Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kids eat free in Oak Park

It's been two and a half years since I last updated my post on local restaurants where kids eat free, and our Oak Park area dining options are continually evolving, with restaurants opening and closing all the time. I figured it was time for an update. What follows is by no means comprehensive, but it should offer a great start to local families who want to eat out with their kids. I've divided this into places where kids eat free one or more nights a week and a more general list of kid-friendly establishments.

Kids Eat Free Deals

Flat Top Grill
Fuego Loco
Trattoria 225
Gaetano's--Not a kids eat free place, but worth a mention. Every 3rd Monday Chef Gaetano offers "Parent's Night," which means Mom and Dad enjoy a fine dining experience in the front room (and wine is 1/2 price) while the kids get pizza, pasta, a drink and ice cream, plus craft and a movie in the supervised back room. The fee for children is $10 a head and my girls ask to go back all the time!

Denny's - I've never actually been.

Avenue Ale House
Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles


Francesca's Fiore


Maya del Sol says to look for a Sunday kids eat free deal in the fall.

Other Kid-Friendly Options

In addition to the restaurants listed above, you can find children's menus and a welcoming staff at the following restaurants in downtown Oak Park: Lake Street Kitchen + Bar, Sushi House, Marion Street Cheese Market and Maya Del Sol. And while they don't have kids menus per se, there are lots of child-friendly breakfast options at Delia's Kitchen and George's Restaurant. Erik's Deli has a great deal for kids; $3.99 buys a sandwich, chips and a drink.

South on Oak Park Avenue, Sen Sushi is one of our favorite restaurants. Zoe and Ada share the chicken teriyaki kids meal and we get the sushi lunch specials. In the Harrison Street Arts district, check out the Buzz Cafe (kids menu and very family-focused) and Eastgate Cafe (there's a peanut butter sandwich on the menu). In Forest Park, Caffe Deluca balances its elegant atmosphere with a somewhat pricey kids menu, but you might be better off splitting a plate of red-sauce pasta from Jimmy's Place among 2-3 children--and heading next door to the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor afterwards.

If you don't mind a short drive, check out well-crafted diner fare at The Depot American Diner (just across Austin Avenue in Chicago) and the amazing Italian specialties at Freddy's in Cicero (cash only). Neither have a kids menu, but both offer lots of affordable kid favorites.

Obviously you'll be fine bringing the little ones to any area fast food restaurant, but I am partial to Burger Boss in Elmwood Park (which has a kids menu), Five Guys in downtown Oak Park (which does not), Chipotle (across from Five Guys) and Culver's on Roosevelt Street in Berwyn, which gives kids a free custard with each chldren's menu item (butter burgers, chicken fingers, grilled cheese and corn dogs).

Monday, July 23, 2012

A kid-free getaway

Our view
We arrived home from our weekend in the city to shrieks of "I love Audrey! I never want her to leave!"

Apparently we chose our overnight babysitter wisely. While we spent a lovely 24 hours eating, drinking, shopping and reconnecting along the Magnificent Mile, Zoe and Ada were treated to swimming and trampolining at their sitters' relatives' houses.

But enough about their weekend. Ever the deal-seeker, I booked our anniversary hotel stay on Hotwire and ended up with the not-so-trendy 4-star Hotel Intercontinental, which makes up for its lack of cool cache with the nicest indoor pool I've ever visited. The hotel wasn't ready for us when we arrived at check-in time, citing a "housekeeping emergency." So we left our bags with the bellhop and dodged the hordes of moms clutching American Girl Place bags to cross Michigan Avenue. Nordstrom was mobbed, but we wandered around for an hour, a fair portion of which we spent waiting to quench our thirst with a very fancy iced tea, painstakingly prepared at Teavana.

Our room still wasn't ready when we got back to the hotel, but the front desk staff gave us a couple of comp drink cards to use at Michael Jordan's restaurant off the lobby. Two very delicious hand-crafted cocktails and quite a few rounds of Draw Something later, we finally made it up to our 24th floor room, which had a lovely view of the Wrigley Building and Chicago river.

We had dinner reservations at the cozy underground Drawing Room in the Gold Coast, but I'd failed to closely read the rules on our Groupon, so we didn't get the pre-paid tasting menu I'd planned on. Instead, we shared a few smaller plates and had another round of fancy cocktails. We then shared some cake from the Goddess and the Grocer and watched an eclectic mix of tourists, Viagra-triangle d-bags and dog-walking locals stroll by. We slept in until 9am--an unknown luxury in the land of small children--and had breakfast in the window of the Grand Lux Cafe, where we were for sure the only locals. I followed my eggs and sausage with a dip in the amazing pool in the hotel's historic tower--a Moorish marvel of tile where Ester Williams swam in the 1940s. I felt perfectly at home in my retro-style swimsuit.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy 5th birthday, Ada!

Ada, bouncing at her birthday party
Welcome to the elementary school years, Ada! I'm so delighted to have my youngest child turn 5. You've grown a lot in the last year, with learning to read being perhaps the biggest milestone. Academically, you're a smartypants. You can read with a fair amount of fluency, you can count up to 199 and you're perfectly capable of doing basic addition and subtraction problems. You recall the plot points of every book you've ever been exposed to and can sit, rapt, for movies and theatrical productions.

So who are you at 5? You're affectionate and silly. You love singing, dancing and gymnastics. You build impressive Lego creations, fashion stylish skirt-centric outfits and refuse an ever-growing list of foods. You love to help with household chores, be it cooking, cleaning or laundry, and while you like to earn an allowance, you don't quite know what to spend your money on.

When asked what you'd like to be when you grow up, you say "nail salon," or "clothes store lady."

Although you're always on the lookout for slights and imbalances, you love and look up to your big sister Zoe. You have friends at camp and preschool and little girls are forever approaching me with requests for playdates with you. Your affectionate nature has made you a darling of adults, too. Your willingness to climb on laps and play the sweet card have my friends and extended family in your thrall.

But as generous and thoughtful as you can be, it isn't all rainbows and unicorns in Ada land. You continue to challenge us with your temper tantrums and willful misbehavior. A rare day passes by without one tearful meltdown or banishment to your room, but I'm hopeful that this is a waning trend--one that will go the way of the fraught bedtime and midnight fears, two irritating phases you've since outgrown. In the meantime, the happiest of birthdays to you.

Monday, July 16, 2012

We love musicals!

CST's Beauty and the Beast
Josh takes the girls to the movies. I take them to live theatre--musicals, preferably.

In the last two weeks, I've taken 7-year-old Zoe and nearly 5-year-old Ada to a professional production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, a high school production of Footloose and middle school production of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Jr. 

We're lucky to live in Oak Park, where the talent pool runs deep and the arts programs are really great. The fact that we're virtually guaranteed to see a babysitter, neighbor or family friend in every show is a bonus.

OPRF's Footloose was solid--probably better than anything my high school drama program put on--but plagued by sound issues and not as good as past productions I've attended (like Annie and Fame). The Little Mermaid, Jr., on the other hand, was stupendeous. I don't know where they find these kids, but they can really sing and dance! You'll have to take my word for it because I saw the last show, a last-minute matinee added after every single performance sold out online.

What you can see--if your kids are as into musicals as we are--is the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Beauty and the Beast, which is at Navy Pier through the summer. The rich-looking stage production is faithful to the film and the small cast is big on talent. Both of my girls were spellbound by the show, even when it was difficult to hear the dialogue over the screaming 1 year old seated next to us.

I'm ready to start researching our next show, but until then, the girls know how to listen to (and sing along with!) Broadway musical tracks on a Pandora station we created expressly for that purpose.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cakestyle: The perks of using a stylist

At the Cakestyle loft. Isn't this purple dress hot?
For the first time in my life, I found out what it's like to have a stylist dress me. After attending a VIP reception at Cakestyle's Chicago headquarters, Kate and I booked an appointment with one of the company's lead stylists, Kaitland.

I love this Tracy Reese skirt
Since it is primarily an e-commerce company, a typical Cakestyle customer fills out a detailed survey online and shares her measurements and fashion needs. Then a stylist prepares a box of 4-5 outfits and drops it in the mail quarterly, along with a video on how to put together each of the included looks. The shopper returns anything she doesn't love using a pre-paid label and pays retail for anything she keeps. And that's designer retail, comparable to the prices you'd find at Nordstorm or Bloomingdales, not Macy's or Ann Taylor Loft. A typical box can cost about $2000--definitely outside of my budget!

Chicago customers get the personal treatment and can meet with their stylist personally at the Cakestyle loft in River North. Kate and I arrived at the space (just down the street from Nordstrom) with her mom, Carter, just after work last week. Kaitlin had refreshments laid out, a rack filled with hand-selected clothes and a large curtained dressing room. It was immediately obvious she'd put my stuff on the left and Kate's on the right, but because we wear roughly the same size, we were encouraged to cross-pollinate.

Trina Turk belted skirt
And that's when I learned what a joy it is to be styled. Everything I tried on fit. Perfectly.

Kaitland channeled my kinda sort of mod/boho fashion sense and picked out 5 dresses I desperately wanted to own (I purchased one). She found me a pair of straight-legged Paige jeans that made me look skinny, a mod silk tunic dress like nothing I've ever owned (and that I wish I'd bought) and suggested a turquoise skinny belt for the red and white Boden frock I'd arrived in. I felt so pretty and slim because everything I tried on was so flattering

The 60s inspired Milly dress I bought
Kate, who was down with the idea of outsourcing her lawyerly work wardrobe from the moment she met Kait at the reception, was similarly thrilled with her selections. She went home with a couple of dresses, a bracelet and a fitted cardigan. And it didn't hurt that Kate's mother was enthusiastic about everything we tried on, encouraging us with calls of "It's gorgeous! You should get it!"

I can't say enough about how pleasant the shopping experience was. I tend to get overwhelmed by options when shopping and I don't know where to look. I'm not familiar enough with labels to know my size in each one and too often I default to expected online stores that stock my style (Modcloth and Boden, for example). No one has ever told me how to belt, wear a scarf or pair the right shoes or boots with an outfit, so it's all trial and error for me. Having Kait explain the shoe and accessory options for each ensemble was key--especially because she was so low-key and never tried to sell anything. She just let the mirror do its work.

Would I shop Cakestyle again? Yes, but I'd feel guilty and a little self-conscious about my budget. I'd love it if Cakestyle could find a way to offer the same service at slightly lower price-points, or even point me in the direction of new labels and brands that might appeal to me. In the meantime, I'm browsing online and checking out my closet with "What would Kait think?" running through my head.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Starting 36 off on the right foot

UntitledI got 3 new things for my 36th birthday last month. My mom and in-laws gave me cash, which I put towards a brand new pair of roller skates. I decided, two years into skating twice a week with Derby Lite, that I'm definitely committed and ready to upgrade. And boy did I ever. Getting fitted for these top-of-the-line Riedell boots, trucks and wheels from Steve at Lombard Roller Rink was like trading in a beat-up Kia for a Rolls Royce. (Only for now I'm keeping my 2 sizes too large R3s for outdoor skating. Look for me in the Oak Park Fourth of July parade tomorrow.)

I'd sent Josh a few hints about what I might want, including a Zappos link to these fabulous Kork-Ease platform sandals. And that's exactly what I got. Since they're pretty much my favorite color, they match fully 50 percent of my summer wardrobe. In fact, I'm wearing them again today!

The other gift I received was a total surprise--a lovely, delicate gold bar necklace with a teeny, tiny diamond in it--from my friend Kate. It doesn't look like anything else I own, but I love it so much. And wearing delicate jewelry in this beastly heat is a revelation, I tell you.

Growing another year older isn't just about getting new stuff. I'm getting a new job! I'm not leaving Leo Burnett/Arc, but I'm getting to broaden the number of brands I work on and start a brand new team focused on concept development.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A total beginners guide to King Spa

"This looks like Vegas," says Kate upon arrival
Kate totally earned her best friend badge today, agreeing to accompany me to a traditional Korean Spa in spite of the copious nudity I warned her would be required.

And man, was there ever a lot of nudity. This is not the place to feel modest, but if you can get over your discomfort with being totally naked in front of your BFF (not to mention a diverse crowd of women--Koreans young and old, Russians, and a handful of Americans of all shades), you will experience the finest relaxation money can buy.

I'd bought a Groupon, which saved me a few dollars off the entrance fee and included the $5 admission to the Base Rock Room. Admission is good for 24 hours, and while it might seem weird to spend the night at a strip mall spa, I can totally see how this place would be preferable to (and much cheaper) than a youth hostel. We were given high tech wristbands, which included a key to our shoe locker and our larger clothing locker in the women's room. Leave your wallet in your locker; you can charge massages, food, even earplugs to your wristband at King Spa.

Upon entry into the locker room, you're instructed to strip naked and head into the single sex shower/hot tub room, where you take a non-private shower. Signs encourage guests to report anyone who doesn't use soap to the staff. We soaped and shampooed our hair, but we could have also availed ourselves of the free toothbrushes and toothpaste, had we wished to. Once clean, we could enter the hot tubs, cool plunge pool or steam room. The shower/hot tub room was also home to a row of treatment tables, where scrubs and massages are offered by a team of strong middle-aged Korean women dressed only in bras and panties.

After bathing and soaking briefly, Kate and I made appointments for our treatments and dressed in the clean cotton shorts and t-shirts provided to guests for use in the unisex areas. We explored a few of the various treatment saunas before returning for our bodywork. I got a 60 minute scrub and Kate opted for a 60 minute massage. Both were performed buck naked and with zero privacy, but man, it was satisfying. "Jenny" scrubbed every cell of dead skin off my body, poured buckets of hot water over me and greased me with copious amounts of baby oil before finishing with a shampoo, scalp massage and mini-massage. It sounds weird, but it was amazing. And my skin has never felt so baby soft.

After our treatments, we re-showered and headed back to the unisex area. We experimented with the various saunas and checked out the movie theatre and meditation (sleep) areas. My favorite rooms were the salt room, the ice room and the Base Rock room; the justifiably titled Fire Room was too hot to bear even for minute. There's also a restaurant serving fruit juices, smoothies and authentic Korean food. We had watermelon ices, a too-weird-for-words shave ice fruit salad topped with a mound of sugary black bean paste and a bowl of beef noodle soup with kimchee and other pickled sides.

Spicy and delicious
It wasn't very crowded, but the couple dozen people there were a diverse mix of Koreans, African Americans and gringos, including plenty of children, from infancy up to around 12. The ornate sofas and chairs in the area between all the saunas were populated with older people reading Korean newspapers, couples snuggled together watching videos on their iPads and children playing chess on the game tables. Foot and chair massages are offered to those who would rather keep their clothes on. And a family movie was scheduled to be shown in the theatre at 1pm.

The place was immaculate. In addition to the laser focus on thorough personal cleansing, staff were on the move, mopping the floors, changing out towels and mats and disinfecting the large leather barcaloungers in the napping and movie rooms. Although it is definitely a Korean-first establishment (the napkin dispenser reads "Here is Napkins"), all of the staff save the masseuses seemed to speak English perfectly and were very welcoming to us first-timers.

I am already looking forward to my next trip. Three hours was really not long enough to enjoy all King Spa has to offer, and I think Zoe and Ada would get a real kick out of the experience.