Friday, May 25, 2018

Only Happens in a Town Like This

No one beats a native Chicagoan for showing you the Windy City.

The funny part is that on the train in from the airport, we got to talking to a high-spirited quartet - two middle-aged brothers and the two sons of one of them - sitting nearby, only to learn that they were on a bucket list trip to see the Indianapolis 500 Sunday.

But, they added, they'd also be attending a Cubs game and hitting every Irish bar they came across, so the long weekend was a pretty big deal to them. They were also pretty sure they were going to run into us again based on nothing more than our conversation and how much we made them laugh.

Come on, guys, what are the chances?

My partner-in-crime wasted no time in demonstrating his Chi-town bona fides by advising the group not to spend all their time staring up at buildings, unless they wanted to be taken for the tourists that they were.

After checking in and admiring the view of the brilliant blue lake from the seventh floor, we set out to stretch our legs by walking the lakefront. I've said before that the best part of visiting Chicago in May is that the scores of lilacs are in full bloom and I wasn't disappointed. I leaned over iron railings and climbed concrete dividers for the sake of smelling my favorite flower every time I spotted one.

Having a native son as a field guide fulfilled every nerdy bone in my body as he ticked off the year/decade of the building, the architect/firm responsible, why it was significant when it was built and every other arcane fact he thought would interest me.

In other words, we spent the afternoon staring up at buildings looking like tourists, which I most certainly am and he could only pretend to be. It was grand.

We capped off the walk with glasses of Rose at Aire, the rooftop bar of our hotel, this time admiring the lake view from 24 floors up while a shady breeze provided respite from the unexpected heat of a late May Chicago afternoon. In between sips and conversation, I was trying to decide if Chicagoans have a "look" and I'm starting to think that they do.

Exhaustive research had resulted in a list of places I want to eat over the next five days. After a major pow-wow, we decided on a nearby wine bar, Acanto, for its extensive grape offerings and appealing menu, but nothing could have prepared me to follow the hostess to our patio table and be greeted by a server saying an exuberant, "Karen!" and throwing her arms around me. After an extended greeting, she scurried off, saying, "I'll get you a straw."

Welcome to Chicago, indeed.

The lovely C. had served me countless times at Secco and Acacia, but I'd been unaware she'd landed in Chicago last year. After dropping off glasses from a reserve magnum of Chianti Classico they were serving by the glass for the evening only, she told us to take our time because she was there all night. We were happy to settle in for the next three hours with a primo Michigan Avenue view of the promenade of humanity and cars honking/blaring music along it.

We ate through a black kale salad, tuna tartare (sublime with Fontanafredda Cuvee 157), red snapper over roasted eggplant and cauliflower, chickpea and blistered tomatoes in an olive puree, and a chocolate meringue dessert I couldn't even finish.

The additional glasses of Cuvee, however, I had no problem dispatching. We were, after all, celebrating somebody's homecoming, at least temporarily and admittedly with great enthusiasm. Even he started talking about coming back more often, so I see more Chicago in my future. Among other places.

No telling what other surprises Chicago holds, but I'm wide open to find out. I'll be the one with my mouth hanging open, staring up. Very happily.

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