Archive

Tag Archives: Chicago

I want to like you, Toronto, I really do. After all, I know your reputation amongst Canadians not lucky enough to call you home, or worldly enough to assess you correctly. Still, you make it so difficult. What gives?

On paper, you look quite promising: Canada’s largest city, at around 5 million people; a diverse population of people speaking a symphony of mother tongues and worshipping at least a dozen deities; museums, art galleries, festivals, and seven professional sports teams; an integrated public transit system with streetcars, a subway, and extensive bus routes; the CN Tower, which is still a marvel after all these years.

And yet.

And yet, in practice, you suck. Not badly, don’t get me wrong. Just badly enough to make me bristle when one of your patriotic denizens pronounces on your status as a “world city.”

Not quite.

Barcelona, for example, comprises around 5 million people, too. It’s also situated next to a large body of water. It has not one but two official languages. Its museums and galleries and, ahem, UNESCO World Heritage sites blow your AGO and your ROM out of the water. And its transit system? Where do I begin?! For one thing: IT WORKS. Well. Consistently. Seriously, the TMB rarely if ever trends on Twitter as a hashtag fail.

Dislike the comparison to a European city, Toronto? Think it’s akin to comparing Valencia oranges to McIntosh apples? Fine. Let me draw your attention to another city on this side of the pond: Chicago.

Also on a large body of water—a Great Lake no less! Comprising around 8 million people—granted a little larger than either you or Barcelona, but fundamentally in the same class. And what of their high culture and professional athletics? IN SPADES. Not to mention a zoo and an effing aquarium.

Chicago also has a habit of electing civic leaders with, say, vision and, ah, competence. (See Daly, Richard M. v. Lastman, Mel; Emmanuel, Rahm v. Ford, Rob.) And don’t you go holding up your David Miller, Toronto, as proof you’re not completely hopeless when given the chance to install someone in the mayor’s chair with something approaching a brain. Having experienced both Lastman and Miller, you then opted for Ford—IN DROVES.

Yep, you seem to struggle—and struggle mightily—with the evidently impossible task of sound civic planning. When faced with what to do with your spectacular coastline, for example, you opted for the Gardiner Expressway. Chicago? Grant, Millennium and Lincoln Parks, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, The Art Institute of Chicago, Soldier Field, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Navy Pier

Enough said.

Granted, you’ve still got the CN Tower. Be proud of that. Honest. A shame, however, it’s situated next to that billion-dollar white elephant, the SkyDome—sold to Rogers Communications for the tidy sum of $25 million. I mean, Jesus Christ. Even Montreal, with its decrepit Olympic Stadium, can take pride in the fact its billion-dollar engineering ignominy oozes (or at least crumbles) retro-futuristic cool.

Speaking of the Olympics, nothing tops the hubris of frequently floating yourself as a candidate for them. It’s laughable. You haven’t even properly connected your airport with your public transit system; in contrast, London has dozens to its THREE major international airports and it’s still working on contingency plans to move people about.

And when last invited to host something of any international import—the G8-G20 Summit—your police force—like a newbie tagging along with Charlie Sheen on a 48-hour hooker-and-blow bender—lost its shit in orgiastic displays of Orwellian oversight and Draconian enforcement. Imagine, as London (no stranger to serious and devastating acts of terror) must do now, having to actually implement the far more robust, lengthy and sophisticated security measures necessary to safeguard an event even remotely close to the Olympics, let alone the Olympics themselves.

Get real.

No, seriously. Drop the bullshit. Either you accept things as they actually are and resign yourself to simply being the biggest Canadian fish in the world’s municipal ocean, or you buck up and set about bridging the gap between how you see yourself and how the rest of the world actually sees you.

The choice is yours. Choose wisely.

Advertisements

What a weekend!

As I already mentioned, I made a quick trip to Chicago to attend a friend’s wedding this weekend. And even the fact I went straight to work from the airport upon returning to Winnipeg, hangover still lingering in my head, didn’t diminish the sheer delightfulness of it all.

What wasn’t to like about the past 36 hours?

Great food.

As always, Chi-town didn’t disappoint: a fantastic rehearsal dinner at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Snow Crab; a quick breakfast at Rick Bayless’ fantastic short-order Mexican joint, XOCO; a surprisingly wicked Moroccan lamb burger at Sable; and, best of all, an absolutely stunning dinner at the wedding itself.

Great weather.

Sure it was hot and humid and the risk of showers ever present, but, for a better part of the day on Saturday, we were able to take in the sights and sounds of the Magnificent Mile and the even more magnificent Millennium Park without a drop.

Heck, I even managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Art Institute and, along the way, glimpsed Seward Johnson’s latest sculpture along Michigan Avenue.

Great times with old friends.

The best part of all.

On the heels of nine straight days working, I find myself sitting in the international departures lounge of Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

No, I’m not fleeing the country for a non-extraditing South American refuge. I’m off to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. And by my count, I’ll be in the city — and what a city! — for no more than 36 hours.

Jaunt, indeed!

I’ve been to Chicago before. It’s a first-rate city and one of my favourites. Sadly, my tight schedule means I’ll have less time to sample the city’s remarkable culinary delights than I would have liked. (Alinea continues to elude me. Grumble.) Still, I’m hopeful I’ll have enough time to squeeze in a quick visit to the city’s eponymous Art Institute.

More to the point, and more importantly, I’m incredibly excited to witness my dear friend’s nuptials.

Chicago, here I come.

2010 has been a fantastic year.

And if I could summarize it with just one word, it would be this: travel.

Las Vegas not once, but twice. Twice to DohaQatar, too. Colorado, Kansas and Chicago. Summer through Spain and Morocco, in Paris, LondonEdinburgh, and Toronto, and across Ireland. Phew!

Along the way, I ate, I drank, I laughed and I loved.

And then, come the fall, I returned to school, to the kitchen, to chase down a dream.

Yes, 2010 was a pretty good year. And while I doubt 2011 will look anything like it, I’m hopeful it will be as exciting — replete with new sights, new sounds, new tastes, new adventures.

Onward.

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I would have seized the opportunity an unexpected long weekend presents to travel. I’d fly out on the Friday night, fly back on the Monday afternoon. Easy.

When I was living in Ottawa, I was able to indulge my jet-setting urges fairly frequently. After all, Ottawa’s proximity (and direct flights) to so many fantastic destinations — Montreal, New York, DC, Chicago — made it relatively painless. Better still, I’d become expert at playing off my two travel rewards programs (Air Canada’s Aeroplan and RBC’s Avion) against each other to my maximum benefit.

But that was then.

Despite having just such a long weekend this weekend, I’ll be staying put. My jet-setting days are over.

Granted, for a brief moment earlier this fall, I was gearing up to make fairly regular trips to Toronto. Air Canada was even offering a student pass that allowed individuals to make six trips to a specific destination. It couldn’t have been more perfect. But things change. Sometimes in an instant. And so, I’m grounded. Indefinitely.

I suppose it’s for the best. As I revealed earlier this month, I’m a student again. I might as well start living like one.

Still, I’m comforted by my fond memories of those many weekend excursions. Each one was an adventure, a marvel, a treat; always to see friends, eat well, laugh lots and soak up the many delights of whatever city I happened to be visiting.

But of all the weekend excursions I made during my extravagant years in Ottawa, I’m proudest of the weekend I spent in London. (England, not Ontario.)

It was the May Long Weekend of 2009. A dear friend of mine was celebrating his birthday around that time and I thought it might be fun to wish him a happy one in person. So, on that fateful Friday morning, I went to work with my weekend duffel and then headed straight to the airport that afternoon. By the next morning, I was eating breakfast in my friend’s kitchen, steps from London’s Pimlico tube station. Amazing.

Anyway, as I said, that was then.

Will I have more amazing weekends in the years ahead? Will I ever again be able to pick up and fly away at a moment’s notice?

Fingers crossed…

Having survived the two-day journey across Middle America, we arrived in Chicago on a sunny, Monday afternoon. I could hardly contain my excitement as the Sears Willis Tower — imposing, iconic, extraordinary — appeared on the horizon. I absolutely love this city and everything about it: The people! The energy! The architecture! The food!

Seriously, if given the choice between New York and Chicago, I’d pick the latter every time. Hands down. Bar none. No questions asked.

And so it was no surprise I made the most of my very short time in town: morning stroll through the University of Chicago’s sprawling urban campus, lunch at Rick Bayliss’ fantastic Frontera Grill, afternoon walk home along the lakeshore, dinner at Avec; a perfect day in a great city with wonderful friends.

The name, Avec, may ring a bell. I’ve mentioned it before. I’ll mention it again, no doubt. The reason is simple: it’s my absolute favourite restaurant in Chicago and a serious contender for my favourite the world over. I’d actually extended my trip and returned to Chicago with my friends, rather than fly home from Denver, in large measure because I’d wanted to sample their new menu. And, let me tell you, Paul Kahan and his crew did not disappoint.

As always, the place was jammed. We waited outside for a better part of half an hour for seats in the long, narrow, wood-lined eatery. Thankfully, the weather was lovely, as was the company. Best of all, we could stare at the diners already seated, already eating, already in heaven, taking comfort in the knowledge we too would soon know such delights.

When we were finally seated, coats checked, I gazed upon the new menu, freshly printed, paper crisply folded, resting every-so-gently atop my plate. I grasped it with my hands and opened it, tentatively, anxiously. First a quick scan: pork shoulder, beef, smelts, the focaccia, snapper, the dates… oh, the dates.

No man is an island — and no diner eats alone at Avec. As such, a brief, yet spirited debate ensued about what we’d order. We settled on the following dishes:

  • “Deluxe” focaccia with Taleggio cheese, truffle oil and fresh herbs
  • Wood-oven braised pork shoulder with chestnut-bacon dumplings, butternut squash, kale, puff pastry and fresh herbs
  • Chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce
  • Melted leek and salsify crostini with Meyer lemons
  • Wood-oven roasted smelts with romesco, spinach-horseradish vinaigrette and preserved lemon
  • Dietzler Farm braised beef with chimichurri, borlotti beans, fingerlings, creme fraiche, red pepper, cocoa nibs and cilantro

Each was sublime, but I liked the dates best. Even better, you can make them at home, courtesy Time Out Chicago. (I’ve yet to do so, but will surely blog about it once I do.)

As my flight took off from O’Hare International the next morning, thoughts of the previous night’s meal still swirling about my sated brain, I bade a silent farewell to the Second City and promised we’d meet again soon.

It’s a promise I fully intend to keep.

The Publican is for people passionate about pork. I’m one of those people.

First, a word about the place. Publican is situated in the heart of Chicago’s meat-packing district. Accordingly, the restaurant has a turn-of-the-century, butcher’s warehouse feel to it. (Okay, perhaps not the best way to describe it, but that’s how it felt to me.) High ceilings, subway tiles on the floor and walls, diner lights illuminating the sprawling place.

Our reservation was for 9:30. The place was jammed. We were escorted to a stand-up bar near the kitchen while they readied our table. After finishing an exceptional Manhattan (garnished with homemade maraschino cherries), my dining partners and I were seated at one of the place’s lengthy tables you’d imagine were standard in an English castle’s dining hall.

I started with a half-dozen Kumamoto oysters. They’re my favourites and often on the menu at Ottawa’s WBOH. How could I pass up the chance to have them here? And so, I did. Happily.

We also opted for an order of their in-house pork rinds. (What? It’s a bastion to all things porcine, after all.) They were… good. And not “NFL-Sunday-pig-out” good, but “delectable” good. Light, flavourful, crunchy. Heck, you’d hardly know they were fried pieces of Miss Piggy’s epidermis.

Since the menu was similarly titled towards small plates like Avec’s, my friend and I decided to share a few plates between us as our mains. And share we did: duck rillette (melt-in-your-mouth amazing); grilled sardines (rich and full of smoky flavour); pork belly (pure bliss).

To finish things off, I opted for a duo of cheeses. Raw cow’s and sheep’s. Equally delicious, and the perfect end to a sumptuous, protein-laded feast.