Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chicago Wrap-Up: The food Edition

My work event in Chicago finished last Sunday, so I thought I'd do a summary and share tidbits about the tasty food I ate during my week in the Windy City.  This will probably be a long post, sorry.  Sit back and relax.  :)   The work event went swimmingly, with only a few hitches here and there, but, for the most part, we kept the problems hidden from the attendees and everyone seemed happy with how things went.  So that was a HUGE relief.  I'll just mainly focus on food (which is definitely why I'm not as trim as I once was).  Does it seem like all I do is eat when I'm in Chicago?  We worked so hard on this trip, it didn't feel that way at all...
Monday, after we arrived 
in Chicago, and before we went to the stained glass museum, we went to lunch at a fun diner called Eleven City Diner.  The hotel doorman recommended it and were we glad he did.  It had a very fun vibe and the food was very tasty.  There were a lot of menu choices, but I finally settled on the turkey melt (you'll notice that I chose lots of meaty cheesy dishes - I was a very bad vegetarian on this trip).  They served it with thousand island dressing on challah bread.  It was delicious, but definitely could've used more sauce.  The kosher pickle, however, was outstanding.  One of my co-workers got a coupon for free ice cream, which we all shared, and it was very nice.  We definitely enjoyed Eleven City Diner and considered going back for breakfast later in the week (which we did). 

After the stained glass museum, we all gathered in the registration office to do some work.  We worked diligently until quite late, then we went to the Irish pub inside the hotel, Kitty O'Shea's, for dinner.  I didn't think I could quite handle an entire fish and chips dinner, but I did think I could probably finish a fish sandwich.  It was delicious!  The batter was crispy and light and had a very good taste.  We also got an appetizer of deep fried cheese curds and deep fried pickles.  Oh so yummy.  Oh so bad for us.  But, hey, we were working hard...

The hotel upgraded us to the executive floor (sweet!), so we had breakfast in the lounge.  This wasn't the most tasty breakfast I've ever had; it was rather boring hotel food.  And there was a kid throwing a tantrum in the middle of the floor, which doesn't make for a very relaxing meal.  We got out of there pretty quickly and went straight to work.  Our Chicago liaison met us in the office to work for a few hours, then she went with us to The Gage for lunch.  We had been to The Gage last time we were in Chicago and really enjoyed it.  And we were definitely happy to go back.  The menu is just chock full of stuff I"d like to try, but once again, the soup of the day caught my attention - it was a chilled curried corn soup, with dried apricots.  Delicious, with a bit of heat in the background.  I paired the soup with a half turkey sandwich.  The sandwich had a horseradish cream on it, which was yummy (and very sinus-clearing), but was also pretty potent.  If I order that sandwich again, I'd probably order it with the sauce on the side.  But, again, The Gage was a terrific place for lunch.  Plus, it's right across the street from The Bean and the Gehry bandshell (as described in my last Chicago post).

We worked hard, again until quite late, and were too tired to go out for dinner, so a couple of us went to Tamarind to get some Thai/Chinese takeout.  It was very tasty, but I forgot to get a photo.  Sorry.  The next morning, we skipped the executive lounge for breakfast and went back to Eleven City Diner.  I had a gorgeous omelet and very nice coffee (some diners' coffee tastes bitter to me, but this one was good).  We wandered around outside for a few minutes before getting back to work - some of those photos are below.

I have several friends from college who live in the Chicago area and one of them happened to be in town Wednesday night, so we met at the hotel and went to the tapas restaurant next door, Mercat a la Planxa.  I've been there before (and posted about it), so I was happy to go back.  We had a delightful dinner of several vegetarian tapas (my friend is a vegetarian, so he was a good influence on me), with this gorgeous dessert of a sweet potato cake, with a cardamom cream cheese espuma and candied pecans.  Good golly, that was delicious.  As was the sangria.  We had a wonderful time catching up, laughing and enjoying each other's company.  It was a terrific way to relax before the next day's work stress.
During the 
conference, I mainly scarfed down hotel food during the few minutes here and there I had to myself.  On Friday night, though, we did a special dinner for the entire staff at Mercat. It was in their private room, with atmospheric mood lighting, which means my photos are terrible.  Any tapas photos you see were stolen from the Mercat website or from a friend's camera.  We did a fixed menu that included pan con tomate, bacon wrapped dates and a mixed green salad with beans and avocado for our first course; garlic shrimp, flatbread with mushrooms, sausage and manchego, and the Spanish omelet for our second course; and paella with chicken and chorizo for our third course, with the addition of a half roast suckling pig.  The dessert was the croquetas de xocolata, or deep fried dark chocolate sitting on a bed of banana marshmallow, swimming in rosemary caramel.  As one of my co-workers said, they're like an orgasm in your mouth.  :)  Needless to say, we had an amazing dinner and everyone had a great time.  The wine was delicious and my co-workers and I shared a lot of laughs.  And wine. 
Saturday night, after the work day 
ended, everyone was exhausted and no one had the energy to make group plans.  After sitting in my room for a few minutes, I decided I wanted to try a Hawaiian restaurant that I had been wanting to try the last few times I was in Chicago.  Since I had been surrounded by people for a week, I snuck out with my Nook and had dinner by myself.  It was lovely.  The cab ride took FOREVER to get there and I was beginning to worry that the driver was kidnapping me and selling me to a slavery ring, but we at last got to Sola restaurant in the Northcenter area outside Chicago.  It was so calming and soothing, I was immediately happy to be there.  I had a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail with pomegranate and blood orange juice and ordered the chicken.  While the chef was preparing my chicken, my astonishingly attractive server brought me an amuse bouche of salmon tartare with a tiny sliver of cucumber and a dollop of truffle aioli.  Thankfully, the aioli was sparing, since I find the flavor so assertive.  A little goes a long way.  But I do love me an amuse bouche.  Then my chicken dish came out.  Good lord, it was AMAZING.  It had a soy lacquer, and it was served with large pearl couscous in a coconut curry sauce, and braised greens.  It was fully half a chicken, so the portion was enormous!  And stunningly good.  Sweet and salty, with crispy skin and soft couscous.  It really was one of the most delicious dishes I've ever had.  I couldn't finish it, unfortunately, and I was too stuffed to try dessert, but I will most definitely go back to Sola, even if it is an extremely long cab ride away.  At least it gave me time to tweet.  When I got back to the hotel, I could watch fireworks from my window!  It was a grand way to finish the evening...

Sunday, after the conference was over, I went with one co-worker to a bistro a friend of his had recommended, Bistrot Zinc.  It was adorable and very European.  I got the croque monsieur, which was DELICIOUS (and caused much envy at the tables around us), and then my co-worker and I shared some fruit with mascarpone cheese.  It was wonderfully light and sweet and the perfect ending to lunch.  Since we had eaten quite a bit, though, we decided to stroll a bit along Michigan Avenue.  When we got to the Hancock Tower, my co-worker remembered his friend suggested we go to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor and have a drink and see the amazing views.  So we did!  It was a lot of fun, with amazing sights (the view from the ladies room was incomparable!).  I was so glad I got to do one more touristy thing in Chicago before heading back to New York.
I also had one more meal before leaving Chicago proper - my boss took me to the hotel restaurant and I had a very yummy vegetable soup with pasta, and a less yummy dish of fettucine bolognese.  There was a monumental lack of seasoning in the pasta, which was unfortunate.  Oh, and when we got to the airport to fly home, I had a delicious breakfast torta at Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera in O'Hare.  Since it had been a few hours since my last meal, I had to fit in one more.  Oh, Chicago, how I'll miss visiting you and your delicious food every few months... 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Unfortunately, due to last week's work responsibilities in Chicago, I missed my annual tradition of attending the US Open qualifying tournament.  Both my mom and I were very disappointed.  But at least I could keep another tradition going - a group of pals and I get tickets to the second night of the official tournament and have a great time!  We've been doing it for quite a few years now and it's always fun fun fun.

I belong to the USTA, mainly to get Tennis magazine and to have access to US Open presale tickets.  When the presale opens, I jump online to get two-for-one seats in Arthur Ashe stadium for me and four or five of my besties.  Even the years we got rained out were well worth the trip out to Flushing.  We laugh, eat fried food, drink beer, gobble ice cream, and just generally raise the roof.  In a polite way, of course.  :)

 This year's matches featured two players who aren't quite my favorites - Novak Djokovic and Viktoria Azarenka (not against each other, naturally).  While we were enjoying our dinner, I predicted to my pals that we would be home by around 11pm, figuring the matches would be routs and we'd be in and out of the stadium pretty quickly.  I was rather close in my prediction - the only reason I got home a half hour later than I predicted was because there was a delay in the trains at Roosevelt Avenue. 

Anyway, relating the evening from the start:  I took the LIRR out of Penn Station to Flushing.  I find it much nicer to take the LIRR from Manhattan instead of the 7 train - I get to sit and the ride is only about sixteen minutes.  That means I don't have to leave work quite as early to get there.  I sat next to a snorer though, so that was a little annoying and giggle-inducing at the same time.  I envy people who can fall asleep in the few minutes between their sitting down on the train and when the train pulls out of the station.  I wish I could fall asleep that quickly!  I got to Flushing Meadow early, so I found a spot in the shade and waited for my pals.  There may have been tweeting (@magicalmisstari - I can't believe I succumbed to Twitter).  We always meet at the same spot - near the Mercedes car display.  There are cars for some pals to dream about and there are photos of Roger Federer for others of us to dream about.  Something for everyone.
I had warned my pals that there are metal detectors at the entrance this year for the first time - I had read reports that people were standing in line for over an hour on Monday to get into the grounds, but we only stood in line for a few minutes.  I guess they worked the kinks out faster than anyone imagined, which was lovely.  We went right to the food court and tried to find an unoccupied table for four.  There didn't seem to be one, but one of my charming gal pals found a table for six that only had a couple of gents at it.  She asked and they kindly let us share their table.  After finding a seat, then we set about deciding which of the tasty, yet oh-so-bad-for-you food treats we would try.  I picked the new Low Country BBQ booth.  I got the pit-smoked turkey sandwich, with barbecue sauce on the side, along with some fries.  Pricey, but tasty.  And I'm ever so glad the USTA traded their Pepsi contract for Coke products!  Coke is the real thing!  Oh, and a heart-shaped pickle makes everything better.  Ha ha.

The weather was so nice and our conversation was so lively, we rather forgot to head to our seats in the stadium for the Djokovic match.  By the time we got there, the first set was almost over.  And my prediction was pretty accurate - Djokovic didn't really have to do anything special to dominate poor Berankis (though I do like the photo I got of Berankis, which is at left).  The match barely lasted ninety minutes and only featured one shirt change.  Nothing scintillating going on here.  Though, I will admit that I was happy to see Djokovic hit the post-match tennis balls up into our area of the stands (which were much closer than we usually are, but still pretty far away).  He is pretty much my least favorite male tennis player at the moment, so I felt pretty magnanimous giving him even a little credit.  ;)
The little lady who came out and sang "America the Beautiful" was adorable and sang nicely, though I do miss the 'regular' singing of the song and wish the American Idol-ization of every single song would STOP.  But maybe that's just me.  The second match was Viktoria Azarenka vs Dinah Pfizenmaier from Germany.  I'm not a huge fan of Azarenka and the screaming she does when she hits the ball (I was going to try to attach a video, but it wasn't working) and I admit that I have never heard of Dinah.  Dinah was maddeningly inconsistent - she would hit two fantastic serves, then hit two double faults.  She had many game points and break points, but couldn't execute on any of them.  After many promising and interesting rallies, Azarenka won 6-0, 6-0.  I don't think I've ever seen a double bagel live before.  I'll have to think on that.  The picture above right is of Azarenka.
So, although the tennis wasn't thrilling, the food was delicious, the weather was gorgeous and the company even MORE gorgeous.  Coterie Tennis Night was another success.  I'm headed back to the Open on Sunday, hopefully I'll see different players and more competitive matches.  And, next year, I'm going to my tennis week NO MATTER WHAT!!!!!!!!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I love sightseeing

I'm in Chicago, for a work event - I have a few free moments, so I thought I'd blog about some cool things I've seen here, as well as a wonderfully fun day I had before I left NY.

I had never done Summer Streets before, but it's a very cool annual event, where almost seven miles of NYC streets are closed to cars and open to pedestrians and bikes.  The Saturday before I left, I met some friends and we took advantage of this lovely day.  This year, the city presented an interactive light and sound installation in the Park Avenue Tunnel called the Voice Tunnel.  It was 1400 feet long with over 300 spotlights, making the domed ceiling look beautiful and eerie.  There was also a place for people to record their voices, which were then played on speakers throughout the tunnel.  The volume of the voices raised and lowered the levels of the lights.  So, at times, the lights would go out completely and you would be walking through a NY street tunnel in the dark.  It was vaguely creepy but also completely fun.

When I got to the line, the volunteers were telling people that the line was closed for the day.  But I called my friend and found out he was in line already, although he was behind the 'closed' sign.  But, as a true New Yorker, he was not deterred and stood his ground.  Lo and behold, they opened up the line again!  Woo hoo!  The line moved pretty quickly - they passed out a liability waiver that everyone had to sign before going in.  They also stamped your hand and checked your bag.  It seemed every precaution was being taken, which was fine by me. 

There were a lot of people, but it wasn't too crowded.  You had enough room to really look around, stop when the lights went out, and just quietly experience the tunnel experience.  I just thought it was so cool and I'm ever so glad I took my handsome friend up on his offer to join him.  After exiting the tunnel, we sauntered uptown along Park Avenue, which was car-free.  There was also a cute rest stop along the way, with a little 'beach' area and water fountains.  It was a terrific way to spend a sunny day in NYC.  I love that there are so many opportunites like this and I really need to take advantage of them more often. 

The following Monday, I was off to Chicago.  Since I'm spending a whole week here, I was determined to fit in some sightseeing.  And once I heard about the Smith Museum of Stained Glass, I knew the first place I wanted to go.  I've never been to Navy Piers, where this museum is located, and I LOVE stained glass!  We literally landed in Chicago, had a little lunch, and another handsome friend and I jumped into a cab to head to the museum.

Navy Piers is a very touristy, yet still charming, spot along the lake.  There were a lot of people, yet it was still pretty peaceful along the water.  There are a lot of opportunities there to take a boat ride, also food kiosks and even a small amusement park.  But we really wanted to see the museum.  It's very near the end of the pier, so it was fun to get a look at everything before reaching our destination.

The Smith Museum of Stained Glass has 150 stained glass windows, dating from 1870 to the present.  There are decorative windows, religious windows and some novelty pieces as well.  The galleries extend over 800 feet and there's another separate gallery, the Driehaus Gallery, that has a lot of Tiffany-designed windows.  So much gorgeous stuff and it was absolutely free!  That's my kind of museum.
We couldn't get over how many gorgeous windows there were!  But it was interesting - each one seemed more beautiful than the last, but once we got to the Tiffany windows, it was like, ahhhhh.  THAT'S what they're supposed to be like.  There's beautiful and there's BEAUTIFUL.  At least in my opinion.  It was also very fortunate that we were there on a beautiful sunny day.  That only added to the shimmer of the stained glass.  I'll include a bunch more photos at the bottom.  It was just a lovely relaxing way to spend an afternoon - gazing at beautiful stained glass and strolling along a pier.  Thumbs way up.

My mom was reading about Millennium Park and was interested in the Cloud Gate, or 'The Bean,' so she asked me to check it out.  After lunch yesterday, we happened to be across the street from the park, so my handsome friend and I checked it out, along with the bandshell designed by Frank Gehry in the Jay Pritzger Pavilion.  More gorgeousness.  The Gehry is soaring and flowing, yet still angular and abstract.  I wonder what the sound is like when orchestras play there.  And The Bean is stunning.  Every angle shows you something a little different and watching the skyline ripple across the curves of the sculpture is really lovely.  I'm glad my mom suggested I check it out.  I wanted to go to the Art Institute, but frugality and tired feet won the day.  I'm guessing I won't get any more sightseeing chances on this Chicago trip, but at least I got to see a couple of new things.  Learning about and seeing new things keeps you sharp!  And feeling like a tourist, every now and then, is always a good thing...