So we went with a small order of those. Yum. Honey and cider braised beef with jalapenos and cheese. I ordered the fish tacos and Chris ordered the steak tacos. Both of our main dishes were interesting and flavorful. The food at Maya Del Sol is very good. The prices are reasonable. But where they really outshine the competition is in service and atmosphere. The owners clearly thought out every detail of the dining experience. Our server surprised us again at dessert with this anniversary piece of their house tres leches.

After dinner, we walked back to the Harvey House.  One of our favorite parts of road travel is the uninterrupted time to talk in the car. Chris and I have always talked easily. We usually talk from home to destination and destination to home. As our marriage has unfolded we've also gotten cozy in each other's quiet and can now sit together in a sweet stillness. Our conversation this weekend was wonderful. A little distance from our real lives gave us the chance to sit back and listen to each other's  dreams and hopes  and start planning for some even bigger adventures to come.

After a very full night sleep and a very full breakfast, Chris and I drove back in the direction of Bollingbrook to spend the afternoon in Naperville. Our first stop was the Riverwalk. We've taken the kids along the Riverwalk before and always enjoyed the walk. After a little walk we decided to check out the paddle-boats. For $10 you can rent a four-seater paddle-boat for 40 minutes. I think we were out on the water for closer to an hour, but everything was so laid back that no one cared. We've rented paddle-boats a few other times but didn't know there was much variety in paddle-boat quality before today's adventure. These paddle-boats were the luxury cars of plastic bicycle boating: easy to steer, easy to paddle, complete with shade canopies, a very relaxing experience.We floated along in the shade and watched schools of fish and tadpoles swim by.


It was a hot day and we were very warm after boating. We cooled off in the restaurant at the top of the hill. They sold soft serve ice cream cones for $2. I was tempted, but resisted. Maybe, next time when we come back with the kids.

We shared a late lunch at White Chocolate Grill. My mother-in-law and I had eaten lunch here before. I think it's a little chain, but it's always quite good. Their specialty is a gin soup. No soup for us today, as the temperature was hovering around the triple digits. Instead we ordered ice teas and shared the filet minion cobb salad. It was huge, perfect for sharing and filled with good flavors.

Our last stop of the weekend was a little shopping at Nordstrom Rack. If you haven't been to a Nordtrom Rack, go, seriously. Sometimes the deals are amazing. Today,  the only great deal we found was on a new pair of sunglasses. Pretty cute though, eh? We also picked up a batch of beautiful hydrangeas at the flower stand nearby as a thank you token to my in-laws.



One more kiss in the sun before hurrying back to hug our kids. Thanks to the windy city, the grandparents, and always, my partner in adventure, for a wonderful weekend.






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