I’m back from Chicago. Finally, I got to go somewhere interesting for a math conference. The conference was great—a bunch of really good talks, plus the good company of fellow graduate students in topology. I arrived in Chicago late Thursday night without having taken any time at all to plan activities or meals. The conference wouldn’t start until Saturday, so I was free to check out Chi-town on Friday. I really did not do my homework before this trip, but thankfully my friend and fellow graduate student Dave didn’t mind just wandering around downtown. First, we stumbled across a gorgeous amphitheater, designed by Gehry, and spent quite a while wandering around it and taking pictures. It seems that every major city has something designed by Gehry by now.
Next, we went to the Cezanne to Picasso exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. I had never before been to an exhibition that was organized around an art dealer and paintings promoted by him. This was an interesting format, and the art was good, but I would have preferred to learn a bit more about the meaning of the paintings in the little descriptions next to them, rather than when the painting was procured or sold by the art dealer Vollard. After wandering around the museum, we decided it was too nice outside to be inside any longer. We were also getting hungry, so we went in search of food. Right after leaving the museum we happened across a hole-in-the-wall hot dog joint, and thought it was destiny. Where else should you eat a Chicago style dog but in a tiny place about 8 feet wide and 30 feet deep? We each ordered a jumbo dog, Chicago style, and took the dogs to the Millennium park to eat by Gehry’s fountain. I have to say, I loved the Chicago style dog. Sour pickle, sweet relish, spicy mustard, pungent onions, a hot pepper, and a tomato, all on one hot dog. Sure, it was messy, but it was damn good.
As part of my birthday present from my parents, Dave and I went to Frontera Grill, a Mexican restaurant owned by Rick Bayless. (Lucky Dave, getting dinner for my birthday!) My mom has several of Bayless’s cookbooks, and I’ve made a couple of his dishes, the most noteworthy being shrimp cooked in mojo de ajo, a sweet garlic oil spiced with chipotles and lime. It is divine, and I was seriously looking forward to some similar greatness at Bayless’s restaurant. We had to wait about an hour to be seated, but this was no problem as we were in no rush and the bar serves some great margaritas. After two margaritas each, we were seated and perused the menu. We shared the chips and salsa and an ahi tuna appetizer with pumpkinseed hummus (sikil pak) and plantain chips. Everything here was amazing, especially the pumpkinseed hummus and the salsas.
For my entree, I had an perfectly spiced Maple Creek pork loin in mole sauce with garlicky mashed beans and roasted chayote. It was stupendous. The mole rivals the one I had at a little place near Palenque in Chiapas a few years ago. Mole is a tricky beast—when done right it is perfection on a plate, deep and earthy with spices and subtly sweet. When it is done wrong, it can be so, so bad. Along with our entrees, the server brought the most delicious and tender warm corn tortillas, and I contented myself with little tacos with layers of garlicky beans, tender pork, mole, and chayote. Mmm mm. Dave had the “Pollito a las Brasas: border-style, organic Gunthorp rock hen, half-boned, marinated in red chile, garlic and sweet spices, and grilled, with frijoles charros, charcoaled green onions, young greens.” I didn’t taste the meat, but the beans were quite good. I’ve only recently begun to truly appreciate the variety that can be seen in modern Mexican food. It’s too bad I had to go to Chicago to see that at a restaurant.