Dinner at Charlie Trotter’s

The End of an Era at Charlie Trotter’s

With Charlie Trotter’s closing this year — for good — and it being such a Chicago institution, I made the executive decision that KP and I must go there for dinner before it was no longer an option. Getting a reservation actually wasn’t that difficult. I booked at the end of June for a reservation at the end of August, albeit a late reservation at 9:30 p.m.

Charlie Trotter's menu

We were seated on the second floor and in our little “room” there were two other couples, both of whom had their gigantic Nikon cameras out on their tables. I love food porn just as much as the next gal, but I’m really on the fence about taking pictures — especially with big honkin’ DSLR cameras like that — at fancy schmancy restaurants. On the one hand, I feel like it’s my prerogative to take pictures if I want to take pictures. After all, I’m the one picking up the tab. But on the other hand — and the hand that seems to be the way I feel more often than not — it’s a little obnoxious and I feel like I should be enjoying the moment rather than worrying about getting a picture just right (not to mention annoying my fellow diners). Even when I do take pictures while dining out, I usually just use my little old iPhone. No, the pictures aren’t the best (as you’ll see after a few scrolls here), but I feel like it’s a little less intrusive. The reason I bring this up? Well, the couple seated adjacent to us must’ve spent 99% of their meal solely focused on taking pictures. I kid you not when I say that the woman had the camera to her face from the second I was seated, until after we ordered. It was just a bit much.

I digress.

At Charlie Trotter’s, there are three menu options. The Kitchen Table Menu isn’t available to just anyone; you have to book your reservation specifically for the kitchen table in order to be wowed with whatever Chef Trotter feels like cooking up on a given night. However, you can choose from the Vegetable Menu or the Grand Menu. And while I do love my veggies and have heard that that menu is equally delicious, I do love my meat. So both my husband and I opted for the Grand Menu plus the wine pairing.

The Grand Menu consisted of eight courses, three of which were dessert. I have to admit, when the first course came out, my heart sank just a little bit. The service was a little spotty, which shocked me. Case in point, the server spilled my cucumber broth on the white tablecloth and all I got was an, “oops.” Now, I didn’t expect him to whip out a new tablecloth, but I was just taken aback that he spilled it to begin with (yes, I realize accidents happen) and then pretty much shrugged it off. But that aside, it was an unremarkable first course. Not terribly tasty and just… meh.

Things turned around, though. As the next courses started coming out, I found them to be packed with flavor and more along the lines of what I expected from a place like Charlie Trotter’s. Still, service never really ironed itself out. The staff seemed to be clunky, constantly whispering to each other but not in a calm, cool, collected way. And the amount of time between each course was inconsistent. I actually prefer a lapse between courses, but it was a bit excessive at times. Thank goodness the bread boy came around regularly, though. He offered up a different variety each time, too. My favorite was the roll filled with bacon and topped with a maple glaze, which reminded me of the bacon buns my mom makes. A new idea for her!

Of the entire meal, desserts aside, my favorite dish was probably the Elysian Fields Farm Lamp Shank with Curried Celery Root and New Zealand Spinach. Notice I said “desserts aside.” That’s because the desserts totally stole the show, in my opinion. Three desserts with any dinner is just genius, as far as I’m concerned, regardless of the number of courses.

(Now is the time that I apologize for my lackluster photos, but you’ll get the gist.)

Our first dessert course was Raspberry Sorbet with Lemon Verbena Cream and Chambord Curd Tart. It was paired with a Moscatel from Malaga. Dessert is the only time I really like moscatos, and this one went really well.

Up next was my favorite of all three desserts, Brown Butter Corn Bread with Michigan Cherries and Corn Gelato. Yes, corn gelato. This is the second dessert I’ve had this summer that involved an ice-cream-like substance with corn. And it is so good.

The grand finale, served with a zinfandel, was the Dark and White Chocolate Mousse with Lemon Balm Puree and Strawberry-Tonka Bean Sorbet. It was a close second for me.

Eight courses later and I was more than pleasantly full. I would say borderline miserably full, but in a good way.

24 Hours in Kohler, Wisconsin

Weekend Getaway to Kohler, Wisconsin

Since I will be traveling for work on Tuesday — my two-year wedding anniversary — my husband and I celebrated this weekend instead, in beautiful Kohler, Wisconsin.

Kohler Abrazo tub

Yes, that Kohler.

Only a two and a half hour drive from Chicago, Kohler is perfect for a quick weekend getaway. And it has everything you want when you want to escape from Chicago. By “everything,” I simply mean peace and quiet. And champagne.

Kohler, Wisconsin

The village of Kohler is pretty small with a population of only around 2,000 or so, and because the Kohler Company and its employees make up so much of the community — and essentially is the community — fancy bathroom fixtures are everywhere, even in an unassuming restaurant bathroom.

Kohler sink at Cucina

Kohler proper has exactly two hotels, Inn on Woodlake and The American Club; we stayed at the latter. I had a real lovefest with this place this weekend, from the champagne at check-in to the bellboys in their cute little golf caddie outfits. Seriously, I loved everything about it. But what’s not to love about a five-star resort?

The property has a pretty interesting story, too. Back in the day, it was used as a dormitory for the immigrants who worked at Kohler Company, and one of its restaurants today is dubbed The Immigrant (more on that shortly).

Our Deluxe King room was nothing short of plush, luxurious and comfortable, but naturally the best part was the enormous bathroom, complete with fancy sink, jet bath and rain shower with body sprays.

Our very own fancy sink
Our very own fancy sink

I must admit, I was a little quizzical when I went to run the bath.

Doesn't your bath water come from the ceiling?
Doesn’t your bath water come from the ceiling?

The Shops at Woodlake

While I could’ve quite easily spent the afternoon in that jet bath, I was a bit nippish. So we walked over to the Shops at Woodlake for a little lunch and window shopping. That’s one of the great things about tiny little Kohler — everything is so close by and the village is so small that you can easily walk everywhere.

I moaned about wanting to sit outside somewhere for lunch but we couldn’t find any place that had outside seating, so we popped into Cucina. And voila — outside tables on the backside of the restaurant. I have no idea what their dinner menu is like, but my panino al tacchino at lunchtime was pretty fabulous, especially that pretzel roll.

Panino al tacchino

Just around the corner from Cucina, also in the Shops at Woodlake, is Craverie. And if my husband had his druthers, he’d have probably selected Craverie for lunch. If only we knew that they serve salads and sandwiches… We thought it was just decadent sweets.

At $8 a slice, this cake made me feel like I was back in Chicago.
At $8 a slice, this cake made me feel like I was back in Chicago.

Still, some of their gems were pretty amazing.

Rare facets at Craverie

I dare you to step foot in Craverie and walk out without trying a single thing, even if that means you just cruise the sample platters.

Ice-cream at Craverie

Kohler Design Center

The crown jewel of Kohler is clearly the Kohler Design Center. If you’re a home design enthusiast, and even if you’re not, the Design Center is fascinating. It’s three levels of all the latest, coolest and most innovative products.

I’m already on a major “let’s buy a house” kick, and I’m afraid, for my husband’s sake, that the trip to the Kohler Design Center did not help matters.

This infinity tub would go perfectly in the bathroom of the house that we don't own.
This infinity tub would go perfectly in the bathroom of the house that we don’t own.

There are some seriously impressive displays at the Kohler Design Center. You can’t explore it and not feel inspired.

Kohler Iron Works Historic tub

Bathroom inspiration

One of my favorites was this ultra-chic, modern, all-white display.

Modern bath

Modern bathThe Immigrant Restaurant

We capped off our 24 hours in Kohler with a romantic dinner at the lovely Immigrant Restaurant located in The American Club. The atmosphere is warm and intimate which was perfect for our anniversary dinner. Although I felt like a bit of a heel when our server noted that another couple was also celebrating their anniversary that night — a whopping 65 years of wedded bliss.

I digress. The Immigrant has six little rooms, each of which is decorated in the theme of one of the countries of the first settlers in Wisconsin — French, Dutch, German, Normandy, Danish and English. We were seated in the German room, and there were just two other tables of two in the room. Luckily both tables were finishing their meals as we arrived, as much as I would’ve enjoyed listening to their political banter back and forth across tables the entire evening…

I forget how many times various staff members wished us a happy anniversary, not to mention started us off with complimentary glasses of champagne. So yes, the service was spot on. And the food was pretty incredible, too — especially the peaches and cream dessert. My husband isn’t a big fan of peaches but I can’t get enough. I guess that’s when you know it’s true love — your beloved lets you order something he doesn’t even really like for dessert.

Peaches and cream

Ravinia Novices No More

An Evening at Ravinia Festival

Ever since we’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve heard people rave about Ravinia. And during the summertime, talk of it is that much more prevalent because it’s officially Ravinia season. So I decided that, being our fourth summer in Chicago, it was damn time we go.

The whole concept sounded completely appealing to me. Picnicking in a big, beautiful park-like setting and listening to one of your favorite bands? Yes, please. Oh, and BYOB? Not a question. Sign me up!

So when tickets went on sale this spring, I was one of the people sitting on the Ravinia website essentially all day long, hoping that the site wouldn’t timeout on me and that I could get tickets to see Mat Kearney and Train. It was a long, painful process, but a success in the end.

Last night my husband and I went to Ravinia for the very first time. And despite the fact that I grilled all of my friends who’d been before about what to take, what time to arrive and so on, we still ended up looking like novices — because we were.

This, my friends, is not what one takes to Ravinia when they know what they’re doing:

Pathetic picnic provisions
Pathetic picnic provisions

No, real Ravinia pros are serious about the art of… Ravinia-ing. They set up camp with tarps and/or blankets, tables and chairs and full-on gourmet spreads of food. I could barely remember to pack plastic cutlery whereas I’m pretty sure some people brought their finest china and Riedel glasses. Some real go-getters even brought table decor, and yes, there were really tables with candelabras. I thought my friend who told me about that was kidding, but she wasn’t.

So yeah, we felt a bit unprepared for the occasion but that didn’t stop us from enjoying our cheese and prosciutto.

Because all of the pros arrived well ahead of us novices, the lawn was jam-packed by time we arrived around 6:00 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. show. Side note: the Metrarail is the way to go. When it comes to transportation, I am no novice.

As I was saying, every single inch of ground space was occupied. Literally. Maybe we should’ve listened to that friend who said to arrive when the doors open, but I had a hard time with the idea of sitting there all afternoon just waiting. Now, I know most people who park themselves there when doors open spend the afternoon drinking and relaxing, but I wanted to be awake when the show actually began.

We weaved our way through the park in hopes that we might find a tiny patch of grass to park ourselves on, but no such luck. And then I started to get a little panicky. I think my husband just wanted to get right back on the train and go home.

But alas, he found us a hidden little alcove that only a few others had discovered, and not only did we have space, but we weren’t blanket-to-blanket like the poor fools on the main lawn area.

Aaah, space!
Aaah, space!

We settled in and quickly guzzled the single bottle of wine we brought. Yes, we only brought one bottle of wine. Another novice move… Luckily they have plenty of concessions at Ravinia so you can stock up there if you don’t plan properly. But you’ll pay. We shelled out $38 for a pretty meh bottle of chardonnay.

The show started right on time but from where we were — and where most people on the lawn were — you couldn’t actually see anything. Not that I didn’t enjoy looking these beautiful hostas all evening.

Ravinia Festival

It was a neat experience, though. I can’t say I’ve ever sprawled out on a beautiful lawn, belly full of cheese, bread and wine and listened to some great live tunes before. But next time I will be sure to pack our candelabra!

A Lilly Pulitzer Kind of Weekend

Cape Cod

My weekend was spent in the land teeming with blue bloods sporting Bermuda shorts with embroidered crabs and Polo shirts — collars popped, natch. There’s no place quite like Cape Cod in the summertime, and I mean that in a good way.

The occasion was a bachelorette weekend for one of my close girlfriends. No, the Cape isn’t exactly the place for stereotypical bachelorette debauchery, and thank goodness for that. It was sunny and wickedly steamy, though, which was the perfect setting for two of my favorite things — sunbathing and day drinking.

Lunching, Shopping and Day Drinking in Chatham, Massachusetts

Although we stayed in Harwich, we spent a lot of time in adorable and quintessentially Cape-esque Chatham. We had a leisurely lunch at The Blue Coral, which we sort of stumbled upon after we passed over the wildly popular Chatham Squire. Although it’s on Main Street, The Blue Coral isn’t really on Main Street; it’s nestled behind some boutiques (all of which sell a healthy dose of Lilly Pulitzer). The setting is borderline tropical. The restaurant and bar only offer outside seating but the patio is filled with trees and lush flowers and greenery, and brightly colored stools line the small bar.

Being a former New Englander, I was longing for a lobster roll so my lunchtime selection was a no-brainer. Interestingly, they offer a chilled or hot option and although hot sounded intriguing, I went with chilled. And I loved every bite.

Just across the street from The Blue Coral are a bunch of cute little shops, including Violets, a clothing and jewelry boutique. So the girls and I did a bit of shopping so as not to appear as complete lushes going bar-to-bar. Violets has way too much to choose from, but I landed on a few pieces. Think J Crew style at slightly better prices.

Back to the drinking. This was a bachelorette weekend, after all.

Our next stop was Wild Goose Tavern which is in the Chatham Wayside Inn. It was kind of dead inside but despite that, we couldn’t get a table if we were only going to drink. What kind of establishment enforces such nonsensical rules… So we took our drinks and went out on one of the side patios. I was disappointed that they didn’t offer any frozen drinks. It just felt like that kind of an afternoon. But they do offer some equally appealing options, like their “Goose Tini’s” and “sassy sangria.”

Change of plans. Mid-drink at Wild Goose we got an invite for a boat ride. And what better way to mix up an afternoon of drinking by throwing in an impromptu boat ride?

Chatham boat ride

We got an offer for a cruise around Little Pleasant Bay so we obliged. Good call on our part. It was a gorgeous day to be out on a boat and we even got to see a few seals.

Post-boat ride we put on our fancy pants and had our final round of daytime beverages at Chatham Bars Inn. The outside patio that spans the entire front of the inn not only offers a beautiful view of the bay, but some top-notch people-watching.

Jim Who?

The pinnacle of our weekend revolved around more day drinking, but also seeing Jim Plunkett at The Improper Bostonian in Dennis Port. Tiny secret — despite having lived in New England for four years, I had no idea who Jim Plunkett — or simply, “Plunkett,” as my friends referred to him — was. But to say he is a legend is apparently no understatement. He’s been entertaining the Cape and Boston for decades, apparently. And he is seriously entertaining. I had so much fun that I almost forgot for a second that I was standing in a bar that very very closely resembled some of my college haunts, complete with a sticky beer and sweat-drenched floor.

Sunbathing at Red River Beach in Harwich, Massachusetts

Alas, all of those libations sucked the energy right out of us so some beachside R & R was required. We spent a balmy afternoon at Red River Beach in Harwich.

Red River Beach

I liked Red River Beach because it has a bit more of a residential feel to it. It wasn’t quite as touristy and crowded — we got parking, after all — and we didn’t have other beach-goers sitting right on top of us. My favorite part? The ice-cream truck.