Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cabin Fever Crescendo

Yesterday, Sharon, my dear friend, Bob, and I went out to dinner. We stopped at our usual haunt, what Bob refers to as "Cheers," because everyone knows our names. After a cocktail, a nosh of chicken nachos (when ordering I stated 'Enjoy these now, you'll regret this tomorrow!'), and some conversation, we were struck by the impulse for adventure! Let's face it, it's February and cabin fever has set in hard. More so for Bob, due to a recent medical set back that landed him in bed for the last three weeks! So, let's just say we were all itching to get outside. We started to craft our plan; we would bounce from 'Cheers' and head into the city.

We all love going into the city. This is a given, but last night was not just for a diversion, rather we went for a soul cleansing. We needed to remind ourselves we were adults, big people, not prisoners of our busy lives. We were on a quest for cocktails and a decent nosh!
We landed first at the 'W' Hotel on Adams Street. Bob hadn't been there yet and it's a fun place to stop for a quick toast. It's odd when a hotel lobby becomes a destination. Hotel lobbies are supposed to be that space you pass through to get to your room. But the W has presented a lounge, a dark moody chic space to sit and feel like one of the pretty people. The drinks are expensive and the noshes are okay at best. But, we were not there for dinner; we were there for the atmosphere. We stuck around for a couple of cocktails then bounced again.

In the car, the destination was set. We had to go to our favorite restaurant in the Loop; we had to see some great art, we had to take Bob someplace he hadn't been, I had to make a call and find out where the hell I was going.

We were heading to Frontera Grill.
Frontera Grill for those who don't know, it is the premier space in Chicago for authentic Mexican/Yucatan dishes and is owned by Chef Rick Bayless. Sharon and I love this place. The art work alone is reason to come again and again, but that fun loving Mr. Bayless even offers you food!

Not just any food but amazingly honest food. When I say honest, I mean food that speaks of itself, its heritage, and its history. Frontera Grill presents dishes of simple abundance. We had the combination plate, mainly because we couldn't decide. Although next time I'm asking for a huge order of guacamole. Frontera makes the best guacamole of any place. It's even better than mine! We stayed for a couple of hours talking and enjoying the space and the food. As we started to leave we walked around the restaurant to look at the art collection. I know this sounds odd, to be viewing art in a restaurant, but I actually recommend this. As we stood looking at some art in the hallway downstairs, an employee asked if we had seen the Morales Room. Morales Room? There's more? We of course said we hadn't and were led to a back hall to see some more art. Then it got wild. A host at the restaurant, asked if we would like to see the collection in the upstairs offices.

Now I ask you, if someone asks if you want to go to the secret stash of art, would you say 'no'?

I didn't think so, so a moment later we were standing in the back offices of Frontera. My head was swimming as we saw piece after piece of amazing artwork, my favorite being the sculpture of a skeleton being tormented by dragons representing the seven deadly sins. It was very colorful and poignant. A few steps down a hall and we saw the test kitchen. My foodie heart was bursting. It was a small galley kitchen, very nice to say the least. As we turned, we noticed a large conference room lined with books. It was explained that this was only 1/3rd of Mr. Bayless' collection. The titles were from all over the world and you could see how Frontera has stayed on the top of its game for the last twenty years. The knowledge in this room alone speaks of dedication. We left shortly thereafter, and giggled back to the car. The evening ended shortly after, as it was getting late and we were all tired after an evening's adventure.

Last night's memories will be the topic of many conversations. I'll have to get in touch with Rick Bayless for some help with some coming articles; maybe that molé article I have been working on.

So, today is the day after the adventure. Yes, we regret the chicken nachos (even the dog won't sit with me) and yes, our souls are cleansed. We are still adults, big people, with busy and amazing lives.
Hopefully Mr. Bayless won't be upset, but here's the guacamole recipe from his website.
Tangy Green Guacamole
Makes 3 generous cups, enough for 8 to 12 guests as a snack with chips or vegetable slices.
The avocados for this lusciously thick, tangy and satisfying variation on the old standard should be soft enough to give under firm pressure, but not be so soft (over-ripe) that they are easily dented or have a loose pit shaking around in them. The roasty flavors of the tomatillos, garlic and onions are the perfect way to underscore the naturally nutty flavors of avocados–especially Hass avocados, the pebbly dark-skin ones. Though this guacamole improves if made an hour or so ahead, it stays looking fresh and green for slightly longer than traditional guacamole (the acidity of the tomatillos helps here), but don't make it more than 3 or 4 hours in advance.



Remove the little nub of stem that is still usually lodged at the top of each avocado. Cut each avocado in half by slicing straight down through that spot where the stem was attached, until you reach the pit, then rotating the knife all the way around the pit. Twist the two halves apart, then scoop out the pits. With a spoon, scoop out the soft flesh from the skins, collecting it in a large bowl as you go. Coarsely mash with the spoon (or you can use an old-fashioned potato masher or large fork).

Gently stir the salsa into the avocado mixture, along with the cilantro. Taste and season with salt. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. (Not only will the guacamole improve if made half an hour or so before serving, but also it will maintain its fresh look longer if served cold.) Scoop into a decorative bowl, garnish with cilantro sprigs and you're ready to set it out for your guests to enjoy.

Recipe from
Salsas That Cook by Rick Bayless with JeanMarie Brownson and Deann Groen Bayless.

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