The conversation started last year when my friend Sandra, fellow Culinarian/hospitality badass, asked me 'So Kriis, when are we hitting up Alinea?'. This question was pitched in December, and by the beginning of February I decided to “stop waiting”, and take Sandra up on her question. Book the room, get the plane ticket, reserve our seats at the restaurant, and wait with anticipation for a mind-blowing culinary experience. At least that's what was supposed to happen... Needless to say, after booking my plane ticket in mid February, THE VERY NEXT day that reservations for April opened up, Alinea was immediately sold out for our scheduled weekend. I was heartbroken to say the least.
For those of you who do not know, outside of Anthony Bourdain, or me daydreaming of the conversations that I would have loved to have had with Edna Lewis, oh and the French Laundry (yea there is that…) there are seldom things/people/restaurants that I believe I have obsessed over throughout my culinary journey like I have Chef Grant Achatz and Alinea; however, I’m not going to spend time on that. As you keep reading, you’ll find that although the Chicago trip began centered around going to Alinea, it soon turned into an over whelming yet fun challenge of eating as many places as possible!
RPM STEAK: 66 W Kinzie Street
Vibe: Trendy Steak House
Dresscode: Effortlessly Chic
Menu Highlights: Hen of the Wood Mushrooms (as a side)
First night or should I say “The Kick- off Meal”, began at RPM Steak. Since this is the 2nd restaurant addition in the back pocket of collaborators Giuliana Rancic and hubby, Chef Doug Psaltis, and the "Lettuce Entertain You" Siblings, be sure when looking this up, you add the “steak” location. The combo team also have an Italian restaurant by the same name.
Living in Atlanta I am always thrilled when I’m in a city that has a flourishing (food) nightlife. Not that I’m at home counting down the clock until its 1am so that I can gorge on Au Gratin and Filet Mignon, but I can always appreciate having the option of more than Waffle House at 12am. (Of course there are always the "Industry" hangouts). Since I landed around 10pm that Friday, RPM staying open until 1am was definitely proved useful.
RPM’s aesthetic doesn’t give you the dark lighting, deep reds, and wood furniture of your typical steak house (fortunately). Instead, RPM strays away from the traditional vibe by sticking to more of a Modern, Art Deco look incorporating soft lighting with colors of gold and tan with bold light fixtures.
Moving on to the food: Not sure if we were starving, or if we were all just excited to finally get the weekend started, but we easily ordered, and consumed enough food for seven people. And I if must add that everything was delicious, came out in a timely manner, and perfectly cooked. All dishes come in full portions including the appetizers so it was easily shared between the four of us. There were only a couple of items that were 86'd, I'm sure due to popularity, and the time of night/morning we arrived. One of which being the "Parker Rolls", which means we had to suffer through the Cheddar Pop-Overs with Prosciutto Butter...some times life sucks ...
I need to of course mention our awesomely patient server who was more than gracious, and patient as he walked us through the menu, gave suggestions, managed to save us the last piece of the 14K Chocolate cake, even giving us a great option for an after spot. This was a perfect way to start the weekend!
CELESTE/DISCO: 111 W. Hubbard Street
Vibe: (craft) Bar, Disco
Dresscode: Effortlessly Chic to Dressy to Sequined Bell-Bottom pants
Time: Saturday at 2am
Within walking distance of RPM, and per the suggestion of our awesome server, Roy, we head a few blocks down to really check out Chicago’s nightlife. The streets were packed with people trying to push their way through the night, women visibly tired from walking in their heels too long (but you gotta stay cute though!); the gang of 5 who had the one really loud friend who’s had too much to drink and insists on fighting…anyone. I guess for some reason none of us thought it would be so busy this late. New York, Vegas, Miami, yes. I even think the streets of Madrid still had a little kick to them around 2am; however, Chicago just wasn’t on the top of our list for Cities with a (poppin’) nightlife. There were plenty of bars and nightclubs open, but we were prompted by Roy to check out one place in particular: Celeste (Disco).
I would describe this place as a, "Chill hang bar plus lounge with art deco features". I believe during the day there is a roof top garden. The 3rd floor; however was the complete opposite from everything on the proceeding floors.
If you’ve ever had moments in your life when you’ve wondered what it must have been like to party at New York’s famed Studio 52 in the 70’s & 80’s, but without The Blow, the 3rd floor at Celeste aka Disco is definitely a must. Honestly, you would have thought you were transport back in time. The lights the music, the cloths…I had a brief moment where I wondered whether or not the people from the street knew this was here: The disco party right in the middle of Chicago, above two floors, by comparison, of “norm”. I will add, most people where not dressed in old school attire, and there was no stage, or evidence of a coming Soul Train line.
I’m not going to lie to you: we were so completely caught off guard by the change in atmosphere that I don’t believe any of us knew how to do what was quite obvious; live in the moment. Putting this one pretty high on my recommendation list….i.e YOU MUST GO!
SIDEBAR: If you are planning to make your way up to Disco, be sure to get a stamp at the door. You could possibly be finding yourself waiting in line again even if you’ve already entered just for the stamp. Guys, make sure your “male to female” ratio is proportionate.
BLACKBIRD: 619 W Randolph
Vibe: Upscale Casual
Dresscode: Effortlessly Chic
Menu Highlights: Farmer’s Cheese Agnolotti
Time: Saturday at 10:30pm ß Hospitality Faux Pas on our end; we know better. Never come 30minutes before closing, its just considerate.
In lue of not getting our Alinea reservation (and yes we checked their FB page religiously for tickets up until 8pm), our back up Saturday night dinner was set at Chef Paul Kahan’s Blackbird. In the spirit of trying to accomplish, see, and eat as much as possible in the city, we pushed back our original 9pm reservation until 10:30pm (they close at 11pm). This people, is some thing that you should NEVER do if possible when going out to eat. All though our food and service was stellar, being someone who has “paid their dues” in a restaurant kitchen, their were few things that sucked more than a group who came in with 30 minutes or less left until closing. When you’ve already gotten a head start on breakdown, because your last reservation was at 9pm, when the restaurant is essentially empty, but then “they” walk in. Think of: You’re set to walk out the door for work, coffee in hand, you open the front door, and your dog pounces on you spilling your coffee all down your crisp white shirt…. easily sets you back an additional 15min-20min from getting to work. Same concept.
But I digress, because the staff was very gracious, and didn’t skip a beat nor rushed service. Between a late brunch, deep dish, and a couple of cocktails prior we were actually all pretty full by the time we got here. So it worked out that we ate light, although the initial plan was to have the tasting menu.
This has been added to my list of returns to get the full experience.
Navy Pier: 600 E. Grand Avenue. So all the horror stories of winters in Chicago, and the wind etc etc was completely forgotten by the beautiful weather that we experience! 75 degree’s never felt so amazing and true. No humidity adding that extra 10 degrees; it was wonderful! What a better way to spend some of our time than walking around Navy Pier. Farris wheel, ice cream, beer, scenic views of the downtown, jet skiing. You could tell that Chicago natives anticipate this nice weather, because it seems like EVERYONE was out! <More Pics under Food&Drink >
The Violet Hour: 1520 N. Damen Ave. When you travel to a new city, never hesitate to ask friends (or your Lyft Driver) what places you should hit up. Found out about this place through a friend. If you move to fast you will walk right past the door to this place. A sleek and intimate speakeasy like lounge with craft cocktails. Limited seating, upscale yet a casual vibe, with drinks that take back to an era prior to Prohibition. You need to go; I'm just saying. FYI: There is a, I'll call him a "check in man" (neither bouncer nor maitre d' fit in this context), if you do not see him once you open the door, do not proceed to walk down the hall, past the curtain, and into the restaurant/bar. Not only will you not have a seat, because there isn't a hostess, but he is watching, and will usher you back into the hall way from the dining/bar...saw it happen.
Lula’s: 2537 N. Kedzie Ave. FYI if you are planning to do any brunch eating in ChiTown, make sure you get a reservation, or at least arrive early enough to get a table. After a long and late Friday night, needless to say we all woke up around 1pm starving. Unfortunately, most of our planned, unreserved brunch places (like Cindy’s Rooftop Bar) were either not taking reservations or packed. Fortunately, we were able to hop over to Lula’s on North Kedzie Avenue to catch the tail end of their brunch menu, plus explore the surrounding neighborhood. <More Pics under Food&Drink >
Giordano’s: Multiple Locations. If someone has been using the same recipe for 200 years, then its must be good right? In the case of Giordano’s they’ve definitely got it right! Chicago born, and boasting 197 locations Nationally, getting the signature deep dish here will have you questioning why you ever go thin!
The Signature Lounge at the 95th Floor: 875 N. Michigan Ave. Not a mandatory must, but worth squeezing in if you have the time one night for pre-dinner drinks. This was a great supplement view for us since we were unable to make it up to the Sky Deck. Only issue was, since this is on the 95th floor, with only 3-4 elevators means packed lines going up and/or down. This is the reason why we were so late to our Blackbird reservation, or it was because we left at the very last minute, and then tried to get on the elevator. I’m not going to say that we tried to find a stairwe...um...alternate route that may or may not have been in an area we were not supposed to be in, but we did get down! (TAKE THE ELEVATOR)
Millenium Park: 201 E Randolph Street. Go see the Bean! <More Pics Here >
#Protip: When you plan “Food Trips” like these, make sure you are with a great group who are pretty adventures food wise, or at least supports your food lust. With that being said, shout-out to the 3 LADIES who put it down with me while in the Chi!