Friday, February 8, 2008

Great First-Date Spots

In my mind, the criteria for a first date with girls of our age and status is pretty clear: Casual enough to alleviate the associated pressure of a first date; filled with plenty of distractions in case he is boring, but not so loud as to prohibit conversation if you feel so inclined to get to know each other; and nice enough that the guy has to put in some degree of effort (and cash) – i.e. no sneakers, jeans, baseball hats, or happy hour specials.

Below are a bunch of great first date dining options that fit the bill. Even if your date’s a dud – your dinner doesn’t have to be!

Adobo Grill, Old Town
Cuisine: Authentic Mexican / Nuevo Latino

This boisterous Mexican spot is an experience for your senses – complete with margaritas that go down like candy! It’s busy enough that you can amuse yourself if your date’s jokes don’t do the trick, but also allows for conversation if you prefer to get to know each other better. And make sure you order the guacamole – they prepare it tableside for your entertainment and palate!

1610 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: 312-266-7999

Luxbar, Gold Coast
Cuisine: Traditional American / Bar Food

Luxbar is a great choice for those who play into the “drinks-first-and-we’ll-see-what-happens” mentality. If you don’t want to commit to a full dinner but would like to keep your options open, LuxBar offers a great upscale Chicago-bar atmosphere for the upwardly mobile, young professional lushes (not to mention the frequently spotted sugar-daddy-arm-candy ensembles) as well as a full menu of delicious appetizers, salads, sandwiches and steaks if your date makes the cut and gets promoted to an entree.

18 E. Bellevue Pl. (Rush & Division)
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-642-3400

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! Lincoln Park
Cuisine: Spanish Tapas

Caring is sharing. Enjoy getting to know each other over shared small plates at this lively Lincoln Park watering hole. They boast a great assortment of unique Latin-inspired cocktails and too many types of Tapas to explore in just one visit. While this restaurant is less expensive than some of the others on this list (depending on how much you drink of course) – I highly recommend you (or, ideally your date) make a reservation and that requires a commitment to date, location and time - a great kick-off to a budding relationship.

2024 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: 773-935-5000

Rumba, River North
Cuisine: Latin Fusion

This is a great date choice and probably the most expensive on my list. The atmosphere is perfect for a fun, sassy dinner while you loosen up over a few tasty mojitos or caipirinhas. Between the live band and infinite influx of interesting-looking patrons you’ll never be at a loss for entertainment or conversation starters. If the date is going well, you can stay after dinner and dance the night away to some sexy Latin beats. You know what they say about how a person dances… talk about killing two birds with one stone.

351 W. Hubbard St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312-222-1228

Rosebud, River North
Cuisine: Italian

For the more subdued set, Rosebud is a great standby for delicious Italian food, lively atmosphere and flattering lighting (girls, you know what I mean). Enjoy a cocktail or two with an appetizer like the perfectly crisp calamari and then sink your teeth into any one of their hearty Italian entrees, including a vast assortment of pastas, risottos, Milanese and Parmesan dishes. This is a good choice if you know the company will be good – it’s a bit quieter than the other recommendations and thus, you should prepare to be the primary source of each other’s entertainment.

720 N. Rush St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-266-6444

RA Sushi, Near North
Cuisine: Japanese Fusion / Sushi

Personally I think sushi on a first date is bit dicey, but if you must get your raw-on then where better to go than RA. More like a club than a typical sushi restaurant, you can bask in the joys of people-watching as good-looking 20 and 30-somethings clamor to catch up at the bar; indulge in an array of trendy cocktails to take the edge off the work week that is quickly fading into the shadows of Friday night; and show off your adventurous side with an assortment of unique and vibrant cooked and uncooked menu items. If the conversation dwindles, you can always talk about the Crazy Monkey Roll… or pick yourself up a hot replacement at the bar.

1139 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312-274-0011

Thursday, February 7, 2008


In April/May I will be playing violin for the Porchlight Music Theatre's production of the Broadway musical “Nine”.

“This spectacular winner of the 1982 Tony Award for Best Musical delighted Broadway theatergoers in a hit revival in 2003. Based on Fellini's classic film 8 ½, Nine is the story of a famous film director and his attempts to come up with a plot for his next film as he is pursued by hordes of beautiful women, all clamoring to be loved by him and him alone. Flashbacks reveal the substance of his life - which will become the material for his next film - a musical version of the Casanova story. A sexy, sophisticated delight!” Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston - Winner of the Tony Award for Best Original Score in 1982 (Nine), and 1997 (Titanic).

"A galloping fantasy with a ravishingly inventive and tuneful score."
New York Times

The show will run April 4 – May 18, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 2:30PM at the Theatre Building (1225 W. Belmont) in Chicago. Tickets are $35 and available through the Theatre Building box office or online at

Porchlight is one of Chicago's most awarded musical theatres. The company has been recognized with 24 Joseph Jefferson Equity nominations, five Jeff Equity Awards, 31 Jeff Citation nominations, as well as 11 Jeff Citations, 28 After Dark awards, and two Black Theater Alliance Award nominations.

As the Chicago Tribune proclaims, "Porchlight is becoming one of Chicago's marquee theatrical names."

February Favorites

These are a few of my favorite things for February...

Location: 44 East Ontario Street, Downtown

Three words: Cheap, cheap, cheap! How do they get away with being so cheap? I'm done trying to figure that out and instead plan to sample and enjoy everything this phenomenon-of-a-food-store has to offer. Here's an idea - grab a bunch of their uber-cheap hors d’oeuvres (like Spinach Dip, Calamari, or Mini Quiches), call up some friends and have a fabulous time without ever leaving the comfort of your own apartment!

(From Starbucks…any Starbucks)
Location: A corner near you

It's a holiday for your mouth. And yes, of course you can get it in nonfat (I do) and it still tastes absolutely decadent...

Location: 626 North State Street (State and Ontario)

Still my favorite standby for Italian small-plates, reasonably-priced wine and great times with good friends - the warm atmosphere inside will make you forget the dreary miserable slush outside.

Location: Millennium Park, Michigan Ave.

Who says romance is dead. Grab your partner by the hand and round-and-round you go! It’s inexpensive (less than $10 will get your own pair of rental skates), it’s a good workout (I know you have that on your list of yet-to-achieve resolutions that are already gathering dust on the fridge) and it’s fun (something we don’t have nearly enough of in the blustery Chicago winter).

West Egg Cafe, Streeterville

Sundays, Sunnyside-Up

Rise and Shine, sleepy head! Just crawling out of bed with a hangover clinging to you like the smell of beer and smoke on your new fall sweater… not to mention, that incessant pounding in your head that leaves you wondering whether you’re still rockin’ out at the club that, as of this morning, is already sooooo ‘yesterday’?

Sounds like you need a cold shower and a hot cup of coffee. Now I know the last thing you want to do is wait in line for hours between cold sweats, hot flashes and hiccups that still taste like last night’s margarita – but trust me, the long line at the West Egg café, though ominous at first glance, moves quickly - And it’s OH SO worth it.

When we’re able to scrape ourselves off the couch on a post-party weekend morning, we head straight to this Streetville spot for breakfast. Their selection of omelets and other egg concoctions is as infinite as the selection of shoes in my overflowing closet. And for those who don’t like eggs, West Egg has an array of fluffy oversized waffles, syrup-drenched pancakes, muffins and bagels and sausage, OH MY!

This weekend, get on your comfy clothes and check out West Egg to start your day sunny side up.

West Egg Cafe
620 N Fairbanks Ct
Chicago, IL 60611-3011
Phone: (312) 280-8366

Rumba, River North

Shaken or Stirred, it's an all around party for your senses

If you’re always on the lookout for ways to spice up your weekend like I am, then dust off your dancing shoes, dress to impress, and tango your way on over to Rumba. Tucked away on a quiet corner of West Hubbard (near the East Bank Club) the outside seems unassuming, but the second you walk through the doors, you’ll be swept away to another time in a far-off and exotic place.

The interior oozes decadence with dark custom-made banquettes, red drapery and a live jazz band setting the tone for a delectable dinner. Kick off your night with any one of their flavorful appetizers - my vote goes to the crispy conga rolls (the secret’s in the sauce). For dinner, we found the Filet Mignon de Soto, divine and the Camarones al Diablo en tequila (shrimp sautéed with tequila, green onion, tomato, garlic and a touch of habanero), devilishly delish. Wash it all down with one of their famous tropical drinks, like a mojito or caipirinha.

Around 9:30, they clear the tables, turn the lights down and the music up, transforming the once subdued dinner spot into a hip-shaking, heel-kicking, date-spinning dance party. Not a superstar salsero? Not to worry – there’s a quick lesson at the beginning so that even amateurs can learn the basic steps. We were lucky to have one of the tables along the perimeter of the dance floor and got to keep it for the entire evening – a welcome rest from all the spinning! And just when you thought it couldn’t get hotter, dinner patrons are exempt from the $10 weekend cover charge so you can dance off your dinner without denting your wallet.

This weekend go heat things up at RUMBA… Professional salsa skills not required.

351 W Hubbard St
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: (312) 222-1226

Mike Ditka's Restaurant, Gold Coast

A local “Boy’s Club” that isn't just for the Boys

Ladies - are you craving a little testosterone but prefer not to be drenched in beer and slobbering 20-somethings? Mike Ditka’s in the Tremont Hotel is a staple of the sophisticated Chicago sports-fan and one of my latest favorites for after work salad and martinis with the girls. The dark wood and flat screen TVs scream “guy’s guys” but you won’t see a tattered Bears jersey or an unkempt hat-head in here.

There’s something charming about being surrounded by handsome professional men, cheering on their favorite Chicago sports teams without barfing up their beer. The ever present scent of cigar smoke is reminiscent of the days of Al Capone (and, well… I suppose, Mike Ditka). The martinis are cold and freshly shaken tableside and the burgers are sinfully juicy. The Chopped Salad boasts over a dozen vegetables, is under 10 bucks and big enough to share so that you can save on dinner and afford to splurge on some great cocktails. The bread is warm and crave-worthy and the wait-staff is friendly and attentive, making all guests feel like home.

Of course, they have a great selection high-quality steaks, chops and seafood for those craving a heavier fare, but for the girly girls who just want a night out amongst the boys every once and a while – this is a great spot to split some reasonably priced apps, salads and wash it all down with a signature cocktail… or three.

You don’t even have to know who he is to have a great time at Mike Ditka’s. (Although if you don’t, you should probably keep that to yourself until you are out of earshot and the Illinois state line).

Mike Ditka's Restaurant
100 E Chestnut St
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: (312) 587-8989

Ten Pin Bowling Lounge, Marina City

Strike" out in style at Ten Pin!

As a Chicago local who hates dealing with the influx of summer, weekend, holiday, and – well - any-old-day-or-night-of-the-week tourists, who’d-a thought I could find anything even remotely redeeming about the ultra touristy House of Blues Hotel and adjoining facilities. But alas, today I eat my words, having discovered yet another jewel of Chicago culture and ‘townie’ entertainment.

When my boyfriend announced his brilliant “master plan” involving the two of us, a group of friends, cheap beer and matching, unflattering uniforms, I realized that my standard “56” wouldn’t exactly cut it in his fantasy world of Tuesday night bowling league glory,

The dedicated (and at this point, desperate) girlfriend I am, I wasted no time in scouring the city for bowling lounges where we could hone my ‘technique’ (or lack thereof) without being surrounded by small children to overhear the inevitable barrage of four letter faux pas, when my technique was not honed as quickly as I’d like.

In my quest to find the perfect spot to sink my strike (not!), I learned one thing – bowling in Chicago is not cheap. Most places cost a good $20 an hour – on weeknights! After extensive research however, I landed on Ten Pin Bowling Lounge, located in Marina City by the House of Blues Hotel. Not exactly where you’d expect to find a bargain – but much to my surprise they a super-trendy atmosphere, fantastic finger-food, one of the best bloody marys I’ve had in a long time and two great ongoing deals.

On Sundays you can get three hours of unlimited bowling for just $15/person and drink specials including $2.50 Miller and Miller Lite, and $4 select cocktails and bloody marys (right up my alley).

And if that’s not enough to get you into a pair a retro rentals, bring your man in for Monday night football (broadcast on eight oversized screens spanning 24 lanes), $4 games and discounted appetizers including 50 cent wings, half-price pizzas and $2.50 Miller bottles (although I’m sure they’ll give you draft if you ask nicely). They even have a “football toss” at half time with an opportunity to win $10,000!

At this rate, we’ll be ready to join a league in no time.

10Pin Bowling Lounge
330 North State Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610