Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chicago Love - 1

I love Chicago. I really do.

Yes, it's cold in the winter, but then there's cross country skiing and amazing Christmas lights and Marshall Field's Macy's store windows and the White Christmas Sing-a-long at the old Music Box Theater (complete with twinkling "stars" in the ceiling). If you let it, Chicago knows how to redeem winter.

(And don't look so surprised. Do you really think a Southerner could live very long in a city as food-crazy as Chicago and not love it? I mean really, this is the city that invented the dark chocolate bacon bar, and now that we've got Hickory River and Chick-fil-A, there's not much missing.)

So I've been thinking about all the reasons to love Chicago, and a few recent experiences have risen to the top.

The first is a trip I made downtown to explore the French Market, tucked in the west side of Ogilvie Transportation Center. I combined the market with a few hours of exploring some of the vintage stores near the Ukrainian Village, but the highlight was definitely the market. Things weren't bustling as much on Saturday afternoon as I'm sure they are during the work week, but it was a treat worth the trip. Not only did I have an amazing chocolate croissant to enjoy on the train ride home, but lunch was a Bánh mì - an amazing sandwich that is the result of the pollination of Vietnamese cuisine by French colonization. The French brought the baguette, and the Vietnamese gave it their own twist as an amazing sandwich, which Saigon Sisters in the French Market specializes in. The genius of the Bánh mì is the terrific salad of garnishes that it adds to the perfect crunch and chew of an authentic baguette. I got "The Porky" which is based on braised pork belly, and what's not to love about some awesome pork? Especially when it's ensconced in an environment that embodies so many perfect contrasts - the softness of the inside of the baguette with the wonderful chew of the crust, the crispness of the veggies, just enough spice with just enough sweetness. Mmmmm.

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