Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Taste of Chicago: The Signature Room at the 95th

"When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses." ~ Joyce Brothers

While we enjoyed many of Chicago's delights in smaller groups -- a Cubs game for the boys, teatime and shopping for the girls, mother and sons watching Hamilton, and Daddy and daughters visiting the Navy Pier -- the culmination of our trip as a party of six was dining together at The Signature Room at the 95th.

Elevators whisk patrons to the top of the John Hancock Center, where extraordinary views await.

Joe timed our reservation to allow us to watch the sun set over Chicago. Through the dining room windows, we saw the city in all its glory.

The cityscape hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Extending 3,300 feet into the lake, the iconic Navy Pier has been a Chicago landmark for more than a century.

The Signature Room has been a favorite among tourists and locals alike for decades. To complement the elegant setting and breathtaking views, the restaurant offers a delicious menu of upscale American fare.

I had a seat of honor next to Carson. Having dinner at such a stunning locale in this fabulous city is an experience that I will never forget. And one of the most memorable moments was arranged by Joe ahead of time. When he booked our reservation, he was able to share the details of our celebration, plus order a custom surprise. As we were seated, the host offered hearty congratulations to our graduate.

After our meal, Carson was so surprised when the waiter delivered this luscious dessert to our table. It was literally the icing on the cake for a picture-perfect culmination of our weekend in Chicago. As we sipped coffee and sampled slices of moist chocolate cake -- covered in clouds of creamy mousse and topped with ganache, chocolate curls, and fresh berries -- the city lights sparkled.

Our evening at The Signature Room was a feast of beauty ...

for the eyes,
the palate,
and the heart.

"What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life -- to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories." ~ George Eliot

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Taste of Chicago: Afternoon Tea at The Palm Court

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves -- slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future." ~ Thich Nat Hahn

When we travel, finding a venue for teatime is one of my top priorities. During our family's recent trip to Chicago, while the boys took in a Cubs game, the girls and I ventured to Michigan Avenue for a relaxing afternoon that included a visit to the Drake Hotel.

Served in the Palm Court, afternoon tea has been a daily pleasure at The Drake for nearly a century.

Among notable guests, The Queen and Princess Diana have enjoyed tea in this gracious environment.

Our three-tiered server included simple fare, including a selection of savory morsels. Take a peek at the menu here.

To crown the bounty of sweets above, the girls and I were surprised with a final treat.

When the harpist began playing "Happy Birthday," imagine our surprise when our waiter crossed the lobby, chocolate cake in hand, and delivered this candlelit creation to our table. Seeing our confused faces -- we do have winter birthday, after all -- he began to laugh and said, "Just go with it," as the other guests began to applaud. So we enjoyed a delicious dessert, with plenty of giggles at finally getting to see what it feels like to have a summer birthday.  

Our Palm Court teatime turned out to be a memorable experience that offered the perfect beginning to an afternoon exploring the Magnificent Mile! We concluded that day with dinner and a view, so stop by Wednesday to learn more about that special family event.

Congratulations to Nancy Itson, who won a copy of Teatime Parties, the latest release from the editors of TeaTime magazine.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Taste of Chicago: Our Favorite Casual Restaurants

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." ~ Luciano Pavarotti

Eating well is definitely a perk of visiting The Windy City. From famous Chicago-style pizza to world-class fine dining, it seems the options for taking a bite out of this metropolis are nearly endless. During our recent visit, we got a taste of the local food scene. Here are our recommendations for casual fare in Downtown Chicago.

Source: Nando's Peri-Peri
Small Bites On the day we arrived, we settled into our hotel by early afternoon and were eager to get out and explore the surrounding area. Joe had a favorite pizza spot in mind for a late dinner, but after a couple of hours on the town, we were ready to pause for some refreshments to hold us until supper. On a previous visit, he had stumbled upon Nando's Peri-Peri, a new-to-us Afro-Portuguese chain serving spicy chicken with signature sauces. Hummus drizzled with a house infused oil and served alongside crisp vegetables and warm pitas offered a satisfying accompaniment to a platter of flame-grilled wings sampled with the eatery's signature sauces.

Source: Lou Malnati's Pizzaria
Chicago Deep Dish Of course, we could not begin our culinary tour without piping-hot slices of the city's famous pizza. This classic usually features a deep-dish crust with tall edges perfect for holding a thick layer of toppings. Joe has sampled several different local restaurants over the years, but his favorite is Lou Malnati's Pizzaria, a local chain that boasts the oldest name in Chicago pizza. Their made-from-scratch pies are known for quality tomatoes and mozzarella, but for Joe it's the special-recipe butter crust that earns top honors. Son Christian was a big fan, as well!

Source: A Little Loveliness
Bistro du Jour A number of cafés beckon along Michigan Avenue. With their flower-edged patios and tempting menus, several piqued my interest. Le Pain Quotidien was my choice for lunch on our final afternoon in Chicago. This bakery-restaurant group, founded in Brussels, serves simple boulangerie fare, along with an array of fresh breads, desserts and coffee drinks. My Grilled Chicken Cobb was a refreshing green salad topped with avocado, bacon, hard-boiled egg, and Fourme d'Ambert. Drizzles of smoked tea vinaigrette added the finishing touch to this refreshing entree.

Mouthwatering displays at Le Pain Quotidien drew me to this charming eatery. In my next post, experience teatime at an iconic Chicago destination -- and see if you won the giveaway of our new Hoffman Media book Teatime Parties. If you haven't entered, leave a comment on that post to get your name in the teacup!

"The best food is in Chicago. There are great restaurants everywhere, from fancy places to burger joints." ~ Steve Carell

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

P.O.S.H.: The Loveliest of Shops in Chicago

"Beauty is a nectar which intoxicates the soul." ~ T.C. Henley

While we were exploring the downtown area during our family's summer sojourn to Chicago, I crossed the street to get a better look at a storefront that caught my eye. (See that window, with its artistic rendering of area attractions, in my last post.) We should probably go in, Mary Ashley and Emma encouraged, after we lingered outside for a while taking photos.

Oh, I am so glad that we did open that door because a haven of loveliness awaited discovery.

Joe was so excited to introduce me to swanky Michigan Avenue, but little did he know that P.O.S.H -- a charming boutique in the historic Tree Story building, just steps away from our hotel -- would capture my heart.

This little antiques shop brims with a mix of European flea-market treasures, from vintage hotel and estate silver to china and giftware.

P.O.S.H. is celebrating its twentieth year in Chicago. Upon noticing my shopping bag from there later that afternoon, a clerk in a nearby department store said that this shop has outlasted many other downtown retailers due to its unique character and fabulous assortment of wares. 

Crystal stemware gleams amid old books and rustic wooden furniture.

This is the type of store that takes me hours to explore. I don't want to miss even one beautiful object!

There was plenty of pink to go around here. Swoon!

And a wealth of teatime treasures.

This sweet teapot was one of the first to catch my attention.

While perusing the pampering products at the back of the store, I couldn't resist taking a peek inside this pretty book with a dainty floral cover. (And I must admit, I am wishing that I had brought this volume home!)

There were so many pretty things tucked among these fragrant toiletries.

China spoons were definitely a temptation.

As were these sweet-smelling elixirs.

At every turn, there is a thoughtfully arranged vignette worthy of exploration, with keepsakes available at nearly every price point.

I was particularly enamored with the variety of English antiques, like this four-piece insulated chrome Heatmaster tea set.

Right away I spotted Paris in Bloom by photographer Georgianna Lane. Although I have not met Georgianna, I am always so pleased when her gorgeous work appears in Victoria. Her latest book is a must-have for all of us who dream of seeing the City of Light in all its springtime splendor -- so lovely that I bought copies for my best girlfriend and me as soon as it came out.

At P.O.S.H., I couldn't resist the stash of vintage hotel silverware. Over the years of raising a family, spoons, especially, have seemed to disappear from our flatware drawer. I really have no idea where they could have gone but love the idea of supplementing our original pattern with mismatched pieces from different makers. Choosing a trio of these pretties seemed a good place to start!

I also purchased a commemorative flour sack towel embellished with the very print that first drew me to the store.

Here is another look at that depiction, displayed in the window with Chicago Blue Plate Special dinnerware, a classic P.O.S.H. pattern manufactured in the United States by Homer Laughlin.

It has been so much fun to unpack my little bundle of treasures from this quaint boutique that the girls and I happened upon in the heart of The Windy City. Along with my tea towel and a budding collection of antique spoons, it seems I also brought home dreams of shopping at P.O.S.H. again.

"Beauty unites all things, links together flower and star, with chains more certain than those of reason. The poet, the artist, thus finds the clue which guides them in their pilgrimage throughout the world." ~ Henry James Slack

Monday, September 18, 2017

Discovering the Charms of Chicago

"I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America." ~ Sarah Bernhardt

Before our firstborn headed off to college, we wanted to savor our last moments as a party of six with a trip to an exciting destination. Over the years we have spent many special moments at the beach, but Carson prefers the bright lights of a big city to the peaceful lull of the seashore. Considering our need for a quick weekend getaway and his love of theatre -- especially the Broadway hit Hamilton -- we decided that a visit to Chicago would give us the best of all worlds.

Joe has traveled to The Windy City several times, and he was eager to introduce us to some of his favorite places. (The image above drew me to this storefront, and it turned out to be a great little shop. Look for more details in my next post!)

We flew to Chicago on a Wednesday and headed home that Saturday. With two full days and a few hours on each travel day, we made the most of our time to explore. 

One of the first sites Joe wanted us to see was the Palmer House. He had hoped we could stay at this historic Hilton hotel, but it was booked during the time of our visit. Still, we enjoyed taking in the gorgeous views of the lobby and a nearby ballroom.

Can't you imagine the gorgeous events this venue has played host to?

The Palmer House is celebrating its 145th year. Extensive renovations and luxurious amenities ensure that this hotel will continue its gracious legacy.

Next on our list was visiting Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate, a stainless-steel sculpture better known as The Bean. Joe joked beforehand that we would never be able to tear Emma away from its mirrored surface!

Yes, he called it!

We walked up to 20,000 steps a day exploring the downtown. I loved taking in the city's gorgeous architecture.

One of my cousins lives in Chicago, so we enjoyed visiting her home and seeing her sweet girls.

Mary Ashley and Emma loved reconnecting with these two cuties!

They introduced us to the Chicago Riverfront, a pedestrian-friendly walkway along the south bank of the Chicago River.

On the Thursday of our visit, Joe, Carson and Christian took in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, where Lester jerseys were a definite temptation. 

While the boys watched baseball, the girls and I spent a special afternoon on Michigan Avenue. I will share details of our teatime at The Palm Court -- and the evening's celebratory dinner -- in  upcoming posts. We gave the girls $50 each and let them choose their own keepsakes during the trip. This worked really well and encouraged them to make the most of their budget. The first stop for our mini spending spree was Chicago's famed American Girl Place. Emma was so enthralled with all of the displays here that this turned out to be our longest stop along the Magnificent Mile. Ultimately, she chose the Fun & Games Sleepover Set, which included the cutest deck of miniature Uno cards. Back at the hotel that night, I couldn't resist asking if anyone was up for a little Uno. Those unhurried moments playing together turned out to be a highlight of the trip.

Clockwise from above left: The girls found furry friends to take home from The Disney Store, and it was difficult not to feel like a kid in a candy store with all the offerings at Dylan's Candy Bar. Although I discouraged them from giving so much of their budget to a 5-pound gummy bear, Mary Ashley and Emma were completely smitten with this guy. They pooled their resources to buy it, and Mary Ashley happily carried the hunka-hunka beary love for the remainder of our trek.

As for me, I enjoyed window shopping luxury brands such as Burberry. My treasured finds were a lovely Crystal Pearl bracelet accented with pink pavé spheres from Swarovski and the most perfect blush pink blouse at Nordstrom -- a romantic ensemble that will always remind me of Chicago.

As beautiful as the city is during daylight, Chicago absolutely sparkles at night. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling along the riverfront amid the glow of the city lights.

With the bustling crowds and thriving night life, there is an energy about this city that is contagious.

This is one of Joe's favorite vistas. On this cloudy night, we enjoyed pausing here to take in the beauty of our family weekend. This was a special spot for reflecting on the enchanted evening I spent with Carson and Christian at ...

This was the biggest splurge of our once-in-a-lifetime visit -- and our graduation gift to Carson. When Joe and I started planning this trip back in the spring, we considered keeping our tickets a surprise but decided that part of the excitement would be anticipating the big event throughout the summer. It really was a dream come true! 

The historic Private Bank Theatre is a beautiful venue for watching this show. We took great care in reserving our tickets, and I must admit, I have never had such amazing seats for any performance -- even watching the children in school productions.

Joe got the best deal ordering our tickets in two separate transactions, and as a result, we thought that one of us would have to sit alone during the show. I thought about this all summer -- not wanting anyone to feel left out of the experience -- so imagine my delight when we realized that we were front and center, just a few rows back, and sitting together. This made the evening absolutely perfect and one that we will never forget!

Thank you for indulging me in this lengthy travel journal! It has taken awhile to compile these memories, but honestly, I think they mean even more looking back -- especially now that Carson has been away at college for more than a month. Moments with family are precious, and I am treasuring each one that we spent together in The Windy City.

"Going to Chicago was like going out of the world." ~ McKinley Morganfield

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