Monday, August 16, 2010

Baklava Redeemed

After the lovely Bard learned of my baklava experience in NYC she suggested that at some point we really had to rectify the situation with good baklava. It is very hard to disagree with the good baklava about anything. Sadly on the night in question that was nominated to fix the baklava experience, Chicago experienced massive thunderstorms that made the trip suggested difficult to undertake. We planned it for a week or so later.

On the Saturday night in question the weather was sunny and clear, perfect really for a trip to Chicago, to Greek Town, to the Parthenon, the only place on Earth where one can guarantee that a horrific baklava experience can be overwritten. The only thing that could possibly be better would be having homemade baklava cooked by a Greek in your own home. Granted, at the Parthenon that is pretty much exactly what you get, sans one’s own home.

Once arriving we decided to order the most miraculous of Greek foods to eat as a dinner that would lead up to the baklava. I love the Parthenon. The sound is overwhelming when you walk in, a wall of sound, chatter, noise. Everywhere are people grouped together around tables shouting their heads off at each other while laughing, smiling, and drinking chilled wine. The tables are lined with white cloth. People break bread and dip it in olive oil, eating, laughing, cheerful. The smells from the various types of food hit like a punch that makes you want to lie happily unconscious and revel in the a moment of complete freedom from thought. As soon as we walked in my stomach turned over from the hungry and the sheer joy of anticipating the Greek food it was about to receive.

We sat at the bar and had a wine with the friendly waiter, who had so nicely given me a free drink once a upon a time. We began to think about it and realized that the last trip to Parthenon must have been about a year and a half ago. Obviously we had left this far too long.

For dinner we agreed that we had to have saganaki, flaming cheese.

“The people who decided to cover cheese in alcohol and set it on fire should be praised,” says the Bard.

“Everything is better when set on fire,” I say.

“When covered in alcohol and set on fire.” She corrects.

It’s true. The waiters go happily to and from tables with steaming plates that crackle and pop with sizzling sound, stopping for a second to cover it in booze and then with the flick of a lighter “Ooopa!” and fire, and clapping joy from those who are about to eat, watching merrily as the waiter puts out the fire with a slice of lemon and delivers the food to the table.

“Yes, flaming cheese.”

Aside from the flaming cheese we also had kolokythakia with skorthalia. While I watched the cheese go up in flames we pondered what to order for our main course. In the end I decided it had to be an all-flaming meal, there was really no other way to do it. So while we enjoyed cheese the way the gods intended, covered in booze and lit on fire, I order scallops and shrimp flambé, and the Bardwould dine one some sort of delectable Greek meat (I apologize to the Bard for failing to recall in full the details of her dinner).

When my dinner arrived I pulled out the camera and the waiter, a spry, spritely, spruce Greek waited patiently for me and asked when I was ready before my food, properly doused in booze, went up in flames. The fire shot toward the ceiling, and my whole meal went up in flames. I could not have been happier.

As we ate we revisited the tale of Howyoudoin from New York and my awful baklava experience. I had not tried to have baklava since the trauma in New York. Perhaps I was suffering form Post Traumatic Server Disorder, or service, or sweet, but I had been, well, burned by the last attempt at baklava, and my taste for sweets (not to mention my pride and self respect) were suffering for it.

I knew I was ready. As we finished the wonders that were our Greek-laden meal we called the ever-too-happy-to-help us waiter back over and ordered baklava. To be fair we ordered a mountain of baklava. We ordered a piece each for ourselves, and three pieces to take home. These were ostensibly for later, and also to be shared with Young Kubrick (who was spending the night painting rather than enjoying insanely good food with us).

I swear as they brought the baklava to the table it was like some sort of mythical procession. It was like the gods itself turned and smiled and said yes, yes…

And as we observed it on the table the only thing I could think that would be possible better would be…

“You know, they could cover this in booze and light in on fire, I think that is the only thing that could potentially improve it.”

“Does it fix the previous experience?”

“Oh yes, oh very yes…” I indulged in the honey-sweet succulent pastry and smiled.

My Solo Chicago Music Festival


After New York I needed to remember why I loved Chicago. For this I decided that I need music. What good is being in Chicago without music? Granted there is also food, and eating occurred (as did couch surfing, great conversations and traveling randomly on public transit), but then there was the music, sweet music.

In all I got to see a grand total of five great bands live by myself.

There was first Mountain Band, a trio of girls singing a cappella. Lovely with an ancient feel. The band was part of a triple header, the second band was Twin Sister. A lively little band with a dancing, jumping cutie wrangling the vocals. It was poppy and fun.

Then the main act. Bear in Heaven. The vibrations in the room made this particular band beyond good. This band was damned near transcendent, orgasmic, rapturous. It boarded on being better than sex and out-of-this-world good. The set could have been three hours and I would not have
been bored.

When I went to see Bear in Heaven I read on the theater banner that Tapes n Tapes would be playing hardly five days later. I had never really hoped to see Tapes n Tapes live. They haven’t had a new album out since 2008. Hang Them All practically defined my life for an entire year. As soon as I got home, I had tickets to go see them.

Then I found out Heartless Bastards would also be playing in Chicago. With the Builders and the Butchers. This is a lineup that would make any hardcore music listener like me willing to kill. So I got tickets for that too. Tapes n Tapes offered the opportunity for Unicycle Loves Me, a fun band, with yet another gorgeous guitarist who really knew how to wail. Fantastic little duo.

The main act was transcendent, again. I sang along to every song. My throat was sore by the end of the show.

On the night of the Bastards I combined life with food. (Hence the prior story.) I got to the theater in time for the Builder's opening set. They're one highly energetic band, that came complete with fans who bring toys. The energy they had on stage is what I want to bring to my life. They live and
breathe music.

Heartless Bastards is hard to describe. She has a voice that fills a room over and over again. Fills the mind, fills the soul. I shook and tumbled and sang along again, by the end of the show my throat was burning and my head was swimming. The finale included a gigantic mash-up of HB, The B&B and,
Peter Wolf Crier, who I had missed.

All in all, the solo musical tour of Chicago reminded me very much why I love the freaking city so much.