Farewell to Evanston

It always seems a shame to sell a place, just when you get it perfect. The Evanston condo served Dani well for six years, beginning with her Sophomore year at Northwestern. Here is a look back.


Evanston Condo
OK, it is the world’s ugliest building.

Evanston Condo

Evanston Condo


Roommate Era

Dani's Evanston condo master neatend up a bit

New Furniture

Dani's Evanston condo dinign and living

Dani's Evanston condo lighting

Dani's Condo: Finished!






Hardwood Floors




New Tile





The View


One thing you can’t do at the Chicago high rise

Moving Out


Chicago Architecture Boat Tour


I really enjoyed this tour of Chicago’s architecture, as experienced from the river. The volunteer docent on the 90 minute trip was a professional architect who provided great insight into the history and design of the buildings.

I had been expecting a recitation of architect’s names and dates, but this was much more, and much more interesting. I came away feeling I’d really learned a lot about the how and why of development in the city, and had a good time doing it.

It’s nice that there are outside seats on the top deck and bow to accommodate everyone, so you can see the view, but also that there is an inside cabin and bar, in case it rains (which it did!)




Next: Trio

Next is Chef Grant Achatz’ “next” restaurant. Achatz is the creator of Alinea, regarded by many as America’s greatest restaurant, and Chicago’s only 3-star Michelin restaurant.

I approached Next with some trepidation because I’m not a fan of Alinea. I found the atmosphere and service there stiff, and grew tired of the dictatorial way we were instructed to consume each course.

But Next is nothing like that. Service is professional but relaxed, and the servers are happy, informative and passionate about the food they’re serving.

I also like their ticketing system. It was refreshing to have no transaction at the end of the meal. The food, wine pairing and tip are all included, and are fairly priced for the experience you receive.

The unique thing about Next is that the restaurant evolves into something completely new and different every four months. New food, new wine, new decor. Since you’re unlikely to go twice during any given incarnation, you just need to put your trust in the culinary team and expect something special.

That’s certainly what we’ve received on both visits. A month ago Dani and I enjoyed the Modern Chinese menu.

This time Linda accompanied us to enjoy Next: Trio, which was an even more spectacular menu than Modern Chinese. This homage to Chef’s first restaurant ten years ago pulls out some vintage tricks, and reminds us of how cutting edge that restaurant was.

21 courses, many of them home runs. Very lavish ingredients, beginning with a generous serving of Osetra, and two courses using foie gras in completely different ways.

My favorite course was a surprise, the smoked figs was that perfect union of unexpected flavors that turns the whole into much more than the individual parts.

A few of Alinea’s serving tricks were used for some of the courses, but they’re more playful and less pretentious than at Alinea.

As always a convivial staff enthusiastically sharing information and their love of what they’re doing. A great dining experience.

Off to a nice start with a healthy serving of Osetra caviar and a nice sparkling wine.
Rock shrimp on a vanilla bean pod
Mozarella balloon filled with tomato water. This was superb
Doctoring the sparkling wine for the next course to convert it to a peach Bellini
Coconut and crab, and lots of things to experiment with
Savory ice cream sandwiches comprised of olive oil ice cream between parmesan and black pepper crackers. Amazing!
Truffle explosion. Definitely one bite and keep your lips sealed.
Oops. Almost forgot to photograph the duck with lavender.
Tools for picking up the postage stamp…
Lamb, and a gelatinous lamb consume. This course was disappointing.
Honestly, this tasted like a cheddar Goldfish cracker. Not a highlight.
Frozen salad! Dani and Linda loved this.
Raspberry and roses, sucked from the tube. Delicious.
A bit chewy.
Pushed Foie Gras, the second time for this ingredient, and completely different.
Passion fruit and mustard. Very interesting.
Oops again. This was my favorite, smoked fig. Wow!
Lobster with rosemary vapor. Nice.
An Alinea serving trick. Don’t impale yourself. Burnt pineapple and smoked salmon. Excellent.
Short rib with root beer ingredients. Just so-so.
Transparency of Manchebo. Didn’t really work.
Huckleberry soda was the event here, rather than the accompaniments, although the smoked vanilla was fantastic, too.
The only real failure, impossibly hard and sticky chocolate and odd yeast ice cream. We all skipped this.
21 courses, and at least 15 home runs!

Three Dots and a Dash

I’ve always loved Tiki bars, since I grew up in Los Angeles, frequenting Trader Vic’s, Don the Beachcomber, the Islander, Beachbum Bert’s and many others. It’s sad that they’re all gone. But the good news is that Three Dots and a Dash tops them all.

From the moment you venture down the stairway full of skulls, Three Dots immerses you in perfectly themed kitsch. The lighting, soundtrack and set decoration are impeccable, and the drinks are potent and tasty.

The drink menu is divided between classic and modern sections. I had the signature drink, Three Dots and a Dash, which was not too sweet, and rendered exotic by the inclusion of allspice. It was invented at Don the Beachcomber in the 1940s. (Incidentally Three Dots and a Dash is Morse code for the letter “V” as in victory.)

Many of the drinks are for sharing, and each has its own unique presentation.

We stopped in before dinner, so we didn’t have a chance to try any of the food, but most of it is traditional Tiki menu fare, and it looked delicious.

With a place this cool, you’re going to have to wait in line unless you go at a weird time. We were able to walk in right after work, but the place quickly became packed; however we never felt rushed.

To find the door, look for the alley off of Hubbard and follow the neon stripe.

Creepy Entrance
Creepy Entrance





Classic Drinks
Classic Drinks
Modern Drinks
Modern Drinks
Very expensive group drinks
Very expensive group drinks
Three Dots and a Dash – the house drink, original created at Don the Beachcomber in the 1940s
No Bye, No Aloha



Of all the Michelin starred restaurants in Chicago, Boka must be one of the greatest bargains. For little more than the cost of a typical restaurant you can have a spectacular meal. And the cozy yet classy, relaxed yet professional atmosphere and friendly service make it a great choice for everyone.

Our party of three was able to try the majority of items on the menu, and everything was terrific. Standouts were the carrot salad and foie gras starter.

The chicken was beautiful, but the saffron flavored brioche sandwiched between the crispy skin and the succulent meat wasn’t to my taste, simply because I’m not a saffron fan.

The duck, on the other hand, was the best I’ve ever had, incredibly tender and moist, and bursting with flavor, even without the accompaniments.

Desserts mostly included home made ice creams as an ingredient, which is always a plus with me.

The wine list is filled with excellent choices. There aren’t a lot of old wines, but there are a wide array of recent vintages from all regions, at reasonable prices.

If you’re looking for a truly fine dining experience without needing to mortgage the house, Boka is a great choice.

Pride Sushi and Thai



What a delightful surprise! This small fusion restaurant is creating some of the most beautiful—and tasty—sushi in Chicago.

The menu is about half Japanese, half Thai, and many of the fusion items are spicy, such as their take on edamame, which had a definite kick to it. The beef salad comes with the traditional spicy rice vinegar sauce that would accompany a waterfall beef salad. These were both good, but the stars of the show were the sushi items.

We began with a plate of sashimi. Although the chef offers a sampler, we selected our own, and the pricing was very reasonable to get exactly what we wanted. All of the items were very fresh and delicious.

Then we tried several rolls. Wow! As you can see from the photos, each was a work of art. I’ve never had sushi served with such a painterly approach! All three rolls were excellent, and really different from one another. My favorite was the “All About Salmon” which combined salmon, smoked salmon and ikura, balancing them with both creamy and citrus ingredients, plus spicy and sweet sauces.

A month ago we tried the high end sushi place across the street, and it was good but extremely expensive. At about a fourth the price, our meal at Pride was actually better, and I’m ready to return any time.





Grace is certainly deserving of its two Michelin stars. Everything about the experience is near perfection, from the extremely professional yet friendly service to the plating of the food, which turns each dish into an individual work of art, combining delicate and varied flavors in surprising and visually appealing ways.

The dining room is sophisticated, understated, and calm, a serenity that extends even into the visible kitchen, yet the contemporary soundtrack keeps the experience upbeat and fun.

My only quibble is with the winelist, which has a strong focus on wines from the Loire region, not my favorite.  This focus extends to the wine pairings served with the meal, some of which didn’t seem a great match, although the friendly and articulate sommelier explained the reasoning behind each match in such a captivating manner I was glad we had selected the pairing, even if next time I will strike out on my own.

Amuse bouche served atop and in a cork log. This tiny roasted corn ears were perhaps the single best item of the night.
A couple of treats inside the log. The pickled, caramelized banana was another highlight.
I had the “Flora” menu, almost entirely vegetables.
Snap peas turned into slice of terrine.
Black truffles.


The first of several desserts, each of which included frozen components that I really enjoyed.



The kitchen was amazingly serene, given how much food was being produced. It is interesting that it’s arranged with the stations in the order the courses are served.



Chicago Dining – Summer 2014



Having dined at nearly all the top places in Chicago, this one stands out. Just on the basis of the exceptional wine list, L2O (which stands for Lakes to Oceans) deserves its Michelin stars. Each offering is so well considered for its ability to match the food or offer something special, and there are a few real gems at reasonable prices.


The food is, of course, superb, and each dish is a true work of art. But perhaps the thing that most sets L2O apart is the service, which perfectly strikes that balance between professionalism and sincere friendliness. Truly an experience not to be missed.





I approached Next with some trepidation because I’m not a fan of Alinea, its sister restaurant. I found the atmosphere and service there stiff, and grew tired of the dictatorial way we were instructed to consume each course.

I’m happy to say that Next is nothing like that. Service is professional but relaxed, and the servers are happy, informative and passionate about the food they’re serving.


As to the food, there’s little point in mentioning it… or the decor, for that matter. Because the restaurant evolves into something completely new and different every four months, and you’re unlikely to go twice during any given incarnation, you just need to put your trust in the culinary team and expect something special.

That’s certainly what we received the night we visited. There were several home runs and nothing forgettable about the Modern Chinese menu.

I also like the ticketing system. It was refreshing to have no transaction at the end of the meal. The food, wine pairing and tip were all included, and were certainly fairly priced for the experience we received. It left me anxious to return to experience future incarnations of this excellent restaurant.





Evanston has a new high end restaurant to be proud of. The chef from Publican, and one of the owners of Brothers K coffeehouse have teamed up to take over this space, formerly a (good) noodle shop and turn it into a very trendy and noteworthy restaurant.

As others have noted, there is one major downside to the place. Because of its austere, hard-surfaced decor, it is VERY LOUD. In fact, if I had been at a regular table entertaining guests I would not be able to give it a five-star review. But since I was alone, and seated at the chef’s bar facing into the kitchen, the sound level was tolerable.

Of course, it’s wonderful that the place is packed all night after being open only weeks. And lots of people like vibrant restaurants. But when the quietest place in the establishment is the kitchen, there may be a wee acoustic problem!

So therein lies my tip for pleasant dining: ask to sit at the chef’s bar. Not only will you not be deafened, you’ll see the fascinating parade of dishes as they leave the kitchen.

Anyway, the food is wonderful. Since the menu changes often, my selections won’t necessarily be available to you, but I loved everything I had: grilled Brun-uusto cheese with sweet and sour cherry sauce, pickled cauliflower, quinoa salad, crispy potatoes (quite possibly the best potatoes I’ve ever had), a whole sardine with fennel and orange, and chicory ice cream.

There is a somewhat eclectic selection of wines, with about a third of them available by the glass, but I opted for the cocktails, because there were several interesting offerings. I prefer drinks with bitter or sour components, and these didn’t disappoint. I tried: El Mescalero del Norte (mescal, grapefruit, Compari), Evanston Sazerac (rye , bitter, absinthe), and The New Georgian (peach, bourbon, mint). They were all excellent, and I’ve listed them in increasing order of sweetness. The mescalero was probably the best, combining earthy and bitter flavors.

Given the quality of the food, I felt pricing was fair. Some of the starters and veggies are under $10, and most mains are about $20. Plan on a starter, main and vegetable, and you’re looking at $40 per person. If everyone at the table does that, and you want to sample everything, you’ll all get reasonable sized tasting portions and won’t leave hungry or broke.

Service was very friendly and professional. I’d read some uneven reviews on this, but I don’t think it’s completely fair to criticize a restaurant that’s not running like a well-oiled machine during its first few days. The service I received was faultless.

As the meal ended and I emerged onto Davis Street, a fire engine was passing with its siren on, and I noted how quiet the city was now that I was outdoors!

Moto 2014

It had been a couple of years since we went to Moto, Chicago’s temple of molecular gastronomy. We had a very different experience on this visit from our past visits. It began with a table downstairs, in a space we didn’t realize existed. It’s much quieter than upstairs, and you can watch one of the chefs prepping dishes.

We entertained ourselves by identifying the element symbols on the wall
We entertained ourselves by identifying the element symbols on the wall
Downstairs dining room. It's much quieter than upstairs, and you can watch the prep chef
Downstairs dining room. It’s much quieter than upstairs, and you can watch the prep chef

Previously Moto served a ten or twenty course dinner where each course was very playful, and looked like something it wasn’t. For example there was a tiny cuban pork sandwich that looked like a cigar. But now they seem to have reinvented themselves as a more upscale experience (although pricing for a 14 course extravaganza remains a very reasonable $175). So the dishes were less playful, and there was a focus on how they were presented. Some of the presentations were extremely fun and imaginative, and a few we recognized as influenced by 11 Madison or Tru.

Because their dishes are hard to match with wines, we’ve always had the wine pairing in the past, but since these are (by necessity) rather odd wines, we opted to go off the list this time. That was probably a mistake, as indeed few of the courses matched our chardonnay and pinot noir. Dani and I finished by sharing a couple ounces of 1912 D’Oliveiras Verdelho Madeira, which was spectacular and would have matched every course. I photographed some of the more interesting looking courses:

This was the "menu." A tiny sample of an ingredient from each dish to follow
This was the “menu.” A tiny sample of an ingredient from each dish to follow
Fish with assorted accompaniments
Fish with assorted accompaniment
Welks and accompaniments on a glass plate over seaweed and seashells. I suspect this was inspired by Tru
Welks and accompaniments on a glass plate over seaweed and seashells. I suspect this was inspired by Tru
Chicken crest and egg custard
Chicken crest and egg custard
This was everyone's favorite course, an amazing combo of onion and garlic flavors, and one tiny fragment that tasted like an entire smoked rabbit
This was everyone’s favorite course, an amazing combo of onion and garlic flavors, and one tiny fragment that tasted like an entire smoked rabbit
Pork belly and lamb in a custom box
Pork belly and lamb in a custom box
Three tiers, with wagu on to, broccoli in the middle, and other goodies below the screen
Three tiers, with wagu on top, broccoli in the middle, and other goodies below the screen
Shredded pork in mole. This was Linda's and Dani's second favorite dish
Shredded pork in mole. This was Linda’s and Dani’s second favorite dish
Three delicious cheeses. This was my second favorite course
Three delicious cheeses. This was my second favorite course
Toasting marshmallows stuffed with graham crackers and dark chocolate, an inside out smore
Toasting marshmallows stuffed with graham crackers and dark chocolate, an inside out smore
Final parting course, a beach ball macaron
Final parting course, a beach ball macaron

Afterwards we toured the kitchen, which was driven by an automated computer system that tracked and voice announced every course for every table. There was also a separate room for growing all the micro greens and herbs used throughout the menu.

We found this new approach at Moto interesting, but because it’s less playful, it requires spectacular food. Admittedly we are spoiled by other great restaurants we’ve been to, but we felt that, despite the creative presentations, there was only one gastronomic home run in the meal: the sampling of various onion and garlic pieces with a tiny fragment of smoked rabbit that was so flavorful it was like having an entire barbecue meal the size of a grain of rice!

I’ll return to Moto, but probably wait a couple of years to see what new things they come up with.

Vacuum and other lab equipment
Vacuum and other lab equipment
These poker chips are used to track food allergies
These poker chips are used to track food allergies
Sophisticated, automated, voice announced course planner for each table
Sophisticated, automated, voice announced course planner for each table
Micro greens
Micro greens
Hydroponic micro greens
Hydroponic micro greens
In the hydroponics room off the kitchen
In the hydroponics room off the kitchen

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Linda flew in to Chicago for a long weekend and to escape her Disney projects. Dani and I met her at Midway with Korean Barbecue tacos from the nearby Dos Ricco’s Mexican and Asian Cuisine. I like the Korean taco, but with a corn tortilla. These were a bit spicier than the last time, with a big squirt of Sriracha on each!

We had  four hours to kill before our dinner theatre tickets, and Linda wanted to visit the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where she hadn’t been since our visit in 1986. When we got there we discovered their featured exhibit was… wait for it… Disney!

For some reason the museum was closing at 4pm, so we only had two hours. Still, we made good use of our time, booking tickets for the Disney exhibit, the WWII sub and the coal mine.

I’m pleased to report that the museum is in excellent repair, a vast improvement from Dani’s an my visit a few years ago. Further more, the employee morale is amazing. We encountered five cast members — ticket seller, Disney tour host, two different guides at the sub, and the mine tour guide — who were all incredibly enthusiastic and helpful, going out of their way to make sure every guest had a great experience. This was better-than-Disney guest relations, and we left feeling very impressed.

MSI2014-1  MSI2014-3



Dinner was a The City Winery. We didn’t know the group playing, Jackopierce, although they’ve been around for 25 years. But I picked it because Dani and I had been before, and loved the ambience, great acoustics, interesting small plate food, and wines.

We spent an hour on the outside patio having appetizers and wine. Linda discovered that in addition to their own wines they have a 400-bottle list. Wow! Wines from just about every country, and some real gems at pricing only slightly higher than retail. We started with a Sea Smoke Chardonnay, and finished with a 2005 Morey Saint Denis that was really smokin’. I can’t believe that bottle was just $80. And all the glassware is Riedel, with each matched to the type of wine. Those glasses cost more than our wine!

Jackopierce was very talented, although no particular song stood out for me. But I really liked the opener, a local guitarist and singer named Phil Jacobson.






Bottles and Bottega


Last month Dani and her friends visited Bottles and Bottega to drink some wine and paint a picture. It looked like so much fun I suggested we go there on the evening I arrived in Evanston, and Dani eagerly agreed. A bottega, as we learned, is an artist’s studio where students learn by doing.

The long, narrow space is divided into a painting area where a dozen people can work simultaneously, a lounge, and a party space at the rear. The evening begins with a half hour to enjoy any wine or snack you’ve brought, and then you sit at one of the tables where a canvas, paints and brushes have been provided.


Everyone works on basically the same picture, but it’s amazing how much variation occurs because of individual styles. Some useful but light hearted instruction is provided throughout the evening, and there are plenty of breaks for more wine.

I hadn’t really worked with acrylic paints before, and really liked the way they dried in minutes, and one color could cover another; quite the opposite of oils, were your colors keep mixing on the canvas for days.


Dani and I were both pleased with the way our masterpieces turned out.

by Dani
by Dani


by Steve
by Steve


Enterprise Car Rental, Midway Airport

This was the most amazing car rental experience I’ve ever had, and in the place I least expected it. My absolute worst car rental experiences have all been at Midway, where I have slowly been working my way through all the different companies. Dollar was particularly awful, with incredibly rude, uncaring employees who thought it was absolutely standard operating procedure to not only not have the car you reserved, but not have any cars, with a two hour wait for the next random, uncleaned vehicle to come in.

Anyway, I digress.

At Enterprise, the woman behind the counter greeted me, introduced herself, shook my hand, processed my reservation in less than a minute, shook my hand again, gave me her card and sent me upstairs. I thought maybe she was just an anomaly.

But upstairs the attendant greeted me before I even got near the booth, introduced himself and escorted me to a car. Using a tablet for checkout he noticed the car’s license had expired. He apologized and immediately said that for my inconvenience I could choose from any of the upgrade cars there. He had obviously been empowered to do this; what a delight! He checked whether one of the cars had a feature I wanted, assured me it did, gave me his card (on which he’d hand-written return instructions for the facility and his email!), and I was off.

At the exit kiosk I was handed my paperwork and asked what I thought of their rental experience. “Awesome” was all I could reply.

Lang Lang at Ravinia

Chinese pianist Lang Lang rose to fame with his first performance at Ravinia in 1999, when he was just 17, as a last minute substitution. He returned this year for his 12th Ravinia appearance. It was a cool night for late July, with the temperature dipping into the low 50s. The program was mostly in C Major. It was Dani’s first classical concert, and I think she liked it. My favorite was the incredibly demanding Prokofiev concerto. Lang Lang also debuted a piano-only performance of the Tiger Overture, which he played from sheet music. We had almost identical seats to the ones we were blown out of by the One Republic concert. How refreshing it was to hear instruments without amplification!



Verdi   Overture to La forza del destino (“The Force of Destiny”)
Beethoven   Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15Allegro con brio
Rondo: Allegro scherzando
Britten   March from Matinées musicales, Op. 24
Prokofiev   Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26Andante—Allegro
Tema con variazioni
Allegro ma non troppo
Wagner   “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre


Peach, Brie and Bacon Pizza


Thanks to Kara for bringing this recipe to my attention! It was fabulous. If served to me blind, I don’t think I could have identified the ingredients, they meshed so well.


  • 1 lb pizza dough
  • Flour
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Peaches (I used doughnut peaches) slices into 1/4 inch or thinner slivers
  • 4 oz. brie, rind removed
  • 4 pieces crispy bacon, cut into small pieces
  • fresh tarragon
  • balsamic vinegar


Let dough warm for a few hours, quarter, roll in flour, stretch into 8″ weird shapes, brush with olive oil.

Grill on one side until crisp on the bottom and char marks appear (5-10 minutes).

At the same time, grill the peach slices, turning once.

Flip the dough, layer with peach slices.

Add Brie, bacon and tarragon.

Grill until the bottom is crisp (5-10 minutes).

Drizzle with balsamic glaze and enjoy!

Smoke House Garlic Bread


For years I’ve been trying to duplicate the amazing garlic cheese bread served at the Smoke House Restaurant in Burbank, California. Tonight I finally did it. The secret is to make up a paste and spread that on the bread. As it melts under the broiler, it leaves the crumbly nodules of intense cheese flavor that distinguish the bread. Here’s how to do it:


  • 1 Loaf of uncut sourdough bread, preferably a sort of large baguette shape.
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp dehydrated cheddar cheese powder (Kraft macaroni mix will do in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder


  • Preheat oven to 450F.
  • Soften but do not melt the butter.
  • Mix in cheeses and garlic, let stand for a while
  • Turn on oven broiler
  • Cut loaf of bread in half horizontally and save half for something else.
  • Spread the slurry onto the bread.
  • Place bread under broiler until edges are brown.
  • Cut into narrow slices.
  • Serve immediately.

Serves 1-4 depending upon how much of a pig you are.

Why Are Concerts So Loud?


I’ve never been to a concert that wasn’t too loud. But last night’s One Republic concert set records. Even though we always wear earplugs, our front row edge seats were right in front of the sub woofer, and we were literally driven from them the moment the music started. In fact the music throughout the entire pavilion at Ravinia was so loud that it was unbearable. And unintelligible.

I guess that’s the real sin: even if sound mixing people feel they need to make the music incredibly loud in order to generate excitement, they’re doing it at the expense of being able to even hear what the music sounds like.


As it turned out the music 200 feet outside of the pavilion, where you could no longer see the act, was far better  than what the people in the pricey seats were hearing.

And it sounded just fine on the train platform where, 40 minutes into the concert, several hundred people had gathered to leave for the same reason.


It’s a shame, because I think one Republic is really good in concert. They had an amazing set, a lot of dramatic staging, and they played all the complex parts–even the cello and violin parts, plus a complex flamenco guitar number. But what’s the point of going to a concert where you have to choose between seeing or hearing?

Oil Painting Class

I took a one week break from my sculpture classes to attend a five day oil painting class taught by Ken Minami. Each day we spent the morning drawing and he afternoon painting. I leaned to use gray paper and conte crayon and to try to see the solid shapes (as opposed to my other drawing classes, which were about outline and shadow). In the afternoon we made color tests and then used the colors we discovered to do oil paintings. There were quite a few models for this class. We had three different morning models during the week, and in the afternoon there were two models to choose from, with one pair for the first two days of the week, and another pair for the remaining three days. So overall, seven different models, which gave us a lot of varied experience. Here are a pencil sketch, charcoal drawing, conte, and my two oil paintings.






Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty at Ravinia

For the Fourth of July Dani and I took the Metra up to Ravinia Park for dinner and a concert, rather than watch the Evanston fireworks from her balcony. The timing on the train worked out pretty well, because we got out of town before the crowds, and returned after everything was cleaned up. That’s not to say the train wasn’t busy, especially on the way back. But we found a seat both ways. In the past we’ve always taken the first train back, but this time we missed it by about 100 people. There are a lot more drunks on the second train!

We had dinner at Park View, the upstairs restaurant. It had been a couple of years since we’d been there, and it was a bit better than we remembered. The restaurant is run by Levy Restaurants, and they borrow chefs from Spiaggia and other places within their organization. It must be weird to run a restaurant that is only open a few months a year, and the slightly amateurish service is a telling detail. But for the most part things run efficiently, and the food is good if not great. It’s certainly a stunning setting, with lovely paneling, and a glass wall that overlooks the dazzling green of Ravinia Park. Best of all is being high above the sea of colorful people blanketing the lawn.


We dined through the opening act, Kate Earl, who everyone seemed to be ignoring, and arrived just in time for Goo Goo Dolls. There are three guys in this band: a drummer, singer/guitarist, and singer/bass player. I had been warned by Jeremy that you wanted to go get drinks when the bassplayer took the lead, and that is accurate. Dani described him as a baritone on helium, and his songs are not the hits. Actually Goo Goo Dolls doesn’t have a lot of hits, but the ones they did were competently delivered, and they didn’t outlast their welcome. It’s one of those bands where if you look really carefully you realize that almost all the music is being created by the two session players standing in the back: a lead guitarist, and someone on keyboards/guitar/sax.


After a long intermission for setup, Matchbox Twenty took the stage. They are a six piece band, with a lead singer, Rob, who does all the heavy lifting. They’re really good live. Their stage was an interesting, multi-tiered staircase with cool lights in the risers. I was amazed how many great songs they have. The set list was:

She’s So Mean
How Far We’ve Come
3 A.M.
Real World
Girl Like That
If You’re Gone
Long Day
I Will
So Sad So Lonely
English Town
Bright Lights

Back 2 Good

Some of my favorites are off their new album, North, including I Will and English Town. The band did a great job of playing through technical difficulties including a complete fail of their video cube for most of the show. There were also instruments missing from the mix in some songs. This was surprising since this was their third show in a row played at this venue. I think it’s time for a new tech crew (more on this later).

Like Goog Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty didn’t spend any time talking with the audience, which to me is the reason to see an act live. But perhaps they felt that with three acts on the bill and a hard cutoff of 11:00pm mandated by the nearby housing, they needed to fit in as many songs as possible.

Both acts suffered from the worst lighting design I have ever encountered. Fully a third of each show was unwatchable because of blinding lights–both automated spots and fixed LED panels–aimed directly at the audience. WTF? I’ve seen this used at the ends of songs to get people to respond, but it is incredibly annoying when they are flashing in your face every few seconds. If I could find out the name of the moron who designed this I would be happy to start a petition to find him another line of work.

In all it was a fun evening, but I wish we could have gone the previous night, because I missed seeing the Evanston fireworks from the balcony, our Fourth of July tradition.


Sculpture Class at the Evanston Art Center

This summer while Dani is at work I wanted something to do, so I went up to the Evanston Art Center  It’s in the three-story house on the lake, next to the lighthouse north of the Northwestern University campus. I intended to enroll in the Monday morning figure drawing workshop, but it’s in the evenings during the summer, so they suggested I take figure sculpture. I’d done that once before, about ten years ago, and enjoyed it, so I signed up.

The classes are in the basement of the Noyes Community Center, west of the Northwestern Campus. (This is the same building that houses the Piven Acting Workshop that Dani used to attend.) The model holds the same pose for three weekly sessions of three hours each. However, because of my schedule I won’t ever have more than two sessions to complete a sculpture, so I have to work fast.

I really like the instructor, Sheila, who is very good at working individually with each student, and making sure you understand how to implement her suggestions. She’s much better than my previous Orlando-based instructor. The next few sessions are by another instructor, Barbara, so it will be interesting to see how she compares.

I liked the class so much I also signed up for the Wednesday session, which is similar, but there is a different pose. So by the end of the summer I should have six sculptures total. Hopefully there will be time for them to dry so they can be fired in the kiln.

Both of these photos are works in progress, before the proportions were quite right. I thought it would be interesting to compare them with the finished products… or at least to have a photo in case they explode in the kiln!



Jackson Browne at Ravinia


We have a full summer of concerts planned, mostly at Ravinia, the wonderful outdoor venue north of Evanston. We usually sit in the pavilion, but for this concert we could only get lawn tickets, which turned out to be lots of fun. Rather than eat at one of the restaurants, I packed a picnic lunch and we rented chairs and tables. I met Dani on her way home from work aboard the Metra train.

It had poured early in the day, but there was time for the lawn to mostly dry, and the ambience of relaxing outside and watching the show on the big screen was great. It reminded us of the Open Air Theater in London’s Regent Park.

Jackson Browne was very gracious, and actually introduced–and sat in for part of–the opening act, Sara Watkins, an accomplished fiddle player and singer. Calling what she was doing fiddling is really understating it. Then she played during his set.

The main concert was very good. I heard quite a few songs I liked but wasn’t familiar with, and of course he played most of his hits.

I haven’t heard the new sound system from inside the pavilion this year, but the lawn sound was certainly better than anything I’ve heard at Ravinia before. The concert energy is much lower on the lawn, because people are relaxing and chatting a bit, and the sound level is much lower, but that’s not a bad thing, just different.


Northwestern University Graduation


Dani graduated from Northwestern University on June 21st, 2013, with a BS degree and double majors in Communications and Psychology. Linda, Nicole and I travelled to Evanston for the festivities. It was an activity-packed few days.


We began at the honors ceremony for the university, where Dani was recognized for her membership in the Mortarboard Society.


That was followed by a reception which Dani and Linda attended while I went to the airport to pick up her godmother, Nicole.


That afternoon Dani visited the local photo studio for some commemorative photos with her friend, Dana.


In the evening we went to one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, The Girl and the Goat.


Friday was the entire university’s commencement ceremony on Ryan field. The speaker was Mikhail Baryshnikov, who delivered a charming, heartfelt speech.


We had a great view, because we watched it on high definition streaming video in the comfort of Dani’s apartment  The camera coverage was exceptional (done by the film students) and the audio–especially on the amazing orchestra–was terrific, too. It sounded like a CD. Dani’s friend Dana played the french horn in that orchestra.


In the afternoon we got absolutely soaked on our way the the Psychology Department’s party. But it was worth the trip, as Dani was recognized for her research grant. I had no idea how competitive that study she did last summer was, but she was one of only 2 proposals funded out of 250 applications. I also had no idea how special her presentations at two psychology conferences were. I had assumed it was a student adjunct to the conference, but her study was accepted as a part of the adult conference. Amazing.


At the party she posed with the other departmental star student, Mike, and her beloved professor (apparently the whole university’s favorite professor) Renee.

In the evening we went to our favorite Evanston restaurant, The Stained Glass.


Saturday was the School of Communications Convocation, where she got her actual diploma. Out of more than 200 students, Dani was the only one with three distinctions: Summa Cum Laude, Departmental Honors in Psychology, and Departmental Distinction in Radio, Film and Television. The honors in psychology were for her thesis, which was based upon her research.


That diploma holder was actually empty, but she ran over and got the real one before they changed their minds.


Afterwards we retired to the lake fill for some Champagne (price: about $100,000 a glass) and celebrating.



Then Dani posed in front of the Tech building where she spent so much time on her pre-med classes…DSC02197


…and in front of the psychology building.


As part of the graduating tradition, she gave her stole to Nicole in thanks for all her support.



This picture makes a nice coda, since it’s where Dani stood six years earlier during her college tour of Northwestern.


Finally, it was time to return her robe and say goodbye.


We celebrated her many accomplishments with a lofty dinner high atop Everest.



1985 & 1985 Bordeaux

Every year Hart Davis Hart hosts a comprehensive Bordeaux retrospective, and this year’s event focused on 1985 and 1986 Bordeaux. HDH pulled out all the stops, with two bottles of almost every notable wine, including the first growths. There was also a lovely buffet of nice charcuterie as accompaniment.

With only 90 minutes to sample more than 40 wines, there wasn’t time for elaborate notes, but I did jot down scores in the nicely done notebook provided. My general observation was that the 1985 vintage was better than 1986 for nearly all the wineries, with the 85s still having great structure, coffee and other complex earthy aromas, tannins that will allow them to continue to age, and yet still plenty of fruit. The 86s, on the other hand, mostly seemed soft and thin, with some fruit but little structure. Too bad I have more of them than 85s in my cellar!

This event was infinitely more professional and enjoyable than the 1986 Bordeaux event we attended in New York. At that event I felt like the bargain wine was the 1986 Ch. Talbot, and I still felt that way as far as the 86s at this event. It’s not the best, but for the price it’s excellent.

However the 85s were far better, and the clear standouts to me were the first growths, with Mouton, Latour and Lafite at the top, and Haut Brion and Margaux lagging. A surprisingly weak pair from La Mission Haut Brion. The best buy is Lynch Bages, which I rated near the top first growths.

My scores:


1985 Ch. Margaux 92
1986 Ch. Margaux 93

1985 Ch. Palmer 93
1986 Ch. Palmer 89

1985 Ch. Rauzan-Segla 94
1986 Ch. Rauzan-Segla 87

St. Estephe

1985 Ch. Cos d’Estournel 88
1986 Ch. Cos d’Estournel 90

1985 Ch. Montrose 87
1986 Ch. Montrose 85

St. Julien

1985 Ch. Leoville-Las-Cases 93
1986 Ch. Leoville-Las-Cases 93

1985 Ch. Loeville-Barton  89
1986 Ch. Leoville-Barton 86

1985 Ch. Gruaud Larose 92
1986 Ch. Gruaud Larose 89

1985 Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou 86
1986 Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou 84

1985 Ch. Talbot 90
1986 Ch. Talbot 93


1985 Ch. Latour 98
1986 Ch. Latour 92

1985 Ch. Pichon-Longueville, Lalande 94
1986 Ch. Pichon-Longueville, Lalande 88

1985 Ch. Mouton-Rothschild 99
1986 Ch. Mouton-Rothschild 94

1985 Ch. Lafite Rothschild 98
1986 Ch. Lafite Rothschild 94

1985 Ch. Lynch Bages 97
1986 Ch. Lynch Bages 95

Pessac Leognan

1985 Ch. La Mission Haut Brion 91
1986 Ch. La Mission Haut Brion 91

1985 Ch. Haut Brion 92
1986 Ch. Haut Brion 94

St. Emilion

1985 Ch. Cheval Blanc 95
1986 Ch. Cheval Blanc 92


1985 Ch. Trotanoy (corked)
1986 Ch. Trotanoy 89

1985 Ch. Certan de May 89
1986 Ch. Certan de May 90



Five years ago Dani and I visited Tru while on her college tour, and we had one of the greatest meals of my life. But then a year later Linda and I returned, and had seven courses of glop in a bowl. So we hadn’t been back. But after a comprehensive 1985 and 1986 Bordeaux retrospective tasting, Tru was just a block away, so we decided to give it another try. Good call. It was another of the greatest meals I’ve ever had, beautiful in its presentation, and with incredible, often unexpected flavor combinations that worked so well they seemed obvious in retrospect. And the matching wine pairing was creative, off-beat, and perfectly matched to the food. Tru has been restored to my list of the US’s top restaurants.

Amazing raw scallop course, and a Glass of Madeira.
Seriously, this was the best shellfish dish I’ve ever tasted. perfect scallop, thinly sliced, with flavors of cilantro and umami.
Alaskan Halibut in coconut broth.
Chicken with black truffles, floating above a log and forest floor detritus.
In addition to the floating chicken, there is also asparagus with crispy chicken skin and foie gras.
This is how all fruit rollups should be served. The clothespins are less that a half inch long.
Tru doesn’t monkey around with dessert.
The menu. The red Greek wine served with the chicken was particularly noteworthy, combining the character of fine Bordeaux with bright cherry bark notes.


I took a walk with Dani around the Northern Evanston area and the North part of the Northwestern University campus so she could put up flyers about her thesis project. I hadn’t been on that part of the campus before, and found a couple of interesting shots.

The enormous Tech building is old enough that this was a good thing to put in the wall by the entrance. Reminds me of The Graduate.
Outside the Tech building there is a short metal ladder that goes into a planter(!) and leads to a small path and a hidden bench. Not ADA compliant. The engineers need to design a catapult for those who can’t use the ladder.

Kitchen Remodelling

Our final remodeling project for the summer was the kitchen. It was Dani’s idea to add stone to the walls above the backsplashes, and she also picked the ceramic murals for above the sink and stove. Quite a difference!





Reverse Views:

Here’s a panorama: http://360.io/htWB6G

Wynton Marsalis

We decided to check out the downtown venue used by the Chicago Symphony, but since they are playing opera at Ravinia, we went to a jazz concert by the Wynton Marsalis Quintet.

Before the concert we had lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in the country, The Berghoff, which serves a unique and flavorful take on German food, with a few other cuisines thrown in.

Then we visited the Museum of Contemporary Photography, an exhibit space at Columbia College, one of the half dozen colleges lining the area between Michigan Avenue and State Street. The exhibition was more about politics than great photography, but it was interesting. The most engaging exhibit was actually a film where talented and well-rehearsed performers acted out a domestic drama constructed from excerpts of political interviews.

Next we walked over to Millennium Park and had a look at the bean. I think the popularity of this simple sculpture caught everyone by surprise. It’s really neat to be able to see the whole Chicago skyline, wherever you stand.

Across the street we had dinner at The Gage, another fairly old restaurant. Linda, Dani and I had eaten here before and were underwhelmed, but this night Dani and I had a terrific meal of grazing small plates at an ideal, quiet (unique for this place) corner table, and capped off by a stunning glass of 1968 D’ Oliveira Bual Madeira.

Then it was time for the concert. Man, can those guys play! We had box seats on the side that offered a perfect view. And what a delight to hear unamplified music in a space with great acoustics. The two hour concert offered lots of opportunities for each musician to solo, so we heard some of the best trumpet, sax, piano, upright bass and drum work ever. I don’t know how Wynton Marsalis coaxes some of those sounds from a trumpet, but in his hands it’s like a living thing. He also proved to be quite a personable host, stopping to explain some of the unexpected turns the group took in each piece, and why they were occasionally laughing. We really enjoyed the whole afternoon, and especially the concert.


Roller Derby

Last night Dani took me to her highly anticipated roller derby game. She explained the rules before we went, which helped me to understand what was going on. It was a little hard to understand the announcer, so things were baffling at times, but for the most part I was able to follow it.

My only exposure to roller derby was on TV in the 60s, when it was akin to “pro” wrestling. But the revived sport is completely different. The teams are amateur women from all walks of life who simply enjoy it. As a result, there’s a lot more sportsmanship than other sports. That’s also true of the fans. I’ve never scene such a broad demographic: all ages, sexes and apparent socioeconomic backgrounds. And they seemed happy to clap for either team when they did something impressive.

They don’t take themselves too seriously, either, as everyone–even the officials and the announcer–is using a funny fake name. The announcer was Bryan Mumble.

It can certainly be an exciting sport, because the score can increase dramatically in a short time, so lead changes are common. The only problem I saw was that the outcome of the game was largely controlled by the amount of penalty time players spent on the sidelines, and there are literally hundreds of minor penalties. Apparently they are going to change this next year, and eliminate the minor penalties, which I suspect will make the game even faster paced and more exciting.

I can’t say I’d become a regular fan of derby (or any sport, for that matter), but I would go again. It’s a fun evening, mainly because everyone including the players is having such a good time.

Gotye and Missy Higgins

Last night we went to Chicago’s other outstanding outdoor performance space, The Charter One Pavilion near the Field Museum, to see Missy Higgins and Gotye. Charter One Pavilion offers a great view of the city, and you can walk along the lake past the planetarium while you’re waiting for the show.

We’ve long been Missy Higgins fans, and she is a top star in Australia, but has had trouble generating traction in the US. So it’s a bit ironic that she’s now playing bigger arenas as a warm-up act for a guy with one Internet hit video.

For this all-aussie show, the first act was a solo performer named Jonti who fiddled with various electronic boxes, played a bit of guitar and tried to sing. Since it was his first concert, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the sound guy wasn’t providing him with a monitor mix.

The sound guy and lighting guy also weren’t giving Missy Higgins any help. In fact she played the first half of her set in the dark, before he managed to finally turn some low level background lights on. Missy played mostly songs from her latest album, which is a strong release, but she also played a few older tunes, and at the request of an audience member played Scar, one of our favorites. I think this replaced River, a much more downbeat song she played the night before in Colorado. I like the song, but Scar was a better choice. About a fourth of the crowd seemed to know who she was, and she held everyone else’s attention much better than when I saw her at House of Blues as the headliner, and everyone was drunk. I think this was her set list: Secret, Everyone’s Waiting, Scar, Hello Hello, Unashamed Desire, Watering Hole, Where I Stood, Warm Whispers.

After a very long set change out, and when it was truly dark, Gotye came on about 9:30pm. The reason for the darkness became apparent when the rear stage video projection came on, and ran through virtually every song, playing somewhat abstract and usually abstruse videos. I actually like Gotye’s music much better live than on his CD. It’s complex and varied, and his singing voice is much stronger than you’d guess if you’ve only heard his big hit. During the show he moved between various percussion, keyboard and effects stations, some of which were expertly reset by a swarm of roadies. He used a tremendous amount of technology. The downside was that, since everything was choreographed to the videos, it was impossible to tell that it was being played live. When something was obviously live, it was usually impressive. And his backup musicians (drums, bass, guitar, keyboards) were excellent. When it came time for his big hit, Somebody That I Used to Know, the women in the audience did a credible job of singing the female part. I believe Gotye’s set list was: The Only Way, What Do You Want, Easy Way Out, Smoke and Mirrors, Thanks for your Time, State of the Art, Backseat Driver, Don’t Worry We’ll Be Watching You, Dig Your Own Hole, Eyes Wide Open, Save Me, Somebody That I Used to Know, Heart’s A Mess, Giving Me a Chance, Bronte, Night Drive, The Only Thing I Know,  I Feel Better.

All of these performers suffer from a misconception about why people go to concerts. They seem to think the audience is there to hear them reproduce their CD. But in fact the audience is there to get to know them. A little more talking between songs–stories about how the songs were written, or anecdotes about their careers–would build a much stronger following. This is a lesson that was admirably demonstrated by Train, who have weaker material than these acts, but a much stronger fan base and a well-deserved reputation for putting on a great concert.


Restaurant Michael

We didn’t actually have this, but the picture is representative.

Last night we went to Restaurant Michael in Winnetka, about four miles north of Evanston. The original plan was to take the Metra train, but it was a cool, rainy and blustery night, so we opted for a cab. The restaurant is the latest project of award-winning chef Michael Lachowicz. Despite its proximity, I’d never heard of it until it popped up on Groupon back in the spring. I didn’t see anyone else having the meal we had, so I guess everyone else used it back in the Spring.

The food was terrific, and the place was almost full. What we received was a delicious five-course French meal for two people with matching wine pairings for a total of $72. Crazy, huh? Considering that was half price, even the normal price of the meal is extremely reasonable. Each course was super, and the matching wines paired perfectly with the food. We had:

  • goat cheese puff amuse bouche (we were actually served this twice, which was great!)
  • corn soup (paired with an Italian white)
  • zucchini with goat cheese in pastry
  • seared salmon (paired with a white Burgundy)
  • roast pork in pastry (paired with an Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • chocolate souffle with chocolate sauce and strawberries
  • chocolate truffles

As at Terra, the other night, service seemed well-intentioned, but not really at the caliber of the food. The servers all seem like they’ve never really been to another nice restaurant, and are just following instructions. This was one of the dressier restaurants I’ve been to around here, with many of the men in coats and ties. That was ironic, because the owner is extremely friendly and casual, working the front desk in jeans and a short sleeve shirt!

According to Groupon, they sold more than 680 of these dinners for two, so it was certainly popular. I wonder, though, how many of those people tipped properly (when you are presented with a bill at the end of the meal only if you ordered incidentals) and how many of them will go back if the same meal costs them twice as much. Since the restaurant only gets about half of the Groupon cost, they certainly couldn’t have broken even on those 1360 meals. But it worked in our case, because we’ll certainly go back.


A few nights ago we visited Terra, an American bisto just north of Central Avenue in Evanston. It’s about two miles from the condo, so we took the Metra train up, and then walked back.

It’s a small plates sort of place, so we sampled some smoked salmon, hummus, Margherita flatbread and some fish tacos. I loved everything, and Dani like everything except the tacos, which had a seasoning on the fish she didn’t care for.

The menu is really interesting, and warrants several repeat visits. Service was well-intentioned but not quite as professional as the food. The place was very busy, due to the trendy vibe and good prices, I suppose.

It was a beautiful evening, so we walked home through the residential neighborhood west of the Northwestern campus.