Culinary Mythology

Scylla chef Stephanie Izard As a first-generation American (my mom was born in Poland), I’ve seen the ease and speed in which cultural traditions are lost, and so I’m determined to preserve the meaningful ones. It’s probably why as a secular Catholic, too lazy to attend regular Sunday mass, I still try to adhere to most of the other religious traditions, and not just the ones that include bowing to massive binges of guilt. And so with Lenten season upon us, I and 2.4 million local Catholics are in need of a seafood fix for our Friday meat fasts. Advertisements

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Sweet Sojourn

Mohammad Islam would make a first-rate drug pusher. The executive chef and co-owner of the new River North hot spot Aigre Doux (which means sweet and sour in French) Restaurant and Bakery is standing next to his wife, pastry chef and co-owner Malika Ameen, and Oriana Kruszewski, aka “The Walnut Lady” in the basement pastry kitchen. Islam repeatedly dips his hand in Kruszewski’s zip-locked stash, and gives me handfuls of her black walnuts (they taste like extraordinary dried apples). Kruszewski’s also brought along some homemade preserves, frozen cornelian cherries and raspberries. Islam is handing spoons of the stuff to me as if he were a countercultural shaman bestowing a particularly robust strain of Humboldt County pot. As Islam chews on a cherry, there’s a child-waking-up-on-Christmas-day-like glint in his eyes as he tells Kruszewski he’d like to see her at the back door of Aigre Doux every two weeks. Kruszewski looks at him and tells him he’s crazy, and that if he buys her high-quality-but-pricey products that frequently, he’ll go out of business.

Betrayal

Betrayal is a study in the slow smolder of jealousy, the roil of resentment, and the fearful grip of insecurity bestowed by a love triangle among close friends. Despite the mind games played and lies spun amongst the interloper Jerry (played by Ian Barford), his mistress Emma (Amy Morton), and her husband Robert (Tracy Letts), the real Betrayal of this drama is the first ten minutes of the play, a mind numbing study in what has been critically lauded as the “Pinter Pause”.  

Big Greek Breakfast

Caramelized banana pancakes at Meli Cafe Those who might bemoan the ebb of old-fashioned Chicago patronage need only look at Greektown to change their mind. The Near West Side neighborhood is one where waiters still beget restaurateurs who beget waiters who beget more restaurateurs, a place where family and immigration isn’t a random mingling of bloodlines, but a concrete strategy in the business plan. Meli Café (301 South Halsted), a fantastic breakfast and lunch spot, and the newest addition to the Halsted strip, serves as the perfect business case.