Earlier this week I went to one of the Cuban restaurants where I had gone in January — Cafecito. This time a colleague who had recommended the restaurant accompanied me on my visit. Upon entry, the owner greeted me by name and I greeted him by name. We chatted at length and when I introduced my colleague, he asked if she was the one who had told me about the restaurant. He had read the journal entry I had written about my experience at Cafecito and his recollection of the statement I had given about my colleague recommending the place was very telling. His brand of authenticity will be missed greatly.
Throughout the week, I finally experienced the bittersweet moment that I knew would come eventually, with me soon to depart Chicago. I got a chance to meet with a few past co-workers, great friends, family, a past supervisor, and several others who have become significant parts of my circle. They jokingly rubbed in the fact that my constant appetite will keep me in some eatery in DC stuffing my jaws and that I will perhaps gain weight. They gave me names of cafés, restaurants, and holes in the wall that will certainly please the palate. A few paid for my Chicago Symphony Orchestra tickets and one volunteered to take my Chicago Lyric Opera subscription. And they all blocked my time for the remainder of my stay so that we could fellowship. Their brand of authenticity will be missed greatly.
On Friday night, I returned to a certain Korean barbecue restaurant in Chicago’s North Side named San Soo Gab San. Teeming with people, this house of all good eats was perfect for escaping wet, dreary weather. Rainy on the outside, warm and toasty on the inside, one of my great friends and I had decided to meet to get our fill of countless little bowls of edibles, and entrée of a savoury noodle dish, and meat on a hibachi. With cameras in hand and a camcorder, too, this time, I was ready. And my great friend was equally as ready as he brought his fantastic camera to capture the impressions left on the table for us to address and the final snapshots of how aggressive we were with the treats set before us.
For anyone who has gone to any Korean barbecue restaurant, you are well aware that nothing comes to the table ala American fare. Little bowls of this, that, and the other are stacked on the table in whatever spot available. When you think that there is no more room because an entrée has arrived at the table and plates of raw meat so that you can grill yourself have been brought, the servers figure out how to move things around to make more room for additional small bowls. Aye, aye, aye! Kimchee, potato salad, potatoes, lettuce, spiced pickles, bean sprouts, spiced tofu, water vegetables, peanut sauce, and things that you simply eat so that you can make space are there for the sampling. Although I am primarily vegetarian, albeit not one leading a crusade against eating meat, I had some chop chae. This plate of happiness — clear noodles, chopped beef, onions, and scallions — went down the gullet with no complaint and no wicked side effects. Well, that is unless you count being sleepy afterwards a side effect. There was bulgolgi, which is well-seasoned beef, shredded nicely, and doctored with a splendid amount of spices that went on the grill and cooked to bliss. Same was the case with the lip-smacking chicken. Gobbled up with all of the small side dishes, my great friend and I did one of the most awful things afterwards: we went and had gelato at Paciugo in Lakeview. I am not talking about a manageable scoop of one flavour either. No, there were four scoops stuffed into our individual cups and tended to with utmost diligence. Oh the shame of it all.
Saturday I spent a moment downtown taking in some architectural photography. Most of it was inside because the wind that whipped back and forth from Lake Michigan was a bit more nippy than I had anticipated. I visited the Chicago Cultural Centre and kicked my self, literally, for having not gone before now. The architecture, the attention to detail, the glass dome, the Tiffany dome, and the moment of relaxation that gave such ideal escape were exactly what I needed. After a few hours had passed, my belly started growling. Haha. Another great friend from Phuket, Thailand, met me downtown at a Thai restaurant after my photography session. Having gone to the restaurant, My Thai, it was great being able to see the manager and constant wait staff one last time. Where it became a quiet moment was when it dawned on my Thai friend and me is that we both are leaving Chicago, he to return to Thailand, me to go to DC. He was one of the first people I had met when I moved to Chicago seventeen years ago, an authentic friend who taught me how to speak in Thai in exchange for me giving him enough in French. Saying lacone, which means good-bye, sounded so final and it left me quiet for far longer than I could manage.
This weekend ended with me catching up with the aforementioned colleague — who really is more like family — who had suggested the Cuban restaurant to me. We met at Eggsperience, one of the American breakfast, brunch, and lunch restaurants in Chicago’s River North. We had fluffy pancakes, crisp waffles, scrambled eggs with cream cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice, a banana smoothie, and plenty of laughter. A quick walk over to Intelligencia, we watched the barrister prepare our coffee through some brewing process that looked more like a science experiment than mere percolating-and-pour. We took in a free concert at Chicago Cultural Centre, given by Chicago Chamber Orchestra. And a brilliant finish to the day was dinner at Tamarind, which is a Pan-Asian restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop, where we had chicken masala, spicy salmon maki, and another maki that was incredibly catchy to the eye and filling to the tummy. Of all days, I left home sans my camera. The food was journal-worthy.
The upcoming week will come and go in the twinkling of a moment. As I look back over the restaurants that I have visited over the past several years, I am amazed truly at how many I have covered. I never had any intention of putting a restaurant on the blog site that had food unsatisfactory to my palate or service that was not pleasing to my sensibilities. To date, there was not one that failed. There were the magnetism of flavours, outstanding service, and authenticity — there is that word again — that kept me returning. I cannot bottle my moments and place them on a shelf, but I still have records of my adventures. My dining experiences and my relationships have been constants that have kept me smiling. As I go into this final week, I will savour the precious memories and a little thing that the world could use more of: authenticity. Until the last supper…