Monday, August 11, 2008

Chicago, My Kind of Town

After my weekend jaunt to Chicago, I have decided that I am a city girl born in the wrong place. My past visits to Chicago were mostly spent in the 'burbs, but this trip we stayed in a downtown hotel. What a lifestyle! Everything is so walkable, there is always something to do, and most importantly, it is a veg-paradise. Dining out has never been so simple--I actually have multiple options at restaurants, and I don't have to explain that country-fried steak is not vegetarian. Plus, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods locations abound. Don't get me wrong, I love living in Alabama--I recommend that anyone who has never visited the South come to experience its unmatched charm and hospitality. I just wish there were some way to combine the two lifestyles: a more metropolitan Birmingham would be the perfect resolution. Maybe someday.

Needless to say, I had a great time in Chicago. We visited some tourist destinations, as well as some landmarks important to my family: Northwestern University, the house my mom grew up in, etc. Most pertinent to this blog, however, were our fabulous dining locales. Read on to find out the deets... Friday Our flight was at 6 AM on Friday, so I groggily stuffed some GoLean cereal in a baggie with walnuts and raisins. Once on the plane, I nibbled on this snack mix while reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. We arrived mid-morning, and the first stop was...Whole Foods. My dad and Ryan were going to a Cubs game in the afternoon, so to kill some time before lunch we visited a WF near Wrigley Field. I finally found some white chocolate chips without trans fats, and I also got a few items that they don't sell at our WF. It was around 11 AM, so the hot bar food had just been set out--it was gorgeous! I was too embarrassed to do so, but my dad took a picture of the vibrant display for me. He made sure to get a picture of a broccoli dish. Shortly after our grocery shop, we headed to The Chicago Diner for an early lunch. Out of everyone in our party, I took the longest to decide on what to order--I am not accustomed to so many options! Finally, I decided on the baked tofu crab cakes with vegan remoulade and brown rice. It was delicious, but I found myself hungry shortly after eating appetite has been especially insistent lately. Anyway, Ryan and my dad both ordered French toast with vegan sausage and scrambled eggs, and my mom enjoyed a grilled cheese. Ryan was very inquisitive during the meal, asking me to define vegan vs. vegetarian, etc. He's such a good brother-in-law. While the boys went to the game, my mom and I did plenty of shopping on Michigan Avenue. I made out with quite a few back-to-school clothes, plus some more tiny spoons from Crate & Barrel--I love that store! Anyway, as per request of my father, we went to the Cape Cod Room at the Drake Hotel. He and my mom used to go there (as newlyweds) with my mom's parents. I guess you could say it was a nostalgic dinner. As you might guess, the Cape Cod Room specializes in seafood, so none of their regular menu items suited my diet preferences. The service there is excellent, so they were eager to please a vegetarian patron. I told them to surprise me with a vegetable platter. What arrived was a beautiful and tasty masterpiece! Sauteed mushrooms, baby carrots, steamed asparagus, tomatoes, spinach, and a baked potato were all set atop a pool of an orange puree; I think it was sweet potato-based, with a touch of ginger. There were also some decorative fried potato strings that my dad enjoyed for me. This was probably my favorite meal for the entire trip. For a snack that night, I tried a new brand of Greek yogurt--Cultural Revolution. It advertises itself as low carb, but I picked it because of its incredibly simple ingredients list. I wanted to like this yogurt, but the consistency was not up to par. The flavor wasn't all that great either. I also had a cashew cookie Larabar to make up for the disappointment. Saturday
Free hotel breakfast, first thing. It wasn't bad--fresh fruit and oatmeal. I have always loved institutionally prepared oats; they have a great "gluey" texture. I know, I'm odd. I topped mine with sliced almonds and dried cranberries.
We ventured out to the suburbs to visit my Nana. For lunch, we opted to bring food to her, instead of taking her out to eat. She suffers from Alzheimer's, so leaving the assisted living facility can be quite an operation. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed our visit with her--she is the sweetest lady alive! (I am completely unbiased of course). We brought in food from The Corner Bakery, where I ordered a Trio Salad. I chose the Asian Edamame Salad (with asparagus), Ginger Asparagus Salad (more of that asparagus), and a fresh fruit salad. I washed it ALL down with a cup of unsweetened black currant iced tea. Refreshing.
For dinner, we headed to a tapas restaurant called Mercat a la Planxa with my two uncles and their spouses. My uncle (who had selected the restaurant) ordered the Chef's Selection, an elaborate multi-course meal. The chef was kind enough to include several vegetable dishes on my account. Not only were the vegetable dishes delicious, but they were also plentiful--I don't think I have eaten that much for years! I didn't take pictures of everything, but here are a few of my favorites. If you have a question about a dish, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.
To avoid a monster-post, I'll break here and post the rest of the pictures in a separate post (a la VeggieGirl). I'll leave you with a few pictures from my travels. Stay tuned!


VeggieGirl said...

LOOOOVE this post!!! Chicago is definitely a "veg-paradise," and one of my all-time favorite locations.

Hooray for Chicago Diner, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's!! And I'm glad that you were well-accommodated at the Cape Cod Room (the Drake Hotel is such a classy place - love the decor).

Hehe, the "a la VeggieGirl" part made me smile :0)

Ruby Red Vegan said...

Oh wow, you sure got your Chicago posts up fast!

First, I gotta say...MINI SPOONS! Yes, I love that you share my passion for mini silverware. My mini spoon is perfect for oatmeal super slowly and for spooning the foam out when I finish drinking my foamy soy lattes. I want to buy a mini knife soon to cut my pancakes & waffles with, and I just broke my mini plastic spork and it's about time I invested in a nice durable mini fork. :)

Annnyway, it's so awesome you got to go the Chicago Diner, and that the seafood place accomodated you so well... I also love all those greens that they gave your mom with her grilled cheese at the diner. Don't you wish every restaurant would be so courteous as to give generous veggie portions on the side of everything?

Does the Corner Bakery Cafe have many vegan options? I ate there a year and a half ago, right before I went vegan. I can't even remember what I ate there! And finally, hooray for going to Whole Foods in new cities. That's the best!

vegannurse said...

Oh man, I missed you in my Chicago as well! What a bummer! Maybe next time?

But I'm so glad you had a great time in the Windy City. It is a great location to be at, hehe.

Can you believe that I've never been to the Chicago diner? What kind of (vegan) Chicagoan am I, lol? Glad to see your meals were great and shopping was fun.

Jenn said...

Wow! Such an exciting trip! I loved every picture - especially the ones at all those new restaurants AND, of course, the Whole Foods hot bar! So many different things to choose from at that one!

I love that Trio salad from Corner Bakery! That new Asian edamame salad is awesome.

And I'm so glad you finally found those white chocolate chips you've been after :o)

Can't wait to read more! And thanks so much for your comment on my blog, Caroline. It really meant a lot to me and it's so comforting to know that you and so many other bloggers can relate. I think that's why we've set up such a community - to lean on each other, which is wonderful!

ChickPea said...

VeggieGirl: Glad you enjoyed the post! Have you been to the Cape Cod Room too? I love how it feels like you're on a ship!
Ruby: I love anything mini to be honest. I love to eat off of appetizer plates...except that they don't hold enough food. I am really tempted to buy those appetizer forks and knives, just because they're wee-sized. Let me know when you do invest in some new mini silverware!
To be honest, I ate my mom's veggies. She thought they were too raw, but I ate them anyway--I like my veggies to have a little "bite!"
I do wish all restaurants were as generous with the fresh veggies.
I don't know for sure, but it seemed like there were a fair number of vegan options. My salads were all vegan, as far as I could tell from the menu. No vegan sandwiches though--the only non-meat one was tomato and mozz. Boo.
Vegan Nurse: I am so jealous that you get to live in Chicago! It's a great place to dine:) You should def make a trip to the Chicago Diner--lots to choose from!
Jenn: That hot bar was awe-inspiring. I had never been to a WF that early in the day, so I was taken aback by the sheer quantity and vibrancy of all that food!
I wish we had a Corner Bakery here--they seem similar to Panera but with more options. Love it.
As I mentioned yesterday, your post really spoke to me. I don't know if you've ever heard of the term "effortless perfection." It's a notion developed to describe the pressures that female Duke undergrads experience, but I think it could describe students anywhere. Our culture has this unfortunate drive to be perfect--but also to make it look like a piece of cake (no pun intended...).