back in august, I jaunted off to chicago for a long weekend visit. last time I was in chicago was for my uncle’s graduation from uchicago when I was in first or second grade. it must have been april or may, but in my mind, it felt like wintertime – I just remember grey skies, a lot of rain, and being very wet and cold.
perhaps my lackluster memories were a boon in disguise. chicago had not been my first choice for a vacation destination, but one of my friends had always wanted to go. with a shrug, I went along with it, and went into the trip with absolutely no expectations.
on day one, my friend’s flight was delayed, so I ended up having time to kill. I wandered down to the national museum of puerto rican arts and culture; unfortunately, they were in the process of installing a new exhibit in their main gallery, so my visit was quite short. the first floor had a word-heavy display laying out the history of humboldt park and its surroundings – it was fascinating to see how many different nationalities, from poles to italians to hungarians and puerto ricans, called it home at some point. while walking around the neighborhood around the museum, I got caught in a short rain-shower and ducked into the best pie shop I’ve ever come across, spinning j. I was honestly a little sad when my friend texted me she’d arrived; I could have sat in that shop sampling slices of pie for hours.
I ended up loving my time in chicago. each neighborhood has its own distinct feel: down by river north, the architecture steals the show; west loop retains its industrial bones, but is flush with cute restaurants; noble square is a bustling shopping mecca. the city is huge, and yet with chicago’s well-developed metro system, we ended up covering much more than I would have thought possible in our two short days there. we had some absolutely incredible meals, stumbled across a salsa bar with dangerously delicious piscos and mojitos, and spent a ridiculous amount of time marveling at the bean. so I was surprised when at the end of our stay, my friend said she saw no reason to return.
I, on the other hand, left with a list of things I wished I’d had time to do (like their art museum, which we passed on our way to brunch), and places I definitely wanted to visit again (spinning j and lula cafe, I’m coming back for you one day!). there are so many corners of america that I have not seen, and my (too short) time in chicago left me realizing that many experiences I’d written off as not exciting or interesting enough would most likely still win me over with their unique charms, as long as I remain open to them.
the best dish we ate out in chicago was the mushroom toast at lula, but I can’t pretend to be a chef on that level (and also, I have no idea where to find all the fancy mushrooms they had on their toast), so here’s my favorite home-cooked mushroom dish instead: this simple salad with sautéed mushrooms, soft tofu, and a miso-mayonnaise dressing that sounds weird but tastes delicious.
places I loved
spinning j | incredible pies, incredible staff. the most charming pie shop/restored soda fountain bar I’ve ever laid eyes on, and easily my favorite stop in chicago. I still think often about that key lime hibiscus pie with blueberry compote.
the bakery at fat rice | malaysian kopitiam-inspired decor, chinese-inspired pastries. their pasteis de nata are their claim to fame, but for me, the taro morning bun stole the show. it’s very pricey for chinese pastries, but the quality is unmatched.
lula cafe | a trailblazer in the farm-to-table scene, and still as popular as ever. their mushroom toast was mindbogglingly good, and their cocktails are as ethereally gorgeous as they are delicious (pictured above).
the allis | surprisingly excellent brunch fare (the shrimp and grits special was one of the best I’ve had) with hit-or-miss service. the decor is palatial, industrial, and shabby-boho-chic all at once, yet it somehow all works.
passion house coffee roasters | the cmyk color scheme of the exterior gave me techie chain coffee shop vibes, but nothing could be further from the truth. staff is friendly and knowledgeable, coffees are excellent (they have single-origin), and the vibe is relaxed.
wendella chicago river architecture boat tour | though everyone I talked to told me I had to do the boat tour, I was still very skeptical(it just screams tourist trap). I ended up loving it! our guide dropped a lot of knowledge in an entertaining way, and we got to appreciate chicago’s beautiful skyline from many excellent angles.
makes 4 servings
24oz flavorful mushrooms (shiitakes, maiitakes, etc.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1 box silken tofu
white and black sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
5oz butter lettuce, mâche, or romaine heart salad mix
1 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp white miso paste
1 tsp tahini
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp dashi granules
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp ginger (grated or powder)
1/2 tsp honey (I just eyeball it)
2-3 tsp water
mandy lee. tofu and warm mushroom salad. lady and pups. 31 january 2013. accessed 15 october 2018.
2 dice tofu into ~1-in squares; you should end up with 16 squares.
dressing|1 mix all ingredients except water together.
2 add water in 1 tsp increments until desired consistency is reached.
assembly|1 make a bed of salad greens on each serving plate. place the warm mushrooms, and tofu on top, then drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds. serve immediately.