Dining Memories of 2009

Food 4 Comments »

p1010253.JPGAll my close friends know that I am as passionate and as intensely curious about food and cuisine, from sourcing to plating, as I am about theater, film, and art, but I rarely write about them on this blog (in the two years and change that http://www.fromtheledge.com/ has been alive and kicking, I’ve posted approximately 16 food-related entries as compared to 143 for theater and 57 for film).  There’s only so much time and intellectual capacity that I have in a year to write about all the things and experiences that have made an indelible impression on me, so sometimes culinary matters get shunted aside in favor of other blog topics.  And, as I have said previously, there’s so many other people in this gastronomy-obsessed city we live in who can write about food more authoritatively and vividly than I can (plus have more gut-capacity and better digital-photo-taking skills than I have) that unless the culinary experience was quite unique, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.  So my dining end-of-year-list has always been my attempt to share the myriad of dishes and dining experiences that left an impression on me during the year past.  I’ve tried very hard to keep the list to my Chicago dining experiences this year, unlike in previous lists, but I had to make an exception for the arguably singular, but also ambivalence-inducing, dining pilgrimage I made to The French Laundry in the summer, where some of the dishes stunned me into speechlessness, but where the overall culinary point of view felt somewhat old-fashioned.  Here, then, are my top ten dining memories of 2009:

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2009′s Theatrical Treasures

Theater 3 Comments »

cchad-deity-2.jpgI’m not a theater critic, nor a theater practitioner.  I’m just a regular, passionate theater aficionado who writes a blog (and who pays for most shows that I go to see).  And it was wonderful to be a regular, passionate theater aficionado who wrote a blog in 2009 in Chicago, when great-not merely good, not just serviceable-theater was available every weekend night.  2009 began with the Goodman Theatre‘s Eugene O’Neill Festival, a singular, unsurpassable program of theatrical bravado that I will always remember, and which even long time Chicago residents marveled at.  But 2009, for me, was also a year of getting a thrilling first look at world premieres; of seeing plays in random places, whether it was in a warehouse in Ravenswood, inside the rehearsal hall of the Goodman theater, or on the actual stage of the MCA; of discovering new theater companies putting on plays with so much impressive, balls-out fierceness; of finally being validated in my very firm, vocal belief that it is Chicago, not New York City or any other self-proclaiming town, that is the theater capital of the US. 

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No Easy Answers

Theater No Comments »

the-pillowman.jpgAt intermission during the superb Redtwist Theater production of Martin McDonagh’s brilliant, intricate The Pillowman, I overheard the two women of a certain age sitting beside me in the cramped theater smugly, disgustedly ask each other:  “Who can you recommend this play to?”  In fairness, before coming to the theater, they might have been hunched over the whole day cutting-out reindeer cookies while wearing their snug wool sweaters with Frosty the Snowman embroidery on them, singing along to their Perry Como holiday CDs, tasks and outfits that tend to cut oxygen to the brain, but…I shot them the patented withering look nonetheless.  Who do you recommend The Pillowman to – one of the most riveting, most provocative, most smartly-written and surprising scripts of the past decade?  Well, people who embrace the power of great theater, for one.  Folks with cultural taste more sophisticated than theirs, for another. When I saw the play’s Chicago premiere a couple of years ago in a heartbeat-stopping Steppenwolf production, directed by a pre-Tony nomination Amy Morton, starring a pre-Pulitzer prize Tracy Letts and a pre-Oscar nomination Michael Shannon, I didn’t think this play could be improved.  It was a great play, period. But in Redtwist’s production, creatively staged by director Kimberly Senior in a suffocating, sometimes malevolent, ultimately affecting manner, the impact of the play’s theme of the power and legacy of storytelling comes through wondrously.  It’s definitely one of the best Chicago productions for 2009.

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Executive Platinum

Film 7 Comments »

clooney-in-up-in-the-air.jpgFor most of my professional life, I have traveled regularly, sometimes gruelingly, for work, first in Asia, when I was right out of university in the Philippines, and then within the domestic US for the past ten years or so.   Business travel is quite different from leisure travel:  you’re usually stuck working 12-14 hour days in some nowheresville location (King of Prussia, PA?  Dubuque, IA?  Tulsa, OK? Just some of my glamorous markers over the past decade of being on the road for work), staying in nondescript, generic chain hotels with bad instant coffee beside the coffeemaker in the bathroom, stuck in nondescript, generic airports waiting out a snowstorm, a thunderstorm, or general airline wackiness such as delayed flight crews and missing airplanes (which happened to me recently- I mean an airplane should either be at the hangar or at the gate, right? I was flabbergasted that American Airlines delayed my flight for two hours because no one seemed to know where the plane was parked at!).  People who’ve never traveled frequently for their job would never understand the bone-weariness, the loneliness, the sublimated gnawing that there should be a life beyond airport security lines and boarding passes that “road warriors” experience.  Or that almost irrational need to accumulate airline miles and hotel points, almost as if getting that United 1K frequent flier status or that Starwood Hotels’ Platinum Preferred Guest elite level can make up for the significant amount of personal and home time that you’ve given up.   So I’m blown away by Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, currently being buzzed about as a strong Oscar Best Picture contender.  At the risk of sounding clichéd, it’s like the film held up a piercing mirror to the lifestyle I’ve led.  Many scenes seemed to have been picked out of my and many of my friends’ recent worklives. And although I continue to admire Precious and The Hurt Locker, the two other anointed Oscar frontrunners, and consider them significant cinematic achievements, I have to say Up In the Air is more resonant, more emotionally-satisfying, and definitely, my hands-down pick for the Best Film of 2009 so far.

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Quicksilver

Theater No Comments »

irma-vep.jpgWhen I got home a couple of Sundays ago from a performance of the Court Theater‘s latest production, Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, directed by hyperkinetic wunderkind director Sean Graney, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of reactions to Adam Lambert’s performance at the American Music Awards (AMA). Although some of those tweeting and Facebooking were shocked (feigned or real, I’m not sure), most, including myself, thought the whole performance was derivative, non-provocative, and somewhat tired and yawn-inducing (we’ve already seen everything he did before, and it’s not like he was singing strapped into a sling!).  I think my friends’, straight and gay, jaded reaction to Lambert’s shameless self-promotion was indicative of how much gay iconography (man-on-man kiss; man-face-on-man-crotch; man-leading-man-on-a-dog-leash), regardless of how fringe they might be, had seeped into our pop culture moments since the year Ludlam premiered his cross-dressing parody of penny dreadfuls and early Hitchcock films in 1984.  But leave it to Ludlam’s brilliance that 1980s-era Irma Vep is, ironically, fresher, queerer, and yes, more subversive than the 2009 attempt of an American Idol runner-up to hog headlines.  And Graney has given this first-rate theatrical material, that is also trickier than a landmine detonation, a flawless, hysterically funny production, and thrown in a couple of his own unique innovations, including a brilliant final scene.  It’s a handful of a play, but a welcome one.

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Class

Dance, Theater No Comments »

I’m pretty lucky to have some of the most awesome friends in the world.  Despite her long-suffering BFF status (being run over weekly by my roll-on luggage when we commuted for work to Newark several years ago as I jostled to get on the plane before everyone else; being unwittingly dragged to a more than three hour and a half Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), BFF Debra still graciously invited me a couple of weeks ago to attend an intimate cocktail party that Thodos Dance Chicago was hosting for Ann Reinking.  Thodos, an 18 year old contemporary dance company focused on dance creation and education, was planning to have as its Fall Concert centerpiece a trilogy of rarely revived Bob Fosse pieces staged by, and with additional choreography, by Reinking, who had a close professional and personal relationship with Fosse from the late 1960s until his death in 1987.  I told BFF Debra, even if I was having organ transplant surgery, I would be there, hospital gurney, IV drip and all!  Hey, Reinking is a true-blue, gold-plated Broadway star, having starred in the original productions of A Chorus Line, Goodbye Charlie, and Dancin’, but most notably, she re-created the character of Roxie Hart in the hugely-successful 1996 revival of Chicago opposite Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly.  Being such a bona-fide, plaque-carrying musical theater queen, I’d be battier than Sarah Palin if I missed this unprecedented evening with a theater legend.  And it was probably one of my most scintillating nights of the year, as Reinking generously regaled the attendees with tales of Broadway and Hollywood (such as her being the last-minute replacement for Liza Minnelli in the original Lincoln Center Encores! concert production of Chicago which was the basis for the Broadway revival – Liza in Chicago?  I nearly popped an artery and dislocated a rib with all my gasping) while comfortably ensconced in a warm Lincoln Park living room on a brisk late fall Saturday evening.  If I already didn’t have my ticket for the Fall Concert, I would have bought one on the spot.

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