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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A city in love with its lake & river

Every spring once it starts warming up, we start seeing a ton of boats migrating from the cold storage docks out to the lake. Every once in a while you will get the opportunity to see all of the bridges rise while the sailboats make their way through the locks.

Of course one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago is the Chicago River Boat Tour. Whenever I have family and friends come in to town this is always one of my top three that I suggest, besides the Skydeck & one of the Museums. The tours will take you up the north and south branches of the river and give you full history of the buildings and the history of the river. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and encourage interaction. Most of the tour guides I have spoken with in the past are former architects, architecture students or big time history buffs. Every one of them have an amazing passion for what they are talking about.

The Chicago Line Architecture Cruises run about every hour  and the 2012 costs are:

  • $40 for adults
  • $32 for seniors 65 and older
  • $22 for youths ages 7 to 18
  • Children 6 and younger sail free

Two tips that I encourage you to do:

  • See my front desk team at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown before you head out, they can call ahead and make reservations for you with a deposit. That will save you time waiting in line.

Wake up a few minutes early and take the 8a cruise, it’s $10 off each person.

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Mystic Blue in Chicago

Gone are the heavy jackets, gloves, snow boots, and frozen faces of Chicago winter. Summer is upon us and citizens are wearing shorts, sporting flip flops and even, dare I say, getting sunburned! Recently I had the opportunity of experiencing one of the best kept secrets in Chicago tourism. An attraction that is perfect for summer, especially with this lovely weather we Chicagoans have been having as of late. The Mystic Blue Boat Cruise allows an exciting, fresh perspective for exploring the city.

The Mystic Blue Boat cruise departs from Navy Pier. I boarded the Mystic Blue on a Saturday evening for a friend’s birthday party. I didn’t really know what to expect, as I had never been on a cruise of Lake Michigan. I was immediately greeted by the Captain and Crew and knew it was going to be a fun night! The Mystic Blue has 3 enclosed, climate controlled decks, with dinner and dancing on the main level. Dinner was served buffet style and consisted of a specialty fish entree, pasta, potatoes, vegetables and more. On this particular cruise there was a cash bar for any Guests looking to “wet their whistle.” Guests are free to roam about the ship and are advised to eat at their leisure. Shortly after the majority of patrons dined, a dessert buffet was set with everything from cheesecake to fondue with marshmallow’s and rice krispies on skewers. All the while, a DJ played music and encouraged guests to dance, the Crew even performed a special choreographed number, which was very entertaining. Later in the evening, fireworks from Navy Pier were seen by all. The observation desk upstairs provided a great view of the city skyline at night. It truly was a unique experience that I would recommend to any guest or visitor to the Chicago area.

Chicago Skyline

To get to Navy Pier and The Mystic Blue Boat Cruise from the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, you may either take a cab, walk, or utilize the Free Shuttle service (inquire at the Front Desk for details). A cab will take about 5 to 10 minutes to reach your destination, or if it’s nice outside a leisurely walk is only about 1 mile from the hotel. If walking, head east on W. Illinois St. toward N. State St. Continue N. onto Streeter Dr. Keep right at the fork. By this point you will see Navy Pier. Turn right onto E. Grand Ave. Your destination will be halfway down the pier on the right.

Schedule and pricing can be obtained here.

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Free fun with Movies in the Park

All too often the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown has families looking for activities to do in the evening. One of my personal favorites is FREE… Movies in the park. From classic movies like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day off” to new movies like “Puss in Boots” or “Iron Man 2” play in park venues all over the city from June 11th to October 24th. Bring a picnic basket and a blanket and have a nice enjoyable relaxing evening watching a movie in one of Chicago’s 125 parks.

 Click here to find a list of dates and times that fit your trip into Chicago.

“New” releases this summer that will be available:

  • The Dark Knight (shot in Chicago) – June 23 at Churchill Field, 1825 N Damen
  • Grown Ups – July 1 at LaFollette, 1333 N. Laramie Ave
  • Inception – July 1 at Margate Park, 4921 N. Marine Dr.
  • Iron Man 2 – June 20 at Jackson Park, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave.
  • Salt – July 19 at Montgomery Ward Park, 630 N. Kingsbury St.
  • The Social Network – July 5 at Montgomery Ward Park, 630 N. Kingsbury St.
  • True Grit – July 28 at Amundsen Park, 6200 W. Bloomingdale Ave.
  • Twilight: Eclipse – July 22 at Meyering Park, 7140 S. Martin Luther King Dr.

Animation for the Kids:

  • Despicable Me – June 17 at Winnemac 5100 N. Leavitt St
  • How to Train Your Dragon – Aug 9 at Touhy Park,  7348 N. Paulina St.
  • Megamind – June 23 at Graver Park, 1518 W. 102nd Pl.
  • Shrek Forever After – June 17 at Shedd Park, 3660 W. 23rd St.
  • Tangled – Sep. 9 at Athletic Field Park, 3546 W. Addison St.
  • The Princess and the Frog – Aug. 9 at Fulton River Park, 601 W. Kinzie St.
  • Toy Story 3 – Sep 16 at Independence Park, 3945 N. Springfield Ave.
  • Up – Aug. 2 at Montgomery Ward Park, 630 N. Kingsbury St.
  • Wall-E – Aug.31 at Willye White Park, 1610 W Howard St.

Classic Movies:

  • Airplane! – June 14 at Montgomery Ward Park, 630 N. Kingsbury St.
  • Back to the Future with Michael J Fox – Aug. 6 at Harold Washington Park, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – July 12 at Fulton River Park, 601 W. Kinzie St.
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – July 13 at The Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – July 16 at Jonquil Park, 1023 W. Wrightwood Ave.
  • JAWS – July 12 at 63rd Street Beach, 6300 S lake Shore Drive
  • The Karate Kid – Aug 30 at DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark – Aug. 25 at Lake Shore Park, 808 N. Lake Shore Dr.
  • Sixteen Candles – Aug. 17 at The Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St.
  • Top Gun – Aug. 18 at Mary Bartelme Park, 115 S. Sangamon St.

 

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Memorial Day Weekend things to do in Chicago

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And no, I am not referencing winter, since us city dwellers find nothing wonderful about the cold, snow, and everything in between. I’m talking about summer in Chicago! Now that the weather gods have finally stopped torturing us with the rollercoaster weather changes, we can now enjoy everything that this beautiful City has to offer.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 80 degree and sunny weather, like a 3 day weekend for Memorial Day. Since the NATO Summit has left the building, the City is now a favorable place to visit. So for those who are not skipping town or coming in from out of town, check out all the great things going on that will keep you busy this weekend.

If you are looking for a little R&R and to soak up some sun, head over to one of Chicago’s 23 beaches along the lakefront. Beaches open this Friday and lifeguards are on duty from 11am-7pm daily. The best part, they’re free!  One of the main hot spots if you are spending the day at the beach is Castaways Bar and Grill. This giant shipwrecked boat, looking North Avenue beach, serves lunch and dinner every day from 11a.m. to 11p.m. Drinks from noon to 11p.m. All weekend Castaways offers live music from noon to 6p.m.

For all you music lovers and foodies out there, go check out the Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival in Wrigleyville and/or the Randolph Street Market Festival in the Loop this Saturday and Sunday. Spend your day jamming out to tribute bands, eating some delicious food from local vendors, shopping for vintage treasures, while enjoying a refreshing beverage on a hot summer day!

Now, let’s not forget the true essence of why we celebrate Memorial Day. To show remembrance for loved ones we have or for those who have served our country, head over to Daley Plaza to watch the Chicago Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade. This will be on May 26th starting at 11am. After the parade, head over to Navy Pier to watch the free firework show starting at 10:15pm.

However you decide to celebrate, everyone at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago wishes you a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day!

 

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What to do while in Chicago

As we gear into the wonderful Chicago Summer there are certain attractions that everyone must try at least once! The most common things to do in Chicago are going to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, city tours, The Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, the architectural cruise plus many more.

My personal favorite activity is the architectural cruise; the tour is 90 minutes and it will make you think twice about our beautiful city of Chicago. At first when I agreed to go on this cruise (took much persuasion from my friend who was visiting from out of town) I was hesitant about going. To spend $35 to ride around in a boat when I already live in the city seemed like money I didn’t want to spend. Eventually I put myself in my friend’s shoes about coming to a city she had not been before and I agreed to go on the cruise.

Cruise on the Chicago River
Cruise on the Chicago River

The tour will take you from the aftermath of the great Chicago fire in the late 1800s, to how the city chose to rebuild itself using the surrounding water to their advantage. From there you will see some amazing buildings, the Merchandise Mart; you will go under several of Chicago’s movable bridges and to Navy Pier. After I got off of the cruise I was really glad that I had decided to go. It made me have a different type of appreciation for Chicago.

View Chicago by water with an architectural boat tour!

My recommendations for the tour; go on a sunny and warm day, make sure that you wear a hat if you are going to sit on the part of the boat that is not covered, make sure you grab a beverage and watch out for the shooting fountain, you just may get more than you bargained for! The best way to book this would be to do it on line (as it is cheaper), if you are staying here at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, just ask one of our Front Desk Associates to book the tour for you and they will be happy to give you all the details and just let you know where it is that you need to show up! You’re here on vacation; let someone else do the work for you.

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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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One of the most beautiful views in the city

It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit us, if you have a clear day, you need to take the time and visit the Willis (formerly “Sears”) tower Skydeck. On a clear day you can see Indiana, Michigan, Illinois (of course) and Wisconsin.  Sitting 108 stories in the air, at the time it was completed it was the tallest building in the world.

The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor and has 360 degree views of the city. In 2009 they added “The Ledge” which is a retractable glass box. You can stand out over the edge of the building in these glass boxes looking south and west. It is a bit of a rush with your head saying you should be falling and your feet staying right where they are.

Prices are reasonable for standard admission

  • Adults 12 and up is $17.50
  • Children 3 – 11 is $11
  • The Hampton Inn & Suites also offers a Skydeck Package for an all inclusive option!

If you are here from Labor Day to Memorial Day, go when the sun is starting to set. If you are here during the summer months, go and watch the fireworks. It is a spectacular site.

Another tip: if you are looking for a romantic date night, try going to the Skydeck then hitting the Metropolitan Club on the 67th floor. The only catch is that you have to make your reservations through opentable.com.  Either way it’s a good time.

Enjoy!

The fomer Sears Tower, also known as Willis Tower

The former Sears Tower, also known as Willis Tower

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