Christmas Time in Chicago

Each year, people from all over the world visit the Christkindlmarket Chicago. The outdoor market in the Chicago Loop has become so popular and loved by everyone that any Chicagoan will tell you that they could not imagine the city without it. Christkindlmarket Chicago is no longer just a German tradition; it has become a Chicago institution.

Christkindlmarket 2014

Christkindlmarket 2014

Every year, the traditional-style German Christmas market brings in vendors from the old country to serve sauerkraut, sauerbraten, potato pancakes and sweet candied almonds. The wooden huts also brim with candy, blown glass, European Christmas decorations and other delights. The market runs through Christmas Eve, so get your sauerkraut early and often.

The unique shopping experience, typical German food and drinks, as well as diverse holiday entertainment make the Christkindlmarket Chicago a preferred and popular destination and admission is FREE!

Christkindlemarket

Christkindlemarket

A little history of the Christkindlmarket, it is inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545. The Christkindlmarket Chicago brings a cherished German and European tradition with international flair and local charm to Chicago.

Chicago’s largest open-air Christmas festival was first held on Pioneer Court in 1996. By special invitation of Mayor Richard M. Daley, Christkindlmarket Chicago moved to Daley Plaza in 1997 and has become a staple event on the plaza ever since. Christkindlmarket Chicago has grown to become one of the most popular winter attractions in the heart of the city.

Stop on by to the Christkindlmarket Chicago have some spiced wine and enjoy some wiener schnitzel, you know you love that schnitzel.

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Fall in Chicago

Summer over, and let’s faces it – Chicago’s best season is fall. The humidity of summer suddenly turns crisp, ushering bursts of gorgeous, coppery color in the trees.

Here are a few things you should try to do this September in Chicago;

1. Try a new restaurant.

New hotspots opening this season: Chop Shop and the 1st Ward (a Bucktown restaurant, bar, music venue and butcher shop combined into one) debuts in mid-September, A10 (a European venture from Matthias Merges of Yusho and Billy Sunday) arrives in October and Eataly (Mario Batali’s megaspace of eight restaurants, a microbrewery and a culinary school) opens its doors in mid-November.

Eataly

Eataly

2. Drive out to the drive-in.

Before the weather gets too cold, bundle up with some blankets, popcorn and good company at the old-timey Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago.

Cascade Drive-In

Cascade Drive-In

3. Design Harvest Festival Sept. 28-29

Chicago’s annual street festival celebrating home design will feature a myriad of local vendors and antique collectors, as well as family hay rides, pumpkin painting to raise money for a local elementary school, square dancing, cold beer, delicious food and live music programming from The Hideout.

Design Harvest Festival

Design Harvest Festival

4. Search for the best cider.

‘Tis that time of year. For the hard cider fans: Sprout, SmallBar, The Grafton Pub and Kuma’s Corner all have excellent selections. Have it hot or cold, a perfect drink for fall time weather.

 

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Shaw’s Oyster Bar

It’s been a while since my husband and I went out for dinner during the week. We just didn’t feel like cooking this week and wanted something casual in the River North neighborhood. We decided to try Shaw’s Oyster Bar which is just around the corner from the Hampton! When we walked in, there were numerous high-top tables situated throughout the bar area and a definite buzz and feeling of excitement flowing throughout the restaurant. Overall, a great exciting first impression. We were greeted and promptly seated.

Oyster Bar

Oyster Bar

Our server approached our table within the first two minutes after we had sat down. His attire was crisp and professional – a black vest, black tie, black pants, and white shirt. His casual professionalism and overall personality made us feel welcome and excited to begin our meal. When it came time to start discussing food and drink options, he was able to answer all of our questions and gave several excellent recommendations. By the way he described the preparation and presentation of the appetizer and entrée recommendations, you could tell he had a great knowledge of the menu and that he was confident answering all of our questions.

The Menu

The Menu

We started with the Godzilla Maki Roll which had six generous pieces of fresh maki made with a colorful mix of smoked salmon, avocado, shrimp tempura, and unagi accompanied by a small portion of wasabi and ginger on a white rectangular dish. Very refreshing and enjoyable overall! The overall textural balance between the crunch of the shrimp tempura and the softness of the smoked salmon, unagi, and avocado was amazing. Great appetizer option. We would 100% order this again.

I ordered the Grilled Columbia River King Salmon for an entrée. The salmon filet was served atop sautéed spinach and bacon pieces and topped with a cool heirloom tomato salsa served on a large oval plate. Great sizeable dish overall. The tenderness of the salmon filet paired extremely well with the cool crispness of the heirloom tomato salsa and the saltiness of the sautéed spinach and bacon. The tomato salsa also added a great color to the dish. Great entrée selection overall!

What is dinner without dessert? Selecting which one is always such a tough call. Shaw’s make this easy with the Dessert Sampler! Small taste portions of raspberry pie, chocolate cake, key lime pie, and crème brulee served with a small dollop of whipped cream on a long rectangular plate. Wow! A great dessert option overall! The raspberry pie and whipped cream were very refreshing and sweet. The chocolate cake was very rich and decadent overall. The key lime pie was very light, tart, and refreshing and the small dish of crème brulee very rich and flavorful and prepared perfectly with a crisp topping and cool smooth interior. Great dessert option!

The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed. Each dish was presented and prepared very well. Our server was very attentive throughout the meal and maintained the cleanliness and the order of the table. We can’t wait to go back to Shaw’s Oyster bar. This restaurant is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is excellent overall. We really liked its fun, welcoming, and casual atmosphere.

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Fine Dining in Chicago

One of Chicago’s most elegant restaurants is Everest - located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. My husband and I had the opportunity to experience Everest this past fall. We were greeted by the host who was very cordial and welcoming. He offered to take our coats as soon as we walked in. We were next greeted by the Maitre D’ who was polite and professional as she guided us to our seats. We were offered a generous assortment of fresh breads including sour dough, French, multigrain, olive, and rye presented on a tray and presented by the food runner. Bread had very crisp crust with soft center; all choices were very fresh.

Assortment of Fresh Bread

We were treated to an Amuse Bouche which contained three unique teaser portions – a small white spoon of fresh seasonal pumpkin puree sprinkled with small bits of crisp prosciutto, a small silver ladle filled with a fresh cauliflower soup, and a small white bowl filled with a thin slice of fried fluke atop a creamy slaw all presented on a long rectangular plate. Each small portion was extremely flavorful and refreshing; the fresh pumpkin was a great seasonal choice and paired very well with the saltiness and crunch of the prosciutto; the cauliflower soup was very rich and creamy; and the fried fluke and creamy slaw brought a nice familiarity to the overall presentation. This was a great way to start the experience!

For an appetizer we ordered the Roasted Main Lobster. This had a Generous portion of fresh roasted Maine lobster meat situated in a pool of Alsace Gewurztraminer butter sauce and sprinkled with ginger presented in a large white bowl. The lobster was extremely tender and flavorful overall; lobster meat paired perfectly with the richness and unique woody flavor of the Alsace butter sauce; ginger added a great subtle sweetness and a great contrast to the richness of the butter sauce.

For an entrée I ordered the Colorado Rack of Lamb. This dish had Three bone-in lamb fillets situated atop a root vegetable gratin and next to a sweet garlic flan garnished with a crisp thyme leaf and tomato and served on a large circular white dish. The overall tenderness of the lamb and the compliment with the garlic flan/vegetable gratin.

Breathtaking Views

Our experience would not have been complete without dessert! We finished with the Banana Dessert – A large square of fresh banana crème brulee containing fresh diced banana pieces bordered with a soft chocolate cake and topped with a quenelle of fresh vanilla praline ice cream and a powdered sugar coated cookie accompanied by four small drizzles of thick maple syrup sauce. Unbelievable!  Extremely rich and decadent overall; crème brulee was prepared perfectly and paired well with the moist chocolate boarder; diced banana pieces added a great textural balance within the dish as did the crispness of the crème brulee topping; fresh vanilla praline ice cream was very rich overall and added a great cool variation to the dish; maple syrup tied all ingredients together nicely and offered a great seasonal flavor. Great dessert!

The pace of the meal was excellent. Service was good and excellent very polite and professional. The server had a great attitude, and his food knowledge was impressive.

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Tru

Chicago is notorious for its culinary scene. One restaurant that puts Chicago on the map is Tru. This has been on my bucket list for a long time running. I, finally, can now to check it off my list! My husband and I had a “truly” (no pun intended) incredible experience.

We entered the restaurant and immediately focused our attention on the hostess area adjacent to the main door. The lighting in the restaurant was dark and inviting. We were immediately welcomed by a team of restaurant staff who took our coats and promptly welcomed us into the restaurant. Overall, a unique and exciting first impression.
Once our reservation was located, we were then introduced to the maitre’d and promptly shown to our table.

Our main captain approached our table within the first two minutes after we had sat down. He immediately asked if we would prefer a cocktail, glass of champagne, or view the wine list and explained that he would give us several minutes and then discuss food options and recommendations once we had made our drink selection. After we had placed our drink order and after an initial amuse bouche course, we were presented with menus. Our captain did an excellent job explaining the layout of the menu, the various menu choices, and the caviar menu.

I started with the Duck Consomme. Excellent unique presentation overall! A burner and glass device were presented at our table which contained duck consomme along with black truffle and a number of other aromatics  Once the liquid cycled back-and-forth through the glass device enough times to fully impart the dish’s unique rich flavors, the hot flavorful liquid was poured over several small foie gras ravioli pieces, small pieces of duck confit, and presented in a white bowl. The duck consomme broth was extremely flavorful, earthy, and rich overall. The foie gras ravioli and duck confit pieces added great texture and an additional layer of earthiness to the dish. Such a memorable presentation and flavors overall!

Next I tried the Atlantic Skate – a small strip of pan-seared Atlantic skate presented with small diced pieces of orange braised fennel and crispy garlic pieces on a unique white plate. A great delicate dish. The skate was prepared perfectly with a slightly crisp exterior and warm flaky interior. The orange braised fennel had a slight touch of orange which was not overpowering and paired perfectly with the delicate skate. Great delicate and flavorful first dish overall.

We finished our experience with the Campfire of S’more for dessert. Excellent presentation, textures, and flavors! A small cannelle of marshmallow ice cream presented alongside a trio of chocolate selections – one airy milk chocolate mouse, one dense frozen dark chocolate crumble, and one milk chocolate thick rich mouse presented on a long black dish. Very unique and memorable! The different chocolate variations added a great textural contrast, the marshmallow ice cream was smooth creamy and flavorful, and the overall presentation was excellent. Such a great dessert option!

Campfire of S’more

 

The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed. Each dish was presented in an extremely unique manner and the food quality was impeccable overall. The entire wait staff team did an excellent job maintaining the order of the table. Our flatware was replaced before each course, our water and wine glasses were never neglected, and the table was crumbed after each course. Overall, our wait staff team remained attentive and aware throughout the meal and maintained the cleanliness and the order of the table extremely well.

After we finished our dessert course and experienced the additional dessert cart (amazing) the table was cleared of all remaining items and the table was crumbed one final time. The check was presented in a timely manner and all items were indicated properly on the check. Overall, we had a great memorable dining experience at Tru.

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Paris Club

Studio Paris is a popular place to go out in Downtown Chicago, but I think Paris Club is discredited for how delicious their food is. I went there for dinner this past weekend with friends, and it is now one of my favorites. I recommend simply sharing their small plates. This way you can get a little taste of everything.

We started with their Drippings on Toast. This dish comes with five toasted slices of French bread situated next to a black iron bowl filled with tender brown short rib meat and an extremely flavorful short rib sauce. Wow! Great way to start the meal! The tenderness of the short rib meat paired perfectly with the crunch of the toasted French bread and the overall flavor of the sauce was meaty, salty, and delicious. Excellent selection overall!

We next tried the Lobster Crostini. Two large slices of toasted crostini pieces topped with a delicately prepared scrambled egg, large pieces of butter-poached lobster, and a light drizzle of white truffle oil. Incredible! This was by far the most memorable dish of the night. Each of the ingredients complimented one another perfectly. The smooth tender scrambled egg paired extremely well with the snap of the fresh lobster meat and the crunch of the crostini. The portion size is perfect for two people overall and the light drizzle of truffle oil added that great earthy aroma and flavor. If you go with a group I recommend ordering a few. Excellent! I would 100% order this again.

Next was the Paris Chopped Chicken Salad – A Large portion of chicken chopped salad which included fresh iceberg and romaine lettuce, fresh green avocado slices, tender chicken pieces, halved grape tomatoes, green onion, cauliflower, croutons, and served with a sweet vinaigrette in a white bowl. Great fresh salad option overall! The crunch of the lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, and onion paired nicely with the tender chicken and the creamy smooth avocado slices. The addition of cauliflower was a unique touch to a common dish and complimented the other ingredients well. The sweet vinaigrette paired perfectly with the fresh salad ingredients and gave the dish a great sweet flavor. Excellent!

We went on to try their Tuna Tartare – An appetizer portion of fresh pink tuna tartare mixed with fresh green mint leaves, arugula, diced avocado, and tossed in a light vinaigrette and served on a white plate. Exceptional light refreshing dish overall. The fresh tuna pieces paired extremely well with the smooth creamy avocado and the lightness of the sauce added a great sweetness to the dish without being overwhelming.

We finished our meal with the Cheese Plate for dessert. Two long slices of toasted French bread situated next to three cheese selections – blue cheese, a light goat cheese, and a hard cow’s milk selection – accompanied by nuts and small slices of fresh fig. Excellent presentation overall. Each of the elements complimented one another well in both flavor and texture. Great way to end the meal!

I would 100% return to Paris Club. This restaurant is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is excellent overall, and it is a fun, welcoming, and elegant atmosphere. Can’t wait to go back soon!

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Snickers Bar & Grill

Dive bars are few and far between in Chicago’s River North Neighborhood. But every once and a while I will get a guest who will ask me where a good local joint to grab a beer and watch the game. Go no further than at the end of our block on the corner of Illinois & State street where you will find Snickers. You can look it up on Yelp and find out what the reviewer say about it, but the common theme is that they don’t have one common type of crowed. You will find the 80 year old grandpa, the 22 year old frat boy and a hotel general manager cheering on their hometown favorite teams.

Snickers Bar & Grill

It doesn’t have a pretentious atmosphere or a bouncer at the door. They welcome just about anyone in who is willing to keep a bar stool warm. They serve Greek food, that I understand ain’t half bad. It’s not the kind of place you order wine from. They have a pretty good bottled beer selection and a few beers on tap. I’m pretty sure they go through about a case of Jameson a night on the weekends from the amount of shots I’ve seen them pour (note the $2 shot sign in the window).

Sometimes on a night out, you don’t want to have to scream to the person next to you or listen to the thump of the DJ booth. When it’s that kind of night out, give Snickers a try.

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Hub 51

It was date night last Friday night! We decided to head over to Hub 51 – just steps from the Hampton! We entered the restaurant and immediately noticed the buzz from the bar area and a feeling of excitement flowing throughout the restaurant. Overall, a great exciting first impression.

We were seated, and our server approached our table right away. Her casual professionalism and overall personality made us feel welcome and excited to begin our meal. When it came time to start discussing food and drink options, she was able to answer all of our questions and gave several excellent recommendations. By the way she described the preparation and presentation of the appetizer and entrée recommendations, you could tell she had a great knowledge of the menu and that she was confident answering all of our questions.

 We started with the Del Mar Seafood Salad to share. There was a large portion of seafood salad which included fresh iceburg lettuce, poached shrimp and peekytoe crab, radicchio, green beans, jicama, red pepper, celery, edamame, carrots, and tomatoes served with a thick vinaigrette on a large white circular plate. Great fresh salad option overall! The crunch of the lettuce, tomato, radicchio, jicima, celery, carrots, and green beans paired nicely with the tender shrimp, crab, and edamame. The vinaigrette paired perfectly with the fresh salad ingredients and gave the dish a great sweet flavor. Excellent starter selection and perfect for two people.

 Next I tried their Fish Tacos – seasoned Mahi Mahi filet served with fresh corn tortillas, a green chili salsa, fresh diced tomatoes, guacamole, white rice, black beans, and a creamy cabbage slaw and served on a large white oval dish. The tender Mahi Mahi was seasoned extremely well with a unique baja rub and paired perfectly with the creamy cabbage slaw. The fresh green chili salsa complimented the fish and slaw and brought a slightly spicy and very unique flavor to the dish. Great flavors and textures overall!

 The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed. This restaurant is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is excellent overall, and it is a fun, welcoming, and elegant atmosphere. The pricing is very reasonable for the quality of food presented and the location of the restaurant in Chicago.

 

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Pizzaria Via Stato

My husband and I were feeling something casual for date night last Friday but still wanted something delicious. We thought we’d try Pizzaria Via Stato right on State Street just a around the corner from the Hampton Inn & Suites. As we entered Pizzeria Via Stato through the main outdoor entry-way, we were drawn into the buzz and excitement from the tables situated throughout the outdoor seating area at once. The tables were full of various thin-crust pizzas, salads, and appetizers making us extremely excited to sit down and start our experience. We were immediately welcomed by the hostess and promptly shown to our table.

Our server approached our table within two minutes of being seated. We were unfamiliar with many of the wine and cocktail selections, and he kindly offered some of his favorite recommendations which was appreciated. When it came time to discuss dinner options, he did a great job describing the preparation and presentation of the specials. Overall, a great first impression.

We started with the Chopped Salad  with tender chicken pieces, iceberg lettuce, halved grape tomatoes, crunchy house-made croutons, avocado, celery, parmesan cheese, and a tangy mustard vinaigrette. Very refreshing overall! The crunch of the croutons, lettuce, red peppers, and crisp grape tomatoes paired very well with the tender chicken and creamy avocado. The tangy mustard vinaigrette brought all of the flavors together nicely and gave the salad a great underlying citrus flavor. Great sizeable appetizer portion overall.

Chopped Salad

We then tried their monthly special pizza – a small thin-crust pizza topped with sweet spring onions, robiola and mozzarella cheeses, and a farm fresh egg and served on a large silver dish. Excellent crunch, saltiness, and sweetness overall. The crust was prepared perfectly with a crisp slightly charred exterior. The saltiness of the robiola and mozzarella cheeses and the richness of the farm egg paired extremely well with the sweetness of the fresh spring onions. The pizza had a great unique combination of flavors and textures.

We finished our experience with the Gelato Trio. This came with three small white dishes filled with three different kinds of house-made gelato – vanilla, chocolate hazelnut, and burnt caramel all dusted with powdered sugar on a large white plate. Excellent selections overall! Each gelato selection was fresh and complimented one another very well. Great dessert option!

Anyone looking to have a fun and relaxing dining experience would love Pizzaria Via Stato. The pricing is very reasonable for the quality of food presented and the location of the restaurant.

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RPM Italian

Talk about starting with a bang! RPM Italian is one of the most talked about restaurants in Downtown Chicago right now. There is buzz about celebrity sightings including Brian Urlacher and celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic – and it has only been open for a month! Naturally, I had to go see what it is all about.

Giuliana Rancic preparing drinks at  RPM

Giuliana Rancic preparing drinks at RPM

Our server approached our table within the first two minutes after we had sat down. His attire was crisp and professional – a white blazer, white button-down shirt, black tie, and black pants. He made us feel welcome and excited to begin our meal. When it came time to start discussing food and drink options, he was able to answer all of our questions and gave several excellent recommendations. It was immediately apparent that he had a great knowledge of the menu and that he was confident answering all of our questions and making recommendations which is quite unexpected for a restaurant that just opened up. Great first impression!

We started with a generous portion of the 600-Day Aged Prosciutto. This was served on a marble serving platter and accompanied by four slices of fresh bread and three red peppers stuffed with provolone cheese cubes. Wow. The aged prosciutto was extremely flavorful and silky in texture. The fresh sliced bread added a great crunch and was a great vehicle to eat the prosciutto. The peppers stuffed with provolone added a fresh sweetness and a small amount of heat to the dish and complimented the richness of the prosciutto well. Great antipasti option overall..

Next we tried the Italian Salad. This was served in a large white bowl that was filled with several different kinds of lettuce,  roasted red and yellow bell peppers, black olives, salami, pepperoncini, halved grape tomatoes, red onion, red cabbage, and shredded Parmesan cheese topped with a house-made Italian dressing. Excellent fresh flavors overall. The crunch of the lettuce, pepperoncinis, tomatoes, onions, and cabbage complimented the smooth roasted peppers, the tender salami, and the olives very well. All of the flavors worked well with each other and the dressing added a great sweetness to the dish. Great salad option.

Then we tried the  mushroom risotto. This was served in a white bowl and topped with fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese. The risotto was prepared perfectly with a slight al dente crunch. The earthy mushrooms permeated throughout the dish and paired very well with the richness of the Parmesan cheese and the freshness of the herbs. Excellent entrée selection overall.

We finished with the Hazelnut Tartufo – A large chocolate coated ball of hazelnut gelato topped with crushed hazelnuts on a large white dish. Wow! Great unique dessert option overall! The presentation was unique and playful. The taste of the chocolate shell paired with the hazelnut gelato was excellent. The cool smooth gelato paired very well with the crunch of the shell and the nuts. A very memorable and satisfying dish.

The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed and none of the courses overlapped each other which is always a concern with small plates tapas style dining. Each dish was presented and prepared very well. Overall, our server remained very attentive and aware throughout the meal and maintained the cleanliness and the order of the table well.

We would definitely return to RPM Italian! This restaurant is an excellent value. The food quality and presentation is excelling, and it is a fun, welcoming and elegant. Can’t wait to go back!

The Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown is within steps of RPM. Simply cross the street on Illinois and go West less than 1 block. RPM is visible upon exiting the hotel.

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