Four months before my wedding, A long-winded rant to my friend Joe about the proper etiquette regarding save-the-dates and RSVPs prompted him to question my manhood. A few days later, when I demanded that my fiancée, Christina, change the theme of our menu for the third time, I realized I had completely morphed into a fire-breathing, know-it-all Groomzilla.
But a Taste of Chicago wedding dinner? Come on, that’s genius. Ninety-nine percent of our guests, mostly Californians, Oklahomans, New Jerseyites, and New Yorkers, had never visited Chicago, and this wedding wasn’t going to be just a party but also an educational experience, a celebration of our adopted hometown. We planned to force-feed Chicago down their throats. And not the usual stuff, like hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, and garbage salad—they could do that on their own time. We wanted food stations representing some of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, places our guests probably wouldn’t have the time, or inclination, to visit.
My reporter’s instincts, and trust issues, pushed me to investigate the merits of the menu that our patient caterer, Blue Plate, had concocted: a deconstructed pho salad from Argyle Street; baby vindaloo lamb chops from Devon Avenue; a char-grilled skirt steak with feta-calamari salsa, Greek potatoes, and a panzanella salad from Greektown; duck enfrijoladas from Little Village; shrimp de jonghe from the Gold Coast; and a jibarito from Humboldt Park. So I spent a week clicking through dozens of online menus from countless restaurants. I scoured Yelp and Chowhound in hopes of unearthing a hidden gem. I Googled neighborhood histories in search of the truth. Then, armed with way too much information, I dragged my fiancée on an eight-hour culinary journey, hopping from one neighborhood to the next to create our masterpiece wedding menu.
Those enfrijoladas our caterer tied to Little Village? Nowhere to be found. So no enfrijo-@#$%ing-ladas on my menu! I chose tacos instead, like the ones at Taqueria El Milagro (3050 W. 26th St.; 773-579-6120): beef, rice, refried beans, and cabbage stuffed in a corn tortilla. Panzanella salad in Greektown? Maybe in Detroit. But the dish has Tuscan roots, and after visiting every joint in the Heart of Italy (a.k.a. Little Tuscany), we got a few people to acknowledge it was a Tuscan dish, which was good enough for us. Plus, it’s Christina’s favorite. It made the cut.
Christina deemed the deconstructed pho salad and shrimp de jonghe too expensive, so after an unbridled hissy fit, I agreed to replace them with a charred petite tender in homage to Chicago steak houses and a vegetable pad thai like the one we had at Joy Yee’s Noodles (2159 S. China Pl.). Thai food in Chinatown? I would have no problem throwing my bride-to-be under the bus for that one.
Clearly, in some instances we sacrificed authenticity for hospitality. The Devon Avenue lamb chops were too costly as well, so I lobbied for either kebabs or nihari, a Pakistani beef stew. But I lost both battles to my penny-pinching Italian-blooded fiancée, who also argued that not every guest would be so adventurous. As it turned out, a juicy chicken tikka masala like the one at Sabri Nihari (2502 W. Devon Ave.; 773-365-3272)—with a perfect sauce and just the right amount of spices—made me happy.
But when I bit into a jibarito sandwich—chicken, lettuce, tomato, and garlic mayonnaise between two crispy slices of plantain—at its place of origin, Humboldt Park’s Borinquen Restaurant (1720 N. California Ave.; 773-227-6038), I felt like the male equivalent of Meg Ryan dining at the Puerto Rican version of Katz’s Delicatessen, moaning “Ay!” in greedy ecstasy. With Groomzilla pacified by a plantain, the city was safe—for one night, at least—from my wrath. I presented my findings to Blue Plate and was assured the changes would be honored. My manhood, on the other hand, would prove much more difficult to redeem.