Chicago takes its food seriously, so much so that its local government recently banned foie gras and outlawed trans fat in restaurant kitchens. And even in the chill of January, Chicago is fitness minded as well, with a growing network of commuter bike lanes. The city's environmentally-friendly mentality―Mayor Richard Daley aims to make it "the greenest city in America"―is one of the reasons why it is home to the 2007 Cooking Light FitHouse.
Shawn McClain, James Beard-awarded Best Chef Midwest in 2006, has proven his versatility with an Asian seafood spot, Spring (773-395-7100, www.springrestaurant.net), and a steakhouse, Custom House (312-523-0200, www.customhouse.cc). But his latest groundbreaking restaurant, Green Zebra (312-243-7100, www.greenzebrachicago.com), gives vegetables gourmet treatment. Officially, its fare is considered "flexitarian" as opposed to vegetarian, with one fish and one chicken dish on the menu.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat (888-301-9866, www.vosgeschocolate.com) specializes in truffles that have unusual sweet-savory taste combinations, such as dark chocolate with ginger, wasabi, and sesame seeds.
In winter, the Millennium Park's McCormick Tribune Plaza (312-337-2888, www.millenniumpark.org) is converted to an ice rink where skaters can twirl and glide while taking in the dramatic architecture―a nearby stage and bridge designed by famed Architect Frank Gehry. The adjacent Park Grill provides hot-cocoa warm-ups and rink-side views.
Don an apron, and cook alongside the chefs at Bespoke Cuisine (312-455-8400, www.bespokecuisine.com), which books cooking parties in a professional kitchen. Guests help prepare the menu of their choice (Thai, Moroccan, Cuban, etc.) and dine at a large harvest table served by the staff, leaving with recipes and related spices.
The Chopping Block (312-644-6360, www.thechoppingblock.net) operates a large cooking school in the centrally located Merchandise Mart with a slate of two-and-a-half-hour classes that make it easy for visitors to hone their knife skills or learn sushi techniques in an afternoon.