Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago
To The Islands
A Double Tribute
Spirit of Peoria
Sometimes, there is nothing that can quite compare with the sheer joy of a
little spontaneity. Such was the case just this past week when my wife,
knowing that a significant birthday was pending in the next two days,
asked whether or not I still wanted to go out
for dinner to celebrate the occasion. With our
own abode in a shambles due to some unexpected
remodeling and an incredible run of nice weather upon us, I surprised
her and upped the ante when I suggested we not only
proceed with dinner, but also book a room at a nice hotel in the
city. After a short stint at the computer keyboard, we were confirmed
for Friday night after locking in a reasonable hotel rate.
Friday dawned chilly, but the sun was bright and the air was warming
quickly. Metra was the way to really fly and
we arrived at the Geneva train station with about twenty-five minutes to
kill before the 10:42 am inbound ride. By the time the crossing gates
started to descend, there were over two hundred eager passengers
crowding the platform... almost every one of the first half-dozen or so
stops was the same! We arrived in the city
about 15 minutes late, but I didn't care; it was warm, the Windy City
was living up to its name and throngs of happy and skimpily-attired
citizens were headed to points unknown.
We, on the other hand, were headed to the
Hampton Inn &
Suites, located at 33 West Illinois street -- about a block and a half from
our dinner venue: Topolobampo (or "Topolo" as most refer to it).
Eschewing a cab ride, we decided to hoof it instead, exiting the Olgilvie
Transportation Center and starting east on Madison, crossing the river and
following LaSalle Street north until we found the small LaVazza storefront.
A cup of their coffee beats -- hands down -- any of their would-be
competition. Sipping the soothing hot beverage -- it was tasty and
enjoyable, even with the temperature approaching 80 degrees -- we continued
north to Wacker and crossed the river again there, stopping to take a few
pictures before proceeding to Illinois Street and the hotel. The walk
took a half-hour at most and was, except for the crowds to which I am
unaccustomed, almost relaxing. The sun on my face and warm wind
gusting around building corners was marvelous therapy. After checking
in and parking our bags in the room, we headed out again, becoming lost in a
sea of frenzied humanity, buzzing on the adrenaline of a rare and very warm
Spring was in the air
but fashion was not; clothing choices swept the entire spectrum from
exquisite to egregious. No one seemed to mind and I was likely one of
the only people watchers as Yvonne and I checked out the Shops at North
Conrad Hotel, Michigan Avenue and several other popular destinations in the
River North area. All of them were hopping today. While the
burgers that I saw coming out of the kitchen caused my salivary glands to
start working, a cold beer for me and a Long Island Island for Yvonne, along
with some onion rings at Weber Grill hit the spot and took the edge of our
appetites... at least temporarily. With so many great restaurants in
the immediate area (e.g., PF Chang's, Billy Goat Tavern, Pizzeria Uno, Due,
Purple Pig, Shaw's Crab House -- to name but a few...) and
shopping spots, too, we could have spent an entire day here. There is
no shortage of great spots to try. But we had an early dinner
reservation at Topolo (reservations usually need to be made months in
advance), so we headed back to the hotel for some time in the spa before
dressing for dinner.
It's funny. When I recall the very first time I had a
chance to eat Mexican food -- and Rick Bayless puts a whole new twist and
definition on the words "Mexican food" -- I turned up my nose at it and had
a burger instead. Now I embrace even the thought of it; it has become
one of my all-time favorites. We walked the short distance to the
restaurant on Clark Street and could begin to smell the splendid aromas even
before we turned the corner. It was only 5:30 and at Frontera Grill
(the "sister" restaurant to Topolo, right next door) there already was a
two-and-a-half hour wait for dinner! I've yet to try Frontera, but the
wait-time tells me that it's every bit as good as Topolo.
The Maitre d' led us
into the dining room and to a table for two topped with a starched white
cloth and silverware, white cloth napkins, a candle and copper chargers
beneath heavy glass plates. He handed us menus and explained a few
things about them, smiled and left us to our thoughts about the fiesta to
come. What happened from that point forward can only be described as
heaven on earth.
It was a perfect day... followed by a perfect dinner at
Topolo, starting with the best margaritas ever made; hand-shaken and served
tableside. Yvonne's choice was a Blue Agave 'rita and I went for the
Topolo special. Icy-cold and served with a fresh slice of lime hugging
the rim, these were just plain awsome. Then, Trio, Trio, Trio:
(a sampling of Ceviche Fronterizo, Ceviche Yucateco and Ceviche de Atun "Chamoy");
Pescado Crudo "al Pastor": (Sashimi-grade Hawaiian day-boat
catch with La Quercia prosciutto crust, lime pudding, three-chile salsa,
grilled pineapple, red chile cracker); Pescado con Dos Chiles y
Uchepos: (Smoky Walleye capped with roasty arbol chile-peanut salsa.
Uchepo crumble, roasted tomato-guajillo sauce, Nichols Farm beets, wood-griled
knob onions) and Morillas en Pipian de Pistache:
(butter-braised wild morel and cultivated brown beach mushrooms with savory
green pistachio pipian. Crispy tortas de arroz with goat cheese filling).
A bit of heat edged all of the selections, but the flavors were delicate
nonetheless and the plate presentations were perfect.
Completely sated, I was ready to push
myself from the table when the server suggested a dessert: "Cafe con
Leche y Chocolate": Very chocolaty chocolate ganache cake with
espresso pudding, bittersweet chocolate swirl ice cream, cookie crunch...
How could two chocoholics refuse? (We couldn't.) The walk back to the hotel took us
past Ballo Italian Restaurant (actually a part of the hotel) and an outside
table was a siren that called out to us to stop for a nightcap.
Sipping a shared glass of chardonnay in the soft summer-like breeze was the
exclamation point on the night out -- couldn't have had a better day, thanks
to my sweetheart wife! Back in our room, sleep came quickly and
easily, broken only by sirens of a different sort: those of an occasional ambulance or fire truck.
The next morning we
awoke early and, checking the weather channel, discovered that rain showers
weren't too far away. Skipping a few of the intended Saturday stops,
we took a last look at the new Trump tower and started a leisurely stroll
down the almost-deserted streets of early Saturday morning Chicago on the
way back to the train station, stopping only to snap a few more pictures;
got a stiff neck from oggling the incredibly beautiful architecture and
skyscrapers! The first drops of rain hit me in the face as we
approached the Olgilvie Transportation Center... The train home was
almost deserted when compared to the ride in, but the relative lack of loud
conversation was a welcome one. It's a short excursion to a nearby
destination that, whether planned in advance or taken as an impromptu hiatus, can be a really fun respite; I'd
do it again in a heartbeat!