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DISHY DINNER at AL FASSIA GUELIZ in MARRAKECH

CHICAGO

Ellen and I take our restaurants pretty seriously. Ok, too seriously. We agreed upon Al Fassia Gueliz after an extended period of research, deliberation, and debate. We eschew touristy stuff and we loath prix fixe menu (control issues, both of us). Romantic is out of the question (we date guys, or at least we would if we actually dated). I don’t do Italian (not in Morocco, anyway). Belly dancers: um, no. Alcohol service: yes, please.

Al Fassia Gueliz — woman owned and run (a pretty advanced concept in Morocco) — had consistently earned high marks in every review Ellen and I consulted. Far from touristy, ordering off-the-menu only, not particularly geared towards couples, pasta-free, no belly dancers and a complete wine list. We booked it.

AL FASSIA GUELIZ, MARRAKECH

Al Fassia Gueliz Marrakech

Pretty. Even with white tablecloths and candlelight, Al Fassia doesn’t come off as especially romantic, and it’s just informal enough to feel comfortable.

Ellen and I are tucked into a table along the wall, near the entrance, perfect for people-watching.

We ask our server about dry rosés, my summertime go-to tonic. She recommends a bottle of home-grown Medallion.

“Sure,” we agree with shrugs. What do we know about North African wine? Nothing.

The mixed salad (a 17-plate assortment of small vegetable concoctions, highly recommended by internet posters) and the Medallion arrive. We doubt the quality of Moroccan wine, but the shimmery violet label instills confidence in us (Ellen is a sucker for anything that sparkles and I favor purple in general).

Sip. Wonderful!

Full wine glasses in hand, relaxed for the first time in days (it was a rough trip over), our commentary begins. Like Joan Rivers, we can be harsh (the truth can hurt), but we also give credit when due.

“Animal print,” notes Ellen, spying the woman in the leopard blouse, a member of the Italian group that just entered Al Fassia.

“Funky glasses” I add. Every fabulous one of them sports ironic eyewear.

One of The Italians, now seated — a playboy Mastroianni-type with a cashmere sweater draped across his shoulders — nods in our direction. The rest of the group looks our way. Animated discussion ensues. They raise their glasses enthusiastically.

“They’re toasting to your cleavage,” I say somewhat disapprovingly. Ellen ignored my culturally-sensitive fashion advice and discarded her Muslim-friendly cover-up upon entering. Hell, if I had the luxury of cleavage I might not dress so culturally-sensitively either.

Anticipating our lamb tanginess, we dissect the miserable English woman seated across from us, who is glowing red like a human ember from today’s foray into Jemaa El Fna, I suspect. Mutual note to selves: wear plenty of sunscreen tomorrow.

The lamb arrives and it’s perfect. Stick-to-your-ribs, hearty, comfort food here at Al Fassia Gueliz.

But wait: what’s this? A tall, dapper, fifty-something, salt-and-pepper-haired gentleman, frumpy wife and sullen teenage son in tow place themselves directly in our line of vision. Just asking for it, really. The couple face away from each other, exchanging not a word. Ellen and I are intrigued. What does he see in her (and not us)? Why aren’t they talking? Does she realize just how good she has it? Where do we catch a sexy one like that? You only appreciate what you don’t have, I guess.

Jesus, Ellen proclaims.

A six-foot-one Naomi Campbell look-alike enmeshed in a metallic Hervé Leger dress has just stalked across Al Fassia to either join her friends or consume them. We gape like everyone else. Having reached our (early!) forties we’re too old to even remotely, possibly compete with her for attention: we’re no longer jealous of creatures of her ilk, just in awe of them. Left wondering what it would be like to actually be them. Happy for them even, the lucky bitches.

I’d like to say that one of the (few) advantages of aging is being able to just drop-out from The Competition and enjoy it from the sidelines, but the truth is, you keep competing, just in a different bracket, another division.

Ellen and I applaud the supermodel but we’re still envious of the middle-aged wife with the hot middle-aged husband.

“More Medallion?” I proffer as a salve.

“Why not?”

We like El Fassia Gueliz a lot.

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CHICAGO: WHERE to EAT & DRINK in LINCOLN PARK & OLD TOWN

Part one of this post covered where to stay and my favorite (lesser-known) things to do in Lincoln Park and Old Town for visitors and locals alike. This post: where to eat and drink in the neighborhoods.

Full disclosure: I have not solicited every restaurant and bar in Lincoln Park and Old Town – I’m probably overlooking some worthy inclusions.

Lincoln Park Old Town Map

Credit: Peter Fitzgerald

FAVORITE SHOPS, BARS AND RESTAURANTS IN LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN

COFFEE

Starbucks at North & Wells: The horror! Recommending the capitalistic, ubiquitous, mega-chain Starbucks!?! Yes, I am. Sure, the coffee is not that great (if you want decent coffee and, for that matter, decent service, go north to Julius Meinle — but this isn’t a Lakeview post, it’s a Lincoln Park/Old Town post…) however this outlet is located on the friendliest corner you’ll find in the city. I like to sit outside on a Sunday and linger over the New York Times, pet the parade of puppies and watch Sam the Streetwise Man work his magic with the crowd. Everyone in Old Town knows and loves Sam. 210 W. North Avenue

“Fun” fact for people over 40: The Walgreen’s across the street sold a box of Tylenol leading to one of the deaths in the unsolved 1982 Tylenol Murders.

BREAKFAST

Chicago Bagel AuthorityI cherish this quirky neighborhood joint with its weirdly-named bagels, collection of sticky hot sauce bottles and insider jokes tacked to the walls. Don’t be shy when you go: just belly-up to the counter with the bed-headed, hungover DePaul co-eds and choose from over 60 steamed (not toasted!) exotic bagel combinations. Cozy in the winter, open and airy in the summer (there’s outdoor seating in back). 953 W. Armitage Avenue

Glazed and Infused DoughnutsIf you’re ruled by your sweet tooth, go instead to Glazed and Infused Doughnuts, the area carbo rage for awhile now (doughnuts are the new cupcake in Lincoln Park). 939 W. Armitage Avenue

Behold, below: the Red Velvet (cocoa buttermilk cake with vanilla bean glaze, cream cheese frosting and red velvet crumbles).

Red Velvet Glazed and Infused Lincoln Park

Photo by Kristi Koszewski

Toast: Toast has had them lining-up outside the door for nearly 20 years now. I recommend the traditional eggs benedict with a monster (wasabi) bloody mary. Or, the traditional eggs benedict with two monster (wasabi) bloody marys. 746 W. Wesbster Avenue

Floriole Cafe and Bakery: The word that comes to mind whenever I enter Floriole is civilized. This is my Saturday morning go-to spot for the lightest, fluffiest bacon and cheddar quiche in Chicago, maybe the world. Outdoor seating is available for a lucky few. 1220 W. Webster Avenue

LUNCH

Blue Door Farm Stand: BDFS is leading the way as Armitage Avenue finally seems to be finding its identity — as a foodie destination. Yay! This unpretentious (it could have turned-out pretentious) newcomer features fresh, seasonal food and drink from local farms and farmers’ markets. I especially like the easy take-out option. 843 Armitage Avenue

Below: Their best-seller, brussels sprouts, kale and bacon salad.

kale salad blue door farm stand lincoln park

Photo by Marcin Cymmer

Amato’s Pizzeria: Sausage thin-crust. Best slice in Chicago. Period. 953 W. Willow Street

Amatos Pizzeria Lincoln Park

COCKTAILS

The J. Parker: This restaurant/bar atop the Hotel Lincoln boasts the best views in Lincoln Park and perhaps Chicago. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. 1816 N. Clark Street

DINNER

Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern: I walked past this Old Town neighborhood joint that looks like a hundred other Chicago neighborhood joints for years and never paid attention to it until I met two people in one week — neither of whom even live in Chicago — who both claimed it as their favorite Windy City eats. Boy am I an idiot. The ribs are great, but I fell for the character this place oozes. Great photos of Sinatra and other famous guests line the walls. 1655 N. Sedgwick Street

Twin Anchors Old Town Chicago

North Pond: Guys: if you want to impress your date, take her here. Between the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-esque architecture, history (it was originally built in 1912 as a warming shelter for ice skaters) and location (in the actual Lincoln Park with a view of Lake Michigan), this is the most romantic dining spot in the city. I’m not waiting for a date, however, to return for their foodie favorite brunch. 2610 N. Cannon Drive

Alinea: This is the place to go when someone else is paying. Brace yourself for a very long, very expensive, very spectacular molecular gastronomical experience. A once-in-a-lifetime (or more, if you’re lucky) must-do. Alinea is rated three Michelin stars and has often been heralded as the best restaurant in the U.S. on the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. 1723 N. Halsted Street

Mon Ami Gabi: Awwww, I saved my absolute favorite for last. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for MAG because it’s where I picked nervously at my dinner and gulped wine 10 years ago after submitting an offer (for much more than I intended to spend) on my current condo (and I haven’t missed a mortgage payment yet). Nope, I think I’m so fond of it for the frisée (with warm bacon and a poached egg) salad and the hand-cut fries. Or maybe it’s because I can sit outside with a view of the park in the summer or perch at the intimate bar with the other regulars in the winter. Or possibly it’s because no other restaurant in the city attracts the same randomly mixed crowd: famous Chicagoans, suburbanites out on a tear, wealthy dowagers and their heirs, bespectacled literary-types, flamboyant twosomes and just average josies like me. 2300 N. Lincoln Park West

Below: The signature steak frites.

Steak Frites Mon Ami Gabi Lincoln Park

Part one of this post: where to stay and my favorite (lesser-known) things to do Lincoln Park and Old Town.

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CHICAGO: WHAT to do in LINCOLN PARK & OLD TOWN

LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN STAYCATION / VACATION

I love traveling for work and pleasure and I love coming home. I’m either never satisfied or always satisfied, depending upon how you look at it. Home is Chicago, more specifically the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I’m constantly straying into nearby Old Town.

This post isn’t a “Best of” post: first off, I haven’t tried all my options in Lincoln Park and Old Town and second; even if I had, who am I to judge? (actually, my tastes are impeccable). It’s just a compilation of my regular haunts and favorite things to do that I highly recommend to others whether they’re visiting the area or they’re a local.

Lincoln Park Old Town Map

Credit: Peter Fitzgerald

WHERE TO STAY IN LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN

The three hotels in the neighborhoods that I would recommend differ significantly from one another.

PUBLIC: PUBLIC, a luxury boutique hotel conceived by Ian Schrager, is the place to see and be seen of the three properties. Maximalist lobby, minimalist rooms. My favorite part? The multiple comfortable public spaces to relax and sip a cup of coffee, use the computer, cocktail it up or just people-watch. Pop downstairs (whether you’re a guest or not) to look at the black and white photos of celebrities at play at the famous former Pump Room during its heyday. 1301 N. State Parkway

Hotel Lincoln:  While PUBLIC is frenetic and flashy, the Hotel Lincoln has a more laid-back, retro (eclectic) vibe. The location — close to restaurants, shops and across the street from the actual Lincoln Park — is the best of this bunch for exploring Lincoln Park. This hipster property doesn’t take itself too seriously (a good thing): pets are welcome and the Wall of Bad Art (stop in and see it even if you don’t stay here) is refreshingly kitsch. 1816 N. Clark Street

Hotel Lincoln Lobby Old Town Chicago

Villa D’Citta Boutique Mansion: Villa D’Citta is the quiet, romantic choice. I have seen it only from the outside (the place looks stately) but online reviewers have ranked it #1 of 25 B&Bs in Chicago. Former guests rave over the hospitality extended, fresh-baked goods from the gourmet kitchen, and the wine-on-tap. They really like that wine-on-tap. 2230 N. Halsted Street

FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN

The most well-known attractions in Lincoln Park and Old Town are the Steppenwolf Theatre, Second City, the actual Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo. My recommendations for the best less-obvious things to do follow.

SpaceTime Tanks: I haven’t yet tried the light/sound machine or the “vibroacoustic bed” (they’re on my list) but I highly recommend spending a deeply relaxing hour floating in one of their sensory deprivation tanks for a change of pace. 2526 N. Lincoln Avenue

Midwest Buddhist Temple: After walking by this temple and its pretty grounds for years I finally worked-up the nerve to attend the Sunday service in English. I felt welcome, enjoyed the sermon (if that’s what it’s called) on Buddhism and found the entire experience interesting (although I could have done with less chanting). I’ve gone once since, and I will likely go again. If you like gongs you’ll love this place. 435 W. Menomonee Street

Midwest Buddhist Temple Old Town Chicago

Fit Foot: Many a summer Saturday morning I will hoof-it to Fit Foot (stopping for quiche at Floriole Cafe & Bakery along the way) for a full one-hour foot and body massage. This place is sans frills: you’re clothed and lying in a sterile room with a bunch of other people (but I actually prefer it to the cucumber-water-Enya-playing-what-size-slippers-do-you-wear? high-end spa bullshit routine). A treatment costs only $28 (plus give a big tip). I recommend Wendy as a therapist. 1459 W. Fullerton Avenue

International Museum of Surgical Science: As an appreciator of architecture and sucker for bizarre museums, I’m a big fan of the IMSS. Housed in a nearly 100-year-old mansion, the exhibits, based on historical themes and surgical disciplines, make you glad that you’re living (and dying) in modern times. The contemporary anatomy-themed gallery is also cool. 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive

International Museum of Surgical Sciences Old Town Chicago

International Museum of Surgical Sciences Anatomy Art Old Town Chicago

Lincoln Park Home Walk: My own recommended one-hour walking tour of the most unique contemporary homes and McMansions (valued as high as $18 million) in the neighborhood. Starts at 953 W. Willow Street

922 West Willow Street Lincoln Park

Elks Veterans Memorial: I don’t think it occurs to many locals that this memorial is open to the public most days of the week, much of the year. Chances are you’ll have the friezes, statues, murals and grand rooms all to yourself. Don’t miss the photos in the room in the basement. 2750 N. Lakeview Avenue 

p.s. Proud to be the daughter of an Elk!

Astor Street Walk: Lincoln Park has Burling Street; Old town has Astor. Astor Street (named after John Jacob Astor) is home to Chicago’s most expensive, elaborate and stunning 19th-century homes. Take this walk right around dusk for glimpses of the decor inside them. Start at North Avenue and Astor Street

Astor Street Old Town Chicago

NOW WHAT?

Read my next post for where to eat, have a drink, or just hang-out in Lincoln Park and Old Town.

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