Story and photos by Carol Stigger firstname.lastname@example.org
Surprised in Chicago by a wiener, a martini, and a cranky Moses
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… Chicago with my sister, the best! In winter? Now that takes some planning and the right location to avoid the frigid gales of the Windy City, sheets of ice, and piles of slush.
My sister and I debated between two hotels on the Magnificent Mile, one above the upscale retail mecca of Water Tower Place and one right across the street. We assumed we had solved the problem by booking a night in each hotel. After all, changing rooms would require no more effort than pulling our roller bags across the street. Thanks to wide windows with lake views-- not lake glimpses, a hot dog (really!), a fine dining discovery, and extreme puppetry, it was one of our finest winter getaways.
From Union Station, we took a cab to Four Seasons Hotel Chicago – and slipped into an alternate universe of soft carpets, hushed lobby, chic avant guarde paintings and sculptures, and a blazing fire on the 7th floor of a Magnificent Mile building.
Our suite was richly appointed with mid-20th Century French décor, recently restyled by Pierre-Yves Rocho. We sat on the padded window seat to enjoy Lake Michigan framed by the window. The bedroom window was as large and also had a padded seat and lake view. While unpacking, we discovered the iHome docking station that charged our electronics and that wifi is free. More luxury hotels are providing free wifi, and I am happy that this hotel has caught the wave that has been so long in coming.
Chicago hot dog – hold the catsup
We set off for lunch, leaving our coats in the closet. We were pleased to find the hotel’s restaurant, Allium, features modern American cuisine with regional, farm-to-table dishes. The beef is from Creekstone Farms where the cattle are free from growth hormones and antibiotics. The menu changes to take advantage of locally grown seasonal produce. But one item never changes: the Chicago Hot Dog.
No one should experience Chicago without eating a Chicago hot dog, usually on the street or at the ball park with mustard and relish juice dissolving flimsy paper napkins. Allium’s hot dog and the condiments are made in house: the meat, the casings, the pickle relish, mustard and the poppy seed bun are all from the chef’s kitchen. One never puts catsup on a Chicago hot dog, but the fries come with a tangy balsamic catsup created by the chef. The fries are served in a brown paper bag so the catsup will not besmirch the hot dog. This creative twist on a Chicago classic made for a delightful lunch.
A birthday surprise
After lunch – shopping. I had a birthday surprise to arrange while my sister slipped her credit card in her pocket and set off to exercise her plastic at the 900 North Michigan Shops, an elevator ride down from our suite. The six floors of shops and restaurants include Bloomingdales, Gucci, MaxMara, MontBlanc, Kate Spade New York, and Michael Kors Collection. She was still shopping after I had arranged for her surprise and read several chapters of Gone Girl (good read, by the way) on the window seat. Turbulent Lake Michigan was as compelling as the plot.
Before she could unwrap her purchases, our doorbell rang. The look on her face when she was greeted by the Martini Man was priceless. He wheeled in his cart and offered creative options in addition to traditional martinis. I had an Appletini garnished with an apple slice, and my sister enjoyed a Chocolatini served with chocolate covered strawberries. He asked if we would like a visit from the Ice Cream Man. We declined – but tucked that intelligence into our grandmother bag of tricks along with the children’s play room we had explored earlier.
The Club is more than a sandwich
Thanks to the concierge’s “insider” tip, we took a cab to Maxwell’s at the Club for dinner. This is not a restaurant for “stumble-ins” who study menus in windows. This dignified restaurant is located off the lobby of The East Bank Club at 500 North Kingsbury Street. Booths and tables create intimate dining spaces. The lighting is low enough to set the mood, but bright enough to read the menu and find the bread basket containing house-made flat bread and whole grain bread.
The menu is so interesting and varied, it was difficult to decide. We had come to experience their new “Small Plates Wednesday” in which a diner choses three small plates from a special menu. Cold plates include roasted pear with toasted almonds, Brussels sprout salad, potato and fennel salad, caprese salad, and grilled seafood salad. Hot plates are potato and salmon cake, broccoli with onion and cheese, vegetable ravioli, and lamb koftas with pine nuts. The third choice “Specialty plates” are seared sea scallops, rotisserie chicken breast with pomegranate, moonfish with orange fennel salsa, and beer-battered cod. We could have ordered one from each group for the Small Plates Special.
So what was the problem the waiter wondered, his pen poised above his pad.
The problem was the regular menu. Ever since I had fried artichokes in Rome, I have not been able to turn down fried artichokes. There, on the regular menu, was “grilled artichokes,” which I ordered. It was dressed with olive oil and crusted with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. It was unlike any artichoke I had in Rome. It was not better, but it was every bit as good and quite different in flavor and presentation.
I also enjoyed wild mushroom soup finished with chives, cream, and sherry. The waiter poured on the cream at the table. The soup was served at the perfect temperature for eating. No blowing on the spoon to cool it or sending it back to be reheated. My roasted beet salad gave me new respect for this root vegetable that seems to be the veggie of the year like kale was in 2014. The red, gold, and stripped beats were sprinkled with bits of red onion and dressed with a balsamic glaze.
We had no room for dessert, but Maxwell’s offers a solution to this common dining dilemma: the mini dessert sampler. We chose tres leches cake, apple streusel pie, and key lime pie—leaving the chocolate mousse cup for another day. The servings are small, and we had a few satisfying bites of each dessert before leaving for bustle of Navy Pier.
To be or not to be -- amused
The Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier has two stages, and we headed for the 6th floor venue that seats 200 for a sold-out performance of The Table by London’s Blind Summit. A two-foot tall, cantankerous “Moses” demands to know if his cardboard face is Kosher. The puppet is operated and given voice by three talented and always visible puppeteers. They are so adept at improvising, we were not sure if it was on-script or “whoops” when Moses’ gnarled, little hand went flying into the audience. The entire performance was on a table, and the scenes ranged from profound to hilarious. After the performance, we were not amused to find no taxis idling at Navy Pier and walked four blocks to a taxi stand. Hint: prearrange a ride.
By 10 the next morning, we had changed our reservation at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago (a Four Seasons Hotel) across the street for a few days the following month and set off for the Art Institute. Two days is never enough for Chicago, so planning a second trip seemed the sensible thing to do. But, my sister declared that next month we are coming back to Four Seasons Hotel Chicago for a hot dog.
Thanks to Four Seasons Hotel Chicago for their gracious hospitality, to Maxwell’s at the Club for a memorable meal, and to the Shakespeare Theater for a unique theatrical experience.
© March 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.