Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chicago, My Kind of Town

In January, I had the opportunity to attend the Academic Event Professionals Conference followed by The Special Event in Chicago. Even though it was freezing, I had always wanted to visit Chicago. I learned so much and my company paid for my stay, so it was worth bundling up for the cold temps!

The Academic Event Professionals Conference was a great experience. I am the first events person that my school has ever had and it was great to hear how other schools run their events offices and to relate to one another over limited budgets and big ideas. The Special Event was a trade show coupled with events education. A lot of the education was too basic or too specialized, but there were lots of amazing ideas - just ideas that would be hard to implement in higher education!

I had six days of conferencing, solo. I met some women at AEP and hung out with them for dinner one night at El Mercado and drinks at Pop. My husband said not to eat any good food before he got there, but I couldn't resist. Rick Bayless' food is one of the things I had to eat while there and I had a torta and churros one night for dinner. I also had deep dish one day for lunch. Besides that, I just walked along the Magnificent Mile every night. It was so cool to have so much shopping in one place, but I didn't buy much because we do have a lot of those stores in Houston.

Chicago at night on one of my shopping trips | Tacos at Mercado (they were okay; Texas does it better!) | Champagne cocktail at Pop! | Damn good torta from Xoco | Xoco churros (they were each about 12" long - one was breakfast the next morning!)

Andrew flew in the last day of the conference. We went to Little Goat Diner, owned by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. I loved it! We could actually see Stephanie in the kitchen and tried hard not to stare. We went to another Rick Bayless restaurant, Frontera Grill, for dinner. It was jam-packed with tables but the mole was great and definitely worth it if you're a fan (though I loved Xoco too...).

Me, in front of The Bean | Holding it up (all the other tourists were doing it) | From far away | Skyline | Andrew and I standing in front (excuse his shifty eyes... it was windy)

We went Xoco for hot chocolate on Saturday and then waited for nearly an hour for donuts at The Donut Vault. These are apparently THE best donuts in Chicago, but we weren't super impressed. Good, but not worth the wait in the cold. We went to the Bean in Millennium Park to kill time before we visited the Art Institute. The Bean is so cool and definitely something to see! I love how it mirrored the skyline of the city. I'm not that into art but I kept hearing that I needed to go to the Art Institute and I'm glad we did. It was HUGE and full of art from artists you have actually heard of - Monet, VanGogh, O'Keefe, as well as furniture, pottery, and all kinds of stuff. Great way to spend an afternoon. We worked up an appetite and went out for deep dish after.

In front of Chagall's windows | American Gothic | Monet | VanGogh | Miniature Room. An entire exhibit full of rooms smaller than those found in a dollhouse. 

We headed to Balena for dinner that night. The pastry chef there is from Katy and was on Top Chef Just Desserts and the restaurant was just named a semifinalist for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. The restaurant is away from the touristy part of Chicago but it was so cool inside and the food was great. There was an anchovy spread with the bread that was to die for and the housemade magic shell was rich and amazing.

The next day was kind of a bust - we went for brunch to this place with great reviews, and it wasn't that great, and then we took a super expensive taxi ride to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was a little too kid-friendly for my taste. We left there and went to Au Cheval, which is a bar known for its cheeseburgers. We drank until the kitchen opened, and then had dinner. After that, we headed to the James Beard Award Winning Mindy's Hot Chocolate where we had our best bite in Chicago - coffee ice cream with cocoa nibs. It was perfection and I hate that I can't have it whenever I want!

Pork Belly Pancake | Los Drowned (both from Little Goat Diner) | Pizza from Lou Malnati's | Dessert at Balena | Cheeseburger at Au Cheval

Overall, I loved Chicago. The public transportation looked easy to navigate, though I didn't try, it was clean, and people were pretty nice. I definitely recommend going if you ever get a chance!

Any cities you were dying to visit that lived up to the hype?

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