Progressive Dinner on Chicago’s Randolph Street

I’m finally out of the Southwest! And in Chicago for a little less than a week, predictably crazed as I try to see all my friends and eat the entire city.

This post is a thursday throw back to 2014 during the polar vortex when the Chicago river looked like this

Chicago River polar vortex

And my friends Corey, Matt, Rob and I did a progressive dinner on Randolph Street along with Cardboard Ryan. I look insane or super excited…

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

The original Progressive Dinner group is Corey, Matt, Ryan and me but Ryan couldn’t make Chicago so we created a cardboard cutout o bring along with us so he wouldn’t miss anything. You want an interesting big city experience? Try bringing along a cardboard cutout as a dining companion. Photo ops for days!

I’ve written about Progressive Dinners before and described them as the perfect solution to an excess of restaurant options with a minimum of time. Why eat three courses at one place when you can eat at three places? Or five?

We’ve now had progressive dinners in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, San Francisco and Zurich. If I were a really responsible blogger I’d have written about all of them. Clearly that hasn’t happened. But over these years of eating and drinking (a lot), we’ve argued (a lot) about how Progressive Dinners actually work and last summer in Zurich we sat down and tried to hammer out Progressive Dinner rules, written very officially on the back of a coaster. The conversation went something like this…

Kaitlyn: first rule is “start early.”

Matt: Second rule is the first course has to be champagne or something sparkly.

Corey: Is there a rule about beverages? Do they have to be alcoholic?

Matt: the first one has to be sparkly.

Ryan: just because we’ve had something sparkly at the last two dinners, doesn’t mean it’s a rule.

Kaitlyn: let’s call it a trend.

Corey: Second rule, one course at each restaurant.

Matt: third rule: one course has to be tapas.

Corey: no it doesn’t, we don’t always have tapas.

Matt: but we mostly have. New Orleans, New York, Chicago…

Ryan: but we don’t have to.

Kaitlyn: Ok, tapas is a trend. Not a rule.

Ryan: Third rule: one person is in charge of each dinner. Not Matt.

Matt: What?!

Ryan: kidding! You can be in charge. As long as there’s something sparkly and some tapas.

Matt: there needs to be a photobooth so we can take pictures.

Kaitlyn: Can we start a new coaster called “Matt’s Trends?”

Ryan: Fourth rule, Matt doesn’t get to make rules.

Don’t you just want to have dinner with us as we eat all night and argue?

Basically the Progressive Dinner rules came down to these:

1. The number of restaurants in a dinner is only limited to how much you can eat in a given night.

2. Chips and salsa is a course and woe betide the dinner planner that omits this course.

3. Every dinner course has to have a drink pairing, sparkly or otherwise.

I will say that walking between restaurants is preferred since there’s so much eating and drinking and I heartily advise that you start early because everything takes longer than you think.

I planned Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014 and picked a series of restaurants on Randolph Street because it’s all very walkable and most of Chicago’s solid fantastic restaurants are centered here right now.

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

We started at my favorite cocktail bar in all of Chicago, Aviary

Aviary Chicago

Swanky fancy cocktails with spectacular presentation, like “In the Rocks” where the booze comes inside an ice ball. The server places a slingshot over the top of the glass, one snap of the rubber band and the ice breaks, creating drink on the rocks.

Aviary Chicago

Brilliant. Aviary gets more online chatter than any other cocktail bar in Chicago, with good reason; so I won’t go on and on here but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Chicago. Make reservations, bring a camera and plan to hang out for awhile. It’s totally worth the time and the money.

RM Champagne Salon was stop #2

RM Champagne Salon

For oysters and sparkly drinks (just for Matt!) as well as lobster deviled eggs, which were divine. Deviled eggs are slowly sliding out of restaurant fashion – overtaken by cauliflower, me thinks – but I’ve enjoyed every creamy spicy sensational bite I’ve had across the nation this past year. Some time on a slow news day I’ll post a deviled egg retrospective. Aren’t you looking forward to that?

Anyway, RM is a cozy brick walled intimate space, perfect for romantic dates… or as course #2 with 4 people and a cardboard cutout. Wherever you might be in life.

Course #3 was supposed to be de cero but… it was closed.

I know. Progressive Dinner fail! And trust me, I’ll never hear the end of it. I neglected to photograph the outrage so you’ll just have to imagine it. Cardboard Ryan got particularly pouty…

Moving on to Course #4, Avec, another of my favorite places in the city

Avec chorizo stuffed dates

The restaurant looks like Ikea designers were cut loose in a closet and instructed to only use blond wood and straight lines, but the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates wrapped in bacon (above) are the stuff of Chicago food legend. Magic spicy sweet crispy roasted bites of heaven. My mouth literally waters as I type. I also highly recommend the whipped brandade with garlic bread, crunchy flat bread with oozy melted salty potatoes that just might change your life.

We drank a lot of wine and my friend Rob joined us

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

And then we progressed to course #5, Randolph Street’s piece de resistance Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat

Also my favorite Cardboard Ryan photo op of the evening. I’ve written about Girl and the Goat before and I took better pictures then so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say that the food is still splendid, reservations are still needed and order the pig face. Really.

Post Girl and the Goat we ran into problems of time with my planned nightcap location, so instead of Maude’s we went to Lone Wolf

Lone Wolf

Where they mix really good brown liquor cocktails and offer a drink called Zombie Dust.

After Lone Wolf it had already been a long evening of drinks and hilarity so why we felt like we needed yet another nightcap is beyond me. I think it was Cardboard Ryan’s idea

Berkshire Room

But it was the Berkshire Room, conveniently situated in the bottom floor of our hotel. I guess that made a demented drunken amount of sense. Plus Cardboard Ryan never passes up a photo op with a pretty girl. I’m gonna say that one nightcap was probably enough and it was good we were already home by that point.

6 hours, 6 courses, 4 humans and 1 cardboard cutout. And so concluded Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014 on Randolph Street! Long night, great eats and some of the best company anywhere.

Matt and Cardboard Ryan

More Chicago tomorrow!

 

 

Hot Yoga and Brunch in Albany

The Hot Spot Yoga

I had some good looking plans this morning. My friend Ryan McAlpine called me last week and after confused schedule swapping we discovered we were going to be an hour an a half away from each other while I was stopping over in Albany. He offered to drive up for brunch and I told him to come up around 11ish so I could do yoga before he got there.

I wanted to do Bikram, since I’m on a roll this week, but Albany doesn’t have a Bikram studio. However, they do have a few hot yoga places and I found one called Yoga for All Seasons that offered the Bikram method but then I got in my car and programmed the wrong yoga place in my GPS and ended up at the The Hot Yoga Spot. I spent a frustrating 15 minutes realizing that I wouldn’t make it to Yoga for All Seasons in time and I would have to wait an extra hour for a hot yoga flow class at Hot Spot, which meant changing brunch times on Ryan plus I had already checked out of my hotel so I had nowhere to go. It wasn’t even 9am and my whole morning had gone sideways.

It wasn’t the best way to anticipate a yoga class. But I waited an hour and then did the 10am Hot Yoga flow class and it was pretty hideous because I don’t do yoga, I do Bikram. Bikram is 26 yogic poses, always the same ones, whereas real yoga classes can be any one of a trillion poses in any combination. When I do real yoga I want a class where the poses are held and corrections are made and I can periodically look around at what everyone else is doing and then do something that approximates it. That is not how a flow class works. Flow classes are constant movement, changing poses with the breath more or less continuously for an hour. There’s no real time to look at the other kids papers and figure out how to cheat. This means that for a solid sweaty hour I attempted to use my peripheral vision to figure myself out and again remembered how stiff and inflexible I am right now.  Plus the only spot in the room was right next to the heater – HOTHOTHOTHOT – and the class was full of lithe young college students who clearly do yoga flow every day like it’s no biggie after which they wipe the light sheen of sweat off their foreheads and then go drink their skinny vanilla half caf lattes on the way to psych 101 classes. Not that I hate them but I’m pretty sure I’m smarter.

This is where my head goes in the heat when I’m trying to perch on a yoga block, balance my knees on my triceps and figure out crow pose.

Sigh.

Other than my incompetence it was a great yoga studio with two different work spaces, beautiful hard wood floors and those icy cold wet lavender towels as a reward for surviving class. And seriously, I’m complaining about a yoga class? I have no real problems. Let’s move on.

Cafe Madison

Brunch at Cafe Madison was good. Actually, the company  – Mr. McAlpine and Lady Allie Lin – was fantastic and the food was good. My broccoli fritatta – lower right corner – was light on broccoli and heavy on cheese but there were lots of different homemade breads and Allie’s bacon looked scrumptious. It’s a cute place with a patio. I bet in the summer time it’s gorgeous. I love Ryan and Allie for making the drive to see me. They’re good people and I’m lucky to know them.

I do have to give a shoutout to the Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine, a place from which I ordered takeout and expected very little and had my expectations blown to bits by the incredible food. I should have known from the menu, which looked very much like menus I encountered in China, offering things like “sea cucumber” and “lions head” and something called “yan-du-xian casserole.” I ordered the chicken and baby bok choy and it was delectable and perfectly cooked in a buttery white sauce. I wanted to go back with a bunch of people and order all the things I didn’t recognize so I could try everything.

If you’re in Albany, try the Chinese food at Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine and if you’re up for it, do a little yoga flow. I bet you’re super smart as well.

EAT New Orleans for Breakfast

Let’s say you’re in New Orleans, you want a giant breakfast in a charming French Quarter setting and a chance of getting something healthy. Might I suggest EAT?

New Orleans, LA

Ryan and I came here on a Saturday morning for “breakfast” around noon-ish (don’t judge…) and stayed long enough to watch them close their doors at 2. The waitstaff was relaxed, the food spectacular; we got a table by the window; really, it was perfect.

It’s also that ever popular localorganicfarmtotable but I’ll let you go to the website to look for chicken headshots. I’m here for the food.

EAT New Orleans

Fried green tomatoes with grits and bacon. Spicy remoulade, perfect grits, delectable everywhere.

New Orleans, LA

Cornmeal pancakes with pecan maple butter and blackstrap molasses, eggs and  fruit. C’mon, it’s Ryan. He has to.

Go to EAT for a great breakfast. Besides being finger lickin’ good, it’s a command in CAPITAL LETTERS.

EAT.

So you should.

A Day Off in Pittsburgh

Touring days off always start late, they’re usually in a new city

and they frequently involve Mexican food or Spinach and Artichoke Dip.

Pittsburgh PA

Don’t ask me, I don’t make the rules.

However, margaritas are welcome.

Pittsburgh PA

Especially if they’re interesting shi-shi margaritas involving basil and grapefruit juice.

Thus fortified, take a walk around and see the sights

Altar Bar Pittsburgh

Investigate ticket prices and decide $65 is too much, even to see Snoop Dogg on a Monday night in a converted church/bar.

Move on to other curious inexplicables, like “Randyland

Pittsburgh PA

Pittsburgh PA

Which looks a lot like other repurposed trash fiestas in far flung parts of the country.

On Randy’s urging, follow the white rabbit inside:

Pittsburgh PA

And admire his collections

Pittsburgh PA

Pittsburgh PA

Randy promises to come back, but doesn’t. Which is a bit sad. The only thing better than an upcycled garden of delights in the middle of suburbia is meeting the creator and asking my ever present question “Why???”

Pittsburgh PA

Then again, is there ever an adequate answer to that question?

Pittsburgh PA

Ryan’s watery visage says “No.”

Peace, Love and Little Donuts

All the things the world needs in one small sign.

Pittsburgh

A sign for tie-dyed peace and love won’t always grab me but I do love dessert in any “little” form.

And not only the donuts are little

Pittsburgh PA

Having Ryan there to photograph your donuts will cost you extra… Don’t get riled up! He’s worth the money. Peace, man…

When we walked into this wee little place, the donut lady asked if we’d ever tried their donuts and when we said no, she said “do you want to?”

Seemed like a silly question since we’re already there… to buy donuts. But then she gave us a donut sample! A free little donut. That’s peace AND love for ya.

So we bought two more, cuz we like to give back that way.

Pittsburgh PA

Peace, Love and blurry Little Donuts. Welcome to Pittsburgh!

Cincinnati Highlights

Let’s say your day starts with brunch at Via Vite.

I don’t know why it wouldn’t when you get two courses for $15 and they look like this.

Cincinnati

Yogurt, fruit and granola.

Cincinnati

And fried egg and italian sausage over creamy polenta. Mind bendingly delicious.

I’ll leave you to guess which one Ryan ordered…

And then you remember it’s Oscar season and some brave soul made a silent movie, so you go check it out.

How in the world did he get a green light for this project in 2012? Wouldn’t you have loved to be at that pitch meeting?

Cincinnati

Discuss over ice cream.

And if the night leads you here, who am I to judge?

Cincinnati

After all, there’s an accommodating story-telling bartender who remembers your face and your drink, an eclectic clientele of customers blended with a juke box with a wide ranging mix that has you asking “Did YOU pick this??” all night.

Cincinnati

Let’s not forget the big messy burgers served late into the night.

Stay. Eat. Play some pool. You’ve got nowhere else to be.

In a word

Cincinnati

Cheers!