Chicago Day 2 – Highlights & Lowlights

Day 2 started off simply enough. We got our espresso hit at Lavazza Cafe (which advertised creations by the Great Ferran Adria). We were huge fans of his brother’s little chocolate shop in Barcelona when we went there a few years back, so we were excited to see what the other brother could do. Chocolate technique trait does not apparently run in the family. Lavazza’s creations featured some of Ferran’s more widely known techniques, including the foam suspension. They employed this in the creation of their drinks, including espressos and mochas, but the base flavour of their drinks fell flat for us. They were just plain bitter, sour…bad! Service was okay, but I think the turnover of their staff is probably really high. Everyone we spoke to seemed new and inexperienced. The strange thing regarding customer service was when we ordered the whimsical little mocha bi-coloured drink on the menu, but was presented with the uni-coloured espresso drink (server arrives to our table with our drink and plops it down: “We’re-actually-out-of-the-milk-foam-so-I-just-got-you-the-espresso-one-I-hope-that’s-okay” and promptly turned tail and ran away). Strange. The milk might have been able to save the drink (mute the bitterness/sourness), but I’ll never know. We also got a Nutella-based drink, which featured the hazelnut-choco spread as a bottom (it sunk) layer that you dig out with a spoon, covered with a (sour) shot of espresso and topped with a puff of sweet whipped cream.

We went back closer to the end of the trip to give Lavazza a second chance, but once again, the drink tarnished Adria’s good name in my books. The foam was just ill-presented and the coffee once again reeked of battery acid. The presentation also did not look anything like the picture (play back the scene from Falling Down with Michael Douglas where he orders a burger…), which you can see in the background of the left photo.

The balance of the day we spent exploring the sites of Chicago (rode The El, toured the Rock ‘N’ Roll McD’s, saw the Eye, etc.). That got us hungry and onto our next food destination: Topolombapo. Rick Bayless is supposedly THE Star Chef in Chicago. He’s got like a MILLION restaurants sprinkled around the city (OK, mainly on one intersection) and cookbooks galore. Being as big as he is, we had to make a stop at one of his restaurants. I chose Topolombapo because, well, they took reservations. In retrospect, maybe I should have waited and held out for a choice spot at Frontera because IMO, Rick didn’t live up to his hype.

I had initially planned on hitting Xoco as well, but it was probably better for wallet and waistlines that I didn’t. The portions at Topo were HUGE.

After lunch, we decided to walk off the disappointing meal by exploring Wicker Park and BuckTown. I preferred Bucktown to Wicker Park for mainly two reasons – the boutiques and the lack of sketchy areas.  Our one foodie stop was at Goddess & The Grocer. It had a great selection of local products, but we (read: E) didn’t want to carry around any finds for the rest of the day, so we just ducked out with a drink.  I was a bit disappointed, but if it were up to me, I’d probably have added 2 more food stops each day and we would have each gained 5 lbs and been hundreds of dollars poorer (did I mention I tried to drag E to Hot Chocolate? Too bad it was closed…)

Finally, it was time for the meal we’d both been waiting for. We arrived dressed to the nines (or as much as we could, considering we had to pack light for a vacation with just a carry-0n) to The Peninsula.  Click onto the next page to read all about it (ain’t that a tease?)…

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