Guilty Pleasures 4
Forward pass: Liz Armstrong makes the rounds.
A Party of One
[ THE READER’S SOCIAL COLUMN ]
Like other serious-minded folk, I try to get through those monster cover stories in the Reader. But I never even crack them open before indulging in Liz Armstrong’s “Chicago Antisocial” column. A stiff mix of one part fashion and art review, one dash of political comment, and three heaping helpings of a party girl drinking and name-dropping, the page is my reminder that somewhere in the city, someone is having a fabulous time—and Armstrong is probably there. She’s not perfect: the pieces are too long; she doesn’t so much drop the F-bomb as sprinkle it liberally throughout; she steals bottles of chardonnay from parties—and her modest faults have earned her a dedicated hate blog. But it’s comforting to know she’s out there. “It was pretty much just a regular party,” she sets us up, continuing: “[C]omputer wizard Hunter Husar booty-humped publicist Kate Urcioli while she chewed on a corner of her skirt. Local designer Cat Chow appeared to be taking a nap on the couch. I kind of grabbed my editor’s boob, twice.” A regular party? Maybe she should be taking along a regular guy, who would help her see such things in a fresh light. I haven’t had that much fun in a long while, Liz baby. Call me?
Is This On?
[ OPEN-MIKE NIGHTS ]
Each week, local bars like Gentry (440 N. State St.; 312-836-0933) and Davenport’s (1383 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-278-1830) lure amateur singers to open-mike nights. These entertainments could hardly be less cool, what with the syrupy ballads, cheesy Broadway anthems, and flubbed lyrics. Still, I keep going back for more. The payoff comes when I hear a gifted comic milking hilarity from a song about romantic hardships, or, better yet, an ingénue with a lovely voice bringing the room to a hush with an earnest ballad. Admit it: “Rainbow Connection” tugs at your heartstrings, too.
Take a Gander
[ FOIE GRAS ]
I think I know something about Charlie Trotter. He may have stopped serving foie gras in his namesake palace, but put a nice sautéed slice in front of him and I guarantee you’d best watch your fingers. Here’s why: the taste of sautéed goose liver hits us in a deep, deep place, not just the tongue or the stomach, but somewhere in the lower brain stem, I suspect.And so to Trotter—and to Chicago alderman Joe Moore, state senator Kathleen Wojcik, and all others who say phooey to foie—I offer these instructions, which, if followed precisely, are guaranteed to change their minds.
1. At the Fox and Obel grocery store (401 E. Illinois St.; 312-410-7301), buy several slices of fresh foie--not a terrine, not a paste, but slices about as thick as your finger.
2. Back at home, heat a good skillet to high.
3. Sprinkle the slices generously with a good-quality, thick-crystal sea salt and just a scratch of pepper.
4. Place a pat of butter in the pan and swirl it well.
5. Delicately place the slices in the pan. Don’t go anywhere: sauteeing foie gras is like trying to fry a piece of butter.
6. After about two minutes, the slices should have acquired a deep caramel browning at the edges. Ever so delicately, turn them over. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook for two more minutes.
There’s a great variety of fancy things you can do now. None of them is necessary (though it can’t hurt to have a good Sauternes on hand). Just make some thin-sliced brioche toast and place your foie slice next to it. Take a bite of each. And here is what will happen. You will change your mind on the whole foie gras thing. Because that first succulent taste rings the little bell in our brains that says—ding—you are at the top of the food chain and that—ding—it is a good and pleasurable place to be.
A little bird told me: sippin' suds at the Skylark
[AFTERNOONS IN A SALOON]
Anybody can sit in a tavern in the evening and drink with friends. I prefer to cut out of work early and slip into my favorite oasis just after it opens in the early afternoon. My first choice used to be the old Bluebird (on Clybourn, just north of North Avenue), but lately I head for the Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.; 773-227-4433) or Skylark (2149 S. Halsted St.; 312-948-5275). Perched atop barstool mountain, I’m often the only client in the place. No distractions—just a can of PBR, a pack of cigarettes, and a chance to think things out. And nobody has to know I was there. Whoops.
Courtesy The Four Seasons
Va-va-va-room: sitting in the lap of luxury at The Four Seasons
[ ESCAPE TO A LUXURIOUS HOTEL ]
Sometimes the ultimate pleasure is to disappear in your own town for a day or so, slinking into a hotel lobby with your tresses tucked under a baseball cap and your eyes hidden behind a pair of Onassis-size sunglasses. Checking in while checking out. The Four Seasons (120 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-280-8800) works for me, with its thousand-thread-count sheets, friendly dog walkers, and complaisant bellhops. After watching first-run movies while propped up on a dozen billowy feather pillows and soaking in the special Four Seasons’ Spa milk bath, you are finally relaxed. Emerging from the hotel’s cocoon, you feel as if you have just returned from a faraway vacation—without the jet lag.
Passing the Buck
[ DOLLAR STORES ]
Dollar Bazaar, Dollar City, Dollar Store: the names are interchangeable, their offerings vary daily, and they are fixtures in the city’s cheesier strip malls. But for immediate cheapo gratification, there is nothing like one of these dreck-filled Aladdin’s caves, into which I manage to slink with frightening regularity. With its discontinued children’s toys, off-brand cleaning products, hideously colored household gadgets, and closeout kitsch, the dollar store is the “anti-haute” shopping excursion—though the rewards are no less satisfying. With their bounty, I have stuffed umpteen goody bags for kids’ parties; built entire buffet dinner parties around huge plastic platters; and delivered many a distinctive hostess gift (I prefer not to be more specific). Would I rather be shopping at Prada? Nope. I’d rather do both.
Photo: Leonard Gertz
Photo Styling: Sheila Styling
Food Styling: Janice Bell
On the Wings of a Buffalo
[ BUFFALO JOE’S ]
When I was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, more than 15 years and 30 pounds ago, Buffalo Joe’s, a chicken-wing joint near campus, was the junk-food fix of choice (812 Clark St., Evanston; 847-328-5525). My order was always the same: wings (“spicy,” but not “suicide”), waffle fries with cheese, and a root beer—the 24-ounce “Gutbuster,” of course. Buffalo Joe’s is still there, still cranking out Buffalo-style wings by the fryer-full, and still capable of pulling my car off its dietetically virtuous course toward Whole Foods. Everything is still in place: the short, efficient assembly line; the maroon upholstered barstools; the backroom with the lazy ceiling fan that seems to move no air at all. Truth be told, the wings aren’t remotely as good as I remember them from my college days: they seem smaller (or am I bigger?); they manage to be simultaneously dry and oversauced; and the cheese on the fries coagulates at an alarming pace. But I eat the whole thing, lie to my husband about what I had for lunch, and invariably go back for more—way more often than I should.