Saturday, May 31, 2014

Our May Dining experiences in New Orleans included breakfast at 'Another Broken Egg',  quatre-heures at 'Sucré' and a birthday dinner at 'R'evolution'. All wonderful and different venues.

Another Broken Egg

Monday, May 26, 2014

Natchez weekend

We spent the weekend discovering Natchez and the Natchez Trace. Natchez Trace is a trail of 444miles (about 720km) from Natchez to Nashville and is thought to be in existence around 10,000 years. It bisected the traditional homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. Later on, maybe a century or two ago, traders floated their goods on wooden palettes down the Mississippi to Natchez and even as far as New Orleans, before returning home, walking the trail, instead of struggling against the currents of the river. They would have sold their wooden boats as lumber, and maybe had a horse or two to help them on their way. Because of this traffic, stands or inns sprang up along the way to provide food and basic lodging for the travellers. We visited one of these inns, Mount Locust Inn and Plantation. This is the description from the National Parks website:
'Mount Locust is one of the oldest structures still standing in an area known for historic homes. John Blommart began what would become Mount Locust by 1780, but his stay was short. After leading a failed rebellion against the Spanish, he was jailed, forfeiting his fortune and Mount Locust. Blommart’s former business associate, William Ferguson, and his wife Paulina purchased Mount Locust in 1784 and operated the farm until William’s death in 1801. A short time later Paulina married James Chamberlain, an overseer at Mount Locust, and they continued to build the growing farm. Mount Locust was home to five generations of Chamberlains, with the last leaving in 1944. The National Park Service began restoration in 1954, returning the historic home to its 1820 appearance.'
You can read more by clicking the link below.
We also walked along several parts of the Trace, including the Sunken Trail, where centuries of use has created a dip in the landscape where thousands of feet have worn away the land.
We stayed at The Briars,which was very quaint, but also a little run down. Were we too early in the season? I don't know. But the staff were so kind and attentive that we had a great stay and enjoyed walking in the garden and up to their spectacular view out across the Mississippi. We had a couple of delicious dinners in town the first at Magnolia Grill on Silver St. and then a rather 'posh' dinner at the Castle Restaurant, which was in a castle folly in the grounds of Dunleith Plantation.

NPS Natchez Trace, Natchez to Jackson
Mount Locust Inn
The Briars
Magnolia Grill
The Castle Restaurant

Monday, May 19, 2014

Our last day in Chicago and we decided we would go and look at Bloomingdales home and furniture store, just around the corner from the hotel. It is a very interesting building and tells quite a story. It is built in the Moorish Revival architecture style and was commissioned in 1912 by the Shriner's Society as an auditorium, the Medinah Temple, seating over 4,000 people. Chicago Symphony Orchestra made many of their finest recordings here, with, among others Sir Georg Solti.

In late 2000, the building began a period of restoration and its insides were gutted to make way for retail space and in 2003, Bloomingdales opened their furniture and home store within the famous walls. We could see the old proscenium arch, domes and stained glass windows as well as some other features in this extraordinary building. It became a Chicago Landmark in 2001. It is really stunning and we really enjoyed looking around, much to the amusement of the staff - but they probably get lots of visitors.
From here we walked down to the Loop area and looked for Printing House Row and eventually The Dearborn Station from where some of the famous long-distance trains ran - the Santa Fe Railway, trains to Hollywood, Grand Trunk Rairoad to name just a few. It has now been redeveloped as office and retail space, serving the loft-style apartments of Printing House Row. Interesting, but very quiet with only a few of the retail areas occupied. On our way back to the north, we took a walk into Millennium Park and saw the fountain and Lake Michigan, with a sailing ship making its way out of the little harbour. The route took us over the bridge and up passed the Aqua Tower, the incredible building with curving balconies and a wave-like appearance externally, designed by Jeanne Gang.

And that was our last day in Chicago as we are off to New Orleans in the morning. We did manage another great dinner, though, walking just down from the hotel to the Weber Grill - Weber as in the famous barbecues, and in fact there was one enormous one hanging on the corner of the building housing the restaurant. We would have to wait forty minutes for a table inside, but they could take us straight away outside. So outside it was! Delicious steaks, of course and a glass of red wine.

Bloomingdales Home and Furniture, Chicago
Printing House Row
Dearborn Station
Weber Grill

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Today was our second day of FLW tours. We walked back to Palmer House for breakfast, then messed about wondering how to get to the south of the city. The book wasn't very helpful, the L didn't seem to go close to where we needed to be and the Metra only runs every hour. We decided on a taxi, and soon found one who whisked us down the road for $20! Once again there was quite a queue for the Robie House, but after only about 3/4 hour, we were starting our tour. Another amazing story, as three times the Catholic Seminary who bought it when it was in disrepair, wanted to demolish it to build an awful dormitory block for its students. FLW galvanised support for his successful campaign to save the house which he considered one of his finest pieces. I think they spited him by virtually wrecking the interior, even putting his dining table and chairs on the street for the dustbin men! Luckily someone spotted them and saved them for the Museum. They are on display in the Smart Museum. The Wright Foundation acquired the house and had to begin a programme of complete renovation starting with the iron frame of the building. This is on going as they raise funds for the work. The second house on this side of town is the Isadore Heller House, Hyde Park. We walked down to Starbucks for a coffee before continuing on to the house and joining the queue there. Still not too long compared with yesterday, so we were relatively quickly starting the tour. This house is a strange mix as FLW was still part of Sullivan's practice when he designed the house. It has some of Sullivan's signature details as well as FLW's first Prairie style elegance - long horizontals, a few art glass windows and different height ceilings to define spaces. A lift was put in several of years after its construction, which FLW did, but some of his ideas were not executed when the house was built. It is now up for sale for something between 800k and maybe 2million dollars, but it needs another few million spending on it to get it back to former glory.

After this visit, we took the trolley shuttle to the Smart Museum and saw the FLW dining set, dressing table and a window. We also found Henry Moore's Nuclear Energy that commemorates the first controlled nuclear reaction, 2 December1942. We walked on through the university buildings to the park and the L, and took the Green Line back up to State/Lake, from where we walked up to Trump Tower and took the lift to 16th floor, took in the view and left again. It was hopping up there as people enjoyed sitting out on the patio for a drink, late lunch or early dinner. We strolled along Wabash, enjoying the sun and the buildings. Dinner at the hotel was shared shrimp toast, sea bass, chicken, creme brûlée and ice cream. We had wheat beer and Garnet Pinot Noir (Monterey Bay).

Palmer House Hotel
Frank Lloyd Wright
Smart Museum

Saturday, May 17, 2014

We decided on breakfast at the Dana, which turned out to be enormous even though we had only ordered fruit, granola and yoghurt with a side of toast. Three bowls arrived on a large plate for each serving, brimming with the aforementioned. Good job it would be a busy day. We walked down to the L, bought tickets with help from the station guard, then boarded the train for Oak Park. There were plenty of other folk on their way there, and when we arrived we were 'processed', given our booklet that included maps and pointed towards the trolley bus shuttles. We started with the furthest away, the Roberts House, a couple of miles away and arriving at the stop we discovered a huge queue. This was repeated at each house throughout the day, and we ended up missing a couple of the available houses as we just ran out of time. Each house has its own character and unique features, although they all display the Prairie style, except for his own house and studio, which is at the centre. This has some of those influences, but it was built very early in his career before he had started to develop Prairie style. It still is amazing with compression and expansion ceilings, a brilliant barrel-vaulted 'playroom', and his amazing offices. Our last stop was the Heurtley House, which has been faithfully restored by present owners and has become a National Landmark.

Back on the L and a suggestion from the concierge for dinner - Coco Pazzo Cafe, just a short walk away. This Italian bistro style restaurant serves enormous portions and after large starters of carpaccio and mussels, A was brought a pork chop that covered the whole of his dinner plate, and my salmon on fingers of roasted veg would easily have served two! (And we can't take a brown bag back to the hotel.) No room for pud, and very glad of a walk 'home'! We did share a bottle of Rosso de Montalcino.

Frank Lloyd Wright
CocoPazzo Café

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Knickerbocker sounded a good place for breakfast, so we set off in the pouring rain. It is very cold today, only about 6C. Well, the hotel is nothing to write home about and historywise, they didn't invent the Knickerbocker Glory - that was probably invented in Blackpool. Breakfast was fine, but we didn't linger, and headed across the road to book a table at The Drake for afternoon tea later on. We were impressed with this hotel and are glad to be coming back to really see it. With it still raining and feeling bitterly cold, we started our walk up to Lincoln Park via Astor Street. On the way a woman stopped and asked if we needed help and showed us the way to Astor as she was going that way. She told us she was originally from Romania, been in US 28 years. She had quite a story to tell us especially when A said he had just got back from Bucharest. Astor Street was a bit over hyped. There are some nice places, maybe the rain dampened our enthusiasm! At the end of the road, we continued on towards Lincoln Park. It must be a nice place when the sun shines, but we just got colder, eventually finding Cafe Brauer. It took a while to find how to get in - via the closed off patio, of course, but they did us a great chicken roll with fries, to share and a hot cup of coffee. Amazingly, they came with iced water when we sat down, not a good idea in our frozen state!

The rain was easing a bit when we left, so we walked into the zoo and looked in a couple of the animal houses - most of them were inside, today. The place was full of kids on trips, so it was a shame about the weather. We crossed the highway and went to visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to see their butterflies. This was great fun and we also saw lots of frogs and turtles, but no sign of the praying mantis. Time was flying by and we had to be back at The Drake at 4 pm. We made it just in time, and sat in the Fountain Room with many other guests, sipping tea and listening to the harpist playing popular songs. Afternoon tea with prosecco was very tasty, and we enjoyed our lapsang suchong, too. All good things come to an end and so we were on our way back to the hotel. No longer wet, but still cold outside! We saw the Hancock Tower and Centre, but we didn't make the trip to the viewing floor, maybe not so good for the views today. We did see the historic water tower and pumping station, where we called in to the TIC for information about the trains for tomorrow's trip to Oak Park and the FLW tour. We did hear that it had snowed in one of the suburbs - it certainly seemed cold enough!

Knickerbocker Hotel
Drake Hotel
Café Brauer, (facebook page)
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Thursday, May 15, 2014

We were up and on our way by 8:30, heading for the Palmer House Hotel for breakfast. This is an historic hotel, now run by Hilton. We were amazed at the painted ceiling in the Lobby, comprising 21 panels depicting Greek mythology that was painted in 1926 in Paris by French artist Louis Pierre Rigal. It has recently been renovated and looks stunning. The ballroom is also meant to be worth a look, but yet again we were thwarted as a conference was being held there just now.
From here, we stepped out in the rain and walked to The Rookery, a building from 1888. Inside we saw the light and airy lobby updated by FLW in 1905. The original heavier design had become dated and the new design used much lighter materials. It is a lovely place. We didn't manage to get on the tour, so we didn't see the 11 storey high spiral staircase designed by Root, one of the original architects. Then we were off again, through the rain to the Institute of Art and after queuing for a short time, we were in and spent a long time enjoying their collections, including lots of Impressionist paintings-lots of Renoir, Degas, Monet and, of course, Georges Seurat's, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. We also saw Van Gogh, Rembrant, Goya, El Greco etc., then went off to look for Edward Hopper's Night Hawks, only to find it was out on loan. Still, we saw Pollock, Lichtenstein and Rothko. There was also a special exhibition by a Kashmiri Artist, Nilima Sheikh who had made ten banners all about Kashmir. Our last exhibit was the Chagall windows, which are stunning. Set in a new area, they have been cleaned and just sparkle with colour.

As the weather had cleared up, we made our way through Millennium Park to see Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. This is fabulous and we had fun taking pictures there. As we still had time, and as the weather was a bit better, we headed over to the Willis Tower and took the lift up the 103 floors to Sky Deck. The views are stunning and we even stood on the Ledge. But we had to get back to the Dana to try and find somewhere for dinner tonight. We had noticed a couple of French restaurants in the little red book, and our concierge would book us a table. He was a bit concerned as the one we liked was one of the best in town! Anyway, he did manage to get us a table and we had just enough time to go upstairs to change ( not a lot of alternatives) and walk down the road to Les Nomades. We had a beautiful dinner, starters of asparagus risotto and foie gras with brioche followed by a duo of veal and lamb fillet and venison. We had Roederer champagne to start, then a Riesling from Alsace with the asparagus and Chenin Blanc from the Loire with the foie gras. The sommelier recommended a 2004 St. Emilion with the main course. Dessert was a lemongrass and ginger crème brûlée and a passion fruit soufflé. We finished with tisane. What a delicious meal and the staff were fabulous, too. A rare find.

Palmer House Hotel
Institute of Art
Cloud Gate
Willis Tower
Les Nomades

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Today we were up around 7.15, and off for breakfast at InterCon where there are some interesting architectural features - but they were off limits due to functions in hotel, which was disappointing. Walking down town, we came across the Tribune Tower that has samples of rock from around the world embedded into its façade.  We discovered a few relevant ones, and marvelled at bits of Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle and even moon rock - altogether around 150, apparently.

Our intention was to make the Downtown Core walk, but we were sidetracked by an architectural boat trip. 75 mins on an open boat with commentary was very interesting. 

After this we were pretty cold, so headed off to find coffee to warm up before starting the walk. We soon ended up detouring into the Institute of Architecture Shop where there were loads of great 'stuff' including Falling Water in Lego, FLW souvenirs and some lovely design bits. A visit to their atrium showed us a scale model of the city's main architecture. 

We crossed the street to see the Crown Fountain, two glass rectangles that showered water continuously while displaying faces of Chicagoans that eventually spouted water from their mouths into the 'lake' - all of a couple of inches deep and great fun for the kids! We also saw the Icelandic garden of sculptures and the Metra station looking very Parisian.

Now time for the route around Downtown. Lists of buildings with interesting features, also sculptures by Miro, Picasso and Dubuffet to name but  a couple. We also saw the Marc Chagall mosaic. Trying to visit the winter garden at the top of the Public Library was a bit tricky as it was also closed for a private function, but we did see the fancy roof with its owls.
Our afternoon refreshment was at Toni's Patisserie and Café where we had chocolate and salted caramel tarts, before we turned to walk up State Street and towards the hotel. Again we detoured through Macy's and took some photographs of the atrium with its mosaic ceiling and its famous clocks on the corners outside.
After a recommendation from the Concierge, we had dinner at Del Frisco's on Oak Street. The steaks sounded enormous starting at 8oz and going up to 32oz. We eventually chose scallops and a light dish of medallions on a sort of rosti as our mains, following them up with ice cream from a local maker. After a pretty cold day, we walked back in spitting rain, glad to be 'home' before the jet lag sets in!

Del Frisco's

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Today we flew off to Chicago for the start of our hols. It starts with a week here before we fly down to New Orleans to meet Louise.

It was an uneventful flight until we felt the plane start to turn about an hour from Chicago and the captain said we were going to land in Toronto instead.They had smoke in the air traffic control centre, so had to close both O'Hare and Midway airports. Then, we kept on turning as the authorities discovered what was causing this and it was safe for us to land at O'Hare, so we were back on track and landed only a few minutes late. Phew! We did not want to have to hang around in Toronto until we could go on to Chicago after crossing the Atlantic. So we are in Chicago and  at our very modern Tablet Hotel, Dana Hotel and Spa.
We went up to the 26th floor bar, Vertigo, and endured one drink in their trendy bar, but it was deafening - the music so loud we were reeling from the noise! Then we for dinner in their ground floor restaurant, Freestyle, before collapsing into bed. Dinner was sushi and a shrimp salad - nice and light and peaceful!

Dana Hotel and Spa