Monday, April 14, 2014

Arun's Delivers an Exquisite If Not Quite Extraordinary Thai Dining Experience -- Chicago Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review

Thai, Prix Fixe
4156 N. Kedzie, Chicago

I don't recall anyone I know ever speaking about Arun's, I can't remember reading a specific review of it and I know I had never driven by it.

Yet I have been aware of the upscale Thai restaurant for many years, and due to it being consistently exalted as one of the best restaurants in Chicago--it is one of just seven awarded five diamonds by AAA--as well as perhaps the very best Thai restaurant in America, I have long been intrigued.

So in the wake of having loved my prix fixe--set price, preset menu--meal at Picasso in Las Vegas in January, I decided to devote a weekend's dining and entertainment budget to an $85 (+ drink, tax & tip) dinner at Arun's, and ate there on a Saturday night in March.

I wouldn't say that I was disappointed as everything about the meal and experience was first-class, but I also can't say that I was blown away. 

Not only did Arun's not thrill like pricey prix fixe indulgences like Picasso, Alinea and Charlie Trotter's, but just in terms of Thai food--while wanting to be deferential to the obvious imagination of chef and owner Arun Sampanthavivat, who has concocted excellence nightly for nearly 30 years--I've probably been more overtly pleased by a great rendition of Pad Thai for around $7.95.

In writing this up a few weeks removed from my visit, I have to refer to my notes and photos to recall what I had and liked. And I know that even the night of my meal, nothing truly set me ablaze with delight.

As one would expect, the service being excellent--despite being given the wrong check at the end--with a rotation of servers patiently describing each course as I took notes on my phone.

And though I was seated in an area with more low-key art, there were walls gorgeously covered with the elaborate paintings by the owner/chef's brother, Anawat.

I was allowed to freely peruse and photograph them all, which was thrilling in itself.

And no doubt about it, I definitely enjoyed a unique, savory and substantive meal. Just not one as historic or euphoric as I was hoping.

Twelve courses were served: 6 appetizers, 4 entrees and 2 desserts. 

Soon after making my reservation through Open Table in mid-January, I received a confirmation phone call from the restaurant in which I was asked about any food restrictions. I informed them about my poultry allergy, so no chicken, duck or turkey.
But there was no menu on the table, or current one online, and no indication of what I would be served. Although I'd had prix fixe meals before, this was the first one that was truly blind.
I did not order any wine and there was no salt or pepper on the table.

Here's a rundown of the 12 courses I enjoyed at Arun's:

1. Winter Rice Porridge with seasoned pork & fried dough - Excellent
2. Oyster Pancake with garlic chives, bean sprouts, spicy mayo - Terrific 
3. Steamed Rice Dumpling filled with shrimp & jicama and sweet chili vinaigrette sauce - Good, sauce really good
4. Meekati - thin noodles (vermicelli), with mint prawn, black bean coconut sauce, tofu, garlic chive and a flat omelette - Very good

5. Tom Yum Soup - pork hock, herbs - OK

After this course, my main waiter indicated that I had had 6 courses, but luckily I had notes as I was only done with 5.
6. Yum Makrua - Fried eggplant, carved cucumber cup with Thai salad; would have been chicken instead of eggplant - Good, spicy
7. Lobster Tail with garlic sauce - Good
8. Basil Tilapia with corn and zucchini (usually chicken instead of tilapia) - Fair, nothing special
9. Three-flavored Fish - sweet/spicy/sour sauce and Nemo made from a carrot - Good
10. Beef Mussaman with string potato - Good but not sensational
11. Kibosha Squash, sweet black rice and beans, tapioca bubbles, coconut milk - Traditional Thai dessert - Good
12. Mixed Sorbet - Lichi and orchid blossom with poached pear & raspberry sauce - Excellent 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Being Largely Among the Lost Boys Prompts Me to Pan 'Peter and the Starcatcher' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Peter and the Starcatcher
a play by Rick Elice
directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 13

Although I have never read the J.M. Barrie novel, can't much recall the animated Disney movie and have been repeatedly left cold by the musical starring Cathy Rigby, I appreciate Peter Pan as an ode to the power of imagination.

And it is clear that plenty of such imagination went into creating a prequel of a play, Peter and the Starcatcher.

As written by Rick Elice, based on a novel by famed humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the prior-to-Neverland prologue has a clever premise.

It has plenty of clever lines, with many funny modern-day references at odds with the play's time period. And adding to its Monty Pythonesque sensibility, Peter and the Starcatcher is quite cleverly staged by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers.

With many fine notices, both from its current (but soon to end) Chicago run, and its time on Broadway, I will defer to the likelihood that it is a piece of theater of higher quality than my own particular enjoyment suggests.

For despite all the cleverness, I didn't much care for it.

Or about it.

And to be honest, for much of the show, I was thoroughly confused as to what was going on.

I knew going in that it was a Peter Pan prequel and detected the dichotomy being set up between Peter and the Lost Boys and their future nemesis, Captain Hook.

But between the British accents, hard-to-follow narrative and my general lack of interest in the whole Peter Pan mythology, boy was I lost.

Even after trying to decipher the plot summary via Wikipedia at intermission--it didn't help that it was the longest summary I've ever seen--and thinking I had the general idea going into Act II, I remained largely lost at sea.

There was nothing wrong with the performers, who all seemed quite good (including Joey deBettencourt as Peter, Megan Stern as Molly and John Sanders as the Black Stache; I won't bother explaining how they all fit in, nor should I for anyone who may see this tour or future stagings).

And if someone was to say they absolutely loved Peter and the Starcatcher, I wouldn't question or debate their opinion. As I've tried to intimate, the show is clearly well-done for what it is; but I just didn't get it.

For one reason or another, rightly or wrongly, some shows just don't catch me.

Even if they have a clever Hook. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Strong Production Should Satisfy Sondheim-o-philes, but 'Road Show' Feels a Bit Too Specific in Its Destination -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Road Show
a musical by Stephen Sondheim
book by John Weidman
directed by Gary Griffin
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Thru May 4

Beyond a great desire to see Road Show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, I felt a need, even an obligation.

I am a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim and the musicals he has created, and have seen nearly all of them, including productions of six works--one twice--director Gary Griffin has helmed at the CST.

All of these have been outstanding, including in recent years Follies, Sunday in the Park with George and just last month, Gypsy, in whose rave review I said I couldn't wait to see Road Show.

Also, in 2003 at the Goodman Theatre, I saw the world premiere production of Bounce. This was a musical about brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner that Sondheim had on his mind for years, developed with book writer John Weidman and workshopped as Wise Guys in 1999, eventually retitled Gold and won legal battles to have staged at the Goodman as Bounce

The cast included Broadway notables and the production--which would also be produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington--was directed by the legendary Harold Prince, long a Sondheim collaborator.

Although I didn't find Bounce to be sensational, I liked it enough to see it twice, and eagerly bought the cast recording (of the Goodman/Washington version; the show never made it to Broadway).

Well, the musical further gestated into Road Show, which played at the Public Theater in 2008, and from which another cast recording was released and finalized script & score subsequently licensed.

Hence, it wasn't just an affinity for CST's Sondheim renditions--which I've attended far more frequently than anything by the theater's namesake Bard--but a true curiosity to see what had become of Bounce that not only enticed me to attend, but pretty much demanded it.

Photo credit for all: Liz Lauren
That the CST was staging Road Show as a complement to the much more famous Gypsy was also compelling, as was the fact that the now 84-year-old Sondheim hasn't since written anything that has been publicly presented.

Though admittedly as a bit of a crash course, I did my homework before attending Wednesday's matinee of Road Show. I listened to the recording several times, including reading along with the lyrics and Mr. Sondheim's detailed notes in his Look I Made a Hat compendium.

And I should note that many has been a Sondheim show--typically earmarked by considerable depth and sophistication--that I have come to better appreciate over time.

But while I genuinely liked this Road Show and heartily applaud another superlative staging by Griffin and Chicago Shakespeare--with trademark terrific performances and production values--I can only strongly recommended it to Sondheim acolytes interested in seeing it for reasons approximating mine.

This may be a relatively small group of people, but far from infinitessimal, as with my performance--in CST's 200-seat upstairs theater--being essentially full and no discount tickets that I've yet seen on HotTix or Goldstar, I imagine there are many Sondheim devotees coming to rare staging of Road Show, including from out of town.

I assume most will value seeing it and appreciate much to like, but doubt many will find the show itself on par with Sondheim's numerous masterpieces.

Local actor Michael Aaron Lindner, whom I have seen do fine work on many areas stages, may well be at his very best as Addison Mizner, the less flamboyant and more historically accomplished of the two brothers. (His architecture shapes much of Boca Raton, Florida.)

Though he has far from a brotherly resemblance to Lindner, Andrew Rothenberg is well-sung and appropriately conniving as the more dashing-and-devious Wilson Mizner.

As I expected, the cast was fully-populated by talented performers, including Larry Adams, McKinley Carter, Anne Gunn, Robert Lenzi and ensemble members who also played instruments on-stage. Matt Deitchman was a constant on piano, and notably good under the musical direction of Michael Mahler.

But even with the cast delivering the material in a delectable manner, the near 2-hour intermission-less staging too rare imbued me with the giddy buoyancy that Gypsy and other Sondheim shows have, particularly at this venue.

Being a Sondheim work, Road Show is rather tuneful and has some great wit & wisdom in its lyrics. As my @@@@ should honestly convey, I enjoyed it much more than I didn't.

Yet whether due to the constraints of the story line itself, the years of tinkering or just a little less than supreme inspiration from its masterful composer, in full Road Show just didn't feel that spectacular--and at times even seemed leaden.

I can't say I much cared about either or both Mizner brothers, and much more troubling was that too few of the songs seemed superlative.

Or felt universal.

What I usually love about Sondheim shows is that each musical, and most every one of the songs within, has a universality that transcends what the story or tune is acutely about.

Though Road Show can be seen as a metaphor for chasing the American Dream, or as Chris Jones suggests in his 4-star (out of 4) review, autobiographical of Sondheim and Weidman, it--and particularly a set of songs that recitatively moves the Mizners' biography along--didn't impart (to me) many insights far beyond the subject matter at hand.

As I've been writing this, I've been listening to the cast recording of Bounce, which is reiterating my thought that Sondheim should have left more of the songs alone.

For example, the opening song "Bounce" is now reworked--with the same melody but entirely different lyrics--as "Waste."

Perhaps it better sets up the narrative, but the new song just isn't as much fun.

And that may be the overriding problem. Road Show is fine, very fine in parts, and excellently enacted at a venue that has done Sondheim better than anyone I've seen.

But it's lost some of its bounce and, relatively speaking, just isn't all that much fun.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Neo-Bohemian Rhapsody: On Great Cheap Jazz and Perhaps Even the Sound of Salvation

Article references and recommends:

Tuesday Night Jazz Sessions
Multikulti Community Center
1000 N. Milwaukee, 4th Floor
Every Tuesday, 10pm-1am

Art has long been the antidote to societal toxicity.

And while I can't deny that I also enjoy considerably pricier cultural offerings, this year I have been especially enriched by numerous live entertainment outings that have demanded an outlay of $12 or less.

So, perhaps as a counterbalance to an abiding nihilism borne from economic injustice, employment insecurity, existential inequity and environmental instability, I--along with my friend Ken and at times others--have detected a Bohemian undercurrent running through a variety of local venues and activities.

Whether referencing visits to venerable Chicago music clubs like the Green Mill and Kingston Mines, enjoying meals at unvarnished old-school eateries like Manny's Deli, uncovering free or cheap collegiate performances of considerable merit (1, 2, 3), celebrating a legendary blue collar bard like Nelson Algren, reveling in the timeless bliss of 60s rock with a Human Jukebox or merely my periodic hosting of Movie Nights for family and friends, I have found that appreciating redemptive artistry with a smattering of like-minded souls--especially for a minimum of cold hard cash--somehow makes all the bullshit seem not so bad.

Not that emotional sustenance via cultural exploration is anything new. 

To varying degrees of acuity, virtually everything I've written or posted on this blog says or connotes much the same thing.

But beyond being perpetually and unequivocably impressed by the talent (and not simply the gumption and effort) of many who perform for little or no pay or prestige--whether community theater actors and musicians, college jazz students, poetry slam participants, part-time tribute bands, cabaret acts booked into local libraries, construction workers moonlighting as improv comedians, etc., etc.--I have been profoundly galvanized by discovering people and places that have provided intrinsic nourishment for mere pennies.

And, at risk of redundancy or preachiness, I feel compelled to share each time I stumble across such an experience.

For perhaps I'm not the only one who believes in Bohemia, whether as a bastion in which to non-chemically numb one's worldview or a pasture from which to fertilize it.

Which is a rather roundabout way to reference that on Tuesday night, Ken--at his unearthing--and I attended a terrifically enjoyable jazz performance in a rather unique place for next to nothing.

I won't pretend to know much about the overall mission and purview of Multikulti, but it seems to be a finely funky community center and performance space, located on the 4th floor of an old building mostly occupied by office space, at 1000 N. Milwaukee in Chicago.

For about a year now, according to keyboardist and organizer Andrew Lawrence, Multikulti has hosted a Tuesday night jazz session designed to be warm, welcoming, inexpensive and for those--unlike me--with musical talent, participatory.

Each week, the music starts around 10pm, so as to accommodate easy street parking after the meter boxes have stopped collecting campaign contributions.

According to the website, there is a $5 suggested donation, which I was happy to give once I came across the rather non-imperious collection jar.

The vibe at Multikulti is of an oversized living room, with a motley collection of couches and a couple rows of chairs, but no bar, foodservice, flatscreens, etc. As the website notes, it's BYO, but upon taking our seats, Ken and I were offered a couple of PBRs by Lawrence; we graciously declined.

But despite the rather low-key surroundings, a bit of ad hoc setlist decision-making by the musicians, the specter of an open jam session later in the night and the odd reality that as the first note was played there were more people onstage than in the audience, any suggestions of "amateur hour" were immediately put to rest.

Opening with a Charlie Parker composition whose name I can't cite, it was clear that this was a group of first-rate musicians.

As I would learn from Lawrence at the set break, he is a piano teacher by day and many of the others in the core house band are teachers and/or students.

Both sax players--Brent Griffin, Jr. on alto; Ben Schmidt-Swartz on tenor--were particularly impressive, with Lawrence and guitarist Sam Moshing taking several stellar solo turns, and stand-up bassist Mike Harmon and drunmer Pete Mannheim solidly maintaining the rhythm.
The ensemble sounded great on Cole Porter's "I Love You" and an original Lawrence ballad called "Falling" was truly mesmerizing.
Though the open jam session undoubtedly would have been fun to watch, with at least one audience member obviously equipped to join those onstage, the 11:30pm set break provided the perfect opportunity for old fogies like Ken and me to bow out, even at the risk of undermining a true Bohemian lifestyle.

But taking into account the surroundings--both within the venue and in terms of easy street parking right outside--as well as the low-cost and relaxed vibe, I have rarely if ever seen high-quality jazz (or almost any live entertainment for that matter) in an environment any more comfortable.

I realize the more of these cool places I--or Ken, or other friends--find, the less likely it is that I will revisit any, let alone all, of them. 

But if I don't get back to Multikulti for more Tuesday night jazz sessions, it will be to my detriment in more ways than one.

Still, if you know of other great Chicago-centric examples of the neo-Bohemian ethos I should check out, by all means, please share. 

The future of the world--or at least mine--may depend on it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Guest Post: In His Old Neighborhood, Nelson Algren's 105th Birthday Party Celebrates a Chicago Gone By

(This piece was written and submitted by my friend Ken)

"Mr. Algren, boy, you are good."
-- Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway praised only two of his contemporary writers. The first was William Faulkner. The second was Nelson Algren

Now, all but forgotten, Algren is arguably Chicago's most quintessential author, with all due respects to Carl Sandburg, Saul Bellow and Ben Hecht.

He won the 1950 National Book Award for The Man with the Golden Arm, a story about the sad life of Frankie Machine, a morphine addicted, decorated veteran of World War II who eked out a bleak and meager existence dealing cards. The novel is widely recognized as a timeless 20th century classic of American literature.

What Hemingway was to war, Algren was to Chicago's urban losers.

Walt Whitman may have sung of himself, but Algren, with his dark naturalism, told the story of the whores, pimps, drug addicts, con men, gamblers, punks, drunks, cripples and ne'er-do-wells from Milwaukee and Division.

In a lifetime spent producing 11 books, he told the story of those whom the American Dream left behind--through no fault of their own--because no one else would.

A chronicler of Capitalism's casualties, he was a true bard of the down-and-outer and a social conscience at a time when most Americans were busy moving out to the suburbs during the post-World War II boom.

"The hard necessity of bringing the judge on the bench down into the dock has been the peculiar responsibility of the writer in all ages of man."
-- Nelson Algren, "Chicago: City on the Make"

Algren died in 1981, but a small-yet-dedicated group of Chicago writers, artists, intellectuals and progressives still remember him.

Every year, for the last 25, the Nelson Algren Committee has thrown a birthday party for their namesake scribe. This year, Algren would have been 105 on March 28.

So I found myself making a pilgrimage back to Wicker Park/Bucktown in Chicago to visit a time that is long gone, a Chicago that no longer exists, yet a place that will be with me always because Algren's Chicago was where I grew up, about a mile from where he lived.

"Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real."
-- Nelson Algren, "Chicago: City on the Make"

The party took place in the meeting room of a condominium complex/artist colony off Western Avenue at Bloomingdale at 8:00pm on Saturday, March 29th.

Warren Leming, a writer/musician/director and founder of the counter-culture band Wilderness Road, is also one of the founding members (along with the late Studs Terkel) of the Nelson Algren Committee.

Leming kicked off the festivities by telling the crowd of about 50 fellow Bohemians that the party was being co-dedicated to the memory of Pete Seeger, "truly a conscience in touch with humanity, whose courage and conviction will be much missed."

Mark Dvorak, Chicago folksinger and teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music, then honored Seeger by leading us in a group sing-along of "This Land is Your Land"--which did a great job of creating a feeling of solidarity--and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" which I found poignant, moving and somewhat sad.

Mark's stories of singing at an Oak Park food pantry on a regular basis reminded me that some things
never change.

Algren wouldn't have been surprised. Nor Seeger for that matter.

"Money can't buy everything. For example: poverty."
-- Nelson Algren, A Walk on the Wild Side

Next, Chicago actor, opera singer and voice-over artist, Bob Swan, did readings from a couple of Algren's lesser-known writing efforts.

One was a biting satirical reply to Maggie Daly, at the time a well-known Chicago gossip columnist (not the mayor's wife) who had disclosed in her column that Algren had been arrested in a car, with two other passengers, which contained the remnants of a joint.

Algren's mug shot is still infamous and now immortalized on a coffee mug, but the charges were dropped. His reference to the time he saw Daly "lapping up" a spilled drink from a saucer--as recited by Swan--was hilarious.

Swan's second reading was a more humorous description of the time Nelson first met Mike Royko, a famous muckraking columnist for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News, at a bar. Algren thought his real first name was Roy and he had a short last name: Ko.

Chris Corbett, a writer from Baltimore and author of The Poker Bride, recounted that while attending Northwestern University in the 60s he tried to get Algren to speak there, but Nelson declined.

But when the famed author accepted a speaking engagement at Loyola University down the road, Corbett took the El train to the event. Corbett recalled how all the famous authors who spoke at Northwestern inevitably showed up drunk, while Algren--who, like Hemingway, had a hard-drinking reputation--showed up at Loyola nattily dressed in a suit & tie and quite sober.

Touchingly, Corbett said that of all of his memories from 40+ years ago of Chicago in the 1960s--the protests in the streets, the anti-war movement, the counter-cultural movement, the society tearing itself apart, etc.--his most vivid memory is of Nelson Algren reading aloud. In his own lifetime, Corbett has never encountered "a more spellbinding reader."

Each year, the Nelson Algren Committee Award is given to "community members who are under the radar and on the side of the angels." This year's honorees are the men and women of free-form radio station "The Wizard," WZRD (88.3 FM) who are celebrating 35 years of providing progressive radio from Northeastern Illinois University.

The WZRD representatives reminded us of present environmental issues by drawing attention to the recent BP oil spill in Whiting, Indiana and suggested we check out the Arctic News blog, commenting that "it must be pretty serious if the scientists themselves are trying to attract attention."

(As an aside, I have to say that the blog article regarding the possibility of near term human extinction due to recently discovered methane fountains under the melted Arctic icecap was disconcerting to say the least. My own research indicates that the facts of the conjecture are not in dispute.)

Photo by Art Shay
Algren also had a personal life. The love of his life was Simone de Beauvoir, a renowned French feminist and author of The Second Sex. Although a lifetime companion of Jean Paul Sartre--the famed French philosopher and proponent of existentialism--de Beauvoir carried on a simultaneous 20-year love affair with Algren. (When she died 6 years after Algren, de Beauvoir was buried next to Sartre but wearing Algren's ring.)

Gail Schecter, a North Shore community housing advocate, filled us in on some of the details by reading from the Letters from Simone de Beauvoir:

"Nelson My love, ...I was deeply moved when I read in your letter that you loved, as well as my eyes, my ways in love. And I thought I had to tell you these ways were just my loving you. I had always the same eyes, but I never loved anybody in these ways, you have to know, with such pleasure in love and so much love in pleasure, so much fever and peace,.... I really and wholly felt that I was a woman in a man's arms and it meant much so much for me. Nothing better could have been given to me. ... Just come to me darling and take me with your strong , soft, greedy hands. I wait for them, I wait for you."

Tragically, although one can see that they really did love each other, neither was willing to leave their respective locales--he Chicago, she Paris--and theirs was a largely a trans-Atlantic commuter affair until Algren was denied a passport. But Simone loved Chicago and referred to Nelson as the "Dostoyevsky of Division Street."

Photographer Art Shay, a friend of Algren's, took a scandalous photo of Simone in 1951 or 52 on one of her visits to see Nelson.

Dennis Mueller and Mark Blottner showed a clip from their almost-completed documentary about Algren, The End is Nothing, the Road is All, the trailer for which can be seen here. The film is in post-production and needs a few hundred dollard in contributions before it can be finished and released later this year. The film's title is taken from Algren's epitaph on his gravestone.

Photo by Art Shay
It is a time honored tradition that Nelson Algren birthday parties end with the distribution of candle-lit cupcakes and the singing of "Sto Lat," which is the Polish version of the birthday song.

This year, as the cupcakes were about to be passed around, the young lady holding the platter of shimmering cupcakes slipped and fell with the cupcakes. Fortunately, she was not hurt, but when she stood up, I could see that the vast majority of the icing had wound up on her legs. She must have been a good sport as she couldn't stop laughing.

Somehow I had the feeling that Nelson would've laughed too.

We sang "Sto Lat" anyway.
"Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own."
-- Nelson Algren, A Walk on the Wild Side

Here's a link to some of Nelson Algren's best essays.

Here's one of Algren's proteges, Russell Baker of Princeton, explaining the true literary impact of Algren's work.

If  you'd like even more of a feel for what a Nelson Algren birthday party is like, here's a link to video from his 103rd birthday party

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Chicago Dining World Tour: A Filling Trip to Sarajevo

Restaurant Sarajevo
2701 W. Lawrence, Chicago

What I ate: Bosnian Chorba, Large Pljeskavica

Though my visit to Restaurant Sarajevo came late in year one of my Chicago Dining World Tour--principally a single year acute undertaking, although there has been spillover into a second year for several recaps and a few meals--I found it to be a prime example of what I was looking to discover.

Namely, to locate and enjoy ethnic dining restaurants in Chicago, especially rather unique ones that I was otherwise unlikely to find--or even look for.

I know I have traversed Lawrence Avenue several times over the years, but never noticed Restaurant Sarajevo, which has been there for about 15 years according to its owner and host.

This wouldn't seem so strange except that even after I visited the restaurant--which is at the corner of
Lawrence and Washtenaw--when I happened to riding with a friend along Lawrence, I still didn't spot it.

But yet I somehow got there when I wanted to, on what I'd say I recall as a rather brisk winter's night, but of course here in Chicago, that's essentially been all of them.

I didn't ask the name of the man I presumed to be the owner, but learned that although he hails from Bosnia, the restaurant's cuisine also covers stylings from Serbia, Croatia and the former Yugoslavia.

He was a friendly host, and server, who seemed to take pride in his establishment and was open to answering my various questions.

Such as about the spread that accompanied the basket of delicious homemade bread I was provided. It clearly wasn't traditional butter or cream cheese, and I'm not referring to the olive oil that was also provided.

I may have the spelling wrong but I believe I was told the spread was called "Chimak."

And I remember it being tasty.

As was the Bosnian Chorba = soup. Though I asked the owner and noted it down as beef vegetable, the online menu describes it as Homemade Veal and Vegetable Soup. Of course it's possible that there are two different types of chorba at Sarajevo, but either way what I had was good.

For my entrĂ©e I ordered something called Large PljeskavicaTraditional Bosnian Beef Patty Made from a Mixture of Ground Beef and Lamb Filled with Mozzarella Cheese, Served with Your Choice of Side Order.

I got it with potatoes that were rather good, but only a few bites into the aptly named Large Pljeskavica, I was quite full.

There was nothing about it I didn't like, given the mozzarella enveloped within the long strip of beef and lamb, but with even more cheese on top it was one of the heaviest things I remember eating. And I tend to think I'm a pretty hearty eater.

So although the leftovers made for another rather substantial meal, and confirmed that the taste itself was quite savory, I can't say that Pljeskavica is something I would readily order again. (No, there wasn't a "Small" version listed.)

Which isn't to suggest that I wouldn't visit Restaurant Sarajevo again--nor that you shouldn't--on a day that I arrive rather ravenous.

Of course, that's assuming that I can--once again--find it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pithy Philosophies #15

Seth Saith:

A good book equalizes all surroundings.