to Chicago!

One of the perks of being up here in Madison is being within sane driving distance of Chicago. I used to think driving more than a half hour made any destination unworthy, but something about heading towards those big buildings and lake shores makes it all worth it. I would probably make the drive if only to get Intelligentsia coffee and ride the L, call me a nerd all you want. Who knew you could be in love with a public transit system?

This time my excuse to head down to Chi-town was a one-day culinary school experience at The French Pastry School, a super-fancy pastry school right next to the *ahem* Willis Tower downtown. A friend generously gave me a gift certificate for the program a few weeks back and I have been counting down. It was my first formal culinary experience and I’m still confused as to how I thought there was a possibility to walk away not liking it:

school (love) + cooking = obvious fit

Needless to say, I had a great day. We made dark chocolates filled with caramel ganache (hard!) and a roasted pineapple in a vanilla butter reduction, topped with mango sorbet, reconstituted basil seeds, pecan espresso tuiles, and a honey lemon madeleine on the side. Whew.

School aside, my favorite moments visiting Chicago occurred in the surrounding neighborhoods rather than downtown. I have particularly fallen in love with the Lincoln Park/Wicker Park/Lakeview area. Duhh. Who hasn’t. This past trip I got to stay with my cousin, Kara, in Wicker Park. She lives above a handmade craft/vintage clothing store, right on a main drag — café next door? Check. Cute bay window to people-watch below? Check. Nice digs. She works at a restaurant downtown, Sable, and I was lucky enough to get in last-minute on a busy weekend night. Gotta love that family discount connection. I had the veggie sliders and corn crème brûlée. Wow. Good cocktails don’t hurt either.

I also managed to hit, once again, my favorite café in town, Floriole, with my good friend, Matt. I read about Floriole, I think, awhile back in one of the many food blogs I follow, Lottie + Doof. It’s in the Lincoln Park-ish neighborhood, near DePaul University. If you ever have a chance to go, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been for coffee, breakfast, and now lunch. Hopefully Matt and I can continue the tradition of visiting there each time I’m in town. (Any takers?)

I made it to almost all of the places on my ever-extending list. Even tracked down Ann Sather, a place Rachael Ray visited for marscarpone-stuffed, batter-dipped, fried french toast sandwich thing. I couldn’t go that far, but you can see even their regular cinnamon rolls are monsters — look at them compared to my measly fork!

There was one place I was unable to cross off my list, however: I have tried three separate times, without success, to sink my teeth into some hot churros from Rick Bayless‘s Xoco. It will be conquered, though. Don’t you worry about that.

Recipes to follow soon!