Sunday, March 6, 2016

Chicago Redux

I wanted to take it easy over winter break. I didn’t plan a trip. And then, I did. I realized I had to go somewhere. I’ve come to embrace my need for travel. I’m working on a theory that staying in the same place, without escape, produces the same effect as eating fifty Oreos; the closer you get to the fiftieth Oreo, the less you taste and enjoy it. It’s the same for me, but with place. The longer I stay in one place, the less I feel anything, let alone enjoy experiences. Thus, while I can, I have to travel. Days before Christmas, I checked flights to various cities. The price was right for Chicago. With endless restaurants and a few Frank Lloyd Wright sites, I thought, “Yes, Chicago in the heart of a warm winter.”

I had been to Chicago twice before. The first time, my visit was a 24-hour stop on a cross-country road trip with three friends during my junior year of college. I remember deep dish pizza, a Chicago dog, and the El. I think it rained.

My second visit was in 2009. I planned the trip around a dinner at Alinea. The three-day excursion was my first food-based trip. With a single-minded focus on food and drink, I didn’t feel much of the city.

Alexander Girard, n.d.
Therefore, I decided to do my thing in Chicago. I landed early on a Tuesday and headed for coffee and yoga. The coffee, at CaffĂ© Streets in Wicker Park, was excellent. I arrived at the yoga studio I wanted to visit only to find out that they don’t have a shower. I recalculated the day and spent a while walking around the downtown loop looking at public art: Sol Lewitt, DeBuffet, Calder, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rookery Building. After practicing yoga at a different studio and checking into my AirBnB, I walked to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The building is very nice and the collection is fantastic.

I don’t do terribly tourist things, nor do I like to pay the price for touristy experiences, but I decided to go to the top of the John Hancock Tower at sunset. It was actually pretty great. Then I went to dinner at Vera. I was one of a handful of people in the restaurants for a few hours. I went for the sherry; the Spanish tapas were excellent too. After too many glasses of sherry, I decided to go for second dinner at The Purple Pig. I wish I hadn’t. It was a loud, crowded place with overly salty food.

Chicago Cultural Center
The second day I started at the Chicago Cultural Center. I missed a modern architecture exhibit by two days. But, the building is gorgeous inside with extensive mosaics. Then I walked along Michigan Ave. to The Art Institute of Chicago. I stopped at the Bean. I don’t know; I’ve never been sold on the Bean. Maybe it’s because everyone in high school owned that silly Tiffany Bean necklace. I stopped at Intelligentsia Millennium Park for a macchiato, before the museum. Very good.

Henri Rousseau, The Waterfall, 1910.
I walked in the door of the museum right when it opened and power-walked to the Contemporary Wing (later, I realized there is an entrance at the Contemporary Wing). I think that New York art museums have conditioned me to feel competitive about viewing art. I feel like I have to see things before the galleries become so crowded that you want to leave. I know, it’s New York, what do you want? I didn’t realize that Chicago would be beyond fine. I was not annoyed by people or groups, at any point. You can spend your whole day in this museum. I spent several hours taking my time, doubling back, and relaxing, despite my coffee buzz and competitive art-viewing condition.

After the museum, I went to Bow Truss coffee on Michigan Ave. All but one of the espresso beverages I had in Chicago were perfect: very impressive. Then I took the El to Oak Park to meet up with a friend from Philly before taking a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio. Built in 1889, the house is one of the earlier Wright structures (he was 22 at the time). This is a different space than any of his that I’ve seen. The house is dark, inside and out. After spending three hours at Taliesen West, this quick hour tour was a bit of a let down. It was over before I knew it. Then I walked back to the El and had first dinner at Girl & the Goat. Three solid food people recommended it. I don’t know. I didn’t love it. I won’t go on, as I don’t like to complain about food on this blog.

Au Cheval
I decided to rectify this dining disappointment by following up on the one dish I wanted to eat while in Chicago: the burger at Au Cheval. The restaurant was closed the day before due to electrical issues, so my first effort was thwarted. Au Cheval happens to be across the street from Girl and the Goat. People wait hours to eat this burger. I figured that, as one person, I could probably get in quickly. This was the case, as there was one seat at the bar. Within fifteen minutes I was eating one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. The egg, the bacon, the meat, the bun, the cheese, everything. Beautiful.

Pozole, Dove's Luncheonette
The next day I began with breakfast at Dove’s Lunchonette. I had pozole. Perhaps the choice was a mistake. It was still good; I liked the pho-like set up of tortillas, herbs, radish, and lime on the side. Then I walked across the street for donuts at Stan’s Donut. I, ahem, very conservatively ordered 5 donuts and did not finish them. The lemon pistachio and the Biscoff pocket were solid.

Next, I went to the University of Chicago campus for a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Before the tour, I walked around the campus to see buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen: gorgeous modernist buildings. It was a rainy, overcast days, which didn’t help these buildings, but they were still beautiful. The Robie House is a pristine example of the Prarie School style, but again, the tour was a short experience.

Pork Belly Benny - Longman & Eagle
After the tour I met up, unexpectedly, with Chicago friends. They happen to be a couple who I adore. Thanks to Instagram, I was able to catch up with these two beautiful people. They took me to an excellent sushi place, Katsu Japanese Restaurant. Between the people and the food, this was a perfect final dinner in Chicago.

On the day of my departure, I had time for one more meal. I went to Longman and Eagle on the way to the airport. My friend’s sister works there and I trusted the recommendation. I had a pork belly eggs benedict, with homemade toast, that was utterly awesome. I wish I had more time to eat there for dinner. I made one more coffee stop at Bow Truss Coffee, Logan Square, grabbed a few pounds to take home, and jumped on the El the the airport.

In the end, I’m very much into Chicago. The city feels like a real city, but without the hurry of New York and without the bristle of Philly. I’ve only been there in the winter; I’m very excited to return when it’s warm.

Dubuffet, Monument with Standing Beast, 1984.
Sol LeWitt Wall Project, Lines in Four Directions, 1985.
Calder, Flamingo, 1974.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Home & Studio, Oak Park.
Pistachio Lemon, Orange Glazed, Stan's Donuts
Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House, 1909.
Mies van der Rohe - Univ. of Chicago, School of Social Services, 1965
Eero Saarinen & Assoc., Univ. of Chicago, Laird Bell Law Quadrangle, 1960.