Telecommuniculturey

High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Unwitting A-Team, Gustatory Division: Atwood Cafe and TRU

One of the advantages of being a Lyric Opera subscriber, even one in the comparatively scabby seats, is early access to individual tickets. I usually try, with indifferent success, to coax friends, enemies, and passing acquaintances into accompanying me. This year, wire monkey mother fell for it twice over. We wanted 2 operas: One for her and the Lad to attend and one for a girls' weekend. Barber of Seville (in March) was the clear choice for the two of them. WMM and I were chatting about "our" opera, when I suddenly realized that my La Traviata date featured Reneé Fleming. "That one!" We shouted simultaneously, and lo! A plan was born. I am still not sure how I scored that ticket, though, as it was not just Fleming, but closing night of Fleming. Ironically, this part of the entry is Fleming free.

Our evening was book-ended with food. We began with dinner at the luscious Atwood Cafe (It's tragic that there's only one dinky picture of the dining room, which is sweet, sweet deco [WMM was trying to figure out how to fit a wall sconce in her evening bag]). We were forced to resist the extremely tempting Chef's menu, as we had . . . other dessert plans.

But no matter, we had two lovely courses each. I started with the tuna and salmon tartare, which was beautifully subtle, with jicama and fried wontons for texture, with just a hint of wasabi vinagrette. WMM, of course, had the trayf-wrapped trayf (pancetta-wrapped prawns, and positively outstanding they were). M had cheese tortellini in chicken broth. For our entrees, I went with the scallops with garlicy greens and parsnip flan. Very nicely done, although the reduction in which they were served was a little sweet for my tastes. WMM had the crispy mace-roasted duck breast in duck confit, which was fantastic, even if it was rather incidental to what she was really ordering, which was the wild mushroom risotto. ZK went for the porkchop, which I didn't try. However, I think I heard Gil baying in distress all the way from our house because he wasn't getting any, so I take that as a good.

But let's skip to the end of the evening for just a moment, shall we? When contemplating dessert, naturally our thoughts turned to the Peninsula's chocolate buffet. We were, however, denied most cruelly, because they begin breaking down the buffet at 11 PM, despite the fact that their very own website proclaims that it lasts until midnight on Saturdays. Bitches.

We were mulling over our choices when WMM said, "We could try dessert at TRU . . ." Now, I've never eaten at TRU. I'm reasonably certain that I would not be allowed to eat at TRU. I am now morally certain that I will never be able to eat at TRU again. But they had WMM at "latté martini," so what can you do? So, I called, stumbling over my words from the get go, as I said I'd like to make a reservation for dessert in the bar area. The reservations person was perfectly helpful and friendly, but asked "Main dining room or lounge?" "Lounge! Bar! Thingy!" responded I, "Dessert!"

When WMM and I arrived, having shamelessly waded out on to the street to divert a cab from the queue, the staff in the hushed, heavily curtained entryway swept into smooth, low-voiced action as they took our coats and informed us that "our guest [was] already waiting." (Sad note: I gave them my Pompous Program and I LEFT IT THERE!) We slipped into seats at the table with M and soon had two latté martinis in hand plus coffee complete with a wee, individual service (complete with sugar tongs, although M overlooked these the first time).

Contemplation of the dessert menu was brief, as we saw the magical words, "Three-course tour." We rapidly agreed that this was the only way to go considering the already-high-and-increasing-by-the-moment likelihood that they were never, ever going to let us eat there again. Our tour began with an amuse bouche. As they set down the lovely white shield-shaped bowls, WMM suddenly blurted, "Pop Rocks!" I was confused and a little alarmed at this sudden development of Tourette Syndrome, but she is the sister of my heart. And so, rather than retorting, "Big League Chew! Bitch, what is your DEAL?" I gave internal thanks that it was manifesting in 80s candy rather than going to the well of her profane vocabulary (which, I happen to know, is spectacularly colorful and inventive). Meanwhile, M began eyeing up the centerpiece with some alarm, asking, "Is it coming from there?"

I smiled in what I vainly hoped was an engaging way at the staff who were patiently waiting for my companions' neuroses to subside so that they could explain the dish. It turned out to be a devonshire cream panna cotta topped with champagne gelée and resting in a pomegranate soup with pomegranate seeds and—wait for it—Pop Rocks. We went to TRU, and they gave us Pop Rocks. You know that scene in Pretty Woman when Hector Elizando, shows us the true meaning of being a concierge in a snooty hotel by running interference for Julia Roberts at the fancy schmancy dinner? Hector Elizando has exactly squat on the staff at TRU, who took one look at us, and said, "Those three must be made comfortable! BRING THEM POP ROCKS!"

We, of course (or at least M and I) are uncouth enough not to know when we should be feeling out of place, so this lead to a raucous discussion on how, exactly, a place like TRU goes about obtaining their Pop Rocks. Do they have a Pop Rocks buyer? Does s/he also procure Lik-M-Aid and the bubble gum cigarettes that are dusted with a white powder so one can blow through them and simulate smoking, just like mom and dad? Do they send some of the scabbier and/or more junior staff to the 24-hour Walgreen's on Michigan Avenue? In addition to procedural questions, we were naturally curious to see what the real courses would bring. Would everything be deep fried or merely be served on a stick?

For both the first and second courses, we each received something different. For the first course, I had roasted pineapple, fresh pineapple, and a shell of coconut sorbet with candied cashews. M looked at mine and declared, "You lose." This left me perplexed, even more so when he said, "You hate pineapple." WMM's brow, too, furrowed, as she repeated,"You hate . . . pineapple?" I do not, in fact, hate pineapple. I quite like it. My beloved spouse, was thinking of my distaste for fake, shredded coconut, which is so great that I often avoid coconut-based desserts altogether. At a place like TRU, I'm not really worried about them sticking me with fake coconut. (Although after the Pop Rocks, perhaps I should be worried about them harvesting it from Zagnut bars or something.)

With that clarification, I will say that I did lose for that course. M had fantastically moist and subtle lemon chiffon cake topped with pot de creme plus a side of lemon curd ice cream over a citrus salad, and WMM had a positively beautiful apple confit on a spiced cider caramel. Mine was good, theirs were great. For the second course, WMM won the chocolate orange lottery. If smoked chocolate does not sound good to you, you are wrong. If smoked chocolate in STOUT does not sound good to you, you are dead to me. M got a magnificent flourless chocolate cake topped with hazelnuts and hazelnut ice cream, served with a side "espresso fluff" topped with vanilla foam.

You might be thinking that I lost again, hearing of all this . You would be so very tragically WRONG, bitches. Because I got the cocoa nib macaroon with bitter chocolate ice cream, and the SOUR CREAM CHOCOLATE GANACHE OF THE GODS. The macaroon was more like the world's most perfect mirengue, and that ganache could be deployed to control scores, hordes, oodles of people. It was positively heavenly. While we were all curling one arm defensively about our plates and shoveling in this course (after having feigned graciousness while sharing), they brought our third course: the root beer float with saigon cinnamon ice cream. The root beer is made from Gale Gand's own recipe, and the ice cream, although being of my least favorite flavor ever (seriously, I'd probably give cadaver-flavored stuff the old college try before I'd try cinnamon), was in a wee enough dollop that it formed a delicious complement to the spicy beverage. Awesome, and served in the cutest wee fountain glasses ever.

After obtaining our coats (BUT NOT MY PROGRAM! WAAAAHHH!!!), we poured WMM into her waiting chariot, and M and I made up for the lack of much-needed Thanksgiving pants with a brisk walk back to our car.

Next up, the chewy, cleavage-y opera center.

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