The Making of a Restaurant

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Remember that YAPL on Lincoln that I posted about a while ago? The one with the exquisite interior? When I rode by it this morning, I noticed packing paper had been hung over most of the windows. Upon closer inspection, I found this sign taped up:

Sign: 'This property was not a bar or restaurant, it was a movie set and all the fixtures are fake.'

I'm torn. Obviously, if we moved in, we'd have to rip out all that beautiful (fake) carpentry, the most appealing feature of the property. Then again, I'm 99% sure that the movie in question is Road to Perdition, a depression-era film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, due to be released sometime next month. They spent about five months last year filming the movie around Chicago and Kankakee, and I even remember driving down this stretch of Lincoln around that time and seeing a film crew in action.

If the movie's as much of a hit as people expect -- and how could it not be with such a good-looking group of extras? -- we could be operating our restaurant out of a piece of Hollywood history. People would flock from miles away to eat at the table that Tom ate on. We'd be the Tom's Restaurant of Chicago!

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

On her recipe site, Karen recommends a healthy habit of eating seasonally:

Consider ... local prawns, zucchini, fresh basil and eggplant in the summer. This is the time of year to cook lightly and simply, have barbecues and a multitude of salads. Corn, potatoes and apples in the fall. This is another transitional season, when you can begin to cook with a bolder stroke. Cabbage, oysters and beets in winter. Hot and steamy bowls of sausage with polenta, roast duck and mashed potatoes. Eating and cooking seasonally gives me a reason to celebrate each ingredient as it arrives fresh, full of flavour and potential.

Tom makes the same point on his Confessions of a Foodie blog, underscoring it with some social consciousness:

If you really want strawberries in December, buy in bulk in the summer and freeze them. Don't buy fresh or even frozen strawberries in December. Eating seasonally helps with crop rotation, irrigation, commerce, and citizenship. Perhaps we will see the resurgence of the family farm, and not only eating seasonally, but also locally.

We had blueberry bushes outside my house growing up, and I remember what it was like to pick the first berries of the season. Having fresh blueberries in the house meant summer was either in full swing, or was about to be. Nowadays, instead of picking blueberries, I celebrate the onset of summer with as many barbeques as possible. I enjoy associating food with seasons, and vice versa; meals have that much more meaning to them.

It wouldn't be hard for us to promote seasonal eating. Our menu could change every three months or so, shifting to meals that involve fresher ingredients. We could even put a note on the menu explaining why we do so. And if limiting a popular dish to just three or six months per year develops an anticipatory demand among our customers, all the better.
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Tuesday, June 04, 2002

We were fully prepared to order an entree each at the Olive Mountain last night. The waitress noticed our eyeing of the dish being eaten at the table next to ours. She told us that it was fattah, a really heavy mishmash of a dish, and that even though it was priced at less than four dollars, it would be more than enough for both of us. This seemed preposterous to me, that such a cheap item could feed two people, even though I could very well see for myself how big the dish actually was. I must have made my suspician apparent, because our waitress reassured us: this would be plenty for both of you. Just to be sure, I tacked on an appetizer of stuffed grape leaves.

She was right, of course; we had half a dish left to take home with us. The bill, with drinks, came out to just under twelve bucks for two of us. It could have easily been twice that without our waitress's friendly insistance. I'm sure she realizes it's a short-term loss that will reap them long-term rewards. I admire that. I know I'll go back the next time I get the chance.
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Monday, June 03, 2002

A conversation with my sister last week:

She: "Oh my god. I have a new favorite restaurant in Chicago. You must visit it."
Me: "Yeah? What is it called?"
She: "La Cumbamba. It's on North, just east --"
Me (surprised): "Yeah, I know! I love that place! I've been waiting for it to re-open for five months. How'd you hear about it?"
She: "A friend took me there. Isn't it great? There weren't any menus. We just kept getting served food, and it was all delicious. And when it was done, our waiter didn't bring us a bill, he just looked over what we had ordered, and charged us $35. Which included a pitcher of sangria."
Me: "Was there a thin, gregarious Colombian man scurrying about? That's William; he owns the place. Or at least did last year."
She: "Hmmmm, no, don't think so."

Point #1: Looks like La Cumbamba is alive and back to its former lovable self, though whether William is there is still undetermined. I suddenly feel a hankering for Colombian food coming on.

Point #2: My sister tells me about La Cumbamba? Looks like someone doesn't read her brother's blog. Tsk tsk.
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