Starstruck by art

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (below), I found myself floating on an excess of wonder.

Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keefe

Stairways and soaring corridors led us to the Contemporary Wing, housing an impressive assortment of notable works. Frankly, it was like attending a party attended by an eccentric assortment of heroes. Meeting creations by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Charles Ray, and Damien Hirst made me feel a little starstruck: wide eyed and at a loss for words! I also had a the pleasure of encountering some artists for the first time, including Katharina Frisch, whose ‘Woman With Dog’ brought to mind happy hours scouring coastal rock pools as a child.

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Downstairs I found myself drawn to the implied magic of the miniature rooms conceived by Mrs James Ward Thorne and created, under her guidance, by master craftsmen between 1932 and 1940.

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Each represents a home from a particular time and location, with details down to the carpets and knick-knacks summoning up an impression of the lives that might have been lived there. It’s entrancing for any lover of art, architecture, history or humanity.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elsewhere, the halls of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic art instilled us with a sense of tranquillity, while the Architecture and Design exhibits inspired is with its grace and practicality.

We were also fortunate to visit when the John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age exhibition was on, and to walk among excellent work not only by the artist himself, but by his contemporaries, including Claude Monet.

The scale of these galleries makes it unlikely you’ll be able to see every exhibit in a single visit. My advice is to select a few galleries and do them justice. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu.

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Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Beautifully balanced Chicago flavours

Cafe Robey Gnocchi

Set on the corner where North, Damen and Milwaukee Avenues meet in Chicago’s Wicker Park Bucktown neighborhood, Café Robey is just one ingredient of the immense art deco tower that also houses the hotel of the same name.

The wait staff are as attentive as America has taught us to expect, with a soupçon of elegance layered on top. Our water glasses never fall more than a half inch below brimful, and Mr J is called Sir so often he has trouble holding onto his composure.

Cafe Robey Ford Model cocktail

I start with the Ford’s Model cocktail, a reference to the Chicago Assembly, Ford Motor Company’s longest running manufacturing plant. It may not sound like the most mouthwatering premise, but the cocktail itself, with Hibiscus Ford’s Gin, Chareau, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, cucumber and 11th Orchard Pine Bitters, is as refreshing as stepping into an air-conditioned store after a stroll down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, aka North Michigan Avenue.

Mr J opts for a beer, taking advantage of America’s flourishing microbreweries. We find ourselves discussing the beauty of the glassware between sips and feeling just a touch Great Gatsby.

The menu is pleasingly simple, with each dish sporting a single word description to whet your appetite: Gnocchi, Scallop, Pork, Duck…

Mr J starts with the Pork Belly, a treasury of braised pork belly, almond mole, charred pineapple gel (gel proves to be a key a feature on this menu), corn fritters, spiced cabbage and pickled radishes. He describes it as “tenderly glazed”, and “perfectly balanced.”

Cafe Robey Prawn

I opt for the head-on prawn with fried green tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, Acqua Pazza, Three Sisters’ Grits and fresh basil. The grits are crisp, the prawns deliciously meaty and the Acqua Pazza (yes, I had to Google that) delightfully light, but unexpectedly, it’s the heirloom tomatoes that steal the show, with a delicate juicy flavour that sweetly asserts their fruit status.

Mr J chooses the gnocchi as his main, and raves about their crunchy exteriors and soft, moist centres.

Cafe Robey Duck

I can’t resist ordering the lavender-cured duck breast, accompanied by duck consommé, faro (a whole grain) fava bean succotash and kumquat marmalade. The whole dish taste wonderfully nutritious, the antithesis to the burgers and deep pan pizzas more commonly associated with Chicago cuisine. The duck is utterly luscious, while the succotash and faro add just the right amount of bite.

Cafe Robey Honeycake

For dessert I’m all about the toasted cardamom honey cake, served in glistening wedges with moreishly rich pistachio custard, raspberry gel, zingy raspberries and thyme and lavender salt. It’s a texture and taste bonanza; my mouth has rarely been happier.

At the end of our meal, we’re each brought a shot of milk and a cookie. Glancing around, I spot diners across the restaurant cosying up with their own cookies and milk. It’s an unlikely touch of comfort at such a chic establishment, but one received with as much appreciation as the finest gastronomic mouthfuls on this indulgent and imaginative menu.

Find Café Robey at 1616 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA,
872 315 3084 https://www.caferobey.com.

Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.