Monday, October 24, 2016

Chicago Cocktail Crawl

Our last day of Chicago girl's trip 2015 was going to be another fun packed one! We set out to cure the effects from the last night's crawl with deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's. I mean when in Chicago, right?

After lunch we made our way to the river for an architectural boat cruise, stopping along the way at Garrett's for a few tins of Chicago mix popcorn (completely addictive cheddar and caramel mix!).

I had been on this tour before but as the skyline of Chicago continues to grow and change it is still a great way to spend 90-minutes. Nicer if the clouds aren't so low as to obstruct some of the taller towers but still nice.

After our tour we walked to the first of our stops for the evening, the newly opened GreenRiver, a collaboration between famed restauranteur Danny Meyer and bar owners extraordinaire from New York's Dead Rabbit, Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon. Upon finding the location we realized the bar is on the 18th floor of a hospital! Too funny!
The bar had just opened a few days prior but the cocktail menu was already looking like a hit. McGarry and Muldoon like to create stories with their menus, and this one was filled with drinks named after interesting characters who helped to build Chicago back up after the Great Fire of 1871. The space is very clean and modern and boasts an incredible terrace with views of the city and the lake.

The cocktails and the service were fantastic. We only had a small snack of frites, as we were still pretty full from lunch, but I'm looking forward to checking out dinner my next time in town.
From here we headed to the Freehand Hotel bar, The Broken Shaker. The spot is quite small and has a very hipster vibe. The cocktail menu is super playful but for me some of the combinations actually sounded gross (Garrett caramel and cheddar cocktail anyone?)
Sadly, although our drinks were all fine, the big problem here was the almost laughably bad service. Slow to come around, put out to answer questions, and even slower to come back with cocktails. This bar has one some top awards but at least on this visit none of us were impressed.

On to our final stop, Three Dots and a Dash. Everything about this place is great! Slightly secretive entrance? Check (door is in the alley with stairs descending to the subterranean bar)! Fun atmosphere? Most definitely; this feels like an original Trader Vik's but better! Delicious tiki drinks? Yes, yes, and yes! And since we had a few rounds you can add some more yeses to that!
I loved everything here! The service was awesome, the drinks were really good, we even had a little pupu platter of good bar nibbles. This was a super fun end to our evening and our trip.

We headed back to Logan Square and packed up our stuff. Kate headed home to Geneva the next day while Forest and I flew off to continue the party in New York (more on that later!).

Absolutely fantastic time; thanks ladies!

Other posts in this series: day one and two here, day three here, day four here.
All Chicago photos here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Culture and Cocktails in Chicago

My girl friends and I started day four in Chicago (earlier posts are here and here) at the neighborhood gem Lula Cafe in Logan Square. The weather was cloudy and a bit chillier but we joined the locals and had our brunch outside. This is a super fun and casual spot, another winner in the 'hood!

We had two days left and they were going to be packed full of fun! Forest and I left Kate to her own devices after brunch and headed to the Art Institute to see their miniature rooms gallery. We walked through Millennial Park on the way and took the obligatory selfie with the Bean as well as wandered the outdoor sculpture exhibits of Juame Plensa.

Housed downstairs in the museum there are 68 little rooms of amazing European interior design. We absolutely loved this! They are so tiny and perfectly put together. I believe this is a permanent exhibit; definitely worth checking out!
 Additionally there was a special exhibit of paperweights that had some absolutely gorgeous items!
And the cherry on top was an exhibit of Degas' work, At the Track, On the Stage. Some of my favorite pieces were on display.
This museum has such an amazing collection, there's always something new to discover! We headed over to the bar at the nearby Kimpton for a glass of wine before grabbing the train to meet up with Kate and another friend and start our evening cocktail crawl at Lost Lake Tiki.

This place is so much fun! Fantastic tiki drinks, cool themed space, fun and friendly. We loved everything about it, including the "bang bang" chicken wings that come from the little hole in a wall next door (which I hear has closed now.)

Next up were elegant cocktails had in the polished space of The Violet Hour. I've been here before (strangely was even seated at the same booth!) and it still lives up to the excellent service and quality drinks after almost 10-years in business. When our waitress heard we were doing a bar crawl she even brought out some little snacks on the house. Class act.

Stop number three, the gorgeous Scofflaw. I love gin drinks, and that is their focus, so I really thought that this would be my favorite stop of the evening, but our service was both snobbish and aloof which turned us all a bit off on them.
We decided to only have one round because of this and headed out to our final stop, Best Intentions. We had so much fun here! It's a casual/divey looking place with a menu of retro drinks, all made exceptionally well. It's lively, and fun, and delicious!
They also have a great outdoor patio that would be awesome in warm months. Be sure to check them out while in town! Excellent day and evening in Chicago!

All Chicago photos here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Night at The Aviary

It was day 3 of our 5-day Chicago girl's trip (the first two are here) and we spent the morning sleeping in, chilling in our pjs, eating delicious Girl and the Goat leftovers, and catching up. This is what I find so perfect about having an Airbnb instead of a hotel room.

We had passed a cute cafe called Cellar Door Provisions on our way to Fat Rice the other day and Jesse had told us they had delicious bread and butter, which we thought sounded like a nice afternoon snack and excuse to take a walk in the beautiful fall sun.

We had big plans that evening and we were all very excited. We had booked the kitchen table at The Aviary. We didn't fully know what to expect but as I have experienced Chef Achatz's cuisine before (owner/chef of Alinea) I knew we were in for a treat.

When we arrived there was a small queue outside. We checked in with the host and were shown inside the low lit and very elegant space. And then they walked us inside the kitchen to the only table, which faced the kitchen stations. We all were just about giddy! I'm giddy remembering it even now!
The kitchen table comes with a tasting menu, 8 cocktails (not including the amuse) each paired with a bite. EIGHT COCKTAILS!!!

We started with a small amuse of Apple Jack, falernum, sherry, and vermouth served neat. It was a perfect little sipper while we took in everything going on around us. And there was a lot going on! Our server then brought out our first snack called Salt & Vinegar.
That is a very normal height woman bringing us the largest pork rind I have ever seen! The cocktail, Espelette You Finish, featured ice cubes made with espelette pepper that melted slowly into the drink of Aperol, chartreuse, rosé, gin, and strawberry. Refreshing with a little spice at the end!

The Green Chile cocktail was served in a bottle, not my favorite presentation but a delicious beverage of clarified lime, tequila, chartreuse, and mezcal. It was served with this beautiful dish called simply Roasted Tomato.

The Hollow was served from this amazing clear vessel. The drink, an infused blend of honeybush, fennel, ginger, saffron, and whiskey, was very aromatic and lighter than I expected. It was served with a perfect deep fried bite of takoyaki.
Fourth-course, O'Doyle Rules. A bite of fried banana was served alongside the cocktail of clarified banana, curry, rum, and cognac. Yum.
Next, a closed chest arrived at our table and was opened to reveal three smoking drinks served neat. Infernal Imagery was smoke, Barolo, Maurin Quina, and rhum. A luscious king crab salad accompanied.
Frank Mackey was served next; Thai long pepper, mushroom, Zucca, and Magnolia rye on a beautiful rock. A bag of fried mushrooms with dips was served with it.
Second to last, the famous In the Rocks (fifth edition). This drink has seen a lot of press as it is fun, interactive, different, and delicious! Curacao, grenadine, dry vermouth and aged rum are suspended inside a frozen ice ball. They then give you a sling shot sort of device that you fit on the glass, stretch and release, which shatters the ice ball, releasing the cocktail.
Once broken, no two cocktails look the same as the ice cracks differently depending on how people sling shot it. The most beautiful dessert was served alongside- Raspberry.

Our final course arrived inside of a plastic bag filled with smoke. The Rum Manhattan made with fenugreek, cacao, and sherry, was cut out and served tableside with a second dessert of "Bar Nuts".
Our tasting menu ended with a little fried mignardises suspended on a strange contraption called Cheekie. This entire "event" was so much fun! Our reservation had been at 6pm and we were leaving 3 plus hours later.

You might think we would be a bit blasted by this point, but the drinks were fairly light and bites did a good job of soaking things up. I mean, we weren't stone cold sober mind you, but we held our own!
I highly recommend the kitchen table at Aviary, unless you don't drink of course!

*Congrats to the team at The Aviary, just voted number 39 in the World's 50 Best Bar Awards 2016*

All Chicago photos here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Weekend in San Diego

Since meeting my half brother 4 years ago,we have had the chance to travel together a few times. Nashville, Mexico City, Detroit (more on that later)... he's never turned down an opportunity to explore. We are definitely related.

I have never spent any real time in San Diego except for a colleague DECA trip when we walked over into Tijuana for underage drinking of shitty tequila. But I digress...

My brother went to college in San Diego. He also periodically hangs out there for a month or two at a time. So in June of last year, I invited myself to meet up with him for a weekend during one of his visits. I wrote about all of our super fun cocktailing for the World's Best Bars website; I'll let you read about that here if you are looking for cocktail suggestions. But I realize I never wrote about all the other fun stuff we did.

I booked in at the Kimpton Palomar which is located right between Little Italy and the Gaslamp district. A great location and the hotel is super cute. I didn't get to take advantage of the rooftop pool but it looked very nice!

After I dropped my bags we went out for a little walk around the waterfront; my brother and I both love to walk cities so this is kindof our thing. It was great to see the massive Naval ships and the parks that line the area.

After a good stroll around we got cleaned up and headed to drinks and dinner at Top Chef winner Richard Blias' restaurant Juniper & Ivy. And he was in the house! And everything was fantastic!

We rolled up to the modern speakeasy Nobel Experiment for nightcaps after. It took us a bit, but once we found it I absolutely loved this spot! (See WBB article for full notes).

I started the next morning with brunch at Saltbox which is connected to the Kimpton. The food was just ok, but I'm a fan of the $5 mimosas!

My brother picked me up and we headed to San Diego Sailing Tours for a great harbor sail. The boat we were on had comfy beanbag chairs on the bow, which we grabbed. The tour included one glass of wine with additionally pours for $5. As our night would wrap with $5 daiquiris, that was the lucky number for the day!

Afterward, we headed to Ironside for a fantastic late lunch of stone crab claws, oysters, and low abv cocktails Really this place is beautiful and delicious. Go there.

Our evening started at Polite Provisions and ended at Rare Form, both must drink at spots IMHO (full notes in the article). In between, we had absolutely delicious tacos and mezcal at Cantina Mayahuel. It may not have been Mexico City, but it was a good runner up!

The next morning Mark treated me to brunch at the famed Del Coronado. Wow, this place is so beautiful and has so much history! Sunday brunch is held in the Crown Room, and it is massive! Tables and tables of carving stations, shellfish bars, traditional breakfast items from around the world, dessert bar, candy station, seemingly bottom-less mimosas. It is over-the-top!

After all that food we headed out to the beach for a long walk in the sunny, warm weather! Then we drove a short way and Mark showed me around The Cliffs. Really cool cliffs and caves, complete with crazy kids jumping into the surf!

One quick drink at Ocean Beach to check out the people watching and then it was time for my flight home. Great weekend in San Diego and an even better time with my brother! Thanks Mark!

All photos here.
World's Best Bars article here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Easing into Chicago

October last year I met two of my girlfriends for a much over due trip to Chicago. The last time I had been in the city was 2009! The thing about traveling so much is I'm constantly reading about or discovering new places to go. That makes it hard to get back to the places I love with much regularity. Hence the once-a-month on average travel schedule. First world problems, yea I know.

Forest flew in from Paris and landed about the same time my flight got in from Seattle. The two of us hopped on the train from the airport and got off in Logan Square, where we met up with Kate who had flown in from Geneva, at our 3-bedroom Airbnb flat. We'd be living here for the next five days and were super excited to check out both a selection of new places as well as some of my favorite city to-dos. This was Kate's first time and Forest hadn't been since college or so.

After a quick trip to stock up on groceries, and a nap, we headed out that night to Billy Sunday for cocktails. This place is really unique, specializing in old and rare Fernets; they have 7 pages of them. I'm not into Fernet but loved reading through the bottle list while enjoying a couple of not-so-bitter cocktails.

We stayed in our 'hood that night, checking out the relatively new and well-written up Parachute for dinner. Although we felt the space was really cool, and we could not get enough of the potato bread served with sour cream butter, overall we felt our main dishes were just ok.

The next morning we met my friend Jesse for lunch at another popular Logan Square restaurant, Fat Rice. OMG! This place is awesome! Super fun, hipster vibe with outstanding food. We basically ordered the entire menu of modern Macau inspired dishes, we may have ordered the dumplings twice.

We took advantage of the gorgeous weather after lunch and walked part of The 606 from Logan Square to Wicker Park. This is a cool walkway made up of elevated unused rail tracks, very similar to the Promenade de Plantée in Paris and the Highline in NYC; both of which I love!

It was unusually warm, so when we spotted a little Costa Rican restaurant, we thought we'd sit for a glass of wine. Turns out they are a byob only (very common in Chicago) but pointed us across the street to a very cute wine shop. Chilled bottle in hand, we headed back over for some snacks.

We continued into Wicker Park's main area and for a bit of shopping. One of the first stops we made was the Walgreens store. Now I'm not usually one to blog about a drugstore, but the Walgreens in Wicker Park is in an old bank building and is really impressive. Besides the architecture, they have what they call their Fresh Market: sushi counter, juice bar, coffee bar, fresh sandwiches, etc. You should check it out when you're there! I'm not sure about the sushi though...

Another quick wine sit down and then we caught the train back to Logan Square.

That night we started with cocktails at the super cool Maude's Liquor. What a great place! The cocktails were lovely, it was busy but not douchey (Friday nights can be like that IMHO), and the interior was very antique French-ish. The restaurant was packed too, and I've heard it is quite good for dinner. But we had other plans...

We tabbed out and headed across the street to Girl and the Goat. I'd wanted to eat here for quite some time even though I had read and heard really mixed reviews. Chef/ owner Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef season four, had become a hometown hero of sorts, and that doesn't always play out well with the food.

When we checked in for our reservation we were told we were going to have to wait a bit. First red flag. We headed to the bar for a cocktail and the crowd seemed very "Yelp"-centric (ask me what I mean if you're not clued in to Wendy-speak). Second red flag. When we were seated and our waitress appeared, we mentioned it was our first time and we were having a hard time deciding on dishes as they all sounded great. She happily made suggestions — some we had to turn down as it would have just been too much for us— and asked us where we were from. Normally, Paris and Geneva would get the big attention but turns out she was from Seattle so we had a bit to chat about.

When our dishes arrived (not surprisingly most starring goat) we noticed there were a few extras (like this goat carpaccio!). Our waitress gushed that she just could not not have us try them and they were on the house! And when we were entirely too full to eat everything she boxed them up without asking and insisted they made the best breakfasts. Red flags be damned, Girl and the Goat was an excellent dinner experience!

And indeed, the next morning we realized she was right about those leftovers...

More Chicago tales to come. All photos here.