Discoveries: Four Great Summer Outings

1. Dining Out. I'm among the many Chicagoans who love to take advantage of the opportunity to dine outdoors in the summer months. I'm always looking for lovely outdoor settings at restaurants with really good food, a list that includes Boka, the original Mia Francesca on Clark, and Shanghai Terrace. I have a new addition and it's at 464 N. Halsted. To some of you that will be familiar because it's the old Thyme, a restaurant that featured one of the loveliest gardens and flourished for many years. It morphed into Timo and struggled for awhile before closing. Now, I'm happy to report that the Chef from Coco Pazzo has come over and the space has reopened as Piccolo Sogno. The food is excellent, and the garden is as lovely as ever. (312-421-0077).

2. Fashion Forward. Maria Pinto is a Chicago treasure, a sensational designer who could have made a great success for herself on either coast but chose to stay here. She's received a good bit of national press recently since one of her loyal customers is Michelle Obama. Well, for all of her customers past and prospective, I'm happy to report that she just opened her first retail store at 133 N. Jefferson Street, next to the wonderful restaurant Sepia and across from the lovely gallery Primitive. Her opening is tonight, but I got a sneak preview of both the retail space and the upstairs design studio and work rooms. I'm excited to report that she's about to showcase a great collection built around her well known selection of beautiful fabrics and a distinctive look that manages to be both tailored and sexy. She'll be showing everything from coats and jackets to dresses and lots of wraps. It's not too early to start to add some great pieces to your fall and winter wardrobes. Open late Thursdays.

3. Architectural Gems. We Chicagoans are proud of our great architecture, and I've enjoyed a number of Chicago Architectural Foundation river tours, several walking tours, and even a really fun lake front bike tour. But, I recently traveled a little farther afield with my mother in order to experience first hand Meis van der Rohe's famous and stunning Farnsworth House in Plano, IL. Built in 1951 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth it stands the test of time as both classic and contemporary and is a building perfectly suited to its setting on the Fox River. Some may remember that back in 2003 a group of citizens, led by John Bryan, raised the $7.5 million necessary to have the winning bid at auction in order to donate this historic building to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It's open for private tours (630-552-0052), and as an added benefit, if you go in the summer, you'll come back with the best sweet corn you can imagine.

4. The Lake. I've always believed that a goal in life is not to own a boat but have a friend with a boat. Having not found that friend yet, I may have found the next best thing. A wonderful boat called the Lady Grebe, owned by Captain Bob that's available for charter for up to 6 people (847-358-1330). It's a beautiful 48 foot mahogany craft built in 1961 and rather than featuring the traditional sunken, plastic cushion seating it offers charming wicker furniture on a flat back boat. We enjoyed a sunset cruise with friends recently, and being on the Lake, sipping champagne, looking back at the beautiful skyline of Chicago - well, it doesn't get much better than that.