Annual Narcissism Celebration

Iguana CafeSeveral years ago, I did something that a lot of people who have limited success in relationships refuse to do. I backed off and spent time getting to know and love myself rather than seeking someone to do that for me. Well, those several years were actually fifteen years ago. What was supposed to be a brief self-assessment turned into a case of me practising narcissism. And truth be told, since then I have not gone to bed with grief, tears on my pillow, sleepless nights, or a diminished sense of self because I was abiding by an emotionally damaging mantra of “I am nothing without a woman.” This had marked my fifteenth year celebration. Not being one for shopping and I am going abroad mid September through mid October, I made an appointment with my ego to go to some restaurants and feast in celebration of having discovered that the world will not come to a screeching halt because I am single.

Belgian WaffleMy first stop was Iguana Cafe in the River North section of Chicago at 517 N. Halsted Street. It is one of those boutique restaurants that has a coffee-house feel to it and fills up with those who have an urban chic appeal to themselves. That may be very much due to the ambience that the cafe exudes. Two very close friends had given rave reviews about Iguana Cafe, almost bordering on fanatical. So I had to see what the appeal was. On entry, one thing I found a bit disconcerting was whether to seat myself or wait. Not as though the cafe was bursting with patrons, the staff seemed rather scrambled. But I waited for a few minutes before being acknowledged and taken to a seat — where I waited for a noticeable amount of time before my order was taken.

Iced ChaiWith it being morning, I scanned the extensive menu for something along the lines of breakfast fare. Usually breakfast menus leave me with a gasp, for there is so much that leaps from the pages along the lines of appetizing dishes. At Iguana Cafe, the bill of fare was somewhat pedestrian although exhaustive. Noting that, I ordered a Belgian waffle because I was confident that the kitchen staff would not botch that. I also ordered Greek yogurt with strawberries and bananas and an iced chai to wash it all down. The Belgian waffle certainly was not a defrosted breakfast delight, as it was still crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside after I had snapped about 75 shots of it from various angles. Filling the whole plate, the taste finally made things feel okay, because the initial impression of the cafe was — shall we say — a bit run of the mill. As an individual who is not a fan of yogurt from the dairy section at the local grocer, the Greek yogurt with strawberries and bananas really etched itself in my mind as a highlight. Greek yogurt alone is a bit of an acquired taste because it is not loaded with sugar, saccharine, Splenda, Equal, or high fructose corn syrup the way you find yogurt in the supermarket. The natural sweetness of the fruit was all that was needed. And the chai, although it may have been the quick mix in the pourable carton, was still good enough on ice to wet the throat. So, I get to say that the dining experience at Iguana Cafe was worthy.

Greek YogurtAfter an enjoyable breakfast, I felt as though I was at a Jamaican cafe when it came time for paying the tab. In Jamaica, you practically beg for the tab and have to push your way to the counter to pay the bill. I waited for the tab to be brought to the table — and I waited, and waited, and waited. By the third time having to request the check, I walked to the till to pay the tab. Crime. Treason. Horror. Murder. The stares I received from the staff, as if though I was supposed to sit and wait for fifteen more minutes while the time on the parking metre ran out. This is not written as a deterrent, but while the food left me with a smile, the whole customer service thing was missing from the equation. To quote the youth of the present urban setting, “It is what it is.” And as I walked out the door with a filled stomach, I checked Iguana Cafe off my list of restaurants to sample.

The Sit Down Cafe & Sushi BarBy lunch, my belly was growling. I had been pondering whether I wanted to go to a restaurant on the North Side but remembered a certain cafe from my days of living in Hyde Park. The first experience was so pleasing that I wanted to return for another episode at the outdoor seating area. So it was off to The Sit Down Cafe at 1312 E. 53rd Street. The weather was perfect: no hot and humid temperatures, blue skies, and a mild breeze. Reaching the restaurant and finding that there were plenty of outdoor seats because everyone was inside — or elsewhere — I requested a table that was in a shaded part of the front patio and had pulled out my camera to start my calibration for my photography. And wouldn’t you know that out of all of the outdoor seating, these two loud-mouth women sat immediately next to me and grimaced at me clicking away with my camera in advance of receiving my food. Apparently none of the other seats were good enough. To borrow an observation from my brother, “We have been cursed such that we have a tendency to attract foolishness.” He actually used another word rather than “foolishness.”

Pineapple, Orange, and Pomegranate JuiceFor a refreshing beverage, I had a pinorgranate juice. This was a blend of pineapple juice, orange juice, and pomegranate juice. Oh was it tasty. I have had pineapple and orange juice but the addition of the pomegranate juice added a hint of tartness that did some tricks on the tongue when matched with the sweetness of the other juices. Americanized Asian dishes have a love of adding sweet and sour meat-of-your-choice to their menus. The sweet and tart marriage in the glass of pinorgranate juice had given me an idea of some juicing to try at home. Not to stuff myself relentlessly, I opted for a maki roll because the rolls I had during my first visit were so outstanding that I do not think I gave the write-up justice when I did my first journal entry for The Sit Down Cafe. On this visit, I ordered a dragon roll. Tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, and barbecued eel. What more could you ask for in food satisfaction? Of course I could rattle off several more choices, but the dragon roll never fails and I found a bit of a perverse satisfaction watching the two mouths frown and scoff at my photography enjoyment and subsequent exaggerated sighs of bliss. I bet they won’t sit immediately next to someone else in an otherwise empty restaurant or patio again. I don’t remember having the dragon roll when I had gone the first time, so the light feast this time was virginal at The Sit Down Cafe. Although the cafe has some other fare on their menu like a few Italian dishes, they are absolute top in terms of their sushi.

Dragon RollThe waitress who had taken my order remembered me from a year ago during my first visit. Since patrons usually snap photos with their cell phones and point-and-click phones, seeing someone photograph their food from multiple angles and with up to well over 300 clicks of the camera, I guess it would be hard to forget someone who is not only passionate about their photography but who also cleans his plate. Again the loud mouths sized me up because to hear the waitress engage me in long conversation about what I do for a living if photography is not it, what I had been doing since the first visit, some of my favourite cities for specific cuisines, and some  recommended restaurants in the city was not something she did with the other dining patrons. The complete converse of Iguana Cafe, I left The Sit Down Cafe feeling as though I had left a friend’s house. And as the waitress had said, I have a feeling that you’ll be back more now that you’re in Chicago more, I will indeed return for more juice and sushi on a regular basis.

Brownie SundaeTowards the latter part of the day, and after having snacked on something throughout the remainder of the afternoon, I decided that I would treat myself to some ice cream. I had gone to one of my favourite neighbouring suburbs to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at the picture show. A little extra time on my hand I walked over to the Oberweis Ice Creamery at 124 N Oak Park Avenue and had a brownie sundae with a large scoop of chocolate ice cream, a scoop of cookies and cream, whipped cream and topped with a cherry. It was a perfect ending to an A+ day. After a full day of having my cell phone off so that I would have no disruption to my annual narcissism celebration, I returned home to voice mails from friends about broken hearts, divorce, and emotional torture. For some twisted reason, I smiled to myself because if I were to introduce them to the joys of narcissism, they would learn to love themselves and know the next time when someone is trying to bring trash into their homes to mess up the merry work. People take trash out for a reason. For me, if I’m not busy staring at myself in a mirror, I’m staring at my reflection in an empty plate. And I smile.

Iguana Cafe on Urbanspoon
The Sit Down Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ambassador Start at Noon O Kabob

Noon O KabobI have decided to consider quitting my day job and applying for the position of ambassador to so I can assist with peace efforts with Iran. I have yet to meet someone who would waste time arguing when there is delicious food within reach. That’s right. I will conduct all meetings and peace negotiations over a plate of zereshk polo — Persian sour berry rice with chicken — and plenty of laughter. Stuffed bellies. Greasy lips. Talk about harmony. Someone should have told Condoleezza Rice to sit her proper butt down to a table of good Iranian food and discuss peace relations in the Middle East the right way. [The FBI now taps Double Agent Williams’ PC for plotting.]

My good food adventurer friend and I indulged our hankering at a Persian restaurant. “But Persian starts with a P, Gino.” Yes, that is correct, but Persia is now Iran and a rose by any other colour is still a rose. Persian. Iranian. Damn good food is what we call it. This gem of a restaurant is at 4661 N. Kedzie Avenue on Chicago’s North Side. I am also the self-imposed ambassador at work who will take visiting Iranian scientists and engineers there. They will feel at home and they will terrorize my management to make sure I get promotions. Oops. I mean they will speak highly of me and recommend me for promotions. [If the FBI sees any variation of the word “terror” in my blog, they will come to get me.]

I had very little to eat earlier in the day, in anticipation for truly stuffing my jaws during dinner. Considering my appetite keeps a fire lit to it — weightlifting, kickboxing, and running three miles every morning — I am surprised I didn’t go into the restaurant and launch into a frenzy, biting chairs, tables, people running from my gnashing teeth, and munching on the curtains. Thankful that we arrived at the restaurant before the crowd began to pour in, we got a table immediately and the fun began.

The waiter was a cool guy, worthy of the “they must be rich” tip we gave him. We would have given him a very good inside investment tip, but we all know what happened to Martha Stewart when she went down that path. He filled us in on the Martini of the night — a pomegranate Martini. Yum! Seems that pomegranate is finding its way into a lot of beverages as an accent. Pomegranate tea. Pomegranate cider. Flavoured water with pomegranate. And now pomegranate Martinis. Instead, I opted for a glass of freshly squeeze orange juice. Delicious. They even left the pulp in, which is exactly the way it should be for those of us addicted to the naturally sweet, citrus juice. My friend had a bottomless glass of iced Persian tea.

Appetizers

Appetizers

The whole meal comes complementary with tandoori bread, onions, radishes, feta cheese, and parsley. For appetizers, we ordered kash-ke-bademjan, olovieh, and Caspian eggplant. All I have to say is that if the appetizers are hits on the menu, the entrees are certain to be winners. The kash-ke-bademjan was a mix of eggplant, mint and onion with Kashk (age dried yogurt), topped with fried onion and mint. The olovieh was a mix of chicken breast, potato, diced Persian pickles, mayonnaise, green peas, shredded carrot, and tomato, served with tandoori bread. Considering this appetizer had one of three things that I avoid religiously — small boats, small planes, and mayonnaise — I was pleasantly surprised that I had no allergic reaction other than a constant smile. The Caspian eggplant, which was sweet eggplant, tomato, onion, and garlic topped with moosir, was so delicious that I had a moment of indecisiveness. Should I buy a Honda Civic? Should I buy a Kawasaki danger bike? Do I take the Red Line all the way home or do I take a cab and demand that the driver play the music the cab incredibly loud?

Entrees

Entrees

The entrées were indeed big hits. I’m telling you, Condoleezza Rice really should have conducted peace meetings over plates of shirin polo and gheymeh bademjaan. Perhaps Hillary Clinton will, but I will save that for some other writer’s blog. Hahahaha. The manager had overheard my friend and me contemplating a seafood dish and he came by the table and recommended the salmon. I was leaning more toward the shrimp curry stew, but skipped it since the manager thought it was good, but not as good as the salmon. The shirin polo that we had was sweet and sour Persian rice — shredded almond and fine pistachio mixed with orange peel, shredded carrot, golden raisins, and Persian sour berry on top of Persian white rice. The rice was like candy. The gheymeh bademjaan was diced choice beef with split peas, prepared with Persian saffron and cinnamon in light tomato sauce with baby eggplant served with white Persian rice. The waiter was kind enough to serve the meal cultural style and threw in some dill rice since my friend and I seemed to have had such uber appetites. He thought that we were joking while we butchered the names of the items on the menu in the eye-raising quantities that we ordered. I do believe he was shocked — shocked I say — when he saw the plates cleaned with just a bit of gravy and a kernel of rice here and there. We’re not watching our weight, although I may need to start monitoring my weight gain if I get to 215 pounds well before this time next year.

Desserts

Desserts

As usual, we had to have dessert. With wide eyes, huge grins, and a little space in the bellies, we ordered a bomieh and a banana cheese cake. The bomieh reminded me of just about any Indian dessert — sweet enough to get the gums throbbing. This dessert was fried dough with saffron honey syrup. The banana cheesecake was a dessert to my heart — it was full of rum. I am not a man with a quick appetite for liquid treats, but that cheesecake had the right ingredient in it. I know at this minute some of my friends are asking about my special barbecue sauce, the spiked baked beans, the rigatoni Bolognese, the home made rum raisin ice cream, the apple cobbler I call “lovin’ from the oven,” and a few Ginoesque recipes. Okay, okay, I get the picture. [I recall a certain modified Christmas cake I baked several years ago for a party at work, one full of Kalua and rum. As soon as I had taken the lid off the cake and the alcoholic fumes wafted through the room, that cake was good as gone. All I got was a view of a cake plate with crumbs.] To wash this all down, my friend had another glass of bottomless Persian tea and I had a cup of hot Persian tea. Let me tell you, it was not Nestea or Lipton.

Forget about high gas prices. Forget about the weather. Forget about your wallet. Make your date pay. For the price of the entire meal, we could have ordered more. Then again, the scene after eating more food probably would have been rather embarrassing. This is yet another restaurant to add to my list of places to frequent during my long stay here in Chicago, which will be for the rest of my life. I could see myself in my old age keeling over at some restaurant. My epitaph would read “He Died a Happy Man, So Full of Life and So Full of Food and Beverage.” My younger brother said it should read “He Always Had a Smile and a Crumb on His Face.” Go to Noon O Kabab. Have the pomegranate Martini. Rally for peace in the Middle East by having people join you, as long as they pay their part of the dinner tab and tip accordingly.

Knock! Knock!

Rats! It’s the FBI coming to confiscate my laptop. I will just have to bribe them with an invitation to Noon O Kabab.

Noon-O-Kabab on Urbanspoon