Chicago Day 2013

No traffic. What is wrong? Off to The Antique Lady for selling some pictures. Not good enough, no pedigree. We ended up donating them.

Lunch at the Little Market Brasserie in the Talbott hotel. The last time, it was a different place. Got to sit outside in the lovely weather. Chellie had the chopped salad, Bette had the Lobster roll, I had the Big Baby burger. Good. Damn parking in the Gold Coast garage cost more than lunch.

Drop Bette off at her Tri Delta event at the Women’s Athletic Club. Lots nicer than the Body Club at home. Even had an elevator operator. And bathrooms — surprise! — Men’s rooms are kinda hard to find.

Raced to make the boat at 3:30P. Chellie and I paid at the kiosk, jumped on and seconds later were off on the Wendella Architecture boat tour. Lots of fun. Good guide. Never saw the buildings from that angle. Want to take the Chicago Architecture Fdn one to compare.

Then we head to Gage on S Michigan where we got Moscow Mules, the new hot drink from the 40’s. We waited for Bette in the bar, who was waiting for us at the boat – she finally called and we called her in. We had a Mule waiting, so it was all good. After supper – some roasted bone marrow, and split beet salads. And some good draft beers.

Then it’s off to The Book Of Mormon at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W Monroe. If you like South Park, you’ll love it. Then pay another gob of parking money, drop Chellie off at her apartment, and off to the 1.25 hour drive home.

Note: if you park for a show, try to show up within 5 hours of the show. We got there earlier and were charged the full standard rate, not the discounted rate specified on the ticket.

Second City Weekend

Some buds at work (props to Eddie, John and Danny, all whom since have left the company…) gave me a birthday gift card for The Second City, Chicago’s influential comedy-improv troupe. I booked the tickets along with a Dinner+Show package, including a prix-fixe dinner at Bistrot Margot on Wells.

We set off Sunday morning, stopping in St Charles, to see Grace in Wheaton, and Oakbrook to perform various returns and shopping items not demanding a special trip. REI took back the sock I ripped with my thumb – hey, none of the Smartwool ones ever did that.

An easy trip in on I290, and we made a quick stop to pick up 250 lbs of dumbbells in the West Loop from Nic from Craigslist. He had us back the car into the Public Storage garage, brought down the weights on a roll cart, and help load them. Good guy, and weights for about .88 a pound. A bargain. After I sell the dupes, my cost goes down even more.

Then we headed into the city, and fought Michigan Ave traffic all the way to the Intercontinental, at 505 N. Michigan. The valet stand out front was packed and we waited to get in. There was a line at the registration desk, and our stuff was delivered to the room quickly. The room was nice, but not spectacular. We got a good deal – only $160 for the AAA rate. Parking was almost more.

We dressed and headed down to get a cab. I thought we should not catch a cab on Boul Mich, as traffic was crawling, so we crossed the street, stopped at Walgreens for some Tic Tacs, and walked toward the Trump. You can always find a cab near a nice hotel, and we did before we even got to the hotel. He took off north, and cut at least 10 minutes off our trip.

We we dropped off several blocks short of the Bistrot as there was a street fair on Wells. We avoided paying the entrance donation (cheap.) and found the restaurant. It was a nice place, with outside seating, but the sun was beating on the tables and it was real loud with the bands and all. We sat at a little table in the front, where we were shaded, private, got a little A/C, and could see out the opened “front garage door” and watch the people.

Our server was personable and laid back, never rushing us. Our salads were a greens salad, with the best crispy big bacon chunks I have ever had on a salad. Bette had a wonderful pork tenderloin. I had the Steak Frites, butt steak with fries. The topping was good, but I liked the pork better. Dessert came along, Bette had an excellent bread pudding (not the best, but good) and I had Profiteroles, basically cream puffs, split, with ice cream between. More like ice milk, kind of grainy. They were good, but three is too many. I just ate the ice cream.

We left and headed north two blocks to Piper’s Alley. There was already a line outside the door, as seating is first come first seated at 6:10. We moved inside and stood on the stairs lined with big posters of Second City alums.

A good reason to get the “dinner+show” combo is you also get preferred seating, nice tables up front. We were there early – GET THERE EARLY – and we seated on the aisle in the third row.

We saw “Who do they think they are?”, the 100th Revue from the troupe. It was very good, and we sat behind kind of a ild dude that pushed the performers’ buttons a bit. The gentleman of color in the cast did a dynamite Barack Obama – SNL should hire him just for the election season. Everyone in the cast was great. I had one of the North Avenue Martinis, a blue thing with Vanilla Vodka. Yum. They also had a green thing called the Chicago River-I did not try one. We could not hang out for the customary post-show improv session as it was a holiday and there was a second show. Boo. But the gift card covered half the drinks, and we left and caught a cab back to the hotel.

In the morning, we went for a walk along the river toward the lake, and found “The Yolk” a fun looking breakfast place. We hoofed back to the hotel, got coffee at the hotel Starbucks, showered (in a highly-variable-pressure shower), met Chellie, and went upstairs to “The Continental” restaurant where we were in line in a crowded room–and the doorman had warned us about the $27 buffet. We decided to try The Yolk, but could see the line from three blocks away. Question: if the address is 355 E Ohio, why is it at the corner of Grand & McClurg? We turned back to succumb to the hotel, and stumbled across Mary’s Cafe, which looked empty, but was actually somewhat crowded. Reminded me of Mary Lou’s in Carbondale… and kind of the same food. I had the Italian sausage skillet. Good and large portions. Too large – burp.

Bid Chellie adieu, and checked out. They let us out underground so we didn’t have to fight Michigan Ave again. Easy trip home, and now, settling in for a new work week!

InterContinental Chicago, 505 North Michigan Avenue
Bistrot Margot, 1437 N Wells Street
The Second City, 1616 North Wells Street
The Yolk, 355 E Ohio Street (corner of Grand & McClurg)
Mary’s Cafe, 215 E Grand Ave

Dinner and Theater in St Charles

Bette’s friend/colleague Shannon Mayhall was appearing in a small theater, Steel Beam Theater, in St Charles, IL. We invited Karen and Nick and headed down to St Charles to meet them.

The theater area is on a courtyard off of First Street off of North Ave., right along the Fox River, and was already jumping when we got there. We drove about a bit to find street parking, then found the conveniently located garage on the fourth floor. We walked down the steps, turned right, and there was Prasino. We entered, set up our reservation, and found a funky bar, laminate tables, glass on the walls, big windows overlooking the river, wine bottles everywhere, and interesting seats; I felt like one of those science museum exhibits where you sit in huge furniture to feel like a child again.

I had a Goose Island Matilda — bottled, not draft — and Bette had a nice Sauvignon Blanc while we waited for Nick and Karen. They soon walked up along the river and we went to our table in the dining room.

We ordered some drinks. Karen likes a sweeter wine and could not decide between some of the options, so the waitress server brought out small tasters of three different wines – she ended up with a Moscato. Nick got a Flat Tire. As time was fleeting, we soon ordered the meals, Bette and I split a roasted beet salad with walnuts and goat cheese. I ordered the braised beef short ribs, Bette the broiled Tasmanian salmon, Nick the ancho braised lamb shank, and Karen a salmon salad.

The short ribs were excellence, tender, and in a wonderful truffle mushroom cabernet sauce. It was served with a cauliflower cheddar gratin, and greens. Nick’s grass fed lamb shank was huge, with olive oil smashed potatoes, greens, feta, spiced olives, and lamb jus. He thought the greens were a bit spicy, but loved the lamb – I even got to taste it. Karen’s smoked sockeye salmon salad had a nice salmon hunk, with spinach, apples, pecans, red onions, bleu cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Bette’s salmon was served with avocado, mango salsa, and crispy plantains.

All the dishes were well presented, and very tasty. The staff was informative, attentive, but left us alone. We thought the price was a bit high, but since a lot of the food items were grass fed and local sourced perhaps that makes up for the difference. All in all, a nice place.

Then it was off to the Steel Beam Theater, where Shannon was appearing in Edward Albee’s “At Home At The Zoo”. It is a beautiful space, with the typical exposed brick and a large steel beam over the stage.

Shannon loves to sing and perform in musicals, so this part was a bit of a stretch for her. The material is serious adult stuff, small girl in the front row notwithstanding — her father had the sense to realize this is not about zoos before the bad parts really hit. Shannon and her costar were great — we have seen her in her bicycle production in Elgin, but this was even more intense. For the second act, the actor walks out of the stage and heads to the park to read. The audience, gets up and follows him down North Ave. (past a very nice homebrewing store) to the park which is several blocks to the west. Outdoor seating was provided and small portable lights, and Peter started reading his book on the park bench, and the next second half of the play begins with the third actor playing Jerry the “street person” who had been to the zoo. The bugs weren’t too bad, but Shannon called us ahead of time to warn us that we should bring bug spray.

After the play ended, we headed back to the theater area, which was very crowded by now. We ended up in Pizzeria Neo, an Italian restaurant that had some seating room, for a glass of wine.

I recommend this production. It was intense, but the outdoor staging was fun, and this is a great area to hang out in. Very lively, interesting shops and restaurants and lots of parking for free. Too bad it’s so far from home. Unfortunately, its last show is tonite, so see it if you can.

Laura’s 50th at Pinstripes

Our old neighbor had her 50th birthday party last night at Pinstripes, a trendy bowling alley/restaurant/bocce court in a new mall in South Barrington. We had round banquet tables set up along the bocce courts in a back room with gas heaters overhead. The food was excellent, starting with crostini with mozzarella & tomato appetizers and various wine selections that the host of honor and her husband had picked. Family style dinner started with two salads & bread sticks. Then there was a stuffed chicken dish and then a beef roast dish and all were very good. The meal was finished off with coffee and ice cream cake.

In the meantime, we managed to get a couple of bocce games in. We are used to playing on grass, with a bit of friction to slow down the ball. In these courts, it is a hard surface covered with Astroturf and very fast. The slightest bounce is enough to shoot you well past the pallino. Our old neighbor Geno proved that he was the old Italian guy by stomping us with his short range precision.

They also rented out three bowling lanes and these are very nice bowling lanes with leather couches and TVs and really modern equipment.we do not bowl but it was a nice place. Outside, there were was a fire pit where a group from a different party was keeping warm.

A great evening, good food, and fun to catch up with the kids from the hood. Happy birthday Laura!

Pinstripes, South Barrington, IL

LA Burritos, circa 1985

Back in the dark ages, circa 1985 or so, I worked for Richard Spielman Precision Electronics, on the north side of Chicago. The owner, Richard Spielman, was a great guy, an atheist, an entrepreneur, and a foodie before his time, as trips to restaurants were part of our all-night construction binges. (He has also disappeared from the face of the earth.) We made light-beam devices for counting linen, and one of our installations was at ALS ? (Associated Laundry Services? Systems?) in Los Angeles.

So when install time came, we shipped 30 boxes via UPS, checked a box of tools and an oscilloscope, and the 386 PC that ran the thing, 100 floppy disks (3 sets of backups because something always went wrong) and flew to Los Angeles.

Commercial laundries are generally very industrial, but this place was forbidding. Even the hotel parking lot was behind barbed wire, and you had to push a button to open the gate. Not a good neighborhood.

But that didn’t stop us from venturing out in search of food. Richie found this burrito place, and I was wondering about it the other day. I can’t remember what happened ten minutes ago, how will I remember this?

So google “Los Angeles Burritos”. They flip up. I find Rick’s, a longtime favorite of Steve Dahl. Ten pages later, click off to Yelp. Same search. On page 11, “El Rey Tacos“. I remember Tacos El Rey. Boy that whacks a brain cell. Read the 2nd review. “I wasn’t brave enough to try the GARBAGE BURRITO.” I think this is it…

King Blvd and Normandie (again with Normandie…) Bad neighborhood. So far everything fits. Check Google Street View. Could be. As the Magic 8-Ball says, “Answer Hazy”.

AFAIK, this is it. One piece of history, complete.

Twins vs Seattle

On our trip to Minneapolis, Sam got some free (to us – $62 to the season ticket holder) tickets for the Twins vs Seattle at the new Target Field. We were to go Saturday night. Of course, his plant melted down the day before and he needed to go in Saturday to relieve the chief troubleshooter, and Bette bailed, so Lou and I went. Karin dropped us off on the triangle outside the park, and we mooshed in with the herd of humanity.

The park is nice, new. Crowded. We had seats in Section 111, Row 24, on the right side behind home plate up at the top of the lower section. I could sit on the top of the chair to change positions. Nice. 85 degrees, no wind. A bit warm. I got a Summit ale and peanuts – all the food counters were packed. Supposedly the food was good. Maybe later.

The first inning was the game – Twins scored three runs, and that was it. Some nice plays. We got up in the 3rd inning and walked around to see the park from the different vantage points. You could only see the Jumbotron from the side where our seats were. THey have the same electronic displays we saw at United Center displaying ads and scores the whole game. Lots of ads, everywhere. Ick. I took a picture for a guy and his dad. I bought a $1.50 peach from the lonely farm stand.

Twins win in just over 2 hours, coming to within 1/2 game of the White Sox, currently in first place. We pushed our way out, called for a pickup, and the girls were in the car already on the way back from Plymouth. In ten minutes we saw them at the light and hopped in.

A nice afternoon at the park.

On My Boyfriends’ Bicycles

Our friend Shannon Mayhall appeared in a play reading. What is a play reading? The playwright wants to see it performed, see where we laugh and don’t laugh, before everything is locked in stone. So we trucked down to Elgin to eat our fave Shanghai Restaurant in downtown area a block from Hemmens. Good dinner, nice iced coffee. Mmm.

Then drive two blocks to park and walk to the historical Professional Building and up the elevator to the 8th floor and in a lovely old room with white pillars. The event is free, but first-come and we sit in end seats on the second row. There is free wine and cheese in the back, and water, and the playwright is selling her Whiskey Mattimoe mystery paperbacks in the back. I bought the first, Whiskey on the Rocks.

When the players come out, they are on bikes. Not bikes, but music stands which they carry around and dismount from. The director, Richard Pahl, explains beforehand that this is to simplify the reading, not having to balance, and you can put the script on the music stand. Most of the actors are pros, and don’t really need the script.

The play was a nice one about a wild woman who rides helmetless thru a bunch of boyfriends and steals bicycles from them. She is in an accident. Shannon was the main female, and was magnificent. I talked to Richard at intermission and he said if she was available, she could easily work downtown. I agree. She has presence.

Afterwards, the playwright, Nina Wright, came out and talked, and commented on how different the Saturday and Friday audiences were in their reactions. Richard said the cast knew where the audience would laugh on Saturday, so were able to play up their parts a bit more.

Lots of fun. A neat way to see a play-in-training.

Bangkok House & Shanghai Restaurant 11 Douglas Ave, Elgin, IL
Elgin Art Showcase, 8th floor of the historical Professional Building, 164 Division St., Elgin IL
Newspaper Article

“The Dining Room”

We saw this play before at the Woodstock Stage Left Cafe, and it was really good. Bette saw that it was here again and she jumped.

It was in the parish hall of the First Congregational Church in Huntley, with an old beat-up dining room table. The players came in and out of the kitchen from doors on either side. Actually, a nice set-up for the play.

We sat in several rows of folding chairs, the single problem of the night – it is hard to sit in folding chairs for 2.5 hours. They served coffee and slices of the birthday cake from the play at intermission. Nice touch.

And they did a great job. I would see something like this again. They announced, thanks for supporting local theater, which is in danger of disappearing. Here is the front line. Support them.