Sunday, October 19, 2014

Celebrating Forty...

Turing FORTY necessitates a celebration.  
Since I am not one for surprises (read total control freak) I made a trio of rules to ensure I could manage as many aspects of my special day as possible.

1. I wanted to know the date of my party well in advance so I could equally look forward to the night and dread being the only one out of the loop about the plans!
2. Keep it 10-12 of my favorite people on the planet. 
3.  No-one should be taxed or overwhelmed by throwing my party. FUN FOR ALL (required)

And so I knew my party was scheduled on October 18th, I knew exactly who was going to be there and Leif assured me no-one would be burdened by hosting or planning the affair.  Other than that I showed up absolutely clueless as to what my merry band of friends had in store for me.
We gathered at my friend Aim's beautiful house in the afternoon for an assortment of appetizers:

Angela' Signature Cocktail/Rosemary Old Fashioned with Brandied Cherries
El's Baked Goat Cheese with Strawberry Rhubarb 
Lora's assorted antipasto with Cambozola and Fig Spread

Everything was delicious and Aim's autumn decor was utterly lovely.  It included carved pumpkins (thanks to El one even said Mel), scented candles and gorgeous flowers and gourds.  She really knows how to make a girl feel special and it was super clear everyone was following my rules. 
 Just when Ang's Old Fashioned started to kick in and  I was feeling comfortable that my celebratory evening would not get too out of control, Leif reiterated the three rules and left it to me to determine if they had successfully followed them by the end of the night.  And then they blindfolded me and walked me out the front door...
And reveled our mode of transportation for the evening...

...yep, that is a Hummer stretch limo ( aka: the least Oak Parky vehicle on the planet) and the idea that I had any control over what was about to happen to me swiftly left my mind. I was truly consumed by the hilarity of it all.

We piled in to the limo and Leif started doling out the props and cocktails.  It really is quite a mode of transit...complete with colored lights, several bars and a very efficient heating system.  That dang car produced a genuine sense of wonder in a group of  environmentally-conscious, over-forty adults and we had loads of fun riding in it. And let me just say Leif's play list was pure perfection and included every song you would ever want to hear while riding in a Hummer Limousine!  
Stop One:
2557 West Chicago Ave
  Before I could stop laughing our conspicuous party pulled up to Kai Zan in Humbolt Park.This Bib Gourmand award-winning authentic Japanese restaurant is among the Frig's favorite places to dine and they convinced the restaurant to open early just for us.  It is nice to have friends in high places! We were ushered into a private dining area where were were greeted by the "sushi twins," Melvin and Carlo Vizconde before enjoying one of Kai Zan's signature dishes.
The Dish:
 Oyster Shooter with Quail Egg, Bride of the Fox Sake, and Shaved Ice with Yuzu
Chris shared a truly touching toast as we savored our moments at Kai Zan.  We made plans to return as soon as possible and 25 minutes later we were back in the limo with the tunes blaring; my whirlwind birthday adventure was seriously under way!

 Stop Two:
1865 North Milwaukee Ave
 It was becoming clear that I was on the amazing race of restaurants! Brian and Ang put a little bit of the wicker in Wicker Park back in the day and they brought us to their favorite "thinking restaurant."  They made a lot of big life decisions over meals at family-run Irazu and wanted to offer our festive crew a taste of some of their favorite Chicago bites.  Food memories are powerful things and seeing these two reliving one was almost as yummy as the food!
 The Dish:
Patacones. Costa Rican Sandwiches. Pepito Sandwiches
 Crispy plantains with garlic set the tone for a duo of ooey-gooey sandwiches.  The Pepito featured thinly sliced beef, cheese, cramelized onions,beans and Lizano sauce on crispy toasty bread.  Lizano sauce is a sweet and spicy sauce made from cauilflower. Holy yum!  Yep, after 30 minutes and even more kind words we were back in our crazy car and on the move yet again!

Stop Three:
3333 North Kimball Chicago, IL
 Everyone who has ever met me knows how I feel about dumplings so stop number three on our tour  was bound to be a highlight.  Joong Boo Market is a legitimate retail market packed to the gills with a vast array Asian specialty products. Market goers would be wise to snag a quick bite at the Snack Corner. Of course, we couldn't pass up the chance to get our dumpling on!
 The Dish:
Wang Mandu/Spicy Kimchee, Pork or Red Bean
 At just $2 each, these generously sized  buns really offered a lot of bang for the buck.  Wandering through a Korean market sporting a tidy buzz and clutching a cloud like bun bursting with spicy kimchee is my version of heaven! They had to drag me out of the market to keep to our time schedule, but we had to make our way back to our crazy car again and hit the road.

Stop Four:
2755 West Belmont 
The Dish:
Pork Belly Pastrami Sandwich, Fries, Coleslaw, Pickles
All of my people know I feel about BBQ and Michelin favorite, Pork Shoppe, in Avondale knows how to deliver! In my mind, boutique BBQ is best savored among friends and this smoky bite reminded me of an old school ham steak dinner in the best possible way. We washed down our quarter of a sandwich with an ice cold PBR and (you guessed it) hit the road again!

 Stop Five:
4102 North Pulaski
Aim and Graham gave me the chance to get hands on in the kitchen and whip up a traditional French delight!  I know I will enjoy a crepe in Paris with Amy someday, but this was a grand experience and one that will more than tide me over for a couple of years! Cafe Versailles is a warm and welcoming establishment and made room for our road weary crew to get comfortable.  They also served up some mighty fine (and much needed) espresso!
 The Dish:
Sweet Crepes/banana & nutella, kiwi, honey & pistachio
Savory Crepes/chicken & carmelized onion, tomato, olive. egg and cheese

With a belly full of crepes we hit the road and made a quick pit stop in Little India.

Stop Six:
2439 West Devon

Leifer grabbed a dozen Samosas to go, but we wisely saved them for the next day. Shared communal dishes can sneak up on the most seasoned eaters; we were unbelievably full! Before I knew it everyone was busting out glow sticks in the limo and "My Kind of Town" was blasting on the sound system as we made our way down Lake Shore Drive.  We were so those people and one of my favorite parts of the evening had to be reading the reactions of folks in the cars that pulled up alongside us in the city. Pure awesomeness!
And then it all ended where it began,
We made our way back to  Aim and Graham's house, for a slew of birthday wishes, desserts and digestifs!
The Dishes:
Digestifs/Bourbon & Assorted Infused Vodkas
Desserts/Macaron Tower (pumpkin spice, salted caramel, pistachio, chocolate), "M" cookies, Brownies and Lemon Bars
Before I knew it  our nine hour culinary adventure came to an end. Despite the fact I cannot fathom how tricky managing the time schedule for this dinner party on wheels was for Leif, Aim and Pen (the masterminds behind all of this) the entire night was flawless and I am pretty sure everyone had just as much fun as I did traipsing all over Chicago in that Hummer limousine! So as far as I am concerned this motley crew more than followed my rules and blew my mind in the process.  It was among the most magical nights of my life and an expereince I will never forget.
And I even got a  menu for my wall! Framing the menu from a milestone occasion has become a tradition of sorts among our friends.  Framed, matted and ready to hang, the menu is just gorgeous and will serve as a reminder of this extraordinary night for years to come!
Grateful does not even begin to cover it.


elk said...

Correction: Graham did the Mel pumpkin. I can not take the credit for that. What a great day,night and Sunday.

Mel said...

You are sweet to correct me, El. I can't imagine why I may have misunderstood...could it have had something to do with the Old Fashioned or Gin and Tonics? I am still a little fuzzy about the mechanics of our awesome evening!! So glad you were there to share it!

Anonymous said...

Bill and Barb said what FUN! We would love to turn 40 again but hey - we feel 40 anyhow! Bill thinks you should take the "Barefoot Contessa's" spot. This is one of his favorite cooking shows and your menus would be perfect. We will come and be your guests on your TV show when you get it. Great description on blog for your birthday. Happy 40th Birthday.

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