Daddy-daughter holiday travel is a treasured gift
After checking out, while walking through the lobby of the historic Palmer House Hilton in Chicago's Loop, beneath that gorgeously ornate ceiling, I felt a tug on my sleeve.
"We can't leave yet, Daddy. We didn't get a brownie."
Every once in a while I fear our younger child gets a raw deal. Our eldest had our undivided attention for a few years. And I mean undivided. We doted on him as parents of an only child often have the luxury of doing. He went on trips with us and I even took him on trips alone with me.
But our younger child has grown up in a more hectic household where things are a bit more complicated. Hoping to give her some of the focus that her brother got, I booked us a daddy-daughter weekend in Chicago.
We set up a home base at the Palmer House and spent a whirlwind 24 hours exploring the Windy City's Loop Christmas. We started by exploring the history of the hotel Potter Palmer built as a wedding gift for his wife Bertha Honore.
In fact, the current hotel – the 25-floor giant that stands today on the block between Monroe and Adams, Wabash and State – is the third Palmer House on the site. The first was ill-fated, burning in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 just short of two weeks after opening.
Palmer, not to be put off, built a seven-story replacement in 1875. By the roaring '20s, Chicago was worthy of something much grander and Palmer's family (he'd died in 1902) replaced the hotel, piece by piece, with the current building – designed by Holabird & Roche – without ever shutting down.
The place is gorgeous. The soaring lobby is an explosion of gilt and colorful decoration with brass accents everywhere. And the hotel is in demand, seemingly always packed with tourists, business travelers and conventioneers.
This season, as the snow falls, Hilton draws in folks with its Chillcation packages that offer special rates and extra amenities like parking discounts, free breakfast and more.
While I was impressed by the architecture, my kid was more impressed by the fact that the Palmer House is the birthplace of the chocolate brownie (yes, you can buy them pre-packaged on site to take with you).
Outside the doors of the hotel, nature contrived to make our holiday getaway festive, by lightly dousing the city in powdery snow. It provided the perfect setting as we watched the ice skaters at Millennium Park and stopped to breathe in each window display at Macy's on State Street one evening.
The next day, after a second visit to the Palmer House pool, we laced up skates and stepped onto the Millennium Park ice ourselves – it was her first time and felt like mine, too.
Lunch across the street at The Gage – where the fish fry is great and the kids' chicken fingers gargantuan – offered a nice, casual and hearty respite from the cold wind blustering down Michigan Avenue.
Then we ventured to the Art Institute of Chicago to take part in a treasure hunt for families.
The highlights for a little girl? Seeing the 68 amazing Thorne Miniature Rooms on the lower level – which never cease to amaze this old guy, too – and the chance to collaborate on an art project in the Ryan Education Center in the Modern Wing.
In case there are daddies out there that don't already know this, there are few things that can compare to a quiet dinner with your daughter. We visited Chef Chris Macchia's The Florentine in the J.W. Marriott at 151 W. Adams St. and enjoyed every minute of it.
Though it's a dimly lit restaurant that suggests a romantic adults-only meal, The Florentine is in a hotel, so it sees lots of families. We entered to find some well-behaved kids already there, and the staff was great with children.
My daughter ordered a pizza and got what, to my mind, was the best pizza I've ever seen on a kids menu. The sauce was sweet and the cheese perfectly salty, with a chewy, New York-style crust with bubbles and some blackened spots.
I tried the butternut squash agnolotti that got its added sweetness from some crushed amaretti cookies and its saltiness from shavings of ricotta salata. A half-order was a perfect warm-up for the capesante that followed.
Four perfect seared medium scallops topped with shaved prosciutto crudo and drizzled with rutabaga puree, persimmon jam and a unique salsa verde made for a satisfying and delicious meal.
After a rich dessert of pistachio cheesecake and chocolate mousse, we strolled through the Christkindl German Christmas Market on the way back to the hotel.
When it was time to go, I was sorry the trip was over so quickly. Then she said, "Daddy, let's do this more" and dug into her historic brownie.
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