19 November 2005

Seu Jorge @ Millennium Park, 19 September

One of the many reasons to love Chicago is Millennium Park, particularly the free concerts that run all summer long at Frank Gehry’s astonishing Pritzker Pavilion. The acoustics are great, and the visuals are particularly awesome. To the left of the stage is the stunning architecture of Michigan Avenue, truly gorgeous at sunset. By the time the setting sun fades, the house lights are registering similar effects against the pavilion’s steel surfaces.

We didn’t attend as many of these concerts as we would have expected this summer, but we did catch a few. One of these was Seu Jorge, the Brazilian musician who first entered the consciousness of many North Americans when he was featured in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou last year, singing David Bowie covers in Portuguese.

The concert took place on the cusp of autumn solstice, as part of the World Music Festival, and we got there 30 minutes late, but the free concert lasted at least another hour. You can’t beat listening to beautiful, sensual Brazilian music at twilight. Some people were dancing at their seats.

Seu Jorge left the stage after a series of wonderful numbers we’d never heard before, and a band of young percussionists stayed behind to entertain the audience. These kids were fabulous, not just drumming, but directing the audience to accompany them with claps. The audience, in trying (and failing) to keep up with the complex rhythms generated on stage, gained a fresh appreciation of the talent involved.

To our gratified surprise, Seu Jorge returned after some 20 minutes, and did a long encore that encompassed several David Bowie songs in Portuguese. As the concert finally ended, we felt like we were floating, and drifted out of the park toward our bus stop, completely content.

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16 November 2005


I chose to read this novel in part because of the reputation of its author, Australian Peter Cameron, but mostly because of its title. As a child I had a predictable fascination with the very small and very large; Andorra was a target of this fascination because it is the smallest country in Europe. As a voracious encyclopedia reader, I must have learned something about Andorra back then, but nothing has stuck with me except the fact of its size.

Which really has nothing to do with this novel, except that the smallness of the country somehow lends credibility to the almost Kafkaesque oddness of it as described by Mr. Cameron. The description is just this side of believable, even in contemporary times, even in Europe—as if reality is different in a small country.

You read this finely written book in good faith, turning pages because—while the first-person narrator is somewhat distant and opaque—you buy into the story: someone has gone away to a remote place to get over a great grief. For a time you don’t know what the grief is, and then you do, and you start to sympathize with this cold, opaque character.

Chinks begin to appear. Other characters don’t see the protagonist just as you do. Some of them are unreasonably fond of him; others develop a surprising antipathy. You don’t understand why, but you go along. And then, finally, you realize your sympathy was misplaced.

If this is a spoiler, so be it. The novel’s “surprise” ending is entirely unpaid for. While there are things to admire about Andorra, I don’t recommend it. When I closed its covers what I felt most was annoyance.

In reviewing other responses to the novel, I see I may have missed something by taking it so literally. But I'd argue that this shallow story—however clever—hasn't earned such multilayered readings.

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12 November 2005

Romeo Romeo

Romeo Romeo is a perfect destination if you’ve just been to a show at Davenport’s in Wicker Park and didn’t have dinner yet. Since Davenport’s doesn’t serve food and has a two-drink minimum, you are a little woozy from having downed two drinks on an empty stomach, and you’re ravenous.

This is a good thing, because Romeo Romeo doesn’t stint on portion sizes. For example, the Tortellini (with spinach and pine nuts) Grosso appetizer would satisfy some people as an entrée, and is—in any case—eminently shareable. And pleasing: rich, creamy, yet interestingly flavored. Also pleasing is the Caesar salad, which incorporates some unusual components: fried capers, bits of hard-boiled egg, and croutons made of polenta. Actually, the Caesar is more than pleasing; it’s amazing.

Entrees we’ve tried include the Melanzana Parmigiana (eggplant parmesan) and Diamond Jim Spaghetti and Meatballs. The eggplant parmesan was fine; nothing special. The spaghetti and meatballs, though, were quite wonderful. The large, dense meatballs, while not as peppery as one would expect from the menu description (“pepper studded”), are made chewy by bits of mozzarella. The result is surprising, in a good way.

The atmosphere at Romeo Romeo is crowded and loud, but the service is pleasant and attentive, and both times we visited we were lucky enough to get seated without a reservation. The menu—perhaps best characterized as improvisations on standard red-sauce Italian—is interesting enough that we look forward to returning and trying other items.

But we will probably always start with the Caesar and get the meatballs on the side.

1415 N. Milwaukee
773 . 227 . 6636

Sunday through Thursday
5pm to 11pm
Friday & Saturday
5pm to 1am

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Chicago Turkish Festival

All summer, and intermittently through the fall, Chicago’s “Under the Picasso” program hosts a series of ethnic festivals. Polish, Chinese, Thai, Mexican…you name it. While we haven’t attended all or even most of them, the Turkish festival (typically held for a week in mid-September) is a favorite. Aside from the usual lunchtime fashion shows of traditional dress and folk dancing demonstrations, this festival features market stalls run by visiting Turkish merchants who bring along employees to demonstrate their crafts. In front of one booth offering intricately decorated Turkish ceramics, a man paints a platter with tiny brush strokes. In front of another booth, a woman sits at a loom, her fingers moving faster than your brain can comprehend. A merchant tells you a single rug takes nearly a year to complete. Watching the remarkable detail (slowly) emerging on the loom, you believe it. A market stall specializing in imported delicacies offers free samples of Turkish Delight.

Festival food is often a chancy proposition, but Turkish Festival offerings are of a higher order. Most of the booths are run by decent Chicago Turkish restaurants, including Cousins and Turquoise. Salads, typically chopped small with lots of tomato and cucumber, are fresh and flavorful. Lots of grilled meat (in the form of kabobs) is available, served with rice or in a sandwich. There’s a café serving Turkish coffee; you can sit at one of the little tables with your small, beautifully painted cup and imagine you’re in Istanbul. Nearby, a booth sells Turkish ice cream, which we have yet to try, as the queue is always longer than we have the patience to endure.

We’ve visited two of the Turkish Festivals so far, and it’s become a standard by which we measure the other ethnic/cultural festivals we attend. You want some feeling of authenticity—not just kitsch; you want good characteristic food; you want to learn something. It’s rare and wonderful when a festival meets all three expectations, as does the Turkish Festival.

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Great Meals in Albany Park

The question becomes, can you have a bad meal in the Middle-Eastern mini-neighborhood surrounding the Kedzie Brown Line stop? I suppose anything is possible, but so far it seems rather unlikely. There’s Noon-O-Kabab, the much-celebrated (since its Check Please! appearance) Persian place, where the dilled rice is wonderfully savory, the kabobs are tender, and the borani (spinach, onions, and garlic in thick yogurt) especially delicious. There’s Semiramis, a newer Lebanese spot with a particularly good chicken special and excellent falafel. And next to the really splendid Nazareth bakery (which, in addition to exceptional baklava, offers a range of traditional sweets), is the simply named Salam, a Palestinian place with zero ambiance, friendly service, and generous amounts of terrific, cheap food. (Three of us got full on one combination plate.) We have yet to try City Noor, which was recently awarded an LTH Forum Great Neighborhood Restaurant sticker, and which has the characteristic Egyptian soup melikheya—which my husband grew up with—on its specials roster, but we’re confident we have something wonderful to look forward to.

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