Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Last night, while out with friends, I was asked about my weekend in Chicago. "Name your low, your high, and your high high," someone said.

My low was by far the combined eight hours I spent in SFO and O'Hare.
My high was seeing family and friends in an almost-new city -- I hadn't been to Chicago in almost ten years!
My high high? The hotel.

I am not the type of girl who cares very much about lodging. When I travel, I'm there to see what goes on outside the hotel front doors, so the interior doesn't matter much to me. I've stayed in many clean but spare quarters and done just fine.

But there is something to be said for modern, elegant, and completely over-the-top accommodations. And The Elysian was divine. We arrived in our room to find beds draped in white linens, a fireplace, and letter pressed memo cards for taking notes -- least you forget something.

The concierge -- how I loved the concierge-- had delivered a welcoming spread fit for a foodie queen: bubbly, a charcuterie plate, and five perfect macarrons. Pop! went the bubbles and the weekend began.

We ate that night at Balsan, the hotel bistro. It felt oh-so big city, even though our meals (salads, tarte flambe, and a burger) leaned more towards down home comfort food.

The next day we lounged in our room and ate hotel delivered breakfast before enjoying a noontime snack at the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of the John Hancock tower. The view wasn't clear, but if you were brave enough to creep to the edge, you could see Lake Michigan, a crowd of buildings, and tiny yellow taxis darting back and forth.

That night I dinner hopped: I went with family to Gemini Bistro. The wine list was super and I was thrilled to find a bottle of 2007 Brooks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for the table. I tried not to look at the menu because I was saving myself for my second meal, but the food that arrived looked great and the few duck fat fries I had were crispy, fatty, salty, and delicious. A perfect appetizer.

Next, I hopped in a cab and went to Nightwood. This little restaurant was bustling; it reminded me of bohemian Portland and the spots I used to haunt when I lived there. We had a lovely series of small plates paired with a Rhone red. First there was broccoli rabe with golden raisins, pine nuts and anchovies; next came beets and citrus with burrata, and raviolis stuffed with shredded pork. For dessert there was a crispy buttery sweet-tart rhubarb turnover with a cloud of whipped cream and a few floating strawberries.

Sunday brought simple breakfast, family dinner, and a nightcap at Bernard's Bar in the hotel. Would you hate me if I told you I ordered the 1989 armagnac and when they were out, they gave me a glass of the 1959? It was nutty and caramel laced and fragrant -- a completely heady way to end my last night.

I'm realizing I should have taken photos but sometimes the moments are too good to distract with cameras. I just wanted to dig in.


Shannalee said...

Yay! I've been hoping to hear about your trip! Looks like it was so much fun - and that hotel? Making a mental note. I think it'd be fun to do a girls' weekend sometime, you know?

Shelley (Pink House) said...

Your trip sounds wonderful! Nice descriptions of food and drink...