I spent the weekend in Chicago with my mom, ensconced in the lovely confines of the Ritz-Carlton. As I’ve learned from previous visits, it can be really challenging when staying downtown to find places to shop, eat, and explore that are nearby and also aren’t totally overwhelmed with tourists.
In an attempt to break out of downtown, we took a cab to Lincoln Park for some shopping and wandering, took in a movie, and picked up cupcakes at Molly’s Cupcakes on our way back to the hotel for naps (we love naps). Molly’s was sweet but a bit overwhelming, both in terms of choices and the crowd. I settled on the mixed berry – like a delicious blueberry muffin, except with a thick layer of not-especially flavorful frosting on top. Mom had the red velvet, which has apparently been voted best in the city. She loved it, and said it was better than her previous favorite, the red velvet from Fox and Obel. One thing we did both appreciate about Molly’s is that the cupcakes are frosted when you order them – at least according to Mom – so your frosting, while excessive, is very fresh and lacks the sort of crispy staleness that often happens to cupcakes from a display case. While I was a little underwhelmed, I’ll definitely give Molly’s another try when I’m in Chicago next.
Dinner, then, was the real challenge. I was bound and determined NOT to go to a chain, or back to the food court at Water Tower (which is, I’ll admit, a nice option). After much Yelping and calling the concierge a couple of times, we settled on Quartino – close enough to walk, modest enough prices, and options that ranged from simple to ridiculous – and were both really pleased with the choice! We were seated promptly in the large but very busy dining room and, as with the cupcakes, were a bit overwhelmed by our options. The menu focuses on small plates, so the server encouraged us to order a few things to share. Mom had the tortellini with peas and prosciutto in a light alfredo sauce, which tasted like the macaroni and cheese of my dreams. I hadn’t really considered pasta, but was convinced to get the ravioli by the magic words braised pork and speck. I might be a bit hyperbolic here, but it really was some of the best ravioli I’ve had – like little pillows of savory goodness, complimented perfectly by a chianti and tomato sauce with the occasional fava bean. We haven’t tried making pasta at home yet, but I’m going to file this filling away at the back of my head for future experiments – it was that good. Mom and I split a caprese salad, an odd choice in the dead of winter, but just right with salty and soft slices of mozzarella, firm tomato, and a drizzle of a balsamic crema.
On the whole, a good day of eating – and a few happy new discoveries for future trips to Chicago!