Tahlequah Daily Press

July 8, 2010

Travelogue Chicago: Days 2 and 3

Press Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — A few people have asked me, “What’s there to do in Chicago?” A more appropriate query would be, “What’s not to do?” Take your pick. And since we’ll be here less than a week, we won’t even scratch the surface.

Photos of Days 2 and 3 are already posted online on both my Facebook page and the one belonging to the Tahlequah Daily Press.

The second day of our adventure, Sunday, kicked off with a 9:30 a.m. Mass at the fabulous Holy Name Cathedral. It’s our favorite “home away from home” church, but ironically, we haven’t been able to attend Mass in the cathedral proper during our past two trips to Chicago. A few years ago, a piece fell off of the roof, so the sanctuary was closed for repairs. Right after those were implemented, a fire broke out on the roof – that was big news, so some of you may have heard about it. Finally it reopened, and it’s just as spiritually eye-popping as ever. All Catholics (and everyone else) should attend at least one service in this beautiful structure.

Then it was on to Taste of Chicago, the annual food carnival at Grant Park just off Michigan Avenue. Taste of Chicago is the granddaddy of all such events, and every other one is dim by comparison (um, sorry, Danny Perry!). It’s usually held this time of year, somewhere around the Fourth. Featuring between 60 and 70 booths exemplifying the best in Chicagoland fare, Taste also offers top-drawer musical venues. This year, the Steve Miller Band performed, but we missed it because we were at Ravinia. One year we saw Santana (or at least a few numbers; it was so crowded and hot it was hard to breathe, much less hear the music).

Entry to Taste is free, but to eat and drink, you have to buy tickets; this year, it was $8 for a set of 12. The most expensive item at any both will cost you 12 tickets (alcoholic drinks are 10 or 11), but “taste” portions are usually two or three tickets, maybe four. This way you can more or less graze your way through the entire park.

The vodka lemonade at Taste is always a treat on a hot day, and the beer booths (both imports and otherwise) are popular as well. Remember, this is Illinois, so they’re not serving the 3.2 swill you get cold in Oklahoma. (Gotta love those blue laws.) My son always goes for the pierogi, which are polish dumplings stuffed with sausage, potato, saurkraut and other tasty treats, served with sour cream on the side. They’re absolutely addictive. My husband, Chris, tried a Polish sausage at a new booth this year, sponsored by Bobak Sausage Co., and declared it superb. Cole dropped by the booth sponsored by Iyanze, an African restaurant, and feasted on a hefty portion of coconut rice and sauteed goat (I know, it sounds awful, but it’s very spicy and tasty). Cole and I also devoured a piece of Eli’s cheesecake... not to be missed!

After a brief respite at the hotel (which I’ll describe later), we had dinner at Catch 35. This is one of our favorite seafood restaurants, and the Asian fusion gives it a unique twist. I had grilled lobster (which is an every-other-year treat for me). Chris again was deprived of his intended soft-shell crab, but was perfectly happy with the yellowfin tuna with chive potstickers and beer-battered onion rings. Cole’s choice was sauteed Alaskan halibut with Maryland crabmeat, portabella mushrooms and meuniere butter. Catch 35 is a bit pricey, but we always recommend it for anyone traveling to Chicago.

Day 3, Monday, started at Ann Sather for breakfast – the one on Belmont, easily accessible off the Red Line. This Swedish local tradition is another not to be missed, and the cinnamon rolls will send you into fits of ecstasy. I had an entirely sinful thing called the French Toast fantasy (recommended, they said, by Rachel Ray), which was a couple of cinnamon rolls, split and stuffed with mascarpone, then served with fresh fruit. Chris had the Swedish pancakes, which are really more like crepes, served with lingonberry syrup. Cole had a salmon-stuffed omelet. Don’t even ask.

Then is was on to the Illinois Railway Museum, which required a drive of about an hour in duration west to Union (and unfortunately, a rental car; we prefer to stick exclusively to mass transit in Chicago). You need to check out the website at www2.irm.org for details, but if you’re a train aficionado, it’s worth the extra trip. There are nine display barns, featuring engines and train cars of all varieties, including mass transit and cross-country varieties. As you can see from some of my posted photos, some of the steam engines are literally monsters. I had no idea they were made this large! (See the photo with my son standing next to it; he’s 5-foot-11, and the wheel is as tall as he is.) We got to ride in a Pullman car (photos of which are also posted).

The evening ended at Vermillion, an exciting Indian-Latin fusion restaurant unlike anything we’ve ever tried. (See www.thevermillionrestaurant.com for details). My husband isn’t that fond of Indian food (he has this real issue with cardamom), but he normally likes Latin fare. They serve an interesting variant of the mojito called a Caipirinha, featuring Cachaca Brazilian rum, sugar and lime. I had the tandoori skirt steak; Chris had chimichurri New York strip with red Mexican arbol and kashmiri mirch chimichurri, Argentinean bife de lomo and sweet potato (the latter of which was incredible); and Cole ordered the desi goat curry, with Indian gravy and naan (naan is an Indian bread that is oh-so-wonderful). The waiters here were exceptionally attentive and helpful, and the ambiance intriguing (see the posted pics).

Later on, I’ll try to post Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s events! Stay tuned.