Friday, May 29, 2009

Two Quick Friday Observations

1. Lockwood is super-smart for promoting this 20% discount off lunch or dinner when you show them your Art Institute ticket stub, in honor of the Modern Wing opening. If you want formal environs to help recover from your post-art coma, theirs is indeed a lovely and very convenient option. Terzo Piano on the other hand is arty casual.

2. Open two weeks now, Terzo's service staff is definitely still getting its legs. Lunch there has been averaging about 90 minutes - a long time for most of us to escape our typical weekday maelstrom. I'm checking it out for dinner next Thursday to see how the experience varies from mid-day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chicago Grilling Season Kickoff

Don't you love it when you invite an eclectic mix of friends over for a super-causal dinner, and everyone just clicks? We did this on Sunday afternoon to officially open grilling season. Despite the fact that the weather was too chilly to lounge on the rooftop deck, it was the easiest, most enjoyable entertaining we've ever done. We kept the menu simple and fresh so that I could relax and enjoy having everyone camped out around the kitchen island, which is where they all usually end up anyway.

The Menu

Grape, Mint and Jalapeno Salsa
Navy Bean Artichoke "Hummus"
Blue Corn Chips
Pitchers of Vodka Lemonade
Grilled Salmon Fillets with Ginger Soy Glaze
Grilled Petit Sirloin Steaks
Red Potato Salad with Gorgonzola
Tossed Green Salad with Mango
Assorted Cookies

Nothing on the menu took more than a few minutes to prepare, except for the steaks - which at succulent 4 inches thick required some serious grilling. The quality of both the salmon and steak (from the previous day's Whole Foods expedition) were AH-MAZ-ING.

The big star of the day however seemed to be the grape salsa, for its unexpected blend of cool sweetness, mint, and heat. Pile that onto a salty chip and YUM!

Grape Mint Salsa
From Southern Living Magazine by way of Epicurious

2 cups green seedless grapes, coarsely chopped
2 cups red seedless grapes, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 whole jalapeƱo pepper, seeded and finely chopped (don't forget your gloves for this part!)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Whole Foods Gives Chicago Big Box Organic

Ah serendipity. After our recent resolve to go all organic, we girded our loins yesterday and headed for the new 75,000 square-foot Whole Foods that just celebrated its grand opening on Wednesday, located on Kingsbury and North Ave. We watched it go up this winter from the terrace of our gym nearby, wondering if it would improve the black hole of congestion that the smaller store caused for so long two blocks north. That it would be a stellar experience inside, I never doubted, but I have to admit this third-largest Whole Foods in the world has exceeded even those expectations.

The parking sitch: Not bad. The 400+ space facility was as full as you'd expect on Memorial Day weekend just after the grand opening (are we nuts, by the way?), but it's designed well enough that you can easily circulate until someone vacates a spot, which only took a couple of minutes.

The first impression: In Broadway parlance, it's a WOW. We entered on the second floor and descended the long escalator into a bright, airy, lofty space bursting with produce, live music, patrons sipping coffee at cafe tables, and people. Lots and lots of people.

Navigation: Maybe it's just the museum geek in me, but I wanted a map with my shopping cart. Looking south, I saw more and more store. It goes on for days. There's a mezzazine level and a diner, not to mention six other eateries tucked into various sections, only a few of which I saw on this visit. The produce section however didn't seem any bigger than the former one, and its still laid out at angles with cramped aisles - maximizing eye appeal but minimizing mobility. From there, the rest of it meanders generously around the big key landmarks, like the impressive Butcher counter and Bakery, which I swear attracted about 300 people with its free tasting stations.

Favorite surprise: Aisle Rage could have set in between Seafood and Dairy if my astute husband hadn't spotted a fellow shopper carrying a glass of beer who informed him that, "This whole store is a bar. You can get drinks at different places and carry them around." He pointed out the beer bar; my honey quickly began hunting for the inevitable wine counterpart. Which he found across from the milk, next to the large wine department. The double-sided Da Vine bar is surprisingly big, with an elevated seating area, knowledgeable staff, and a menu offering some interesting wines-by-the-glass and cheeses. A few steps away, a kid carved up giant wheels of amazingly tangy Parmigiano Reggiano for free samples. Sipping and munching, I relaxed considerably and ticked items off our shopping list. I turned to my husband and said, "Yeah. This is our store. We've come home."

The six remaining eateries are thematic to Chicago's neighborhoods: Wicker Park Subs, Pilsen Taqueria, Taylor Street Pizza, Asian Express, the retro Riverview Diner, and the Chicago Smokehouse and Rotisserie. There's also a lounge area, outdoor tables overlooking the river, and the entryway coffee and beer bar with a live music stage.

Other surprises: The seafood department offers three types of fresh wild salmon. My husband stared in wide-eyed wonder at the endless possibilities of the DIY nut butter station, not to mention the trail mixes possbile in the expanded bulk foods area that's about double the size of the previous one. In every area, selection is vast. I chose from eight kinds of European-style butters and nearly freaked when trying to decided on yogurt.

Customer service: Seriously great. They must be plying the staff with free yoga and aura massages, because we only encountered cheerful, helpful people who never forgot to ask if there was anything else we needed.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cooking En Feugo

Why is it that whenever I dice jalapenos or other hot peppers for a recipe, it never occurs to me to wear gloves? As a contact lens wearer, I've stood in the bathroom exhausted before bed more than a few nights, squinting my way through a case of Searing Capsaicin Eyeball. Not good. Not good at all.

So I Googled it and naturally found a litany of discussion board strings offering all manner of sage advice for when the usual handwashing has failed. "Soak your hands in bleach." Um, no. Just plain no. "Scrub with a polmace stone." I'm thinking that was meant to be pumice stone, but again, I must decline on the basis that I want to keep my epidermis mostly intact. Being Italian-American, my first inkling was olive oil. I nearly headed in that direction when I saw a post, by a strong speller, who swore that half and half was his miracle cure. I was a little sad to waste any of the sacred dairy combo, but I indeed just bathed my hands in some, and well, wow. About 90% of the burn is gone.

But if you know a better way, please tell.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Climbing on the All-Organic Bus

The confetti has been swept, thousands of Champagne bottles have been recycled (I hope), and the mayor and Rahm-bo have long since left the building. Everyone in my area of the museum has a jumbo-sized opening week excitement hangover, but the new wing and all its inspiring features are, in fact, launched and chugging along nicely. Hordes of visitors are pouring into it for free as I write. Art and handmade pasta for the people! Yes! We! Can!!

It's a given that my brain is fried. But on Sunday, once I consented to peeling myself off the sofa, I walked over to a mirror to confront what 10+ months of monster-truck-sized stress have done to my body. And people, I am fat. Not Biggest Loser fat. Just there's-no-way-in-hell-I'm-going-to-fit-into-last-summer's-pants fat. And last summer? Not exactly a moment to celebrate in my personal journey toward glowing health and fitness.

I've made three decisions about this. 1) It is not going to be my new norm. Noooo, nononono. NO. Change is coming to these hips, America. 2) It's time to put the kibosh on the stress. And 3) I will eat my kind of food to return to a healthy weight. No sense in pretending that I'm going to forgo real food pleasures for, well, anything ever. I'll just have to pace them somewhat more between fresh seasonal produce, whole grains,, something else that my take-out habit has fogged up my brain cells too much to remember.

To brush up on these weighty matters - sorry, couldn't resist - I downloaded Jillian Michaels' new book Master Your Metabolism on my (amazing, awesome, stellar) Kindle. I never watch her show. But I do relish her refreshing talent for honest, sweaty, ass-kicking fitness, and the fact that the book focuses on endocrinology intrigued me greatly.

It has me REELING. Michaels relates how in past years she meticulously consumed 1,200 calories a day and spent over six hours in the gym a week to keep her bod in top form. No shock there. But if she "relaxed" and ramped it up to all of 1,800 calories with the same workouts, she gained 15 lbs. almost immediately. I know dozens of people who can relate to a similar scenario...just none who look like her or have her discipline. An endocrinologist treating one of Michaels' clients eventually tested her and found that literally every major metabolic hormone in her system was totally out of whack - thanks to years of dieting, stress, lack of sleep and consuming processed foods.

And it's that last item that has me reeling. I always knew that processed foods could trigger allergies or lead to long-term health issues like heart disease, and I've minimized them without getting too worked up over it. But I didn't imagine that they could so quickly bring on a vicious cycle of obesity, for one. Or ovarian cysts. Or premature puberty. Or depression. Or any of the other honestly serious immediate dangers triggered by hydrogenated oils, FDA approved preservatives, and additives. In short, if wellness nazis like Jillian Michaels aren't immune from the effects of this toxic junk that's completely taken over our culture, then America, my friends, we are all deeply, truly effed.

Big time.

So I have to believe that this is where Darwinism kicks in, and the smart ones will take the advice to thrive in spite of the overall environment of crap. Which means going all-out, full-stop organic. And breaking up with diet Dr. Pepper and protein bars for good. And learning the entire number system for plastics so I know which ones will alter my DNA if put in my dishwasher. None of which sounds so terribly daunting, but just try to go stand in line at Cosi and order lunch with all this spinning around in your head.

As usual, my friend Dar has a way of just knowing like Yoda. She sent me a package from Zingermans this week as a gift, and when I opened it, I was greeted by a box of Rabitos Royale ...Spanish figs filled with brandy liqueur, dipped in chocolate. No, not diet food. But here's the thing: it wouldn't even occur to the Spanish to fill this unreal little bonbon with toxic crap. In the US, we'd slap an "ALL NATURAL" banner on the front and sell them for 300% markup. But this little darling is exactly the one special treat of my day that won't make me miffed about doubling up on the salads.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Italian Red from Heaven: Marco Donati's Taroldego

My husband and I went to Spiaggia for a quiet brunch today and lingered over a gorgeous meal that I'm going to think about for a long, long time. Aside from the food, which was equal parts artful and soulful, our waiter suggested a little known wine varietal in the US that was absolute love at first sip - taroldego, a red grape from the Alto Adige region in the northern Alps of Italy.

Drinking it brought back one of the sweetest memories I've ever had. About eight years ago, I zipped through Trento's back roads in a Ford Escort with two friends on our way to Venice, and in one of those great unplanned travel moments, we spent the night in Trento. Aside from knowing the incredibly useful fact that it hosted a Vatican council in the 16th century (um, not), I knew nothing about it. We arrived late at night, and all I could tell was that it was tiny, had plenty of medieval charm, and its residents were amused by tourists. We checked into the one pricey hotel because the rest were full. When I woke up the next day and opened the windows on our terrace, I was speechless. It was a bright May morning and had just finished raining. With the air sweet and clean, the misty clouds were still drifting in and out of the incredibly dramatic green peaks surrounding us. We spent the rest of the morning exploring its little nooks and crannies.

While the clean, flinty white wines of Alto have become relatively familiar territory since then, I don't recall ever seeing a red from the area. Today's 2005 Marco Donati teroldego had notes of that same sweet earthiness that I inhaled when I opened our terrace window years ago, which was like music to my nose. Aside from that heady memory, it was filled with bright fruit and a lovely structure similar to a pinot noir, with an unbelievably long finish that made my husband and I both sit quietly and smile.

In this case, Trento's terroir had the same effect on me as the town itself did years ago: a slowing of the senses to appreciate just how beautiful life can be.

The Gage's Swanky Little Neighbor

Last night, as I left the Modern Wing's still-percolating Gala at 9:30, I was hungry for dinner (I didn't sit with the guests for this one). So I popped over to the Gage to order takeout on my way home. While I waited on my caramelized lobster at the bar, the bartender and I chatted about the new restaurant concept that Dirk Flanigan and Billy Lawless have in the works for next door. They're still debating ideas on the menu, but they've settled on creating an intimate four-star experience with a small number of tables and no bar. They're even considering Italian, and are ultimately aspiring to earn Michelin's attention when the rater finally covers Chicago.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Terzo Reservations to Open Next Week

I'm too crazed for words, but here's the news today....

Terzo Piano will begin taking reservations on Monday, May 11th. You may make reservations for parties up to 8 by phone (312 443-8650) or online at

The restaurant will hold its grand opening on Saturday, May 16th. It will be open daily for lunch from 11am-3pm, on Thursday evenings until 9pm in the summer (during late hours) and until 8pm the rest of the year.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Update on Terzo Piano

Mama mia, another post about Terzo Piano. (At the risk of being monomaniacal, the Modern Wing is all I'm eating, breathing, or sleeping for the next couple of weeks as we enter the final stretch for the opening festivities, so please humor me.)

Friday afternoon, I walked through the restaurant space with one of my project teams on our way to the Bluhm Family Terrace, and it was clear that Terzo has turned a major corner since my last visit just a week ago. Staff members were unloading and stacking dishes and cookware in the kitchen. Even better, as we emerged into the dining area, there was a collective gasp: the interior architecture is completely finished and it is *gorgeous*. Denison has done a phenomenal job with his usual minimalist restraint, although the pearl-toned mosaic on the bar is a surprising touch of understated glamour. The chairs and other furnishings were just beginning to make their way in, some of them supporting nervous-looking interviewees.

Can't wait! Can't wait!...and I won't have to for very long, because I'm booked for a "rehearsal" lunch there this week.

I've also learned that the restaurant plans to take reservations on Open Table. I have to admit I'm proud yet shocked that AIC has decided to go this way. In the eight years I've worked there, the museum has always been veeeery slow to adopt any form of new technology. It's truly a new day. Naturally, this also means it's going to be all the more competitive to get a reservation for those lunches and once-weekly dinners.