It has been more than a decade since I last visited Chicago. I was here to attend the graduation of my cousin from Northwestern. The weather was hot and humid with some rain the air. My relatives and I took in the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour and Navy Pier.
This visit was in that very temperamental season of Spring where four seasons can occur in a day. My girlfriend Noel and I arrived on a cold, wet and windy Friday. We had a marvelous lunch at Sunda and then walked the damp sidewalks of the Magnificent Mile. After some purchases were made at Sak's, and braved the stormy walk back to our hotel where we ate a much welcomed dinner of at The Lockwood restaurant in our hotel , The Palmer House Hilton. It was quite fortunate that we did some shopping on this day as we made the belated revelation that many shops were closed on the Sunday of the weekend due to the Easter Holiday.
Dinner consisted of Blue Hill Bay Mussels in garlic, thyme, shallots and chardonnay broth and Bertha's Brownie (a glass of chocolate milk mousse, chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce and almonds.) Legend has it that the brownie was created in the Palmer House but Bertha. Bertha was the wife of Potter Palmer, the tycoon who built the first Hotel for her as wedding gift. The first hotel burned down 13 days later in the 1871 great Chicago Fire. Thankfully, Potter Palmer had deep pockets and the second hotel was quickly built as the world's first fireproof hotel. The glided peacock gates at the main entrance and the glorious lobby ceiling are certainly a wonder of old world splendour.
The sun came out the next day just in time for our bus tour of Chicago. Nicknamed the Queen of architecture. The streets of Chicago boast nearly every architectural style of the modern era. From the ashes of the great Chicago fire of 1871, the first skyscrapers rose making the reputations of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright's Robbie house, Mies Van Der Rohe's S. R. Crown Hall which is the home of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Rem Koolhaas's McCormick Tribune Campus Center were the three highlights of our tour. We also passed the home of a certain very famous former law professor of the University of Chicago (and waved to the Secret Service detail on the barricaded street).
After an morning of absorbing all that stunning architecture, Noel and I decided to have lunch at another Chicago institution, the Walnut Room on the seventh floor of the Marshall Field building. Opened in 1907, it was first Chicago restaurant opened as a tearoom for women to come and rest after their shopping. The idea bloomed and the restaurant become popular with many ladies social clubs.
Here we took in the the original Circassian Walnut paneling, a 17 foot marble fountain and Austrian chandeliers as enjoyed a traditional potpie made from Mrs. Hering's original recipe. Mrs. Hering was the inspiration for the Walnut room. She was a millinery store clerk at Marshall Field who shared her lunch (a chicken pot pie) with a tired customer.
Much has changed too in the Chicago landscape since my visit a decade ago. None though more dramatically than the development of Millennium Park adjacent to the Art Institute of Chicago. Sporting the sculptures of The Cloud Gate (or the Bean as the locals have dubbed it), Lurie Gardens, Crown (interactive) Fountain and Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion, this was a park is a must see stop on any tour. The photographs of the Chicago skyline of the surfaces of Cloud Gate reflect the awesome architecture of this city.
Our Saturday day was completed by a tour of the Art Institute of Chicago. Home to Chagall's American Windows (a wonderful stained glass composition), Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, Bourke-White's BW photographs of the Great Depression, the Thorne Miniature rooms and many other masterpieces. My favourite surprise were the pictures of Ivan Albright especially the picture of Dorian Gray (which was used in the 1945 movie of the same name).
Dinner was then at Sable Kitchen and Bar. This was tapas style restaurant with a very delicious menu selection matched with an equally delicious cocktail and wine menu. The real delight was that the dishes came in appetizer and full meal sizes. Thus permitting Noel and I to sample many items on the menu: Deviled eggs (topped with black trumpet mushrooms and truffle oil), crispy pork belly BLT, Tuna tartar Tostadas, Grapefruit and Avocado with Rock Shrimp topped with basil vinaigrette, Pistachios Duck Sausage with Parmesan grits and sour cherries and warm blueberry donuts. It took us even longer to read the cocktail menu but settled on the War of the Roses (Pimm's, Bombay Dry Gin, St. Germain, fresh mint and lime).
All this great dining was just a prelude the weekend's highlight and third genius of Chicago: Alinea.