Author Archives: Lauren Fondriest

Taste Test: Fried Chicken, Sage Butter Pasta, Caramel Bread Pudding and More…

Taste Test: Fried Chicken, Sage Butter Pasta, Caramel Bread Pudding and More…

I love that Chicago is one of the best cities to eat in. Any style, flavors or price tag you’re looking for, it’s all here. I had the pleasure of dining at several food establishments lately and will tempt your taste buds with my thoughts and imageries here…


And – lucky for you – many Chicago Restaurant Week locations are extending their special menus through February 13 or even the end of February! Check out my Twitter feed for the listings.



Nico Osteria (1015 N. Rush)

I have been dying to try this Gold Coast newcomer to see what all the raving is about! Now I understand – Nico Osteria checks off all the boxes that comprise a great dining experience. Located adjacent to the Thompson Hotel, the restaurant boasts a fun atmosphere, an open view to the food prep area and a look out to the snowy passers-by. Greeted with warm service by each staffer, all of our needs were attended to. Most notable was our waitress, Lynn, whom we were so pleased is a true foodie. You can tell true foodie passion when you ask what to order – the taste descriptions and suggestions were spot-on.


To start us off right, my Dad (my wonderful dining partner) called over the sommelier to figure out which varietal would pair best with our planned menu. We began our meal with the Grilled Octopus Fettuna, a bruschetta of sorts topped with a tasty combo of caramelized shallots, white beans and olives. The pasta menu looked so good that we had to order two – the Fontina Scarpinocc and the Rigatoni with Ragu. For the first – imagine the swirl of sage, cinnamon, almonds and butter – such a delightful combination delicately topped with diced butternut squash. Don’t shy away from the butter – it really brought out the flavor! For the Rigatoni – true comfort food that warms you up on a night like these. Because Nico’s true passion is seafood, we ordered the Salt Crusted Branzino, which was a nice, light fish topped with the unique flavors of white clamshell mushrooms and zante currants – adding a refreshingly unexpected sweetness.


From start to finish, Nico Osteria provided a great experience, and I can’t wait to go back!


Nico Osteria Cocktail Lounge

If you venture just past the restaurant entrance and deeper into the Thompson Hotel you’ll come across a cocktail lounge bustling with Saturday-night vibe. Upon entering, let your eyes flow up past the wall of liquor to the wall of plants, adding greenery and character to this indoor space. There is a lounge niche to the back, and veering left into the Thompson Hotel lobby you can take the stairs up, past the rustic antler chandelier, to the upstairs bar, which has a great view of the mixings below. Over the sounds of cocktails being shaken and fancy people chit-chatting, you can order off their cocktail menu. For an after dinner drink, I selected the “Gilder,” a mix of vanilla, lemon and blood orange that turned out pink and frothy but was quite delicious and surprisingly not too sweet. Come check out this new spot after your dinner at Nico Osteria or when passing down Rush Street.



Nia Mediterranean (803 W. Randolph) – Participant in Chicago Restaurant Week

One of the cornerstones of the West Loop’s Restaurant Row, Nia provides a fresh look at Mediterranean comfort food. For my first voyage on Chicago Restaurant Week, we opted for lunch and beat the crowds, resulting in dedicated and personalized service. Pulled in by the prix fixe menu (on which everything sounds delicious), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their prix fixe menu is a regular fixture to provide their guests with a wide variety of Mediterranean tastes. With the option of six tapas or eight tapas, we obviously chose eight. The part that’s both the most fun but also the hardest is narrowing it down to just one choice per category! Read on for my favorites…


Of course, saganaki was one of my favorites. The classic savory Greek cheese, often lit up in flames, adds a special touch to a meal out. Served with a squeeze of lemon, so good! The wild mushroom risotto was a warm and nutty winter favorite, with each type of mushroom adding its own uniqueness to the flavor. For our seafood course, we chose the crab cakes topped with an artful drizzle of yellow saffron aioli. The perfect little bite-sized crab cakes were just the right texture and perfect for sharing. After much debate over the meat course, the lamb and feta meatballs came out a winner. Served with a pomodoro sauce and of course more cheese, the meatballs were a satisfying finale to our savory tapas. To quench the inevitable sweet tooth, order the bread pudding. Served warm, topped with caramel and vanilla ice cream, this is the most delightful bread pudding you will ever have.


With great options for sharing among large and small groups alike, check out Nia for their tasty tapas in the West Loop!


Pump Room (1301 N. State) – Participant in Chicago Restaurant Week

Nestled inside the Public Hotel, the Pump Room greets you with lovely décor and smiling faces. Taking you back to the old school Hollywood glamour, the space carries a beautiful esthetic – a series of round booths topped with unique round lanterns. In the downstairs area (near the restrooms), the walls are lined with black and white photos of fabulous guests from the past. People-watch the patrons to see who is the most fancy, chic or even famous. Not to be overshadowed by the décor, the food presented a wide range of flavors, textures and even temperatures.


As the Pump Room was participating in Chicago Restaurant Week, we opted to choose our meals from the special menu. Each of the first course options was a refreshing taste to kick off the meal. We tried the carrot and avocado salad, which was tossed with sprouts, a bright vinaigrette and topped with a dollop of sour cream. The salmon and rice sushi was a crispy little bite of deliciousness with multiple textures and flavors. For my entrée I ordered the fried chicken with spinach and buttery hot sauce. So yummy! The chicken was perfectly done with a light, crispy shell, mounted atop sautéed spinach as the green contrast to the spicy sauce below. Each bite was better than the last. Until….we received dessert! Cooling down our palates with a cup of ice cream, we were surprised to find all the little treats at the bottom of the cup – popcorn, candied peanuts and a layer of hot fudge. This was a great closeout to a beautiful meal. Looking forward to checking out the Pump Room’s other spots including the Library Bar and the coffee shop.


Watch List: Upcoming Restaurant Openings


Leghorn Chicken


In the spirit of fried chicken, get into Leghorn Chicken as soon as it opens its doors. Their luscious but simple menu serves up fried chicken on a buttermilk biscuit accompanied by toppers such as fried green tomatoes and housemade ranch. With some of their guiding principles in contrast with Chick-fil-A’s philosophies, Leghorn Chicken provides a breath of fresh air to the city.




Opening soon next to Bub City in River North, Bottlefork is slowly leaking photos of house cocktails, smoked meats and scratch-made desserts, but won’t give any concrete details. Watch for more info!


Fashion-Forward February

Fashion-Forward February

Chicago hosts a number of fashion and beauty events this month. Get your stylish self out there to enjoy!



  • Get a taste of Chicago’s designers on the runway at Chicago Women’s Wear Fashion Runway Show hosted by FashionBar. Benefiting the Inspired Youth Tutoring Program, the runway show will feature items from the designers’ fall/winter 2014 lines. The event takes place at the Drake Hotel’s Palm Court (140 E. Walton) on Thursday, February 13 from 6:30 – 10 p.m. Tickets available for $20 – 50, buy yours to claim your swag bag today!



  • Starting your own fashion business or blog? Get some advice on how to fund your business in the Dabble class “Creative Ways to Finance Your Fashion Business.” Image consultant Nancy Plummer hosts the class, walking you through how to set fees, build sponsorships and make a profit. Held at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State) from 6 – 8 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19, tickets $25



  • Beautify yourself in Dabble’s Curling Iron Class on Thursday, February 20 from 7 – 8 p.m. For $20, hairstylist Lynnea D. will show you the tricks of the trade and the best ways to curl your hair using products and a curling iron. This hands-on class will be supplemented by a lipstick lesson as well. Held at Goldplaited (2803 N. Sheffield)


  • Save the date for March 12 – J. Gordon Designs (2326 N. Clark) in Lincoln Park hosts the next session of their fantastic blow dry boot camps. Having previously attended this course, I can say it’s well worth going to learn how to tame your tresses with a blow dryer for a sleek look. The cost (usually $35) will be earned back in products from the salon. Request stylist Lauren and you will be blessed with blow dry skills for life



  • Shop all things monogrammed at All She Wrote (825 W. Armitage). Style yourself with a python leather clutch available in 8 colors, and of course personalization is an option. Browse their personalized stationery, gifts and more, and you might even be lucky enough to come across their “Monograms and Mimosas” events on an upcoming weekend


Out around town? Taking advantage of the events I post about? Share your photos with us on Instagram! Follow us @thechicagolifestyle

Enlighten Your Social Life with The Numbered Days

Enlighten Your Social Life with The Numbered Days

Looking for a new and exciting party scene? Enter The Numbered Days – an organization designed around throwing the most innovative, interactive, dance-party worthy events in Chicago. Founder Marc Uible designed the organization looking for a little more intrigue and inspiration, taking the concept of connecting and mingling – so frequently found online – and bringing it back into the real world.


Take a break from your neighborhood bars for a night and shake it up with The Numbered Days’ parties. Featuring events such as a loft party at Stan Mansion in Logan Square, an urban scavenger hunt “The Clever Ape Race” in Lakeview and this year’s New Year’s Eve party at Ignite Glass Studios, the creative possibilities are endless. Collaborations with organizations such as these turn events into multi-faceted arenas with the common themes of art, music, dancing and mixing with other in-the-know Chicagoans:


  • Bottle & Bottega (BYOB painting classes)
  • The Simple Good (connecting people in communities globally through art and discussion)
  • Glappit-Nova (a destination for Chicago’s young influencers)
  • Glassworks (connecting city youth with art development and marketing opportunities)


Join the party with The Numbered Days’ upcoming “Games” event, putting the Olympics in our hands. Celebrate the magic of the winter games through opening and closing ceremonies, friendly competitions and a hands-on crowd sourced painting of the Olympic Village. Imagine stilt-walkers, an interactive photo booth, beach balls in the air and an Olympic-torch lit up by you and your friends. The dance party will be fueled by DJs Matt Roan and Autograf, and it all goes down in the Logan Square Auditorium on Saturday, February 15.


Get in on the action here:

What’s Up This Month: February 2014

What’s Up This Month: February 2014

Chicago Theatre Week

Top picks from Chicago actor Eli Branson:

Sure–you could escape the cold with another night out at the movies, but why not spend an evening with some real, LIVE actors and take advantage of Chicago Theatre Week!  From February 11th-16th tickets are discounted at most participating theatres for as low as $15-$30 (some places less!).

Best bets: These selections are based TOTALLY on what l think are must-sees, but since this is Chicago theatre, I guarantee any show you pick will be worth the (discounted!) price of admission.

  • From White Plains (Broken Nose Theatre @ The Greenhouse Theatre Center)  – coming off an incredible, GLAAD Award-winning off-Broadway run Michael Perlman’s play about bullying makes its Chicago Debut with the tagline “Just because it gets better doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”  What happens when the nasty, thoughtless words we’ve said as children come back to haunt us in adulthood? Tickets (with discount code) here.
  • Improv All Stars (UP Comedy Club) – Maybe it’s all the “30 Rock” binge-watching I’ve indulged in, but a night of improv (with a “Suggested R” rating) directed by living-legend Mick Napier sounds like the perfect respite from our endless winter. $15 tickets here.
  • Tribes (Steppenwolf) – This story of a deaf man’s quest to find an identity outside his family unit is sparking a vibrant dialog about representations of disability in the theatre (as well as bowling-over critics).  See a show in the birthplace of Gary Sinise for only $30! Tickets (with discount code) here.
  • Hedda Gabler (Writer’s Theatre in Glencoe) – The Practically Perfect Kate Fry leads Broadway-bound director Kimberly Senior’s new production; wallow in the winter-time blues with this haunting domestic drama—maybe you won’t leave humming any tunes, but it’s sure to be a knock-out.  Tickets (with discount code) here.
  • Rough Crossing (First Folio Theatre, Oakbrook, IL) – this rollicking Tom Stoppard comedy is sure to be hilarious in a new treatment by First Folio Theatre.  Performances take place in the historic and gorgeous Mayslake Peabody Estate, so if you’re looking to see something outside the “blackbox” (HA!), take 290 West for a night in one of the most immersive theatre spaces in the area. Tickets (with discount code) here.

For a full listing of participating shows and theatres, go here:


Culture & Entertainment

  • Listen to the classical works of Stravinsky and Ravel at Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “after dark” 21+ event, POST, on Friday, February 28 at 8 p.m. Discounted tickets ($35) provide admission to the entire performance and the after-concert lounge. Sip a cocktail while mingling with CSO’s musicians and composers. Also watch for the April POST event featuring Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” set
  • Sing along to Texas-born Pat Green’s performance at Joe’s on Weed, Friday, February 7 at 8:30 p.m. He puts on a great show and has the crowd singing along. Known for collaborations with the likes of Willie Nelson and Brad Paisley, Pat Green has been selling out his latest shows performing his soulful country music. Tickets $28


Food & Drinks

  • Learn how to make dumplings with Chef Bill Kim of bellyQ on-site (1400 W. Randolph) at on Saturday, February 1 at 11 a.m. For $37, learn the art of dumplings through various flavors: beef and cheddar, pork and cilantro, and buffalo chicken and blue cheese (just in time to impress your friends at your Super Bowl party!)
  • Make Whoopie Pies at deca restaurant (160 E. Pearson) to sweeten your February. Classes offered at 6 p.m. February 14 and 15, $40 per couple. The hands-on class will be supplemented by hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Call 312-573-5160 for reservations
  • Take part in 2 Sparrows’ monthly beer pairing dinner (533 W. Diversey) on Friday, February 7 at 7 p.m. Chef Gregory Ellis will take you through four courses on his German menu, including cassoulet and German chocolate cake, all paired with Metropolitan Brewing beers. Tickets are $55 for all food and drinks, and they have limited reservations available
  • Brave Navy Pier to attend the 2nd annual Chicago Cider Summit. Cider-lovers rejoice at the thought of samples from over 90 ciders around the world, with food pairings. $25 advance tickets will get you 8 tastings and a souvenir glass, with the option to purchase additional tastings. The event is on Saturday, February 8 with two sessions – 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4 – 8 p.m.
  • Join wine enthusiasts nationwide for a virtual toast to Silver Oak’s 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  At City Winery (1200 W. Randolph), you can take part in a 20-year Silver Oak “release day” tradition and be the first to taste the newly released wine at 12 p.m. on Saturday, February 1. For $50, there will be several tastings with complementary appetizers and an etched wine glass to take home


Volunteer & Charity

  • Follow your passion and give back to the city by finding the right volunteer opportunities for you at the Chicago Volunteer Expo. On Sunday, February 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon) hosts over 75 non-profit organizations showcasing opportunities for you to get involved. In the past I’ve found it difficult to find  volunteering events in the city, so I’m looking forward to seeing the great work we can take part in all over the city
  • Go all-out fancy for Snowball, the Saturday, February 8 gala benefiting the Pediatric and Adolescent HIV/AIDS Programs at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Complete with live music and a silent auction, Snowball is the annual charity event for Chicago’s young professionals. Tickets, $140+, provide entry to the event with food and drink features from around the city, and proceeds support access to high-quality healthcare for children with HIV/AIDS. Held in Union Station’s Great Hall, expect a night of dancing and mingling with the city’s finest
  • Bring your dogs to the party at PAWS Chicago’s Animal Magnetism gala, Friday, February 28 at Galleria Marchetti (825 W. Erie). Enjoy a night of drinks, dancing and live auction to better the lives of endangered animals throughout Chicago. Advance tickets $125/person and $25/pet
  • Take your charity work to the road by racing in Chiditarod, Chicago’s fourth annual costumed shopping cart relay race fundraiser. Join together with your team to race a shopping cart around the city in one of the largest mobile food drives benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Trade your ball gown for a crazy costume and expect a day of chaos, fun and laughter. Registration is open now ($55-70 per team) for the Saturday, March 1 event. Over 80,000 pounds have been donated to date, how much can you contribute?


Happy February!

Staycationing in Chicago

Staycationing in Chicago

Not jetting to the Caribbean this month? Neither am I. Now that Chiberia is over, here are my top picks for “staycationing” in Chicago.


If you wish you were in Costa Rica:

  • Visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory (2391 N. Stockton) and enter a heated tropical paradise. Walking through the orchids, ferns and koi fish ponds takes you on a little journey to the rainforest. Admission is free, open 9 – 5 every day


If you wish you were in Colorado:

  • Trek through the snow on snow shoes or cross country skis at Northerly Island (1521 S. Linn White Dr.). Go after a fresh snow fall, rentals are only $5 and parking is only $2. Low price for some winter action and a gorgeous view of the city skyline. Open select weekends until February 16


If you wish you were in Hawaii:

  • Order yourself a Mai Tai or choose from a wide assortment of Tiki cocktails at Three Dots and a Dash (435 N. Clark). Inspired by WWII Morse code signaling “V for victory,” the historical Tiki cocktails welcomed home Allied soldiers, and now they can welcome you too, out of the frosty winter weather. To find the clandestine entrance, wrap around to the back of the building, down an alley and through a blue door. Open till 3 a.m. on Saturdays, you can get tropical all night long


If you wish you were in Memphis:

  • Jive to live music at B.L.U.E.S. (2519 N. Halsted) featuring blues acts nearly every night of the week. Typical cover is $5-10 – not bad for live music in the city! Bonus points if you get to know the band


If you wish you were in Cuba:

  • “Taste the Forbidden” at 90 Miles, (2540 W. Armitage and 3101 N. Clybourn) the best Cuban café in the city. Great atmosphere and super friendly service enhance your experience, and the menu is fantastic – my favorites include Rabo Encendido (oxtail) and Ropa Vieja (slow-cooked shredded beef). Check their website for daily specials such as live flamenco and pig roasts (and every day is BYOB)


If you wish you were in France:

  • Travel to the southern Rhone valley through a tasting of the region’s Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre wines. Visit the WineBar at Plum Market Old Town (1233 N. Wells) on Thursday, January 30 at 6:30 p.m. for a French wine tour tasting – tickets $20


What are your favorite hidden vacation spots in Chicago?

Best Bets: January 2014 (Part 2)

Best Bets: January 2014 (Part 2)

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Take advantage of Chicago’s upcoming events and offerings this month:


  • Have a laugh as Chicago’s improv theater ComedySportz (929 W. Belmont) sets up a 1920s speakeasy-themed weekend (January 16 – 18) in honor of Prohibition. Shows are supplemented by live jazz music, prohibition-style cocktails and even a password to enter. Guests wearing costumes will receive $5 off their tickets
  • Only here for 8 weeks, The Phantom of the Opera opens at the Cadillac Palace Theater (151 W. Randolph) on January 9 – buy tickets to the world-renowned production before they sell out
  • Get dressed up and head to Art Institute After Dark for a 21+ museum party featuring a DJ, appetizers and a cash bar. This is your last chance to see the “Art and Appetite” exhibit before it closes. Friday, January 17, 9 p.m. – 12 a.m. Tickets $25. Enter through the Modern Wing at 159 E. Monroe


  • The 5th annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Fest kicks off January 10 and features three weeks of concerts around town at Concord Music Hall, Tonic Room, City Winery and Evanston’s SPACE. Most notable is Rusted Root playing at Concord Music Hall on January 25 with Donna the Buffalo
  • If you can’t get enough drama, follow the trials and tribulations of Bravo’s chosen “Chicago socialite go-getters” on 100 Days of Summer. Tuesday’s premiere (9 p.m.) illustrated that they think we all must die after those 100 days are up. Prove them wrong!


  • If you’ve ever dreamed of being a chef, check out Le Cordon Bleu’s open house and cooking demo day this Saturday, January 11 at 10:30. Tour their industrial kitchens and pick up chef tips along the way. RSVP in the link above to reserve your spot (free)
  • Indoor foodie festival “The Nosh” sets up each Sunday with the Logan Square Farmer’s Market at 2755 N. Milwaukee from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Taste local artisanal food from multiple vendors sampling bites of Chicago


  • Take advantage of the last few days of Chicago Park District’s Free Fitness Week – sign up for free classes and swim lessons and work out at a number of Chicago-area gyms for free, only until January 12. Low-cost enrollment options are available after the free week is up
  • Drop in on a number of boutique workout classes for free this month, thanks to Nike Training Club Lincoln Park. With the close of their Armitage storefront last month, they’ve opened a window to give fans a chance to take advantage of free workouts around the city. Pick up your NTC Club Card at Nike Chicago or Nike Running Bucktown for access to studios such as Barre Bee Fit, Flywheel and Shred415
  • Fulfill your Bears-fan dream of running through Soldier Field by signing up for May 24′s Soldier Field 10 Mile race. Sign up by January 19 to save $20 off your registration fee

Best Bets: January 2014

Best Bets: January 2014


  • For the hardcore Cubbies fans: the 2014 Cubs Convention runs from January 17 – 19 to kick off the hundred year anniversary of Wrigley Field. Events include coach and player appearances, autograph signings and a preview of the centennial celebrations coming up this season
    • Date: Friday, January 17 – Sunday, January 19
    • Location: 301 East North Water Street
    • Cost: $60 for 3-day pass
  • Explore Chicago’s hidden pedways connecting 5 miles’ worth of buildings downtown. Tour options include history, brunch and pub crawls (times and pricing vary)


  • Indulge in a new dining experience during Chicago Restaurant Week. Held from January 24 – February 6, nearly 250 Chicago-area restaurants offer $22 lunch menus and $33 or $44 dinner menus. Make your reservations fast as they fill up quickly
    • Best bets (based on available published menus). Note that I am not vegetarian and my tastes swing to the meat-lovers side of the fence. Most of these restaurants offer vegetarian options as well:
      • Bar Pastoral – tempt your taste buds with braised pork belly and finish it off with salted caramel cheesecake
      • Café des Architects – I was sold when I saw braised short ribs. Take note that you can supplement any course with shaved French truffles
      • Howells & Hood – four words: truffle lobster pot pie. You can balance it out with the kale superfood salad
      • Mon Ami Gabi – $33 for all the classics – escargots, beef bourguignon and crème brulee
      • Table 52 – fried green tomatoes to start, then wash down your buttermilk fried chicken with an oatmeal cookie sandwich with buttercream icing


  • HIIT (high intensity interval training) class as part of Lululemon’s “Resolution Wednesdays” series this month
    • Date: Wednesday, January 22 at 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.
    • Location: Lululemon – 2104 N. Halsted
    • Cost: Free
  • Ski the slopes at Devil’s Head Ski Resort – an hour and a half drive just across the Wisconsin border is a fun weekend day trip for skiers of all levels. While the “mountain” descriptor might be a bit of a stretch, it’s the best way to enjoy the snow this season


  • My favorite Showtime escape, Shameless, returns for its fourth season on Sunday, January 12 at 8 p.m. CT. Watch as actors Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy survive Chicago’s south side


Go have fun this month – stay warm!

Welcome to The Chicago Lifestyle

Welcome to The Chicago Lifestyle

Our beloved city – grown famous from the 1893 World’s Fair to prohibition-era gangsters to today’s identity as a booming cultural mecca – provides endless hours of excitement yet to be experienced. We power through the snow to the epic days of summer when all bets are off. Despite our inclinations to hibernate through the long winter months, we remain tempted by sights unseen and the promise of new urban adventures.

The Chicago Lifestyle is dedicated to the curious, the local wanderers looking for something outside the ordinary, and the out-of-town guests seeking a non-touristy experience. This is your inside source to the fun, unique and novel things to do in the second city.

Articles will feature “Neighborhood Guides” for those looking to venture beyond their typical boundaries, “Best Bets” for activities in the month ahead, and reviews of events, locations, services and other things to do around the city. Articles may include a peppering of my musings and meanderings in our great locale.

Welcome to the site! Please share your feedback and leave comments – more inspiration and ideas are always welcome!