On a last-minute impulse not long before the Fourth of July, Michael turned to me one night and told me he had an itch to go somewhere for the long weekend. His first instinct was New Orleans (because neither of us can stop talking about how much we want to go back there), but all of the hotels we’d normally stay at were booked solid, so I suggested Chicago. We went there a few years ago over the holiday when I was at Choice and therefore could get an employee rate on a hotel, and while it was warm, it was a really fun little trip. Turns out that even without the benefit of a discount it’s a highly affordable city during the holiday–flights were cheap, and a room at the Palmer House–one of the grande dame historical hotels in downtown–was ridiculously affordable given our expectations. To Chicago, therefore, we were to go.
For a relatively short trip, we covered quite a bit of ground. Michael made his first-ever visit to the Art Institute and I was able to make my first visit there since they opened the Modern Wing. It’s pretty cool, but the highlight of that space is looking out to the Chicago skyline through brightly-colored windows. It feels like a subtle callback to my favorite artwork on display in the museum, Marc Chagall’s America Windows. Not far from where those stained glass windows are installed are models of several public artworks scattered throughout downtown, and inadvertently we encountered several of them in the wild, which is always a delight when you’re not intentionally walking on streets to find them all.
The main reason why we keep going to Chicago now is to spend some quality time with our buddy T who just got tenure(!!!), and we celebrated by trekking over to Stephanie Izard’s Duck Duck Goat in the West Loop for a wonderful dinner. Fifteen years ago when I was starting my first job at IRI I spent three weeks living in this neighborhood, and it’s wild to see how much things have changed versus what has stayed the same. There’s a thriving food scene here, but IRI’s offices are just where I remembered them (which definitely freaked me out for a second) and the Presidential Towers where I stayed are the same as they always were. What I think used to be the Dominick’s nearby has since been replaced by a Whole Foods, and overall the walk made for a very surreal experience.
Any lingering feelings of nostalgia, however, were quickly diminished once we started having dinner. Duck Duck Goat is Izard’s take on dim sum fare, and you’re encouraged to order several dishes across the menu. Goat is Izard’s signature protein, and here you can have it in abundance–we had the xiao long bao and the spring roll–but there’s plenty of other things to enjoy. My favorite dish was easily the dan dan noodles, and I’m on a mission to figure out how to make them for myself here at home.
Duck Duck Goat wasn’t the only place we went to, as Michael and I walked back to West Loop to check out Izard’s latest restaurant, the rooftop spot Cabra. I’ll have more to say about this place soon, but needless to say, I was dazzled by it.
We also had some quality time up in T’s neck of the woods, Ravenswood. After a hearty breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, we Ubered up north to enjoy some rooftop beers (all of us) and sausages (just T, as we were full) at Gene’s, a cute place atop a proper German butcher and gourmet market. Once the sun got too strong we moved to another local German spot nearby before getting an early dinner at a pub. Eventually, we found our way back to the Palmer House and cashed in our drink tickets at the lobby bar.
I’m so glad that we were able to satiate our collective curiosity about places like Lou Mitchell’s and Stephanie Izard’s restaurants, but it makes me want to go back there ASAP to experience it all again. Fifteen years ago I’d be hard-pressed to spend more time there because I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but thankfully both I and the city at large have matured greatly since then.