Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only plot here is that which you might find in anyone’s life. The book flows through Bishop Latour’s years without relying on external forces of any kind. A quote toward the end of the book expresses the way the work itself moves:

“He realized also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories…. He was soon to have done with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible.”

Click on the link above to read the rest of my review of Death Comes for the Archbishop.

View all my reviews

A recent writer’s conference in Little Rock allowed me to check out a couple of local restaurants.  My friend and I arrived in town Thursday evening and wanted something quick and tasty and our Urbanspoon led us to

Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

Layla's Gyros & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Located in a strip mall, this small greek “diner” has exactly what I look for in an ethnic eatery: great food, great people, and great prices.  In fact, this was the best Greek food I’ve ever had.  My friend, Tamara, had the Goat Plate.  Her first time eating goat was a triumph.  Not only did she enjoy the food, she ate it efficiently.  According to our server (who I think was also the owner), you’ve got to use your fingers.  There’s just no way to get the meat off those goat bones with a knife and fork.  He congratulated Tamara for doing it the right way and we giggled over folks who work too hard at being polite.  [Yes, I was laughing at myself.  I will admit to attempting the knife and fork approach.  It was too much trouble, though, and I resorted to the more appropriate finger method.]

My choice was the Mubarak Plate.  Delish!  And there was so much, the doggie bag I took back to the hotel provided lunch for the next 2 days (with the addition of a salad)!  Gyros and Shawarma are old favorites, but I had never had Kifta Kabab or Kibbeh before.  I was very pleased with my introduction to these dishes.

We had to order Baklava for dessert and I’ve never had better.  It was a bite of pistachio-laden, honey-coated heaven.

Layla’s also has a small selection of grocery items available.

 

Brave New Restaraunt

Brave New Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I have to say that this is probably the strangest location for a restaurant I’ve seen.  I can understand a unique, whimsical setting–an old warehouse, a boat, the top of a UFO-like building–but this one was downright confusing.  If we had not read in Urbanspoon that it was hard to find, we certainly would have thought we had the wrong address.  Don’t be deceived by it’s location on the second floor of a nondescript building in the middle of a nondescript business park.  This place is fabulous.  After riding the elevator up and following signs posted down a dull, industrial hallway, we were met with a cool, inviting dining room boasting a beautiful, riverfront view.  If the restaurant owners’ intent was to surprise, they succeeded, and their success didn’t end with the atmosphere.

Goat Cheese Mousse

Goat Cheese Mousse

We started our meal sharing an appetizer of Goat Cheese Mousse.  My husband called in the middle of this course and I had to rush him off the phone.  I wanted to make sure I got my fair share!  As you can see, the mousse was so tempting we forgot to take pictures before diving it.  Delightfully light and tangy, the perfect way to wake up the taste buds for our entrees.

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Scallop

Scallop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entrees were preceded by 5-Onion Soup for Tamara and a dinner salad for me.  Tamara ordered the Pinenut-Encrusted Salmon.  I chose the Mixed Grill.  We each also had a Scallop.  My favorite elements of this meal were the scallop and the quail.  This was the second best scallop I’ve consumed.  No criticism intended here.  I have eaten many scallops in my life; I’ve only afforded two the honor of “consummation.”  (The other was presented by Sepia.)  BNR’s scallop had a lovely buttery texture, sustained by a perfectly weighted sauce.  It was one of those dishes that require you to save a bit with which to end the meal.  The Mixed Grill was very good.  It was ample enough that I had to take some home with me.  It was at home the following day (after a reheat) that I found the delight in that adorable little quail, and learned a life lesson about eating really good food.  I was lunching on my leftovers with, I suppose, the attitude of “I’ve lost the opportunity to relish the fresh-made essence of this food” when I took a bite of the quail.  It was not my first bite; in fact, it was the last.  And it nearly made me cry.  It was that moment when all the elements of a dish come together to create a near-spiritual experience.  I know that’s a little over-the-top.  But seriously, I was left wondering what this little fella would have tasted like in the restaurant, freshly prepared, in a setting that allowed my attention to be on the food rather than on whatever stupid TV show I happened to be sitting in front of.  Ah, the marriage of the musky warmth of the stuffing with the wild, gamey richness of the bird!  I cursed myself for not paying attention earlier, but that didn’t stop me from savoring that one final morsel.  When I return to Little Rock and BNR, I believe the choice will be between Stuffed Quail and Trout with Spinach & Crab.

I did not take a picture of our dessert.  It was gone before I realized I had neglected it.  Tamara and I shared a Chocolate Crème Brûlée.  It deserves a comment as well.  When I think of crème brûlée, I imagine a light custard, the perfect end to a somewhat heavy meal particularly on a warm evening.  This dish was not that dish.  The carmellized sugar crust was slightly thicker than expected.  The quality of the chocolate used in its preparation was evident; this wasn’t a melted Hershey bar.  Rich and strong, not too sweet and only slightly bitter.  The texture was much heavier than I am accustomed to in crème brûlée , like a dense yet not heavy cross between a flan (the kind my friend makes, not the milky pudding thing you buy in plastic containers in the refrigerator section of the grocery store) and ganache–velvety, but without the near-liquid aura or somewhat gelatinous texture of your average flan or crème brûlée.  (Or maybe I just have never had a really good CB before?)

 

I look forward to another trip to Little Rock.  The problem I foresee is wanting to try something new when I have already discovered places I want to return to.  I suppose there are worse dilemmas.

Entry

Entry

A recent trip to St. Louis, MO, provided me with the opportunity to visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.  Not being Catholic, my first question was “what differentiates a Cathedral from a Basilica?”  According to catholiceducation.org, a Cathedral is “the chief church of the diocese, the bishop’s church.”  It does not have to be magnificent or highly decorated; the key component is the Bishop.  A basilica, on the other hand, refers fundamentally to a form of Roman architecture.

“When the ancient Romans spoke of a basilica they were referring to a large, high-ceilinged hall with three long aisles. The Romans used basilicas as courts, public meeting areas, and even as indoor markets — an early form of our shopping malls. In the fourth century, after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, many bishops modeled their churches and cathedrals on the Roman basilica, setting up the altar at the far end of the hall.”  (catholiceducation.org)

 

 

A Catholic basilica moves beyond architecture by virtue of papal identification of the site/building as having “unusual historical significance,” or as being “especially sacred because of the presence of a relic or relics.”  On April 4, 1997, the Saint Louis Cathedral was made a Basilica by Pope John Paul II.  The Cathedral’s huge mosaic installation (one of the 3 largest in the western hemisphere, if I understand correctly) is one of the things that makes this building so treasured.

I was somewhat uncomfortable entering this sacred space with a camera and wearing street clothes.  However, as neither was prohibited in the Basilica’s Code of Conduct, I quieted my qualms and crossed the threshold with appreciation for the willingness of the Church to share this astoundingly beautiful building with the public.  Truthfully, the only camera I had was on my phone.  These photos are by my husband (Cleeo W. Wright) who, although his non-phone camera is not set up for architectural photography, is much more capable than I am.  If you enjoy this peek and would like to see more but can’t make it to St. Louis, the Cathedral website has a virtual tour.

Narthex

Narthex

Narthex detail

I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith.

 

Nave

Nave with domes

Central Dome

Central Dome and West Transept

Symbolic of  the Power of God's Love

Symbolic of the Power of God’s Love

 

 

East Transept and Pulpit

East Transept and Pulpit

West Transept

West Transept

Blue Rose Window

Blue Rose Window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a couple of pictures of the Baldacchino, a domed structure that covers the main altar.  (The Cathedral website has some good shots from angles we couldn’t achieve)

Baldachino

Baldachino

Baldacchino, west side

Baldacchino, west side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few examples of the mosaics:

Mosaic Arches

Mosaic Arches

Mosaic Ceiling

Mosaic Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child

Mosaic Detail: Stars

Mosaic Detail: Stars

Mosaic Detail: Sun

Mosaic Detail: Sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Altars, Aisles, Pillars, Statues

Hall with Statue

Aisle with Statue

Arch with Altar

Arch with Altar

Mosaic hall

Mosaic Aisle

Mosaic Pillar

Mosaic Pillar

Altar

Altar

 

Our trip to Chicago would not have been complete without Chicago-style pizza and Chicago dogs.

Friday brought pizza. While there are apparently a multitude of specialists, we chose to eat at Pizzeria Uno, reputed to be the original home of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I liked the buttery, flaky, pastry-type crust, a true pizza “pie,” unlike the yeast bread crust I’m used to. Most of my family prefer the bready style; I remain conflicted. Inside the crust, I was expecting a few toppings floating in a sea of mozzarella, and was pleasantly surprised with a decent amount of vegetables (I had the Spinoccoli) and a sparser share of cheese. It was a meal even my dairy-sensitive digestive system could manage. I was quite satisfied with my first exposure to Chicago’s pizza scene. As I mentioned, however, there are many pizzerias rumored to be must-visits, and Giordano’s is on the list for next time.

Our planned destination for hot dogs was the storied Hot Doug’s. It comes highly recommended by everyone from personal friends to Anthony Bourdain. We scheduled our visit for Friday so we could indulge in their Duck Fat Fries. We plotted our dogs ahead, intending to share: The Dog (of course), the Game of the Week (whatever it was…), and one of the other fascinating concoctions on the Specials menu. Sadly, the time demon caught us, and we placed Hot Doug’s on the catch-you-next-time list. While it wouldn’t be quite the same, we were going to the Sox game that night and were sure we would at least be able to get a Chicago dog there, if not buffalo or rattlesnake. Take note: Chicago-style hot dogs are not available at US Cellular Field. Or if they are, we were not able to locate that particular concessionaire. This was a great disappointment, but somehow our trip to the Windy City was complete and fulfilling even without the encased meat.

So that’s it. We did eat other food, obviously. We were in Chicago for a week. I did want to make one final comment about eating on vacation. If you want to eat well on a budget, you have to make choices. If you want to go to pricier restaurants, there are ways to save money on other meals (that free hotel breakfast, for instance) and places you can cut expenses. We live within a day’s drive of Chicago, so we took our car instead of a plane. The money we saved more than covered the price of our out-of-normal-budget meals. We walked when we could and took public transportation when we couldn’t, shaving a few more dollars off. We even opted out of some activities because we preferred to spend our time and money on amazing food. This won’t be our only trip to Chicago. Some of the activities we skipped will make up the memories of our next visit. And a couple of new and wonderful dining experiences will definitely be on the menu as well.

Other stops on the food tour:

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit. And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences. I’d love to hear from you.

I held no expectation of anything surpassing Sepia.  Indeed, at this level of sophistication, I feel unqualified to make judgments or assign positions.  Still, I think Naha  topped the list of dining experiences on our Chicago trip.  I don’t know that every dish was superior to those we had at Sepia, but overall I liked the food better.  Perhaps that was in part because we did a tasting menu.  Unbelievable.   We had 4 diners and 7 courses equating to 17 different dishes (not each was unique).  Don’t worry.  I won’t go through the whole dinner.  Just the highlights.

The French Kiss Oyster was aptly named.  A single bite of heaven.  I was also  lucky enough to get scallops again!  I doubt I’ll ever consume their equal.  They were perfectly cooked; the dish wonderfully orchestrated. It’s a good thing this was so well-prepared, or my husband might have lost his Summer Corn Soup, another near-indescribable dish.  The Arctic Char was a favorite—the epitome of surf and turf, without any meat.  The surf element is obvious.  The turf accompaniment of Jerusalem artichokes, wheatberries, mushrooms, spring herbs & greens was earth all over.  And the morels I snitched from my husband’s salmon were not a distraction from my own fish.

I experienced another first at Naha as well.  Duck Breast and Foie Gras–actually a double first; I’d never had either before.  The worst part of this is that at home I’m stuck with chicken.  Duck is so much more to my taste, a wonderful flavor composite of poultry and game.  It’s not readily available in my area, and if it were, I know I couldn’t do it justice.  Foie gras?  Not even going to try.  That’s the dilemma of eating at truly excellent restaurants.  Subsequent meals rarely measure up.  Approaching this as an experience, rather than a new standard, is the only way I cope.  And with time the memory fades.  I may still be able to eat scallops.  Someday.

In the weeks before our Chicago trip, I visited Naha’s menu several times.  I wanted to have my order planned before I got there.  When my husband suggested the tasting menu, I thought it was a great idea.  I’d had a difficult time deciding what I wanted to eat, and this would solve that problem.  I did hope I would get a few things that sounded especially appealing.  The oyster, scallop, and foie gras were on the tentative list, and I was thrilled when presented with the Lamb Osso Buco, one of the finalists in “entree. ” I actually may have clapped my hands.  I know I did that at one point during the meal, much to the amusement of our waiter.  The lamb was very nice, but I think I may have enjoyed the accompanying marrow toast as much or more.  Strange how something so simple can sometimes hit the spot.

Dessert was interesting.  I guess they assumed that I, being a middle-aged woman, would go for the chocolate.  I admit it was tasty, but I had a very difficult time not hijacking my daughter’s Rhubarb and Almond Tart, Orange Blossom Ice Cream (which I liked better than my own pinot noir version), and Almond Meringue. 

After two and a half hours enjoying the amazing offerings at Naha, we ventured back out into the July heat.  We had walked from the hotel to the restaurant, and we returned the same way.  We traveled a little slower on the way back, not because we were overfed, but because the experience had been like many others we had in Chicago that week.  Something to contemplate, to remember, to re-enjoy, if only in our minds.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.

Small portions are what I expected from the two out-of-budget restaurants we visited.  The wonderful thing about this is that I can really enjoy the flavor without feeling stuffed.  There is still plenty of food, and the nuances of each bite automatically slow me down to savoring speed.

The first upscale establishment was Sepia.  (Their website is beautiful.  When you click the link, make sure you have the sound on.  They have great music.) Their decor is rich and relaxing, an understated mix of the architectural and the artistic, the old and the new.  The blending of wood, stone, steel, and glass is evocative of what I’ve come to expect from Chicago’s skyscraper heritage.  The photographic elements appeal to me as much as to my photog husband.

Their menu is not expansive, but when you present food of this quality, it doesn’t need to be.  I know you are dying to hear what I consumed: sea scallops for starters, followed by the Lamb Loin and Crispy Lamb Neck, finishing with the strawberries and Basil-Black Pepper Ice Cream.

Sea scallops are one of my favorites.  It is amazing how much an ingredient can change depending on what it is combined with.  These were excellent, especially paired with the other elements in the dish.  One of these, the smoked paprika lardo, was a revelation in itself.  (Check out the menu to see the full description.)

I’m glad I went with the lamb for the main course.  The contrast of the two was very effective.  Surprisingly, I preferred the neck slightly over the loin.  I didn’t realize this until I took my last bite, loin, and realized I was disappointed not to have just a touch more of the crispy neck to finish on.  I discovered something else along the way.  My daughter had the Carnaroli Risotto, which she loved.  But it was accompanied by baby morels, which she did not.  I tried them—another first.  So much earthy flavor packed into such a tiny package.  I now have a favorite mushroom.

As for dessert, I don’t eat it often.  I love it; I’m just wary of empty calories, however deliciously packaged.  And, honestly, I’ve eaten enough really excellent desserts that most of the places I eat out at just don’t measure up.  I’m glad I broke my rule here.  The best part of the dessert was the ice cream.  I prefer rich or savory ice cream to sweet and this concoction was incredible.

The only other comment I have on Sepia is kudos to the staff.  The talent and ability of the chefs and kitchen staff is attested to by the amazing food.  Those at the front of the house were wonderful as well–cheerful, helpful without being intrusive, constantly on-point.  For the first time I realized how a really skilled waiter can raise the experience from nice to delightful.  Thanks to the people who do their job so well.  You are noticed and appreciated.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit to Chicago.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share you favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.

I wanted to share some of the good stuff rendered by my maiden journey to “the hog butcher for the world” (thanks, Mr. Sandburg).  I found that even when I boiled down my experience to my favorites, there was too much for one post.  Add in the peripherals, and I decided I’d have to do a series.  Welcome to An Outsider’s View of Chicago.

We should begin, I suppose, with Chicago en masse.  My first reaction to the city was something like shock and awe.  The skyscrapers were amazing.  The variety of activities was overwhelming.  The human element is still a matter of cogitation for me–such variety of individuals and groups, and such a vast spectrum of interplay amongst them.  I was surrounded by a feeling of density, solidity, weight, and at the same time a breathlessness and motion.  The spirit of the city was the expiration of its substance: the constant flow of traffic, the El, the river, and the people around and between immovable stone and steel.  Often there was darkness even at noon, a sense of always being in shadow, again an effect of the surrounding tall buildings.  It raised feelings of uncertainty, of aloneness amid the crowds.  It made me wonder about what I could not see, what waited in the alleys and in the hearts of the people I passed.  It bred distrust and caution.  The atmosphere was tense, even dangerous.   And the people.  The masses dissolved into individuals and each individual became a mystery, a blend of experience, of action and reaction, of pain and joy, of past, present, future, only a moment of which I had any relation to.  It was like watching fractals develop all around me, and there was no escape.  It was overwhelming.  I had to exercise emotional self-containment just to venture out into the street.  I can understand so much better now some of the description I’ve read of the city over the years.  And yet, it is a place too complex for a casual visitor to fully comprehend.  It is disconcerting, challenging, fascinating, powerful, ugly, beautiful.  During the planning stages of the trip, I told my husband there was too much to see and do.  We needed to move there for at least a year, I said, to fit it all in.  Now that I’ve been, I don’t think I could live there.  But I definitely want to visit again.

[For a general overview of the Windy City check out Wikipedia, or go to the city’s website for a version straight from the hog butcher’s mouth.]

At the top of my to do list was the Art Institute of Chicago, chiefly because of its Impressionist collection.  Needless to say, the originals hanging in the museum made those posters on my wall at home seem like faded copies.  Which, um, they are.  And they look even worse now.  Two things I discovered at the museum were the Asian Collection and the Thorne Miniature Rooms.  I have a thing for India, and the centuries-old artifacts spoke to me of a culture I will never completely understand but still find intriguing, much like the city I was visiting.  I also have a long-held fascination with miniatures, especially dollhouses.  The Thorne collection did not disappoint.  Each little scene allowed a glimpse into someone’s life.  People had actually lived in homes like these, on a slightly larger in scale.  I like to project myself into the spaces, sit at the tables, play the pianos, wander through the gardens.  I wonder who I would have been had I lived then and there.  My one piece of advice about the Art Institute is to check the website ahead of time.  I am only now realizing that I missed several exhibits I know I would have enjoyed because I was not aware of them.  Planning ahead will allow you to see the collections that most interest you because there is simply not enough time to see everything in one visit, much like Chicago itself.

On a more dramatic note, we were able to see a matinée of Crowns at the Goodman.  Just as I had noticed elsewhere in Chi-town, the people who surrounded me were tightly woven with the occasion.  It was a moving and enthusiastic play, visually and musically stimulating, and the audience response illuminated and elevated the experience.  I thought it was ironic that I travelled from the South to Chicago to watch a play about a girl who travels from Chicago to the South.  Her journey led her to closure and to revelation, from emptiness and fear and anger to peace and hope and love.  I don’t know that mine was as productive a journey, but it did challenge my openness and expand my vision in unexpected ways.  The play itself?  It did what I seek to do in my writing—challenge perception and increase love, understanding, and appreciation.  At the center of it beat the heart of my own philosophy: the sanctity of the individual and the power of the collective.  I left feeling indebted to the artists, to the writers, to the characters and their stories, even to the audience, many of whose personal stories seemed to connect them intimately to what was happening onstage.

The Architecture River Tour was another highlight of the trip.  The architecture, in general, was fabulous.  We spent most of our time in The Loop, as I imagine most tourists do on their first visit.  Even within this circumscribed area we were unable to give more than cursory attention to the storied offerings of the skyscraper’s birthplace.  Studying these astounding constructions merits a trip of its own.  Along with limiting our Loop explorations, the time demon also prevented us from venturing outside the area to see the work of another architectural giant.  One of the catch-you-next-timers is definitely Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago.

The spirit of the Windy City is whispering to me that I should wrap it up.  This return to the insistent theme of architecture seems a good place to end, for now

If you’ve been to Chicago, what were your first impressions?  If you haven’t visited yet, what are your expectations?  If you are a resident, what would you most like us to know about your city?

And does anyone have a good synonym for “experience”?