Sunday, July 29, 2007

Days 7 through 10: On The Ground in Chicago

We arrived in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon and left on Saturday morning. Two full days is not enough time to experience a city of this size. Based on the recommendation of a friend who lived nearby, we chose Chicago Executive Airport (formerly Palwalkee). It was a smart move because it put us close to them and gave us pretty easy access to the city by train. Wednesday was our anniversary and we were set to celebrate with dinner at Charlie Trotter's restaurant. Our advanced plans included a reservation on Saturday night but we were able to change on short notice for a 7:00 on Wednesday.

Last year on our 25th anniversary, we ate at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It was the singular most sensational dining experience we have ever had. Perhaps it set the bar too high, but we hoped for the same kind of meal at Trotter's. As it was, the food was exquisitely prepared and several of the dishes were world-class. My singular favorite was probably the New Zealand cockles. However, it seemed to depend more on edgy ingredients like stinging nettles, cockles and pickled lamb's tongue, where The French Laundry creates perfection with outstanding examples of more familiar foods. We also felt like the service was a little more reserved and the setting more confined than at the French Laundry. This might be a sign that after a dozen years living on the west coast, our sensibilities are changing.

A nice touch was a personal tour of the kitchen, where we got to see the magic behind the meal. I imagine other restaurants would honor a request for such a tour, but it was nice touch that the offer came without our having to ask.

Sated and tired, we headed back to our hotel on Michigan Av.

Thursday we were up at the crack of 10:00 and found our way to the El for a trip out to Oak Park. I am a long-time fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's work. I had seen the exterior of the Robie House on a previous visit to Chicago and toured the Hanna House at Stanford, but the chance to visit his home and studio was a real treat. We began with an hour-long self-guided walking tour of about fifteen houses in the neighborhood. After that, we had a guided tour of the home and the studio. There were rooms like the children's playroom that I have seen in pictures countless times. Standing in the actual room and seeing how the space and the light work was like a dream.

On the way back to the El we stopped at Unity Temple, which may have been his first public building. It was so far ahead of its time that one can't imagine where the vision came from.

Thursday night we saw a live taping of our favorite NPR radio show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me. The three panelists on hand were our personal A-team: Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, and Tom Bodett. The Not My Job guest was Jim Dale, voice of the Harry Potter audio books. I forgot to wear my "Don't say a word, I haven't read it yet," t-shirt, but luckily there were no spoilers. It was fun to see them all interact live and to observe all the stuff that never makes it past the editing process. Paula attended my high school and was a friend of my sister. At the end we snuck up front for a quick exchange of pleasantries.

Saturday morning we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the Corner Bakery Cafe, at Michigan and Jackson. While we waited for our food, I captured this picture that confirmed we had journeyed up to the terminus of the Mother Road.

After breakfast, we crossed the street to the Art Institute. One painting we hoped to see, Hopper's Nighthawks, was on vacation in Boston and Washington, but there was still a lot to see. The collection of O'Keefes was great. We saw Grant Wood's American Gothic. Also, we really enjoyed an exhibit of Jeff Wall's photography.

From the museum, we returned to our hotel, grabbed our bags and caught a train out to Barrington to meet up with friends from college. We hadn't seen them in over 15 years, which led to the usual assortment of reflections and recollections.

We spent the night with our friends Paula, Dave, and Katia. Paula and John worked together for about a year but this was the first time that most of us met live. My offer to take them all for a lakeshore flight before leaving Chicago was squashed by the Saturday morning overcast. Katia, you have a San Francisco Bay tour waiting on your next visit to California.

Paula drove us to the airport and we prepared to depart for the first IFR leg of our vacation.


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