A Sky Ledge, a Michelin Star and “American Gothic”
A couple of major Chicago attractions book-ending a divine lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant? Not a bad way to spend another day in Chicago, I think!
We started off our day at Willis Tower. Built as and still commonly referred to as Sears Tower, it was the tallest building in the world from the time it was completed in 1973 until 1998 when the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia were built. It is now the second tallest building in the US (it was topped by One World Trade Center in NYC), and the 12th-tallest in the world. The Sky Deck is on the 103rd floor of the tower at 1353 ft high.
Besides the fantastic views, which compete with those from the John Hancock Center, the Willis Tower offers retractable glass balconies, which extend about 4ft from the facade overlooking South Wacker Drive. Named “The Ledge”, these balconies make for fantastic pictures. We took some of our own, then posed for the official Sky Ledge photographers located on one of the balconies. Their cameras were set up much higher, so the pictures came out fantastic. I do have to say, stepping on a glass ledge from the 103rd floor was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience. We even did a jumping picture, but not before wondering for a second if the glass bottom would hold us up.
After Willis it was time for lunch. I had been looking forward to trying some of Chicago’s Michelin-star rated restaurants, and on top of my list was Topolobampo by Rick Bayless, who also has a restaurant in LA. He specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine with a modern twist. Mexican in Chicago? Weird, I know, especially when coming from LA. Rest assured, I was not disappointed. I started off with the Topolo margarita, featured on season 6 of his PBS show “Mexico: One Plate at a Time”. A friend of mine had said this was the best margarita he had ever had, and I could see why – it was smooth and delicious! Food-wise, we started with the guac and the ceviche trio. Out of the Hawaiian albacore, yellowfin tuna and Mexican blue shrimp and calamari that comprised the trio, I liked the Hawaiian albacore the best. It was served with chunks of mango and avocado and it just melted in my mouth.
For my main course, I went with the Alaskan black cod, which was poached with hoja santa leaf, banana leaf and olive oil and came served with sweet corn tamal “couscous” and a herby green chile sauce. The black cod’s preparation was divine. Lightly seared on the outside, the fish was so flaky and moist on the inside. It was definitely one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had. And to top it all off, I finished with Peruvian blend of Intelligentsia coffee and a ice cream and brownie dessert. Service was impeccable and all of our dishes were amazing. This was a lunch to remember!
We finished off the day at the Art Institute of Chicago. It features Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in its permanent collection as well as modern and contemporary art. At 1,000,000 sq ft (92,000 sq m), it is the second largest museum in the USA after the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.
We only had a couple of hours left before closing time, so we focused on seeing the highlights of the museum collection, all pictured below except the El Greco:
- from the Impressionist collection, Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”
- from European Art, El Greco’s “The Assumption of the Virgin”
- from Asian Art, the Seated Buddha
- from African Art, the Mukenga Mask (absolutely breathtaking)
- from Modern American Art, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (such a treat, as I didn’t even know here was its permanent home)
- also from Modern American Art, Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” (probably one of my favorites here)
- from Modern Art, Henri Matisse’s “Bathers by a River”
- also from Modern Art, Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”
- We also stumbled upon Georgia O’Keefe’s “Sky Above the Clouds IV”, which wasn’t listed as one of the highlights but was just magnificent.
As always, I was tempted to lament not having spent more time here but I also realize that a short but sweet jaunt through the highlights might be more memorable. Anyway, another visit to this museum during my next trip to Chicago would definitely be warranted.
After the Institute, we passed by The Bean again and couldn’t resist another few selfies (see, told you) before continuing on to Michigan Ave to do some more shopping.
We passed by the statue of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, founder of Chicago. His statue was markedly small and sitting off to one side of the Michigan Ave bridge, which actually bears his name (the DuSable bridge), although nobody calls it that. We wondered about how small this statue was and how little known his name is compared to the building bearing Donald Trump’s name just on the other side of the bridge. Trump Tower, the second tallest building in Chicago, caused quite a bit of stir when a 20-ft (6-m) sign bearing Trump’s name was installed on it. So here we were, staring at a tiny statue and sign for the founder of the city, with a 2800 sq ft sign of a well-known developer towering behind us. It is a sign of the times, people (pun intended).
And this concluded our second day exploring Chicago. The weather has turned, and is now cloudy and a bit rainy. More of that is expected tomorrow, and while I was planning on just a relaxing morning at home before the Bulgarian Folk Fest, I’ve got the Field Museum of Natural History or my radar now. I heard there is a giant T-Rex in there named Sue – I mean, I gotta check that out, right?