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Thursday, September 27, 2007

First look: Pupuseria Las Delicias

Posted By on 09.27.07 at 01:14 PM

As reported last month, Pupuseria Las Delicias has moved from its original cramped quarters on Western Avenue to the corner of Montrose and Spaulding in a neighborhood particularly dense with Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans.

Have you had pupusas?--handmade corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of fillings, commonly cheese, beans, pork, or a combination thereof--and griddled until they ooze. You might eat them folded like a taco over the ubiquitous vinegary coleslaw curtido and drizzled with thin, red or green salsa. They are so revered in their native El Salvador that National Pupusa Day is celebrated every November 13. When I visited San Salvador in 1999 I got stuck in a traffic jam caused by the commotion surrounding an attempt to make the World's Largest Pupusa, a feat topped earlier this summer in LA.

A few pupusas go a long way and those at Las Delicias are substantial. There's bean, cheese, chicharron, chorizo, chile and cheese, ham and cheese, fish, chicken, shrimp, zucchini, chipilin, loroco, or any combination of the above, including a supersized pupusa loca with up to five ingredients. All but the loca run between $1.75 and $2.50 apiece. They've also added the option of rice flour pupusas, which I was surprised to learn from owner Hugo Gutierrez Jr. are more popular with Salvadorans than the masa variety--though I found them bland and rubbery compared to the grittier and slightly sweet cornmeal ones. Las Delicias has expanded its other offerings too, adding more Honduran and Guatemalan dishes.

Pupuseria Las Delicias is at 3300 W. Montrose. 773-267-5346

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This weekend and beyond

Posted By on 09.27.07 at 12:07 PM

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The Wine Discount Center's Elston Avenue store hosts "a unique and oddly healthy" event Thursday, pairing fruits from Seedling Fruit--fresh, grilled, and in salads, entrees, and desserts--with wines. It starts at 7 PM and costs $25 per person.

Pastoral offers a free tasting Thursday of Point Reyes blue cheese, plus a chance to meet Jill Giacomini-Basch, part of the family that makes the cheese. She'll be at the Broadway store from 6-8 PM.

Feeling flush? Friday at 7, Eno is opening its three bottles of 1945 Chateau Latour, one of the rarest and most expensive wines in the world. They're offering 2-ounce and 6-ounce tastings, which will cost $250 and $750, respectively. Reservations are recommended.

Even if a taste of some of the world's most expensive wine is out of your price range, tasting the most expensive coffee in the world might be feasible. On Saturday at 7 PM at its Roasting Works, Intelligentsia brews the famous Geisha coffee beans from the Hacienda la Esmeralda estate in Panama, for which it paid a record $130 a pound at auction. $25 gets you a taste of the premium coffee and a quarter pound of beans from the same estate, though not the super expensive ones. If you want to buy those, it'll set you back $55 for a quarter pound or $99 for a half pound.

Oktoberfest, with its brats and beer, is all over Chicago this weekend:

  • The Seventh Annual Oktoberfest Chicago (which used to be called the St. Alphonsus Oktoberfest) is this Friday 5-10 PM, Saturday 11 AM-10 PM, and Sunday 11:30 AM-8 PM in Lakeview and costs $5.
  • First St. Paul's Oktoberfest at its Evangelical Lutheran Church, Saturday 5-10 PM, includes live polka music by Flechsig's Oktoberfest Band. It costs $10-25; proceeds benefit First Saint Paul's ministries.
  • St. Michael's Oktoberfest is Sunday from noon to 5 PM in Lincoln Park; it's $10.
  • ELVN's Oktoberfest, Sunday from 3-7 PM in Wrigleyville, is the only one to boast a pig roast. Its $20-25 entry fee goes to benefit six local charities.

 

The Brookfield Zoo's annual Wines in the Wild fund-raiser is Sunday from 4-7 PM at the zoo's Discovery Center, featuring a tasting of more than 60 wines, hors d'oeuvres, and both a live auction and silent auction. Tickets are $100 per person; proceeds benefit the zoo's conservation and education programs.

The Highland Park Historical Society hosts a talk Tuesday on Learning to Cook in 1898: A Chicago Culinary Memoir. Presented by author Ellen F. Steinberg and Eleanor Hudera Hanson, it's at 7 PM in the Highland Park Library auditorium.

Also Tuesday at 7, Next Food Network Stars the Hearty Boys sign their new book, Talk with Your Mouth Full, which provides recipes and catering tips, at Borders on Michigan.

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Stuart Dybek, official genius

Posted By on 09.27.07 at 12:03 PM

Chicago's most prominent fiction writer, Stuart Dybek, is one of this year's MacArthur Fellows, aka the recipient of a "genius grants." Chicagoist poses the question of who else in the city deserves one, but the only name that gets floated as an eventual possibility is Panopticon Ron Huberman (hey, he's been in the news and stuff). In the spirit of inquiry, some suggestions:

* Paul Salopek
* Ken Dunn
* Robert Bruegmann
* Lior Strahilevitz (more here)
* Grant Achatz (has a chef ever gotten a genius grant?)
* Ian Foster
* Ira Glass 
* Kyle Nash
* Calvin DeWitt (south Madison, so I'm definitely cheating here)
* Tracy Letts
* Nicole Mitchell
* Chris Ware
* Jeanne Gang
* Toby Maloney

Since blog tag is fun, I'd like to solicit ideas from the Daily Harold, the Private Intellectual, My Brain Is Made of Things Made of Gold, and anyone else who'd like to join in. 

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My favorite things: Chain Reaction

Posted By on 09.27.07 at 10:03 AM

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Don't let Kanye tell you that higher education doesn't matter. From Fermi to the Chicago Boys to John Ashcroft to Ahmed Chalabi to Allan Bloom to David Brooks, the University of Chicago has been hell-bent on world destruction for over a century, and my alma mater has done a fair amount of damage.

So forget When Harry Met Sally. Chain Reaction (starring Nicholas Rudall), the craptactular "thriller" that presumptuously features Keanu Reeves as a U. of C. student who damn near blows up Chicago with his science project, is a much more accurate look at the Maroon mind.

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A conservative's view

Posted By on 09.27.07 at 07:04 AM

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I won't give Pat Buchanan a pass for the dirty tricks and baloney he's served up on his watch, but on Iran he's got more sense than most:

"It would be an obscenity, we are told, if Ahmadinejad were allowed to place a wreath at Ground Zero. This is a public-relations stunt that should never be permitted.

"That the Iranian president has PR in mind is undoubtedly true. Much of what national leaders do is symbolic. But that wreath-laying would have said something else, as well.

"It would have said that, to Iran, these Americans were victims who deserve to be honored and mourned and, by extension, the men who killed them were murderers. Bin Laden celebrates 9/11. So do all America-haters. By laying a wreath at Ground Zero, the president of Iran would be saying that in the war between al-Qaeda and the United States, he and his country side with the United States.

"How would we have been hurt by letting him send this message?"

Read the whole thing. Buchanan enumerates the far greater criminals and far more dangerous leaders -- Mao and Khrushchev, for two -- who Republican presidents have welcomed and dealt with in the recent past. Ahmadinejad isn't in their league.

"America and Iran have great differences, but also common interests. Among the latter, no Taliban in Kabul, no restoration of a Sunni Ba'athist dictatorship in Baghdad, and support for the present governments. Iran cannot want a Sunni-Shia war in the region, which would make her an enemy of most Arabs, and she cannot want a major war with America, which could lead to the destruction and breakup of the nation where only half the people are Persians.

"That is plenty to build a cold peace on, if the hysterics do not stampede us into another unnecessary war."

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Think about it

Posted By on 09.26.07 at 10:13 PM

The dailies sure got excited on Wednesday. The story posted online at the Sun-Times was headlined "Alleged Burge victim target of federal probe / City drops bombshell at hearing." And in the online Tribune: "City reveals federal probe of freed Death Row inmate / Hobley under investigation in 1987 fatal fire as lawsuit against Chicago lingers." 

What the Tribune called a "bizarre twist" came as the City Council's Finance Committee decided to table for two weeks discussion of the settlement being negotiated between Chicago and three former Death Row inmates exonerated by Governor Ryan on grounds their confessions were false and tortured out of them. The three  -- Madison Hobley is one -- then sued the city. The plaintiffs thought they had a $14.8 million deal months ago, but the city never presented it to the City Council for approval. Some furious aldermen intended to speak up Wednesday and demand the city stop paying private attorneys millions of dollars to handle the suits and just pay the money.

But Alderman Ed Smith asked for a postponement. And corporation counsel Mara Georges suggested that one reason the city's been moving slowly is that the feds are taking a second look at the 1987 fire for which Hobley was convicted of murder. Said the Tribune: "Georges released a letter from the No. 2 official in the U.S. attorney's office [saying] that the Justice Department [is] investigating the events surrounding the fire that killed seven people."

Both papers bit, posting stories that don't make any sense. U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has been begged by lawyers and other partisans of the former inmates to find a way to get around the statute of limitations and prosecute Jon Burge, the disgraced former police commander who was tossed off the force for misconduct in 1993, and men under him named as abusers in the accounts of dozens of former suspects. Why would Fitzgerald reopen a 21-year-old case against a torture victim in which no apparent federal crime was committed and in which double jeopardy is an obvious barrier?

Sure, Fitzgerald might be looking at that arson fire and the police work surrounding it. But not because his quarry is Hobley. That letter Georges spoke of was written by first assistant U.S. attorney Gary Shapiro, and I understand that Hobley's name doesn't even appear in it. Some angry aldermen have wondered for some time if they were getting a straight story from Georges, and there's obviously more to this one. For background, read John Conroy's latest posting on this page. It's unusual for the press to be so credulous.

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Grrrl power

Posted By on 09.26.07 at 06:28 PM

All right, no snickering ... but what is it about Milla Jovovich as cartoon action hero? I mean, what does she have that, say, Parker Posey doesn't—who's obviously no action diva but still came to mind in the middle of Resident Evil: Extinction, for the patented "drop dead, you idiot" baleful stare, the hint of a smirk along an ever so slightly dropsical lower-lip line. Like Christopher Lambert in androgynous mascara—or has he tried that already?—and just about as convincing. But there's something in the imagery, of brute iconography and fashion, like rude beasts slouching toward the runways of Paris and Montreal, that carries them through the action fire.

It was Milla as a superpunk Maid of Orleans in Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc that first got me thinking about this. All raw intensity, no discernible talent, a headbanger's idea of Oscar-level emoting (though in fact it's my idea too: I'd have nominated her in an eyeblink) ... unless, of course, the intensity is the talent. Going where no certifiably sane person has ever gone before, and she takes you on that journey. So beautiful, so brain-dead—also so galvanizing, like 1,000 volts of live wire in the middle of an electrical storm. No wonder they made her a saint.

But Resident Evil: Extinction's not up to that level of energy ... though it does have Lambert's favorite action director in Russell Mulcahy—and is there anyone better with sabers and knives and the whole quasi-medieval apparatus of battle? Not that Mulcahy's what you'd call a nimble-footed stylist—more of a brooder, actually, who clodhops his way through visual apocalypse in the equivalent of concrete loafers—but there's a nice Ad Reinhardt feel to the low-level contrasts, the gunmetal grays and somber earths and menacing inky voids. (Though the implied anti-immigrant posturing almost goes by him: "Look what will happen, America, if we don't close our borders now!")

But in the end it's all about Milla and how many cannibal zombies she can decapitate with her feet. Pout, snarl, you go girl. Just be sure the L'Oreal doesn't rub off ...

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Looks who's coming back--Pansy Division!

Posted By on 09.26.07 at 06:14 PM

—They're here! They're queer! They'll play for shitty beer! Latest wow-where-have-they-been good news is the October 20 Reggie's appearance of Pansy Division. The snarky and sometimes smutty power-pop 'n' postpunk powerhouse formed in 1991, after guitarist Jon Ginoli and bassist Chris Freeman got tired of "being ostracized by other musicians for being openly gay and by other gays for being openly rock." It was the heyday of Riot Grrrl and Queer Nation, when a generation of activists was learning just how much fun it could be to freak the mundanes —all the better if you're really fucking funny doing it. Pansy Division always were, not to mention sexy and poignant too. Recent "we were pioneers" highlights include a version of Judas Priest's "Breakin' the Law" recorded with Rob Halford and Willie Nelson's version of "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other," which Pansy Division didn't write but made as famous as it ever was beforehand. Recent "now we're an institution" developments include last year's 30-song CD/DVD The Essential Pansy Division. Yes, it includes "He Whipped My Ass in Tennis (Then I Fucked His Ass in Bed)."

This is the band's first national tour in four years, and it was galvanized by a previous generation's ephemeral legend: the Avengers, early 80s California punk will-o-the-wisps who will be doing their first full-fledged tour ever with some relatively young bucks filling in the gaps, including Pansy Division drummer Luis Illades and guitarist Joel Reader.

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Late-breaking beer news

Posted By on 09.26.07 at 04:20 PM

Tonight (9/26) at 8 PM the awesomely named Barnaby Struve, head brewer at Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, hosts a free tasting at Weegee's. Owner Alex Huebner can't say for sure what'll be on offer, but with the purchase of a $16 pitcher of Three Floyds (probably Robert the Bruce or Alpha King) tasters get two free glasses to take home. 

Weegee's is at 3659 W. Armitage.

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Losers

Posted By on 09.26.07 at 02:34 PM

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As a fourth-generation Cubs fan, I fully understand how thrilling and downright bizarre it is to wake up on a lovely morning in late September and realize we're still in first place.

Like most other serious Cub people I know, I find that these rare periods of playoff contention occur on an almost theological plane. Cub fandom is fundamentally about hoping for possibilities not seen, such as a glimpse of our team playing when the ivy on the walls at Wrigley has turned to the brown and gold of fall; or the thought that someone besides the Tribune Company really will own and run this operation soon; or the vision of a lineup that doesn't get shut down in big games by karma, in the form of opposing pitchers who once were in the Cubs organization. Of course it's also about the persistence of human fallibility (Leon Durham, 1984; Brant Brown, 1998; Alex Gonzalez, 2003), the reality of evil (the New York Mets, 1969; the New York Mets, 2004), and the inability of our lowly human minds to understand acts of God--not that we don't try. As I walked out of Wrigley after witnessing the Bartman debacle four years ago, I overheard the thick-necked fan in front of me weighing the deeper meaning, the moral and ethical consequences, before sighing. In a tone revealing both repentance and rage, he said, "He oughta do the honorable thing and kill his self."

If the Cubs blow it this week, I'll be crushed, and I'll blame it on the hubris of the City Council.

As the Sun-Times reported today, quite a few aldermen are more than happy to accept an offer of rights to playoff tickets from the Cubs organization. If you and I want to go to a playoff game, we get to wait vainly in line with all the other unconnected mopes out there, or we could try paying exorbitant prices to a scalper, such as Wrigley Field Premium Tickets, the legal scalping operation the Tribune company runs itself. Right now, in fact, the Cubs are being especially magnanimous to anyone who wants to get season tickets for next year: " The Cubs Season Ticket Wait List allows Cubs fans to get in line for season tickets," the organization's Web site says. That's right: we're allowed to wait.

For members of the City Council, though, playoff tickets are "one of the perks that come with the job," as 41st Ward alderman--and apparent Sox fan--Brian Doherty told the Sun-Times.

Here's how the Cubs organization explains setting aldermen up with playoff seats: "We do it as a courtesy to the aldermen. But, we also believe this is a citywide celebration. So, it's appropriate for aldermen, as representatives of the city, to have a chance to participate in the celebration."

In other words, it's a bribe. The Cubs will need favors when they decide their cash cow isn't producing enough money to cover the salaries of Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano and they need to add more seats to the ballpark--or whatever the next cash-generating scheme will be.

If the Cubs have 50 extra sets of tickets and want to make sure more of the city is involved in a potential celebration, they could, say, reward some public school kids who have perfect attendance--or find some other representatives of Chicago who aren't already getting free parking privileges and $100,000 salaries from public coffers.

I know, I know, this city is so full of corruption, waste, and official incompetence that insider dibs on baseball playoff tickets is small stuff by comparison. 

On the other hand, though, this is the perfect symbol of the political opportunism and routine payoffs that characterize city government here. If the Cubs are playing well, hey, it's time to be a Cubs fan. When the Sox won the World Series a couple of years ago, the City Council was full of honorary south-siders. When Mayor Daley was under pressure from the feds and the hired truck scandals two years ago, aldermen kept their distance from him, and a few vowed to push ambitious legislation. When it became clear Daley would face no serious opposition in his reelection bid earlier this year, many of these same aldermen returned to yielding to his judgment on affordable housing policy, police misconduct investigations, and the rest of the City Council agenda.

When gubernatorial candidate Roland Burris cut in front of everyone else at a city auto pound a few years ago, he was excoriated in print as a hypocrite and cheat. If a stockbroker or business leader offered aldermen the "courtesy" of a can't-miss buy-in opportunity, we'd call it insider trading or fraud. If family members of the mayor were somehow getting huge moneymaking opportunities through city workers' pension investments, we'd demand accountability.

Well, maybe that's not the best example.

I'll be cheering hard for the Cubbies the next few days, but I'll still be shocked if they make the postseason because, well, they're the Cubs. 

Yet I have even less confidence that the City Council and mayor won't turn whatever happens into an opportunity for additional privilege or political gain. (Perhaps a tax on Milwaukee beer as a way to plug the city's budget hole?) 

Then again, maybe I'll only have my own lack of faith to blame.

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