Thursday, December 30, 2004

Where to Begin?

Why, at the beginning of course.

The trip with Papa Virg was a trip for the ages for many reasons.

I'll be journaling on many of the family-based topics here, and if I feel like ranting on the truly more mundane topics such as Amtrak and its future existence, that will take place over at Sierra Sanity.

The beginning -- depending on your perspective, it started either in Cincinnati or Burlington, Vermont.

I've noted a bit of both here and here, so I won't replay the adventures of late trains and planes (although shopping in the Water Tower Place was fun -- especially the two-block walk on a brisk Chicago December morning -- even though United finally found my luggage after the Marshall Fields spree).

The Drake.

A treat. A Christmas Wonderland. A joy with my Dad.

The snow had just begun while we were eating dinner at The Drake Bros., and our waitress was excited as well by the snow one full week before Christmas Day. She was a wonderful Canadian lady who took to Dad right away -- she was in her fifties, and enjoyed the fact that we were not a "pretentious table" (she also served an adjacent table with a young couple who did not take her sage advice when she lightheartedly rejoined a somewhat prejorative response to her beef recommendation with "Well, I'm just a meat and potatoes gal from Canada"). Having met the restaurant manager the night before, we were given a fantastic window seat overlooking North Michigan Avenue in all its Christmas splendor -- and the snow was simply over the top.

The joys of a fine dining destination are defined by one prerequisite: Do you leave having learned something you didn't know previously (and, of course, was the food and ambience top notch)?

The Drake Bros. hit a home run. I was ignorant of the fact that Porterhouse has both filet and sirloin cuts on either side of the bone, and she recommended (as she always does for two -- especially father and son?) this main course. The chef cuts the 32 ounces in visually as well as gastronomically appetizing servings. Exquisite. Forgot to ask if the cut was dry- or wet-aged (they do serve dry-aged beef which puts them in the "We Know Beef!" class), but that could only have been because I was in bovine bliss (pardon the crass alliteration, but how could I let that pass?).

We shared broccoli (the sides are for two), and Papa had a Heart of Iceberg salad (this is not your "Peel the leaves" home salad, but a quarter-wedge of an Iceberg head) and baked potato while I returned to my Heirloom Tomato Salad (again highly recommend) and Shiitake mushrooms sauteed in garlic, ginger and soy (again ambrosia). I also had to revisit the Pine Ridge Cabernet -- magnificant with the filet and sirloin Porterhouse duet.

As you may have gathered, dinner was a delight, and the service was professionally relaxed. After indulging in (and sharing) a truly decadent chocolate dessert, I made a point to stop and thank the restaurant manager for making a table available for Papa and me.

(And no, not a morsel of beef was left for the mice of the Windy City.)

The Drake

After our delightfully adventurous dinner, we took a walk outside on a blustery Saturday evening on the northern end of Chicago's Magnificent Mile. I wanted to capture a photo of The Drake with the John Hancock Tower behind as you can see. The Drake Bros. restaurant is in the lower right of the photograph -- the illuminated circle-head windows with lighted wreaths beneath -- and our room is on the fourth floor above the restaurant windows -- the northeast corner "Junior Executive Suite" (The Drake faces North).

Back inside, Papa prepared his rail maps for our Westward Trek -- obviously in his element (and you can see Lake Shore Drive out the window on the right looking North and beyond is the darkened Lake Michigan).

Papa in The Drake

It doesn't get any better than overlooking Lake Michigan just before Christmas when snow hits, and the snowplows are out. We stayed up late like two little boys having a slumber party watching the plows at work.

With the morning, the first views of the rowdy Lake again looking North and Chicago's Gold Coast on the left, or West Shore.

Chicago's Gold Coast

And we hadn't yet been together twenty-four hours. . . .