Tag Archives: chicago

Dinner theater at EL Ideas

I was just in Chicago for a conference, and, having always meant to go to a highly touted experimental restaurant in the Chicago style, made a reservation — sorry, I mean “got tickets” — for EL Ideas.

To get this out of the way first — yes, the food was good.  Very, very good.  But I don’t actually want to talk about the food!  Lots of restaurants have good food.  What’s really interesting about EL Ideas is the way it merges the idea of “restaurant” with the idea of “theater.”

There’s no menu — each of the 24 diners eats the same thing at the same time, so that, as in a play, everyone in the room is having the same experience.  Before the meal begins, the chef/impresario/director/producer pops out from the kitchen to tell you that this isn’t going to be the usual stuffy expensive restaurant deal — he wants you to wander into the kitchen and ask what’s going on, he wants you to really get into it.  He warns that you should summon an Uber car rather than trying to walk home through the somewhat desolate neighborhood because if you did the latter “you might die.”  In other words:  we are the ones hip enough to be in this neighborhood, to feel a  little frisson of danger, though nothing you can’t dispel with an app!  (In fact, I cannot say the crowd looked notably hip — my dinner companions were younger than me, but most other people looked old and rich, one more thing EL Ideas has in common with the theater.)

Before each dish is presented, the chef gives a little introduction, during which you are supposed to be quiet — if you talk while the he’s talking, the chef warns, you might get thrown out.  Just like the theater.

You don’t exactly get a reservation here; you purchase the meal in advance, as with a ticket to a show.

And at the end everyone claps!

When I was younger, I used to go to plays a lot.  OK, not a lot.  But I probably saw three to five plays a year, and even then I think most people I knew weren’t going.  Now I never go to plays; for all I know, I may never see a play again.

But EL Ideas makes me think that there are things people want from plays, and these are things that people who never go to plays sense, consciously or not, that they still want, and so something wonderful happens — the theater, seemingly made extinct by other, nimbler forms of entertainment, spores out into the atmosphere and embeds itself in another cultural host.







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Roger Brown and the Chicago Imagists at Madison MOCA

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has a superb exhibit of Chicago Imagism up through January 15, 2012.  I saw the Roger Brown exhibition at the Hirshhorn in DC when I was in high school, and his paintings have stuck in my mind ever since.  He’s sort of a cross between De Chirico and a Sunday newspaper comic.  And there’s some kind of Zenoistic “stillness within motion” thing going on.  He paints a lot of disasters and a lot of skyscrapers, and sometimes disasters involving skyscrapers (as in “Sudden Avalanche” at left, or “World’s Tallest Disaster,” at right (which, by the way, is the cover image of Cate Marvin’s great poetry book of the same title.) Even the skyscrapers which don’t have disasters happening to them carry a certain sense of foreboding.

Many of the paintings in this show were gifts from the family of UW bacteriologist Bill McClain.  McClain credits the Imagists with inspiring him to have good ideas about biochemistry.  One more reason to go see this show!

CJ really liked it.  We have a new thing we do at art museums — I tell him he should look at a painting and say to himself, “What question does this make me want to ask?”  When he saw Brown’s “Skyscraper with Pyramid” (pictured in the linked profile of McClain) he asked why one of the people in the skyscraper was in color when all the rest were in silhouette.  Good question!

Anyway, great show, you can see everything in a half hour (though many of the paintings are worth spending longer on) and it’s free.  We’re lucky to have this museum in Madison and I encourage people to take advantage of it!

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Two great tastes that taste great together

Why yes, this is a pastrami sandwich with two potato pancakes in place of the bread. Courtesy of Kaufman’s Bagel and Delicatessen in Skokie, IL.

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