Sunday, May 26, 2013

Donuts, Spa and Pizza in Chicago

I think the heading says it all – what more can a girl want? I even had my good friend Cortney along for the ride as I enjoyed the good life in Chicago.

We were staying at the Trump International Chicago, which will always remain one of my favorite hotels. Donald sure knows how to give you the royal treatment and the staff tells me he comes by once in a while to make sure they are doing their job right. They certainly did for us, whether it was giving directions or bringing extra bath salts and neck warmers to our spa room.

I started the day with a little yoga so I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty about what I was about to put in my body – donuts, lots of them. My first stop of the day was at Firecakes Donuts, the latest in Chicago’s gourmet donut trend.

I met with one of the owners, Tony Bardwell, and realized that maybe the donut stop wasn’t so bad for my health. Firecakes uses all natural ingredients, importing cocoa from France, getting Pure Tahitian Vanilla Extract and using fresh fruits. Their selection will just changes slightly with the seasons and currently includes:
Honey Glazed
Apple Fritter
Maple Glazed Pineapple & Bacon
Butterscotch Praline
Lemon Verbena Meringue
Chocolate Hazelnut Long John
Valrhona Chocolate Iced
Classic Jelly
Triple Valrhona Chocolate Cake
Old Fashioned Buttermilk
Coconut Cream
Vanilla Iced
Valrhona Chocolate & Espresso Cream
Peanut Butter Cup

I wanted to try as many as possible, which is not the thing to do before heading to the spa! Tony was kind enough to give me a large box full. With the help of some friends when I got home, I got to try most of them (they were out of a few by the time I arrived at 10:00 am). The Maple Glazed Pineapple & Bacon was a hit with all, but my favorites were the Triple Valrhona Chocolate Cake and the Coconut Cream.

I got back to the Trump hotel with time to spare before my spa treatment. Cortney wasn’t getting a treatment, but was ready to enjoy the facilities of the Spa at Trump, including the steam room, sauna and indoor pool.

I had worn my comfortable robe right from my spa room and decided to check out the amenities in the locker room. I wrapped up my hair in a towel and covered my face with the aloe lotion. I also put some of the oil and lotion on my body and then proceeded to go into the steam room and then the sauna. I finished with the scrub (all of these products are complimentary to spa goers) in the shower.

I stayed in the relaxation room enjoying the Chicago skyline and some tea before it was time for my treatment. I was asked if I wanted anything else to drink as I was brought into the Nail & Foot Spa and the options included cocktails and tea. I stuck with the tea as the neck warmer was placed around me and I dipped my feet into the warm water to begin my Crystal Devine Foot Treatment.

It was truly divine, from the scrub with a sugar mixture to the ginger mask and the warm crystal massage. I followed this up with the Bio-Pearl Hand Treatment, using essential oils and a sweet-water pearl wrap in a warming mitt. Pearl powder lotion was applied to my hands before my manicure was done to match my toes.

I was thoroughly relaxed after my two hours in the spa, as was Cortney. We definitely had a hard time saying goodbye to the spa (and the spa room), but we packed it up and left the hotel for our lunch at La Madia.

I was truly impressed with this restaurant, owned in part by Chef Jonathan Fox. It was a pizzeria for grownups, with suggested wine pairings and unusual offerings in a comfortable, yet upscale setting.

We had the Pizza Fondue, a cheese and tomato sauce mixture that you dip bread into. We also shared a Chopped Italian salad, with gorgonzola, spicy walnuts and shaved pears in a tasty balsamic vinaigrette.

The pizza we chose had cherry tomatoes, burrata cheese and summer squash. It was delicious, as was the Rome Apple Tart & Almond Cream dessert, with Vanilla Bean Gelato. We also had the Chocolate Polenta Cake, but I found it to be a bit too lose for polenta.

SpaFinder Wellness Logo We left the restaurant completely stuffed and made the long ride home, wondering I would put on the agenda for the next Chicago adventure.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chicago Comfort Food and the Spa Life

I was just getting over an illness, but itching to travel, so when the opportunity to go to Chicago and do nothing except eat, drink and spa came up, my bags were packed and I was ready to go.

My friend Cortney picked me up for our second adventure in Chicago together.  Our first stop was The Local Chicago, just opened in December, 2012. Even though this restaurant is by the same owners as Chicago Cut Steakhouse, the two could not be more different.

The Local Chicago is all about a casual atmosphere and old fashioned American Comfort food, offering fare to the “locals” such as a Thanksgiving Dinner every Thursday.  It is open from 6:30 am to 2:00 pm, offering one menu for lunch and dinner.

We started lunch with the unbelievable Blue Cheese Fondue Chips, which were soft and crispy. We also tasted the JalapeƱo corn bread and it was easy to see why Oprah fell in love with it. Alongside the comfort food were comfort cocktails, with ingredients like house-made grenadine and hibiscus gin.

I was thrilled to hear they are very allergy conscious here and don’t share the same fryers or pans with different types of food so when Cortney was enjoying her scallops with butternut squash risotto, I didn’t need to worry that my Dr. Pepper Ribs (as good as it sounds) and fries were cooked anywhere near them.

We finished the meal with a sampling of a trio of their most popular desserts – chocolate mousse, warm chocolate chip cookies and Oreo mint ice cream pie and thanked our hardworking waitress, Linda.

Within a few minutes we were pulling up at the Trump International Hotel Chicago. This was my third visit, but I will never get tired of the first class treatment. It would be even more than usual as Cortney and I were spending the night in one of their Spa Rooms.  

In addition to direct access to the spa without having to take an elevator, we had a room full of extras that come standard in these rooms, including thick robes; an oversized bathtub with salts, oils and scrubs; and a heater for our nightly eye and neck warmers. We also had a wonderful view. 

We relaxed for a bit before meeting Michael Koury downstairs at Rebar to hear about the cocktail menu introduced for the spring and summer. He told us about his new ice program, which included large cubes infused with everything from smoke for whiskey to rosemary and thyme for herby cocktails. Even the new pastry chef was getting into the mix with ice pops.

He said the focus would be on citrus and champagne. We tried a few of the drinks, including the White Sangria (St. Germain, sauvignon blanc and vodka) which macerates with peaches and apples in a big glass jug at the bar.

In addition to the drinks, Rebar has mixed up their famous sushi for the summer by using soybean paper instead of seaweed so the outside doesn’t overpower the inside.  

We had a Trump Ransom (Ransom Gin, Peach Ciroc Vodka, rosemary-infused simple syrup, Blood Orange San Pelligrino) for the road before grabbing a cab to City Tavern.

To be honest, I probably would have picked a different restaurant for dinner had I realized that City Tavern also specialized in comfort food, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.

The cocktail menu was a bit too eclectic for my taste (I learned I’m not a fan of Arrak), but the wine was interesting and diverse enough to make up for it.  I really liked the Ship of Fools Pinot Blanc from Traverse City.

As at The Local Chicago we had a sampling of a number of things on the menu.  The pork belly sliders were quite good and came with the best (house-made) potato chips I’ve ever had. The meatloaf was perfectly paired with a great mac and cheese, but the best at City Tavern is definitely the fried chicken, coated in maple and honey, then vinegar to give it the sweet and salty.

For dessert we only had room left for small bites of the apple pie with cheese and the chocolate pudding with homemade fig newtons.  Kelin, who had been serving us all evening, suggested a prosecco to top off the night and it certainly did.

When we arrived back at the Trump Chicago, our beds were turned down, chocolates, water bottles, slippers and the warm neck and eye pillow were waiting. We drifted off to sleep, thinking that the only thing better than this was the day ahead at the spa.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Meeting Mackinac

Ever since the first time I saw photos of Mackinac Island, I couldn’t wait to go there.  It was one of those places that would require a long drive and the timing never seemed right. When I finally did commit to making the trip, there was nothing that was going to stop me.

My friend Lisa and I left early in the morning and drove through the day to make sure we would catch the last ferry in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island. It was a bit disappointing that it was raining when we boarded the Arnold Transit ferry, but they had indoor seating and it was a very short (less than a half hour) ride to the island.

Along the way we had a view of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Mackinaw City.

We were told that the “shuttle” would take us, as well as our luggage, to our hotel. What we didn’t realize until we arrived was that shuttle was synonymous with horse and buggy on this island!

We walked a bit in town before we found the ride and enjoyed the scenery as we went up the hill to the Mission Point Resort.

I made not of all the fudge stores and souvenir shops that I would have to check out. I also saw the many bed & breakfasts and event private houses that were along the water.

Bradley McCallum, the resort’s manager, greeted us in the lobby. It was quite a large and rustic building and it made up only part of this hotel.  As a full service resort on 18 acres, it offers everything couples, families – and girls’ getaways – could want, with golf, available bicycles, a pool, hot tubs, tennis, croquet, a movie theater and a spa. There are also three restaurants to choose from.

We had an incredible three bedroom suite, one of about a dozen different suites the hotel has available for those looking for a little extra space. The view from our suite was even more magnificent than the suite itself. Had it been a little warmer and drier, it might have been hard to pry us away from the wrap around deck.

After the long drive we decided to keep it casual and headed down to the Round Island Bar & Grill for dinner.  It was a comfortable atmosphere, complete with a fireplace and cozy booths.

It happened to be Mojito Monday at the Round Island and we were happy to imbibe.  It was served with a whitefish dip with garlic and cream cheese, something popular on Mackinac Island. I can’t eat fish, but Lisa loved it.

For the main course, I kept it simple with a pulled pork sandwich, which was tender and sweet, while Lisa had the flatiron steak.

We had a few more drinks at the bar to unwind and chat with some locals about the island. Before heading to our room we also stopped at the Martini Bar. We didn’t stay long, but did enjoy some chocolate and martinis.  

It had been a long day and we were looking forward to spending the next day exploring Mackinac Island. I fell into my four poster bed (turned down with chocolates on the pillows) and dreamed about the day to come with my opportunity to finally check out this quaint island.