I recently returned from a lovely, if bizarre, weekend in Chicago. Lovely because I got to see my Windy City friends and discover a handful of new and noteworthy locales to add to my address book, bizarre because the weather vacillated from short sleeves on Friday to fur coats and snow shoes on Saturday. Thankfully my friend and I wear the same size Wellies! Here, a few suggestions for anyone heading to Chicago.
This upscale beer hall (from the same team that owns Blackbird and Avec) captures so much that is trendy in food right now - nose-to-tail meats, locavore veggies and lardo galore. We sat at one of the cloistered booths that line the perimeter of the space, which automatically upped the cool quotient but made things very challenging for our waiter, who had to dead drop our platters of oysters on our table without splashing crushed ice everywhere. The quiveringly fresh oysters were a highlight, as was the suckling pig, broccoli with burrata and hazelnuts, and dark chocolate gelato with fleur de sel. We all turned up our noses at the dark and sour Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge (for serious beer drinkers only), but loved the Chiostro from Italy. 837 W. Fulton Market St., 312.733.9555, thepublicanresturant.com
This chic and understated Milanese beauty, spa and design brand opened its first stateside boutique off of Michigan Avenue at the end of last year. I had the immediate urge to buy up the neat wooden bottles, the cashmere and wool balls that are used to test out scents, and the luxe robes and sheets. The aesthetic reminds me of comfy Donna Karan elegance mixed with a sleek Italian edge, La Dolce Vita by way of the Hamptons (or Lake Michigan). 840 N. Michigan Avenue (entrance on Chestnut St.), 312.622.5787, culti.it
How many brunch spots do you know that serve an amuse bouche? Jam, a super cute new Ukranian Village restaurant, had me at the mini streusel muffin that arrived as soon as we sat down. The eggs benedict came with the most perfect-looking poached eggs I've ever seen, as well as a fuchsia beet hollandaise and charred squares of pork belly. The malted custard French toast with rhubarb compote, lime whipped cream and pink peppercorns elevated a weekend staple to deliciously exotic new heights. Plus, the nice people there sold me a container of their delicious sticky granola to take home, even though they seemed utterly perplexed by the request. 937 N. Damen Avenue, 773.489.0302, jamrestaurant.com
Elysian Spa & Health Club
The city's newest luxury hotel was worth the wait. The Elysian, just around the corner from the new (gorgeous, less cramped) Barneys New York, is a stunner. The spa was done on a large scale -It's 14,000 square feet, with a pilates and gyrotonic studio and a lap pool (below) lined in a rose petal mosaic- but the treatments are executed with care and thought. This is not pampering for pampering's sake: facials have pleasant surprises like ear massages and what feels like pore-by-pore exfoliation, while massages take care of little-touched areas like the tush and abdomen. Elysian, 11 E. Walton, 800.500.8511, <a target="_blank">elysianhotels.com</a>