Chicago’s Consummate Carnivores, Criminals, and Conflagration

Mary on the patio of the Trump Tower

At first sniff, Chicago’s history is suggestive of a brewing caldron, wafting odiferous conflicting legends of the origin of its name, mystery of who and what started the great fire of 1871, and what was the meteorological source of the allege tree bowing wind. The etymology of Checagou [Chick-Ah-Goo-Ah], of the language of the Potawatomi tribe is loosely translated as “bad smell”, alluding to a pungent smelling and tasting plant of the Genus Alluim.  The debate is attributed to bad botanizing and misreading of the journals of Henri Joutel who assiduously describe the natural history of three species of plants of the same Genus prevalent of the Illinoisan landscape; they were: A. ceuum, A. canadense, and A. tricoccum.  A critical assessment of Joutel’s journals lays culpability to A. tricoccum, the wild garlic, as the eponymous plant for evoking the nose twitching repugnant reeking bouquet, not the wild onion implicated in the Chicagoan’s museum display cases.

I will continue to address the beguiling historical folklores of Chicago, as one would ply condiments to season their food; selectively interjecting the narrative with peppering hindsight critique—but, I should probably now disclose the impetus of this sojourn. It started with a phone call from our eldest daughter, the gametophyte, (see essay, New Mexico’s Mountain Sirens Entreat Antipodes, she floated the whimsical ideal of flying out to Chicago for dinner—I’m not kidding, just, fly out to Chicago for dinner. Well, there you go, once that seed was planted; like the proverbial, pervasive weed, it would have taken legions of pesticides to evict and eradicate this seeded suggestion; and still, there would have been one lone evolutionary mutant individual that would have elude the barrage of toxic chemicals and survive. It was futile, she was going. I was later enlisted as an escort. Apparently, we are a package deal. The restaurant that siren beckon our gametophyte daughter was the renowned Alinea, that offers a 23 course meal, a fusion of modern art and exotic morsels, which blur the lines between an Art Museum and restaurant.   

One of the many talents Mary wields is that of a logistician: impeccable planner. Game on! Transportation, hotel reservations, funding, daily agenda; check, everything is a go. We were fortuitous, in that, a long lost, elusive relative, her brother Chris, a Chicago home-boy, was located and enlisted to take advantage of our impetuous dinning plans with a possible visit. Chris up the ante with the magnanimous offer to pick us up at the airport and taxi us around the city; to include, brunch, and a lunch at a local establishment Obama frequented (disappointed though, didn’t serve beer). We all indulge in an incredible Italian dinner, where our child of the currents was in attendance to share wine, beer and pasta. In the interim of the punctuated meals, we visited the historical benchmarks of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago and the site of the 1929 St Valentine’s Day Massacre, where the Moran gang was executed by machine gun happy associate of the Al Capone gang in a garage that is no longer there, only a weedy lot. We did a drive-by of Obama’s residence, which is an imperative must for staunch liberal democrats—and, obviously tuff to endure for a fiscally conservative republican, which Chris is. We leisurely strolled through the History Museum, which was satiated in Lincoln memorabilia, and chronicled the etiology of the blustering winds myth, “Wind City”, a derogatory moniker for blow-hard politicians soliciting favor to host the World’s Fair, not inclement weather. The saga of the culpability of the 1871 Chicago conflagration was expounded on, still smacking with reasonable doubt of whether Mrs. O’Leary’s bovine kick the lantern that started the fire that engulfed the city of Chicago leaving 100,000 homeless and 300 dead, or was the perpetrator Peg leg Sullivan. Like a batter who had just hit one over the fence, a home run, we circled the home of the Cub’s Wrigley Field baseball park. Chris exhibiting the attributes of any successful business manager took full advantage of car time as a multitasking opportunity to espouse a litany of recommendations to insure a meaningful visit to the “new” N.Y., the great city-state of Chicago; and finally, dropping us off at our hotel. Thank you Chris, and to reiterate our humble offer, we would love to extend you the same courtesy when you visit Charlottesville, the home of the Founding Fathers.

As a part of Mary’s package planning, her diligence to detail included a Starbucks directly across the street from our hotel; literally, minutes from our room. The next morning with Chris’s suggestions and my book, I drifted across the street to an already beehive of activity to order the routine Americano and strategize the day, beginning with my perfunctory hour of reading. In reality, my strategizing was to relegate/consult the master planer to direct our day’s activities. She did. The agenda was mapped out; times and places indelibly inscribed:  We were to initiate our carnival ride tour by starting 1000 feet up on the 94th floor of the Hancock Observatory Tower, descended to the subways tunneling to the Field Museum to pay respects to the consummate carnivore, Sue, Tyrannosaurs rex, and then, bread crumb retracing back down the anthropomorphic rabbit-hole to wash up on the strand line of the Chicago River Architectural tour, ascend again, the Donald Trump Terrace to drink-in another vantage point of the Chicago’s architecture and meet Heather and friends for libations. Then again, descend to our final destination and primary objective of this world wind trip: the restaurant, Alinea’s.

Starting at “Big” John’s observatory was a propitious initiation of the grand overview of the “City State” Chicago: it afforded us the opportunity of a turret 360 of the city, four states and over 80 miles, which was aided with a surrogate concierge multimedia system explicating what was observed through the staged  telescopes. As enthralling and stupendous the gravity defying towers were my attention kept drifting back to the natural landscape of the shimmering Lake Michigan; its vastness and perceived placidity was mystically alluring. Satiated with the enchanted bird’s eye view, we decided to descend our vantage point and immerse ourselves in Chicagoanness. We were off to see Sue.

Mary is enamored of city life and prides herself a quick study when it comes to mastering the catacomb transportation of the subways, which we availed ourselves to, making our way to the Field Museum. Natural History Museums are candy stores to me; banks of scientific curiosities, and Field, had an exceptional repository. It was well represented in the conventional disciplines of Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology and glitzed with manicured show cases and a towering fossil: Tyrannosaurs rex, a dinosaur 42 ft. long called Sue name after the paleontologist, Sue Hendrickson, who exhumed its skeletal remains. Time was of the essence and like a funneling wind in a corridor, we breezed through consecutive displays pausing at Sue and looking to the ceiling to appreciate in its entirety, the best preserved sample of an extinct ancient marvel—and yes, pictures were snapped. Reviewing the digital pics, it’s competitive on who had the biggest grin. The second pause was awarded to the insect displays.  I contrite an inordinate fondness for the invertebrates, specifically in this case, a mind numbing collection of Coleopteran, the beetle, whose elytra, front wings, of some of the species were metallic florescent green mimicking the attributes of a precious gem…we had to dash, and with hurried gait we descended to the city’s catacomb and were whisked-away by the train to another venue of transportation: a boat, that sluggishly navigated a one hour cruise of the historic, notoriously polluted, and now, engineered to a state of environmentally salubriousness , Chicago River.

Once the mooring lines were casted, and we, the tourist, seated in the uncomfortable little chairs, and I, had a firm grip on my bottle of beer, we were graciously greeted by the guide. She was well poised, articulate, and historically erudite we were soon to learn. There was a laminar confluence of her greeting with the spiel regarding the 40 plus landmarks of modern American architecture we were to view sauntering down the aortic waterway of Chicago: The cruise went down the main branch of the Chicago River, up the north branch to the East Bank Club, and then south. The charming guide called out the names of looming buildings abutting the shore bank that cast long shadows, and their renowned, talented architects; to include, Mies van der Rohe, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, and Helmut Jahn, whoever they were. The lecture had filler topics, such as, the Great Fire of 1871; which, like the mythical birth of the sphinx from fire, so to, did the modern architecture of Chicago. The boat ride was fun and entertaining and I am almost positive that the beer had no influence on that laudable critique. Once we disembark, we meander back to our room of slumber to rejuvenate and prep for the evening escapades.

We agreed to meet the instigator, our darling daughter, of this vortex sojourn at the Terrace at Trump, which the owner, it might be redundant to intimate, but still giggling fun to say, and yet, concomitantly scary considering how much money he has and its wielding influence; the eponymous owner is also recognize as the preeminent political birther, crazy bastard! On the sixteen floor patio of the silvery-blue skyscraper of Trump Tower, we met Heather and friends for libations. We were drinking, not only our beer in, but the sights: besiege by fingers of steel and concrete celestially pointing, and then, ratcheting our vision down to the horizon, the vista of Lake Michigan beckoned. I raised my beer in a deferential salute to the architectural panoramic grandeur. Drenched in wonderment, we parted to our final destination, the restaurant, Alinea. Mary, Heather and I crammed into a taxi.

The climax of the journey was upon us, we entered Alinea. The Restaurant is located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, unmarked? Was this an air of humility or arrogance? There was a two door entrance; the first open to a long corridor, the second, to the restaurant, the surreal world of the owner and Chef, Grant Achatz, where conventional cooking is as extinct as the dinosaur, and food preparations are under the influence of the trilogy of art, gastronomy, and empiricism. Let us be clear on the impetus of this event: it was to commemorate the ritual bonding of mother and daughter. I played the dual role of chronicler and escort: my evaluated station was no more than a side dish or appetizer. We were seated and the exalted exhibit of the advertised 23 (it should be noted, that our menu had listed only 20 course) acts commenced; and, like any rehearsed play each course was punctiliously executed and delivered with a peroration from each server. I will let a food enthusiast qualify the size of each serving, “average bites per serving were 4.14 and total bites for the entire meal was 116”, which was published on an online food forum. This type of cuisine, molecular gastronomy, entreats eyes, nose, and tongue to collectively assess each morsel; relying heavily on retro-nasal olfaction: nose detects thousands of odors conversely the tongue is limited to five discerning tastes and the eyes are easily subjected to deception. I truly would be remiss, if I were not to comment in detail on the general presentation of the multiple courses of the meal. There were times the exposition of the course was so ostentatious the delectable morsel was hidden from sight; then, there were displays and foods indiscernible from each other and, we had to be counsel on what to eat; and, some arrangements had several skews piercing incongruent layers of something to something, which would lead one to deduce they had an acupuncturist on staff.  This chimera ambrosia seduced the taste buds to realms of delight and distraction; the complexities evoked confusion.  T. rex’s paragon status as the consummate carnivore was in jeopardy by a ritual bonding of mother and daughter at the mythical Alinea. I can say without reservation that Alinea is like no other restaurant, and in spite of my best effort to describe the unconventional uniqueness, one needs to experience it themselves; especial, if there is bonding involved.

With the Chicago winds to our back and a mother-daughter relationship sealed, we leisurely left the surreal city-state to board the rails of reality.