April 25, 2018

Chicago Grind in Andersonville

A favorite coffee bar hangout in the Andersonville neighborhood is Chicago Grind, at Berwyn and Broadway, featuring coffees and teas from Metric Coffee Roasters and Benjamin Tea.

Husband and wife team, Reem and Jim Dababneh are frequently behind the cash register and food counter as they fill orders for beverages, pastries and savory food items. My favorite meal option is the vegan quinoa kale salad with nuts, cranberries and red peppers. They have even brought the “to-go” order outside when I have my dog.

The artisanal flatbread sandwiches have been top notch with gluten-free options available. Gourmet salads are another meal option, along with all sorts of enlightened treats from Maier Bakery, Alliance Patisserie and the gluten-free Defloured Bakery.

The Dababnehs are also owners of the very successful Pizzeria Aroma, just east near the Berwyn el stop. They will be moving that restaurant to another spot in the ‘hood, so I will keep you posted.

Chicago Grind is a handy spot for business meetings, lunches, breakfasts on the run or casual beverage breaks in the outdoor cafe. That is if it ever warms up enough to sit at sidewalk tables again!

http://www.chicagogrind.com/

Billions on Showtime

I happened to have the Showtime app open to watch Homeland. To my chagrin, I had to wait another few days to see a new episode. Another Showtime program, Billions, had not previously snagged my interest, but I decided to give it a try.

Wow! The story is intriguing with Damian Lewis playing billionaire money manager, Bobby Axelrod doggedly pursued by Paul Giamatti cast as U. S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades. Talk about two heavy-hitting actors going nose to nose!
The wife of Rhodes (Maggie Siff) works as an in-house therapist at Axe Capital complicating her work and personal connections. She and Bobby Axe have a special bond that drives her husband, Chuck crazy.

The supporting cast members are equally phenomenal. Terry Kinney of Steppenwolf fame, is Axelrod’s shady henchman, Hall; Malin Akerman plays Axe’s tough, from-the-hood wife, Lara. Second in command at Axe Capital is Wags Wagner, quirky but endearing actor David Costabile. Jeffrey DeMunn is excellent as Chuck’s overbearing and very wealthy father. I could cite several more actors for fine work, but suffice it to say that the level of acting is extremely high.

The show writers throw plot curve balls every episode which keeps you wanting to know more. Characters go in directions you don’t see coming with the pull of good and evil turning people by turns into heroes, and the next moment into morally bankrupt posers.

I still wait with bated breath for new episodes of Homeland, but Billions is a worthy show that also impels the viewer to stream from Showtime which I have on my Amazon Prime platform.

The German Cabaret Legacy in American Popular Music by William Farina

Evanston resident, author William Farina has written an excellent book about how Germany’s Weimar cabaret culture has impacted much of Western music and culture in the past several decades.

The Weimar Republic is loosely defined from 1919 to 1933 which is the time after World War I in Germany until the run-up to World War II. The 1930s saw the rise of Nationalism and the Nazi Party leading up to the global maelstrom between the Allies and the Axis. As one has watched the rise of nationalism in our own country, one could draw some unsettling parallels between our present day and that of this storied era of German history.

Troubled times frequently result in artistic ferment and the Weimar Republic is a particularly good example. Kurt Weill and Frederick Hollander were writing music, Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife) was setting new standards in performance and a young Marlene Dietrich was creating a persona that would find world-wide popularity.

Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel), G. W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box with Louise Brooks), F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) were but a few of the filmmakers working in Germany at the time. Leni Riefenstahl was also writing and directing films throughout the 20s and 30s before signing on as the official visual recorder of the Nazi regime.

German performers, writers, directors, composers and authors, many of them Jewish fled and created new lives for themselves in Hollywood, in New York and in countless cities in the U. S. and other European locales. Little wonder that all of the arts would be impacted by this diaspora.

Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong

Interesting connections are made throughout Farina’s book. Jim Morrison of the Doors was a film student of Josef von Sternberg which may explain why he recorded Weill’s Alabama Song. The Beatles got their true start playing cabaret venues in Hamburg, Germany, even recording German versions of some of their songs. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan wrote that he became semi-obsessed with the song Mack the Knife. Lotte Lenya also recorded a version of Mack with the legnedary Louis Armstrong.

Marlene Dietrich, who performed live cabaret shows from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, was instrumental in creating the “big name” tradition on the Las Vegas Strip. No less than Burt Bacharach was her music director/pianist before his run of song hits. In her final film appearance, Dietrich shared a scene with David Bowie singing the song Just a Gigolo.

Marlene Dietrich

Broadway writers Kander and Ebb renewed interest in the Weimar Republic with their groundbreaking musical Cabaret which cast Lotte Lenya in a supporting role on Broadway. Many of the songs from their other musicals, most notably Chicago, have a Berlin cabaret feel.

Weill songs can be found on recordings by the likes of Bette Midler, Marianne Faithful, Teresa Stratas and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Mack the Knife alone has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Buble, Bobby Darin, Sting and Lyle Lovett, to name a few.

Ute Lemper

Current German cabaret artists like Ute Lemper and Max Raabe continue to play to sold-out houses across the globe.

My show at Dank Haus on Friday, April 6 will include a short presentation by William Farina and my interpretation of songs by Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb, the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, selected song hits of Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf along with some of my own creations.

Show details below. Tickets must be ordered in advance.

Driverless van in downtown Las Vegas

My excitement rose as I saw a free driverless shuttle in downtown Las Vegas. In truth, this is a PR stunt to get people used to seeing and perhaps riding in a van that can drive itself. Walking the few blocks would have been faster albeit much less novel.

For now, the modern-looking van seats 8 with seat belts and another 3 for staff. The day I tried the shuttle, downtown construction necessitated having a human along for unforeseen obstacles. The standing driver intervened a couple of times with controls that looked like a gameboy device. The shuttle itself did successfully avoid hitting a car that got too close to us. A company companion car follows the van as it makes its way through the downtown area for an added layer of safety.

The project is sponsored by AAA and the city of Las Vegas with the vehicular service being provided by a French company named Keolis S. A. Our Keolis representative said that there are currently over a hundred cities across the world with driverless pilot programs. The driverless shuttle service is slated to be widespread in 2020. Two years from now, people!

The staff sheepishly told us about the Navya-built shuttle’s first day of service in Las Vegas. A delivery truck hit it causing a minor fender bender. Local police placed blame on the human driver of the truck however. If his vehicle had similar sensors to that of the shuttle’s, the accident may have been avoided entirely.

For now, driverless vans are a rare sight, but we are on the brink of a brave new world where we have to trust machines to do a better job than the human behind the wheel. Ready or not, automated transportation is speeding towards us.

Las Vegas Downtown restaurants: Eureka, Le Thai, PublicUs

A month-old restaurant called Eureka (part of a western chain) in downtown Las Vegas got my business twice this past week. Winning appetizers included Lollipop Corn Dogs and Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Peanuts. Sesame Teriyaki Salmon with black rice was very satisfying with Grilled Chicken Tacos and Fried Chicken Sliders pleasing other palates in my party.

A second visit rang my bell with a Protein Chopped Salad of quinoa, sunflower seeds, roasted beets, beans and feta drizzled with an oregano mustard vinaigrette. If I lived in Vegas, this would be a weekly menu item for me. Crispy sweet potato fries were slightly marred by a too-sweet cinnamon sugar glaze. House-made Ginger-Lime Sodas were a refreshing accompaniment to the meal. I will be brave next time and order either Charcoal Lemonade or Turmeric Nectar. The Osso Bucco Bites looked tempting, too.

http://eurekarestaurantgroup.com/blog/locations/las-vegas/

You wouldn’t expect excellent Thai food in Las Vegas and especially not in the touristic downtown area, but Le Thai is serving authentic and tasty food in its Fremont Street location. Green, red and panang curry dishes were all top notch accompanied with a cooling Thai-style chicken salad. Future visits will have to include the signature waterfall sauce and chef Dan Coughlin’s signature 3-color curry.

http://lethaivegas.com/

Located in the Fremont East district of downtown Las Vegas is PublicUs, a bustling coffee bar with delicious and healthy eating options. I had a savory salad with quinoa, goat cheese, hummus and vegetables. (Yes, quinoa seems to be my current menu choice these days.)

The menu is heavy on meat and fish as well as vegetarian options. The baked goods and desserts look delectable. A gigantic chocolate chip cookie tempted my sister at check-out which she ate with great relish. Prices were a bit high, but the ingredient quality and inventive recipes seem to make the expense worth it. There are outdoor and indoor seating options in this hipster outpost. Waits can be a bit long for food orders.

http://www.publicuslv.com/

These restaurants come highly recommended and go on the list to try on my next visit to Vegas: Cornish Pasty Company and Esther’s Kitchen in the downtown area along with Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar at the Monte Carlo Casino on the Strip.

Will and Grace 2017 Reboot

When I first heard that the late 1990s TV sitcom, Will and Grace was being reprised, I was somewhat skeptical. Hearing that all four of the lead actors were on board made me a little more open-minded.

Now that I have seen several episodes, I can say that the reboot has retained some of the delicious humor and the endearing character foibles of the previous incarnation.

Megan Mullaly, Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack and Debra Messing all look pretty fabulous in this belated 9th season. Harry Connick Jr., Bobby Cannavale, Leslie Jordan, Minnie Driver and Molly Shannon, among others, all give welcome reprises of their guest roles this time around.

If anything, the show has demonstrated how far we have come with gay acceptance in the 12 years since Will and Grace wrapped up 8 seasons in 2006. The producers, writers and actors perhaps could not have predicted that gay marriage would be legal and quite common today in 2018.

Politics, class warfare, sexual mores and gay versus straight culture are woven into the current show’s plot lines and dialogue. This is screwball comedy for the 21st century with rapid fire banter and improbably hilarious situations.

When I need a laugh these days, an episode of Will and Grace is just what the comedy doctor orders.

Thursdays, 9 pm on NBC, Hulu

Flats and Sharps Music Stores

Remember the days when you could go to the downtown loop and find sheet music stores where you could actually peruse the current hits and Broadway shows?

Thank heavens for the few music stores that still carry a selection of piano, vocal and instrumental sheet music. Flats and Sharps in Rogers Park with a second store in Norwood Park carries a good selection of sheet music, instruments and musical accessories.

They also have music lessons and host open mikes and other concerts. If only every neighborhood had a musical nexus like Flats and Sharps.

A while back, I was looking for the sheet music purveyor, Coulson’s, which used to be near the 410 S. Michigan Avenue Building and was told it had moved. A Google search informed me that they now have a store on the 6th level of the 900 N. Michigan Avenue Building. The next time I pop in Bloomingdale’s, I plan to check out Coulson’s selection of sheet music.

I know that almost all sheet music is available on-line, but there’s nothing like going into a music store and seeing the classical, pop, Broadway and rock tunes on display. The real treat is when the clerk actually can recommend their favorite new show, the best beginning adult piano book or the new Leonard Cohen songbook that just came out. Brick, mortar, personal attention and music! I’m there.

http://www.flattsandsharpe.com/

https://coulsonssheetmusic.com/

A French Village/Un Village Francais Season 7 on MHZ

I wrote a blog post on Un Village Francais/A French Village a while back, but an update was definitely needed since MHZ recently made the seventh and final season available on its streaming service.

The wrap-up season has been somewhat of a let-down after six previous engrossing seasons, but most fans of the show will want to see the characters through to their respective ends.

The creators of the program use flash-forwards to future decades including the 21st century. Make-up artists were tasked with aging people in some cases into their 90s with mostly believable results.

Just a word of warning, if you expect the aftermath of the French Occupation to be a “feel good” affair, you will be greatly disappointed. Many of the characters are forever damaged by their experiences. The final episodes have intricate and confusing plot points that may need some further clarification.

If you complete all seven seasons, here is the MHZ page with 41 comments about the final season and possible interpretations:

https://mhzchoice.vhx.tv/a-french-village/season:7/videos/afrvil-c-07006?anon=17dcf608-2acd-428d-9a3e-1784dbc70976

Healthworks Cacao Powder

My current vice is Healthworks cacao powder (ordered online from Amazon) which I have used in some surprising ways. Yes, it has caffeine, but I find if you mix it with healthy carbs or protein, it seems to mitigate that “coffee jag” feeling.

One of my breakfast favorites is McCann’s Steel Cut Oats (from Mariano’s) with cacao powder and unthawed, frozen organic cherries mixed warm into the cooked oatmeal. I steam the oatmeal in a vegetable/rice steamer and pop the frozen cherries (from Costco) into a toaster oven. I no longer have a microwave, but that appliance could help you unfreeze the fruit, too. You don’t have to perch over a hot stove while these foods cook.

I use 1/2 cup of dry oats, 1 cup of cherries and a tablespoon of cacao powder. When the oats are cooked and the cherries are unthawed and warm, I mix them together with the cacao powder. You will have a modest amount for two people or one generous portion if you like a big breakfast.

Another breakfast treat is a chocolate omelet. I mix 1/2 cup of egg whites with a tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and 5 drops of stevia. My current favorite is Sweet Drops English Toffee by SweetLeaf. If this sounds strange, think of it as breakfast, caffeine and dessert, all in one.

I have even started making my own sugar-free, dairy-free chocolate using cacao butter, cacao powder and stevia. My method for making chocolate will be in a future article.

Does anyone have a sugar-free, dairy-free mole recipe? Imagine chili with chocolate. My taste buds are already dancing!

Please send me any of your ideas for using cacao or cocoa powder in recipes. Signing off, fellow chocoholics.

Wataha on MHZ

Readers know that I periodically mention European dramas streaming on the MHZ web site, but instead of proffering a series title in French, German, Italian or a Scandinavian language, I can now add a television show from Poland. Wataha is a 2014 Polish action crime drama about a border patrol that polices the Polish-Ukrainian border.

The series starts off with an explosion that kills a whole group of border patrol officers with one man escaping, Captain Wiktor Rebrow. A young female prosecutor comes in to investigate the case and her prime suspect for the murders is Rebrow himself.

We see the Border Guard unit deal with the illegal smuggling of drugs, weapons and humans while the ambitious woman from the district prosecutor’s office keeps them under close scrutiny. Political intrigue and murder all figure into the intricate plot.

HBO Europe broadcast the six episodes of Wataha‘s Season 1 as The Border Season 2 with another six episodes was shown in Europe in 2017. It is my hope that MHZ secures the streaming rights to Season Two postehaste. Dziekuje Ci. That’s “thank you” in Polish!