05 December 2011

Chicago Trip!

I put the one personal day I get per year to good use last weekend and made a quick getaway to Chicago. Leaving town on Thursday after work let us make it Iowa City in time for a fantastic meal prepared by Connie. Arugula & avocado salad. Pumpkin gratin. Portobello mushrooms stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes. Roasted butternut squash. All recipes were from her new "Plenty" cookbook and were delic.  I didn't waste any time in going to bed because I knew that homebase would want to get a early jump on things the next morning.
We were in the car by 4:45 AM and heading out of town and pointing it towards Chicago, listening to Frank Sinatra crooning Christmas carols.  And, while the drive across Illinois wasn't bad, hitting Chicago at 8 in the morning is not good.  So we had to battle some grid-lock but we were still able to make it to Rick Bayless's newest restaurant, Xoco, by 9.  Xoco has more of a diner/takeaway place vibe.  You queue up, order at the counter, can see the grills and wood-fired oven while waiting in line, pay, take a number and find a seat.  Don't let the unassuming, casual setup fool you...the food was fantastic.  I chose the chilaquiles, which I'd tried my hand at making out of his "Mexico One Meal at a Time" book and homebase chose the breakfast torta.  I was sad my stomach wasn't big enough to add an empanada to my order because they looked great.  We also had to try an order of churros and a hot chocolate for each of us, classic for mom, almendrado for me.  Everything thing was out of sight.  I didn't think I was a fan of churros but these were so much lighter, crispier and hotter that I couldn't stop munching!  Plus they came with chocolate sauce for dipping so how can you go wrong?  The hot chocolates were exactly what I needed on a chilly day, plus getting up at 4:30 tends to make me needy for caffeine and these provided it.  My chilaquiles were outstanding...completely fabulous. I would love to go back and check out their lunch/dinner menus.
Fully fueled and ready to stretch our legs we commenced shopping.  A few standards...adidas performance, adidas originals, North Face and a few new spots...Loyola bookstore, Notre Dame bookstore, and a LEGO store than is now in Water Tower where we had a ton of fun.  The best thing was this dad there with his young (maybe ~3-4) daughter, filling up a mix & match bucket.  They were both having a great time and he was very willing to help us out with our questions.  He shared that he was a very proud father that day because she hadn't wanted to go to the neighboring American Girl Store and wanted to look at LEGO's instead.  It warms the heart, doesn't it!
Around two we headed over to meet my uncle who recently moved back to the Chicagoland area.   We met at Christkindlmarket, which is a German market festival place that goes on every year in the Loop from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  Tons of ornament shopping, traditional crafts, food, drinks, etc.  I'd been a few times before (once on a blisteringly cold day with stoppable) but it was a whole new kind of fun to go through it with homebase and my uncle.  My uncle loves having a good time and enjoying all life has to offer and in addition he lived in Germany at two different points in his life so he was a great guide to see it all with. A brat, potato pancakes, hot mulled wine made for a nice snack to warm up with.
That evening, my uncle took us out to Pita Pita for dinner.  It was a place that he said was authentic, and since he just got back from 12 years in Saudi Arabia, I figured he knew what he was talking about, and he definitely did.  Lamb and chicken shawarma, hummus, babaghanoush, kibbeh, cucumbers & yogurt, lentil soup, bread, dolmas, olives, the food was never ending and I did my best to take it all in.  Once he found out that place was BYOB, he ran next door and added a couple bottles of wine to the table.  We capped it all with two flavors of baklava and despite being near the bursting point, I managed to enjoy both.  Fun conversation, stories from abroad, and a colorful waiter made for a delightful evening.
Saturday morning's itinerary had IKEA and the Irish shop at Long Grove in store for us.  Both stops were great and, through the thoughtfulness of my uncle, we were able to pick up Potbelly's sandwiches (one of my FAVES) for the drive home.  The journey home wasn't bad at all as homebase kept me entertained with flashcards and games on my iPad.
A few pictures below and more on my flickr and homebase's flickr.


  1. I had such a wonderful time, I loved visiting Dan and Donna. I already want to go back, such good food, good shopping and great family times. Thanks for going with me.

  2. It really sounds like a great time. Only, don't you have to do 30 straight days of running again? :)

  3. insanely jealous. sounds like such a fun trip. and you know my love for rick bayless.

  4. homebase - yes, great fun. it was a great change from my usual Chicago visit routine!

    SNG - you are totally right. I am trying to think up a variation on that 30:30 theme that I can do in January to work off the holiday excess.

    SH - we should plan a Cubs game & Frontera/Xoco outing this spring! Or we could just have a Rick Bayless-throwdown sometime. Everyone has to cook something from one of his books.

  5. Enjoyed hearing about your trip. The food at Xoco looks AWESOME. Hope to make it there to try out someday