Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Midwest Girls Getaway Continues in Naperville

My friend Lynn and I had a wonderful time in Southwest Michigan, but it was coming to an end. We packed up our things at the Inn at Harbor Shores, said goodbye to the beach, and hit the road.

Before we left St. Joseph, we stopped at Café Tosi. The breakfast was so good and fresh the day before that we wanted one more for the road. 

We had started our Midwest adventure in Chicagoland and we were heading back to check out some more. This time or stop was in Naperville.

It was mostly a scenic ride around Lake Michigan to get back to the Chicago area. Naperville is outside of the city and a town I had not yet visited.

I was invited by the Hotel Arista, a four-diamond boutique hotel with one of my favorite things – a full service spa.

We were immediately impressed with the contemporary design of the hotel, which was the first to be LEED certified in Illinois.

The managers at the hotel had gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. Lynn and I each had our own suites and they were stocked with surprises, from local beer to snacks and even a Hotel Arista phone charger.

My suite was especially comfortable, with a large bathroom that had a modern soaking tub in the middle. (I always give bonus points to hotels that have bathtubs.)

We dropped our things and headed down to the Arista Spa and Salon. We were given robes to change into and then champagne to enjoy while we waited for our treatments.

After our very relaxing massages, we continued the mood up to our separate rooms for naps.

It was nice to have the chance to take a break before dinner.

Hotel Arista had invited us to dine in their Sugar Toad restaurant. Like the hotel, the restaurant was about contemporary and fresh, with a big variety of flavors. 

Even the bread was warm and inviting.

The Butternut Squash soup was fantastic, but I resisted the urge to finish it as I knew a lot more was coming.

We shared an order of the Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad and while I loved the concept, the sherry vinaigrette was not the right choice to grab onto the Brussel sprouts.

For our main courses, Lynn had the Beef Tri Tip, which was served with sunchokes and a tasty sauce. I went for the parpadelle special. 

It was wonderful, with mushrooms and butternut squash, in a lightly creamy cheese sauce.

We were pretty full, but we shared the brownie with fruit and ice cream for dessert.


After dinner, we headed to my suite for a bit to and shared a drink. I had a glass of the Southwest Michigan wine we had brought with us from our last stop and Lynn enjoyed one of the Two Brothers Beer. 

It was the last night of our girls’ getaway, but before we said goodbye, we had a full day ahead of us. 


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Girls Fun in St. Joseph, Michigan

When I first saw the schedule the St. Joseph Tourism Board had laid out for my friend Lynn and me, 

I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. It was a very full day. But, it turned out to be an extremely fun one.

After a good night’s sleep at the Inn at Harbor Shores, we headed to downtown St. Joseph. We started off fueled, thanks to Caffe Tosi.

Lynn had a plate full of fruit and granola and I went for plain yogurt with a luscious almond horn on the side.

The second place on the agenda was actually the home of another bakery, but not one for us. FuzzyButz is actually a pet bakery, where owner Mary Schaut creates treats for her four-legged friends.

We were incredibly impressed with Mary’s creativity as we walked around, looking at items such as Sweet Potato Pie flavored treats; ones made to look like burgers, fries, and cannoli; peanut butter squares (peanut butter is actually a base for most of her items); and even squares that taste like lamb stew.

Before we left FuzzyButz we were able to go into the kitchen production area to see where all the cookies and treats are made.

Next, we were off to check out the offerings at a few of the downtown boutiques, DK, Friends by Design and Perennial Accents.

Each store has distinctive items for women, from clothing to shoes and accessories. It was nice to hear that all the shops work together to make sure they can collectively provide unique things for everyone to buy -- and wear.

We continued the girls theme, though Revive was a spa like no other I’ve been to.

Jonathan took us around Revive and I’m sure he heard “wow” out of me quite a bit! I had never seen a place like this.

Although Revive does have regular treatments that you would find in other spas, they are also a “self spa.” 

I had never heard this term before. Basically, it meant that you rented out the room and the equipment to use yourself.

Among the options were spray and UV tanning, a Lumiere Facial machine, a relaxing massage chair, Red Light Therapy, and a Hydration Station.

Lynn and I were able to each pick a complimentary treatment (the costs are very reasonable, beginning at about $30 a session).

I went for the Red Light Therapy, which is said to help combat aging while also reducing pain and inflammation. 

I wouldn’t say it cured anything, but I did feel good and my skin looked a bit better when I came out of it and met back up with Lynn, who was in the massage chair.

By this time, we were really hungry and it was a good thing because the menu at The Buck, Burgers and Brew looked fantastic.

Owner Ken Kozminski came over to say hello and show us the menu, which included the option to create your own burger with beef, ground turkey, chicken breast, or black bean patties, then top it with anything from old fashioned American Cheese to cream cheese and a variety of sauces.

I didn’t need to make my own burger because there was one that immediately caught my eye: The Harvest Burger. It is a turkey burger with apples, cranberry jam, and brie cheese.

It was one of the best lunches I’ve ever eaten. Lynn was equally satisfied with her Turkey IPA Ruben, made with avocado and coleslaw.

After lunch, it was time to taste some more Southwest Michigan wine. Two tasting rooms were located right downtown so it was easy.

Baroda Founders Wine Cellar had some good wine, such as their Lake Side Breeze Demi-Sec, and also fun wines.  I really liked Smorleaux, a red wine infused with marshmallows and milk chocolate.

At White Pine Winery, I agree with the awards given to their fruity pinot grigio.

Lynn and I walked down to the Silver Beach Carousel. I happen to love Merry-go-rounds so I was looking forward to this all day.

We met with Carla and she told us about the history of the carousel, which has hand-carved horses and a brass ring machine, and dates back to 1910.

A century later, a fundraising campaign is underway to restore the carousel, but it still looks quite beautiful. I got to take a ride before we left.

Our final stop of the day was at the beach. I still find it hard it’s believe that Lake Michigan is as big and beautiful as it is.

We walked along the sand for a while and enjoyed the quiet. I always find myself enjoying beaches more in the spring and fall than the crowded summer.

We drove back to the Inn at Harbor Shores and had an early dinner. St. Joseph had been wonderful, but it definitely wore us out.

We’d be leaving Southwest Michigan in the morning and heading back to Illinois, where we were checking out Hotel Arista in Naperville.




Monday, October 12, 2015

Roadtrip Along Lake Michigan

After a fun day in the suburbs of Chicago and a good night’s sleep at the Le Meridien in Oakbrook, my friend Lynn and I were off to see more of the Midwest.

One of the reasons I chose Southwest Michigan as our next stop was for the chance to be along Lake Michigan and our route would take us right along the Great Lake.

We were making good time so we decided to take a slight detour to Indiana Dunes. Even after seven years in the Midwest I am still in awe when I look at Lake Michigan and the Dunes were another example of the beauty of it.

Lynn and I walked along the beach for a bit and then headed back in the car for the scenic drive to Baroda, Michigan.

Along the way we remarked about how we’d love to have one of those houses overlooking the lake and the beach.

Our first stop was at a place I can’t compare to another in the world, despite all the wineries, distilleries and breweries I’ve been to. We met Millicent Huminsky, Executive Director of Southwest Michigan Tourism, for the introduction.

Round Barn Public House is a family run all in one destination – a restaurant, a brewery, a distillery, and a tasting room for the winery’s products.

What I found even more amazing was that they did it all very well. The food was incredible, from the Greek Goddess Pizza, to Lynn’s Salmon Sandwich and my unique and delicious veggie burger.

We also got to do lots of sampling during the meal. Round Barn Public House lets you do flights mixing beer and wine, and that’s just what Lynn did, while I stuck with a selection of some of my favorite white wines.

I really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc and the Weekend White, and surprisingly loved the Farm Market Blueberry, made from 100% blueberries.

Lynn was a fan of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cream Dream beer, a dark brew with hints of vanilla.

As for the spirits, the bourbon, rum, and vodka were very good but the DiVine Back Walnut Crème Liqueur really won me over. I’d take this as a substitute for Irish Cream any day.

We took off from the Round Barn’s Public House to their winery. The Round Barn is quite a unique spot and I’m glad we got to tour it a bit and check out some more of their wines before heading to nearby Berrien Springs for a visit at Domain Berrien Cellars.

Domain Berrien does handpicking of the grapes in their vineyard, which is just outside the winery. They specialize in Rhone varietals and also have the distinction of being the first Michigan winery to grow and bottle Syrah.

As far as the red wines are concerned, it was actually the 2013 Lemberger which caught the attention of Lynn and me. It was filled with dark fruit and not a lot of oak, though it did have a bit of white pepper.

I surprised myself by picking the 2012 Oaked Marsanne as my favorite white. I rarely go for oaked wines, but this one was a creamy butter blend filled with vanilla and melon.

I also loved the Domaine Berrien Vignoles, with its tropical notes.

We had one more winery on the list for the day and that was Contessa Wine Cellars in Coloma.

Winemaker Tony Peterson uses creative license at Contessa for some very interesting blends.

My pick was the Bianco Bello (Lovely White), a mix of French and American varietals that had a complex taste of semi-sweet fruit and rich floral.

I also liked the Celeste, a Riesling and seyval blend that produced a sweet green apple, and the Pinot Grigio which was crisp and easy drinking.

Lynn, the red drinker, went for Tre Tenores (Three Tenors), a mixture of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.

Our next stop was for a different type of tasting.

I had been waiting for the truffle tasting all week at The Chocolate Garden did not disappoint.

Owner Tina Buck took us through her company and told us about how she built this business of quality chocolates.

Of course, we needed to form our own opinions so she set us up with truffle tastings, available to all customers.

It was not easy picking six from the huge variety at The Chocolate Garden, but I did:

Dark Chocolate Raspberry was wonderful, with a real fruit taste;
Milk Chocolate Pomegranate was also fruity, but not as sweet;
Dark Chocolate Cherry was not quite as unique as truffles I’ve had before;
Cinnamon Love had the perfect hint of the spice to not lessen the chocolate taste;
White Chocolate Latte was the creamiest, with subtle flavors;
Lago Rosso was my favorite. It is actually made with Contessa Cellars Lago Rosso wine.

All of the truffles had melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.

Lynn had a lot of the same, but her favorite I did not taste Be Licorice.

We thanked Tina and took off for the Inn at Harbor Shores in St. Joseph, where we would be spending the next two nights.

We took our time unpacking and relaxing, and working up an appetite for dinner.
It had been a long day so we made it a quick one downstairs at the Inn at Harbor Shore's Plank’s Tavern. Their Beer Cheese Dip was flavorful and filling. I also had some potato soup and Lynn had a salad.
After dinner, we shared the Blueberry Tart and were quick to head back to our suite and go to sleep. We had another long day of activities ahead in St. Joseph, Michigan.



Sunday, October 4, 2015

Midwest Adventure Starts in Chicagoland

I wanted a trip that would give me lots of stories for my Midwest Travel section on About.com. I managed to piece together and amazing adventure that spanned over six days, with my friend Lynn along for the ride the first four.

I picked Lynn up at O’Hare Airport and we headed to our first stop, the Kohler Water Spa in Burr Ridge, Illinois.

I had wanted to check out this spa ever since my trip to the Kohler Spa at the American Club in Wisconsin. I didn’t get a chance to spend as much time as I’d like at that spa, but I scheduled the whole afternoon here for us to enjoy.

Lynn went in for the Bamboo Bliss, which used a warm bamboo to give the ultimate Swedish massage. It was said to improve circulation and help with muscle aches. Lynn fully agreed she felt great and the description of “bliss” was accurate.

In the meantime, I went in for a Neat Feet Pedicure, a signature treatment at the Kohler Spa. My feet needed attention after all the travel and walking and this was a perfect remedy. It included a salt scrub to get rid of the dead skin and soften my feet, a warm stone massage, and a pedicure.

Before and after our treatments we enjoyed the water spa amenities that Kohler does so well, from hot tubs, to cold plunges, three different types of showers, sauna, and steam room.

After we had sufficiently relaxed and lounged, Lynn and I bid the spa farewell and headed off to dinner in nearby La Grange, another suburb of Chicago.

We were the guests of Vikram and Agnes Singh at their contemporary Indian restaurant Kama Bistro.

Kama Bistro was opened in 2009 using family recipes -- Vikram’s father is a chef in India – with a bit of a twist, such as freshly ground spices. It had earned the restaurant a Bib gourmand in 2014.

One of the other things Kama is known for is their creative cocktails. I had to agree they got it right with the Cucumber Chili Martini, made with Belvedere Vodka, cucumber, and a house-made chili syrup, which I was happy was more flavorful than spicy.

We had a hard time narrowing the menu choices and got some help from the wait staff. Although we ended up with too much food, I’m glad we were able to taste so many of their delicious options.

The Malai Kofta, dumplings made from paneer cheese and potatoes and served in a tomato sauce with raisins and cashews, was just amazing, as was the pork belly -- a hit at Chicago’s BaconFest – Beef Tikka, and Lamb Shank in a yogurt sauce.

We scooped up sauces onto warm garlic naan bread before tasting some of the Indian desserts along with Kama’s special ginger tea , which was just what our full stomachs needed.

After dinner, we drove to Oakbrook and checked into Le Meridien, which had recently opened. This modern hotel is a chic addition to the area.

Lynn decided to rest in the room, but I had been told to check El Tapeo Restaurant on the roof. It was indeed quite unique and contemporary, with Spanish Tapas, handcrafted cocktails, and sangrias.
out the

I definitely couldn’t eat any more, but I did try and enjoy their fruit-filled White Sangria before heading back to the room for a good night’s sleep.  In the morning, we were going to be checking out of Le Meridien and driving to the shores of Michigan. 


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