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Date Night #1: Michigan Avenue & Dinner at Bandera

What better way to start things off than to re-create one of the first dates we had after moving to Chicago 16+ years ago?

Michigan Avenue (aka "the Magnificent Mile") is in the heart of Chicago, and is lined with great shops and restaurants. This time of year, the trees are wrapped in white holiday lights, and the streetscape is decorated with a holiday theme. The theme is changed three times a year, based on the season, so you can bet we'll be back a couple more times in 2020!

We started our stroll on the south end of Michigan Avenue, and worked our way north. We wore our long jackets because we knew it would be a bit chilly - but the Chicago wind lived up to its reputation, and we were wishing we'd brought ear muffs and hats! It was all good, though, because we took advantage of the situation by making sure we stopped in plenty of shops along the way! We didn't buy much, but it was nice to be out shopping together, which we haven't done in a very long time.

Along the way, we stopped to admire the Water Tower. This is one of the few structures downtown to survive the great fire of 1871, and it now serves as a city gallery for photographers and artists. It was a little too late in the evening to see the latest exhibit, but it was a good stop for a photo-op anyway. It's such a unique feature of Chicago's cityscape, with this relic of the past tucked in the middle of a cluster of towering skyscrapers. In fact, the John Hancock Center (or the building formerly known as the John Hancock Center, and one of the tallest building in the city) is more or less just across the street. For what it's worth, the holiday lights give the tower just a little extra sprinkle of romance!

We continued our stroll to the north end of Michigan Avenue, where we stopped at the 900 Shops to indulge in our favorite chocolates on the planet: Teuscher Chocolates. The champagne truffles are like none you've ever experienced, and we'd hoped to pick up a small box to take home with us. But alas, we missed it by 15 minutes! They had just closed, and the most we were able to do was leave a couple of sad nose prints on the window and tear stains just outside the door. Next time, Teuscher... next time!

By now, we had to start our journey southward, because dinner reservations were in 45 minutes, and we had ventured quite a bit north from where we started (which is where the restaurant was). We stopped briefly at 875 N Michigan Ave - the incredibly bland name by which the John Hancock Center is now known - to admire the array of Christmas trees adorning the building courtyard. We had a nice moment with a cute couple who asked us to take their picture in front of the center-piece Christmas tree, and we had to take a few snaps because the boyfriend just couldn't bring himself to smile for the camera! After a few tries, we were finally able to goad him into some semblance of a grin. The girlfriend thanked us profusely, and we continued on our merry way.

After a 'brisk walk' (i.e. "30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity" as recommended by the American Heart Association), we arrived at Bandera - our final destination for the evening. We had not been there in over 15 years, and we could tell from the moment we stepped through the door that we were going to enjoy it.

The ambiance was very nice, with warm wood, stylish brick, Chicago-themed B&W photography, and an open kitchen. A jazz band was playing, which was very tasteful. Sometimes you go to a restaurant with music so loud that it overpowers everything, but that's not the case at Bandera. The band was delightful, with an excellent repertoire, and they played at a volume where a conversation could be had without yelling.

The menu was small, but diverse. We agonized a bit over whether we should have an appetizer first - and after that about which one we should try - but after that was solved, it wasn't hard to figure out what to order. We started with their signature corn-bread appetizer (which is wonderful, and we'll HAVE to find a recipe to recreate it at home), and moved on to the Pine Salad for a starter, and then seared ahi tuna for Scott and a french dip sandwich for David. We both thoroughly enjoyed everything, and were happy with the selections we made.

While this should have been more than enough to satisfy the both of us, we couldn't resist topping things off with a nightcap of banana cream pie - and OMG were we glad we did! It was a delectable combination of graham cracker crust, creamy custard filling, banana slices, whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and a sprinkling of shaved chocolate. We each said we would probably just have a couple of bites, but ended up devouring it one scrumptious bite after another. I think we both agree that it was definitely worth it! A picture is worth a thousand words...

Sufficiently satiated, and thoroughly content after a lovely evening downtown, we decided it was time to call it a night and head for home. After all, we already had a long day with some early morning online work from home, breakfast at Liberty, haircuts at Scott's HQ Salon, and then a few hours in the office before heading on our date. Last year (last week, really), we normally would have stayed in the office a couple more hours, picked up a salad for dinner, and sat on the couch watching Netflix for the rest of the evening.

Instead, we ventured into the city and spent some quality time together - enjoying the sights and sounds of the city and spending a wonderful evening at a fabulous restaurant. We consider Date #1 a success! Can't wait for the next one!

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