Week #27 – Chicago Loop Alliance’s Pop-Up Art Loop Gallery

My friend and co-worker Erica asked if I’d like to go see a free art pop-up exhibit over lunch, and I happily said yes. My dad is an artist, so art holds a special place in my heart.

We walked to Block 37 on State Street (ladies: where Anthropologie is), where there was a 17,000-square-foot industrial space with concrete floors and tall ceilings. White walls were filled with all kinds of fun artwork and installations.

Erica’s friend’s work was in the exhibit, which was a nice bonus! We also spotted many intriguing uses of typography and graphic design. A beautiful flower installation demonstrated how small natural details that work together to make one large piece of art. There were even more playful, active pieces of art, like a photo booth and one of those toys you look into, pull down on the lever and it changes scenes. I especially enjoyed the projects where you had to “decode” what the piece was saying. (See below!)

Everyone needs some inspiration from time to time. This pop-up gallery was the perfect dose of art that will give you a creative boost before you return to your desk.

Note: There are many pop-up galleries going on around the loop. Click here to see what’s happening now and coming soon!

Chicago Loop Alliance’s Pop-Up Art Gallery at Block 37
108 North State
The Loop

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Week #25 – Cityfront Cafe & Espressamente illy

Who doesn’t like to leave the office and grab lunch with friends and co-workers? Although the Loop is busting with chain restaurants (Native Foods, Hannah’s Bretzel, and Chipotle are some of my go-to spots), it’s nice to go somewhere new every once in a while.

This is where the new Cityfront Café at NBC Tower enters the mix. My cousin, Rob, is the executive chef there, and they serve up tasty, fresh, made-to-order options. The space is modern and, most importantly, very clean. The café is made up of different stations—the grill, salad bar, sushi bar, soups, etc.—as well as pick-up-and-go foods for those who are short on time.

I recently had lunch with my family there—my brother, my Auntie from San Francsico, my cousin Merry (Rob’s wife), and their adorable baby Katelyn. I’m not going to lie, this is my second time visiting, so I’ve actually had two positive experiences. My first time, I had the salad special, which was a Southwest salad with chicken, peppers, pico de gallo, jicama, as well as one of Rob’s rich Rice Krispie treats—all fresh and delicious.

This time I tried the tempura shrimp sushi rolls and edamame. I’m pretty weary about prepared sushi, but with quality ingredients and the sweetest little Asian woman making the sushi right in front of you, you can’t really go wrong. My brother had a turkey burger with fries (one of his favorites because he works in the building), and the girls had salads, which you can see below. They have plenty of seating inside and outside to enjoy your meal. And, if you keep an eye out, you might see some of the NBC news talent, like Andy Avalos and Mary Ann Ahern (like me).

I should also mention that they have Chicago’s only Espressamente illy café next door, with some of the finest coffee you will find. (Sorry, Starbucks!) Now, I’m not really a coffee gal, but I tried a blended coffee drink with a dash of caramel there that started a full-blown coffee addiction. The desserts look pretty amazing too.

Next time you need a new place to lunch in the Loop, try the Cityfront Café at NBC—and tell Rob I sent you!

Cityfront Cafe at NBC Tower
455 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive
Streeterville

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Week #6 – Native Foods Cafe

It’s important to like what you do, but if you love the people you work with, it’s not really work. Right now, I enjoy what I write about (study abroad!), and, not to sound like a brown-noser, but I really do like my co-workers. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, has different interests, and different perspectives. And, the best part is, their creativity is rubbing off on me. (Case in point: this blog.)

Our senior graphic designer, Erica, has become a good friend. We talk a lot about her husband, her adorable son, Milo; her ultra-cool house in the ‘burbs; photography (she photographs weddings and more); and being vegan. And Erica isn’t just a fashionable vegan eater—for her it’s a way of life. From what she eats to what she wears, she’s very conscious of her lifestyle, which I find very admirable. I’m not sure where my eggs come from or my leather boots…

Because I’m lactose intolerant, our food conversations naturally sparked a connection between us. She always has recipe tips and let’s me gripe to her if I have a stomach ache. (Why do I torture myself? For the love of cheese!) For months we’ve been talking about going to Native Foods Cafe, a 100 percent vegan cafe in the Loop and in Wicker Park. Recently Erica helped me with a graphic design project outside of work, and I asked if I could pay her by taking her to lunch. Kind of a win-win situation for me!

So Erica and my friend/co-worker Jill (who also went to Terra Incognito Studios and Marion Street Cheese Market with me) walked to the Native Foods Cafe near our office, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve only been to one vegan restaurant in my life (Zen Palate in NYC—very good!), and I wasn’t necessarily nervous about this food adventure, but you never know what you’re going to get when it says “meat” at a vegan spot.

I love reading menus and usually marinate in my options for a good 15 minutes, but I was so busy that morning I didn’t get to check the website before we got there (check out the menu here). Overwhelmed with tasty options, I opted for Yo Amigo Taco Salad: a blend of romaine, cabbage, Native Taco Meat (here we go…), and salsa fresca. Also topped with corn, green onion, cilantro, and tortilla chip croutons, and served with our original creamy chipotle dressing on the side. (I opted for the extra avocado too.) The girls tried the Split Pea soup (daily special), Bangkok Curry Bowl, and the Ensalada Azteca Salad. Erica also suggested the brownie for dessert, so we couldn’t pass that one up. And because I joined the rewards program that day, I got a free drink. Hello, Watermelon Fresca!

The drink was a refreshing complement to the Mexican salad. Both tasted extremely fresh, and I almost ate the entire salad, which was reasonably priced for its size. And I cannot say enough about the brownie. I’m not sure what kind of voodoo magic they performed on this thing (I’m a salty person, not a sweet!), but I am still craving that gooey goodness. The brownie is a big portion, perfect for sharing, with sweet little chocolate chips on top. Seriously, if you go for nothing else (you would be crazy not to try something) PLEASE go for the brownie! Also, because the drinks are free refills, I also tried the Lavender Lemonade. Again, not a sweet person, but this drink would be the perfect treat on a hot Chicago summer day (or a 1 degree day…just saying…).

I will definitely be going back to Native Foods. And often. The staff was friendly to this first-timer, their ingredients are fresh, I really liked the recipes available on the tables, and the atmosphere is very inviting. (Kudos to whoever does their chalkboard art.) The best part? I can eat everything on the menu. Peace of mind = priceless.

Native Foods
218 S. Clark
The Loop (Also in Wicker Park and across the country)

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