The Art Institute of Chicago: Cool in More Ways Than One

We happened to be in Chicago during a heat wave; not the best of circumstances, but it sure beat having rain everyday!  The temperature peaked at 96 degrees during one the days and it was 86 degrees the day we took the architectural boat tour and wandered through Millenium Park.  So, The Art Institute of Chicago was a welcome relief, by the time we reached the air conditioned lobby, later in the day.

Rather than browse the entire museum which was huge, we chose a few exhibits to enjoy for a couple of hours, before heading back to our B&B to change clothes for dinner.

Marc Chagall’s American Windows was the first stop on our list.  Inspired by Chagall’s mosaic The Four Seasons ,an installation outside Chicago’s Chase Tower, American Windows was created in response to the enthusiasm Chicagoans had for Chagall’s work.  The windows were designed to commemorate America’s bicentennial and celebrates the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, detailing the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance.

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After viewing exhibits that included everything from photography to Tiffany glass to Stickley furniture, we found a fascinating exhibit:

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When I brought this photo up on my screen, I asked Bruce what he thought it was.  “Is that your bed and breakfast?”  Well, no, not unless we were only one inch tall!  This is one of 63 exhibited miniature rooms, conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen, according to her specifications.  The rooms, displayed behind glass windows, depict European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930’s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930’s.  The scale of these amazingly detailed miniatures ranges from one inch to one foot.

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By the time we finished viewing the miniature rooms, we were ready to head back to the B&B for a rest and to freshen up for Laura’s birthday dinner at Frontera Grill, a Mexican restaurant owned by chef Rick Bayless.  Best known as Bravo’s Top Chef Master, Bayless has written several cookbooks and has a popular PBS show, “Mexico- One Plate at a Time.”  In addition to being awarded numerous personal awards by the James Beard organization, Frontera Grill won James Beard’s prestigious Outstanding Restaurant award, in 2007.

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Laura and I could definitely see why; their food was outstanding!  After sharing the Fresh Corn Tamales appetizer, as well as the Smoky-Creamy-Spicy Wild Mushrooms appetizer, I savored my favorite Mexican cuisine of all:  Mole.  My Mole Trio consisted of mole poblano enchiladas, lamb in black mole (my favorite mole sauce), and roasted vegetables in Queretano green mole.  It was the best mole I had tasted since Bruce tackled Rick Bayless’ tamales and mole sauce recipes- completely from scratch; an all-day endeavor.

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For dessert, we shared Frontera’s homemade ice cream and sauces, opting for half-and-half, since we wanted to sample it all:  Mexican vanilla bean with Torres brandy ice cream topped with homemade cajeta (goat milk caramel) and Oaxacan chocolate raspberry ice cream with bittersweet hot fudge sauce.  Exquisite!

The following day, we rode the bus out to the northwest part of town to enjoy a couple of neighborhoods:  Wicker Park and Bucktown.  Although it was interesting to see the varied architecture and experience the vibe in both neighborhoods, it was the hottest day of our visit, making our afternoon stroll quite uncomfortable.

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The evening made up for it, though; it was spent with some swimming buddies over a huge pan of deep dish pizza at Lou Malnatti’s!  Michael and Skip (who happen to know each other), both swimmers with U.S. Masters Swimming like I am, are fellow “Forumites” from the U.S.M.S. Discussion Forums.  Although Michael and I finally met up at Spring Nationals, in Mesa, Arizona, in 2011, as well as 2012 Spring Nationals, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Skip and I hadn’t yet met in person.  And, Laura met them for the first time.  It turned out to be a fun evening with the four of us, while I got my deep dish pizza fix.  I wish I had remembered to take some photos, but it completely slipped my mind…

The following day, our last full day in Chicago, is coming up next; check back soon as we visit a wonderful organic farmers market and more!

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