Chicago Day 5 – Monk Fish, Mercat & More

On the way back to the Hotel after attending Chicago Gourmet, we came across a neat little Cupcake Truck. Food trucks are all the rage now, and this was unabashedly cutesy with its powder pink colouring (I thought it was neat, so I took a photo of some cupcake fans whipping out their wallets to pay for their sweet treats!):

2 hours after finishing the Chicago Gourmet Festival, E & I were hungry again, so we finished the Calumet Fish Head we had smuggled into our room the day before. That was probably better than anything we had at the festival, especially after I got rid of my congestion!

The final day was B’s research skills paying off big time in terms of saved $ for Museum visits. I was ambitious at first, planning to hit the Museum of Science & Industry in the morning, and the Shedd Aquarium in the afternoon. But E was tired, so we trimmed (dumb-ed) it down and hit only the Aquarium (E likes fish).

Our first stop was of course food related. I’d read good things about Fox & Obel, so we stopped by for some baked goods and soda (the best breakfast combination, if you ask me!).

Fox & Obel is like a local version of Whole Foods (IMO). They had a nice selection of yummy local drinks, as well as tasty baked goods that were noticeably better than your standard grocery baker. Of particular note were their double baked almond croissants, and their sticky toffee buns. I couldn’t choose between the two, so we got both. We paired that (oh-so-subtly, of course) with a grape soda. E told me after our purchase that he doesn’t drink soda before 11:30AM (thanks), so I had to drink the whole thing by myself (I wasn’t complaining though – it was tasty!).

After our Power Breakfast, we hightailed to The Shedd Aquarium to beat the little kiddies and their families (you should have seen us take down the strollers at Disney World in ’06). Our advice is to get there early because for some reason, the line is inefficient and slow (mind-boggling – since when it was our turn, we were in and out of the counter area in less than 1 minute. I’m still thinking we must have missed something). We paid our zero dollars for entry (Community Days in Chicago are great!) and wandered amongst the flora and fauna of the Shedd.

We missed out on large sections of the Aquarium though (so the map leads us to believe – about 50% is only accessible through the premium package purchase), because cheap people get the limited experience. But E & I were happy with the portion of the aquarium we were allowed into. It’s definitely worth a visit if you can get a good price. We spent about 2.5 hours there and had our fill of interactive displays and underwater creatures. E likes his turtles, so he was happy when they were so active in their tanks and he got a photo-op with a few.

We then proceeded to wander Museum Campus, which is picturesquely situated by the waterfront. In the near vicinity are The Field Museum and the Planetarium (which was also free while we were there, but we couldn’t fit it into our jam-packed Saturday schedule that included; Calumet Fisheries, Vanille Patisserie, The Farmer’s Market, The Tour of Old Town & Gold Coast, & the free and wonderful Lincoln Park Zoo). It’s very pedestrian friendly and scenic. We also stopped in to see Sue (the largest & most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found) at The Field Museum before we left. Since we were too poor, we stopped in the foyer and took some photos from afar. E was happy. E likes T-Rex’s.

The Eye on the right was an interesting sight. It was located near the Harold Washington Library (which was beautiful as well). I came upon it from behind and didn’t realize what I was looking at and posing with. I was wondering why E was having such a great time snapping photos of me as I walked up to it. When I came around to front, I realized that I was next to a giant eye. E thought it looked kind of gross, but made me look small (which is always fun in his book).

Heading up to Mercat a la Planxa (our lunch reservation), we traveled through the greenway of Grant Park. Chicago is a beautiful city with lots to offer, especially free things! There’s so much to explore.

Mercat was confusing to get to, because they have a ground level entrance that was locked (apparently it’s the bar), and then the actual restaurant is up the stairs and on its own demi-floor. Luckily we found it after being confused for some time, but in retrospect, we probably should have just went elsewhere to eat (once again, I wished I had listened to J of EatADuckIMust re: quality of Mercat).

The place was dead quiet, but for some reason, our server was inattentive and seemed completely flustered. I’m not quite sure why I saw him run back and forth to the kitchen so many times when there were really only 4 tables being served (ineffectually, I might add). The quality was no where near as good as our experience in his Philly restaurant (Amada). We absolutely adored Amada and were hoping to recreate the experience, but were disappointed to say the least.

We went with the prix fixe, which was a great deal. For $18, you get a choice of an appetizer and entree.  E decided on the Arroz a la Cazuela for apps, and I had the recommended Truita de Potato. Both were quite solid, but nothing extraordinary. I enjoyed my potato more than the Rice/Arroz, but E preferred his Arroz. Once again, since he was the judge, he won that round. For mains though, I won hands down. E’s steak was so tough it was almost inedible (when a Hanger Steak is handled improperly, there’s just no saving it with sauce). My scallops were tasty, char-grilled and sweet. They were sliced in half, so really I just got 2 scallops. I found them a bit over-salted, but they were still nice.

We had some time left, so we made the most of it by touring the Chicago Tourism Office’s building (again – Allen had first shown it to us on Day 1, but we felt we needed another look of the entire building, and all their free Art Exhibits). It features a breathtaking Tiffany Dome (the largest one in existence). It’s definitely worth checking out.

I wish we hadn’t canceled our reservations for Girl & The Goat, but E was concerned about our flight time (which ended up being delayed by 1 hr). Instead, we noshed on the (in)famous Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. We settled on Lou’s, since it seemed well-liked, even though everyone has their opinion on who makes the best, authentic deep dish pizza. After seeing horrific pictures of the pizza’s size online, we decided to play it safe and order the individual serving to share. I doubt we got the full ‘authentic’ experience though, since our ‘deep dish’ wasn’t nearly as deep as on the ads. It was a manageable 1/2″ thick; full of gooey cheese and tasty sauce. We got the signature “Lou”, garnished with Spinach and Tomatoes with their special “Butter Crust”. It was better than I expected (I really had low expectations based on photos), but it wasn’t really a ‘must-eat’ for me on this trip. Overall, I found that most “Tourist-Must-Do” spots disappointed me the most in Chicago (i.e. Deep Dish Pizza & Garrett’s Popcorn). However, since we were headed back to Boston and a friend graciously agreed to pick us up from the airport with little notice at midnight, we thought we’d treat him to some of “Chicago’s Finest Treats” and picked him up a bag of Chicago Mix at Garrett’s.

E & I had a great time in Chicago and cannot wait to return! We met great people (Mr. Allen Schwartz from Chicago Greeters, and J & A from EatADuckIMust ) along the way and they made it better than any tourist could have ever expected. We learned about Chicago Architecture, History, Art & Food – a taste of everything in 5 days. We’ve got a huge list of overflow ideas for our next trip already.  So if you ever get a chance, make sure you get yourself to Chicago (by plane, train, or automobile) and immerse yourself in this wonderful, friendly city. There truly is something for everyone.

If you have any questions about Chicago or our tour, please feel free to leave me a comment! I’ll get back to you ASAP.

2 Responses to “Chicago Day 5 – Monk Fish, Mercat & More”
  1. Jared says:

    Glad you enjoyed your trip in Chicago and tasted (some) good food. =) That was quite a whirlwind of a trip. Come back anytime soon and let us make the recommendations for you next time. I did warn you about Mercat!

    • I know you warned us 😦 … but we just loved Amada so much and people kept saying that he works more out of his Chicago location than the Philly one (so I thought that meant he trained his staff better) & it had been a while since you last went. OK, I was just desperate to recreate that Philly experience. Next time we will definitely be following your recommendations :). Thanks again for a great time! It was great seeing/meeting you guys!!!

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