Today let's just reminisce about the fabulous trip Weston and I took to Chicago for New Year's Eve/New Year's 2011!!!
We kicked things off with a little car snack of - get this - wild meat sausage and a Wisconsin cheddar log encrusted with cracked pepper. No, we did not buy said delicacies... they were passed on to us by my aunt who was determined that we not go hungry in the car. Thanks, Aunt Mondi!
We kicked things off with a monstrous banana split at my all-time favorite ice cream parlor, Ghirardelli. Here's a tip that I don't think enough people realize - a banana split traditionally comes with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry BUT you don't have to keep them! So at the counter I asked for the following upgrades: chocolate chip cookie dough, Rocky Road, and strawberry cheesecake. Perfetto!
Another of our favorite places to go is the Grand Luxe Cafe - a perfect spot for someone on a budget, with an uncertain-what-I-want-for-dinner appetite, and who is looking for a great atmosphere. Really, this place truly does have it all, and I'm going to break it down for you.
1) Budget: Portions here are ENORMOUS, so you'll probably come home with leftovers. Try to split an entree (pasta is an easy one) and possibly a side (salad or mashed potatoes, etc) if you don't want leftovers. You'll want to save room for dessert, so ask the waiter to box half your portion before they bring it to the table (this will stop you from over-eating), then you can eat your dessert with a little less guilt...
2) Variety: Here is where the restaurant can be a tad daunting - the menu is pages and pages long. I would say take your time and read it over. The menu is online, too, I believe, so you can look at it beforehand if you are really serious about not missing your options. But their Max Burger is always a standard for us, as is their salmon two ways with mashed sweet and regular potatoes. I've had the pot pie before, but it was a bit too soupy for me on the inside. Their pastas are probably the best deal for the amount you get - about 3 healthy servings worth. As I said, the desserts are where the restaurant really shows it's stuff. Everything is good. Trust me. My personal favorites are the Molten Chocolate Cake (it really does seem to gush with chocolate lava) and the Sticky Bun Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce - made to order. The 7 layer chocolate cake, I will say, needs to be warmed up a little because it comes from the fridge, but that's the only possible not- great thing I can say.
This is the Max Burger...told you it's amazing
I asked for a taste of their banana pudding parfait and they made me a mini one - too cute :)
Sticky Bun Bread Pudding!!!!
Lastly, atmosphere: Grand Luxe is a chain, but don't let that set you off. I believe it has ties with the Cheesecake Factory. Actually, I know because my mom, ever the interior designer (not professionally, but she should be) asked about the decor and they told us that the two restaurants are sisters. Big, over-the-top golden swirls line the balusters, the comfy seats are covered with plush velvet, and gorgeous sconces hang from the ceilings. It's really a lot to take in. Ask for a window seat, too, if you want to make the trip worth it - especially at night - because then you can see the city from above and NOT pay a pretty penny for it.
Now, no pictures are available for the next place I want to mention because, well, I was having such a good time that I didn't take any. It's called Mercat al la Planxa (http://www.mercatchicago.com/) and it's Iron Chef Garces's restaurant. They serve tapas here, but believe me, if you order 6 plates for two people, you'll be pleasantly plump. Eight and you'll be busting. We chose 8 and could barely walk home we were so full. Even Weston, the man of many stomachs... But in terms of quality, the restaurant lived up to it's name. It's pricey for sure, but for a special occasion, worth it. We made it a point to try things we knew we couldn't make at home or couldn't normally afford: things like homemade saffron noodles with calamari and muscles, white anchovy and pine nut flatbread, and honey glazed pork belly. If you want a quiet atmosphere, this is probably not for you because things were hopping and we were sitting really close to the people next to us. But we like that sort of craziness and I for one, was happy to be able to ring in the New Year in such wonderful company.
So there you have it. A little travel through one of my all-time favorite cities. If there are any places you like, please share because I'd love to try them!!!