Tahlequah Daily Press

July 6, 2010

Part I: Trip to Chicago

Press Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — Our 2010 trip to Chicago came with something akin to weaning oneself from alcohol or any other addictive substance.

In the first place, I turned 50 a few months ago, an inevitability that has been accompanied by its own set of issues, hang-ups, and various sundry mental and emotional complications. Even when one swims as often as I do (and have the yield-shaped torso to prove it), half a century on the planet does strange things to one’s mind and body. To put it bluntly, it can kick your butt.

This is not a mid-age crisis, mind you. This hits at around 40; 50, on the other hand, means the arrival of your AARP card. This is “old” age crisis. (This is something a 50-year-old cannot discuss with his or her parents without causing offense; after all, for the most part, these folks are in their 70s!)

What better way to cheer up a half-centurion than a decent vacation, especially when someone else’s dime is involved?

Normally when we go to Chicago, we take the train there and fly back. This year, we did things in reverse, and flew out on Southwest. Believe it or not, we didn’t even have to change planes between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We did stop in Kansas City to pick up more cattle; I barely remember this, as I had consumed a Valium to endure the flight without agoraphobically sucking the seat up into my butt.

We arrived early enough Saturday that our room at the Hotel Palomar wasn’t quite ready yet. Which brings up the second point of apprehension. We normally stay at the fabulous Hotel Monaco, another Kimpton property just across the Chicago River. But my friend Nabil, the manager, moved to the newly opened Palomar, so we moved with him. It’s a fabulous property, with an elegant, distinctly modern design.

We spent a little time in the Sable Kitchen and Bar, which is already getting a reputation as a hub of cocktail mixology. The bar carries more than five types of “bitters” (requisite for a real cocktail, I guess), many of them “homemade.” The bartender that day, Dejorn, really knew her stuff. Although I normally dislike gin, she coaxed me into trying both the War of the Roses (Tanqueray 10, Pimm’s, St-Germain, mint and grapefruit bitters), and the Aviation (gin, luxardo maraschino, fresh lemon and creme de violette), and both were outstanding. Check the unusual lineup yourself at www.sablechicago.com. A PDF can be downloaded.

Since we hadn’t had lunch, we also enjoyed what Chef Heather Terhune calls “social plates.” Sable insists on the freshest ingredients, straight from the front of the farmhouse. I worked at my computer while consuming a delicious chicken Cobb salad, with a presentation that, if it could play an instrument, could almost qualify as gorgeous. My husband and son had flatbreads, featuring a pleasingly salty prosciutto.

After we finished up there, we went out to the Ravinia Festival, where we had tickets to see “A Prairie Home Companion.” My husband and son never seen to tire of Garrison Keillor – not just his humor, but the folksy musicians he always takes to the stage with him. We had great seats, and a bird’s-eye view of the ubiquitous red sneakers.

Before the show, Keillor and guest Andra Suchy walked through the audience, singing oddly disturbing and sad love songs (or more accurate, songs for the love-lorn). Once on air, though, the humor picked up, as usual, even when John Prine picked out his sad-funny originals on the acoustic.

The Ravinia Festival is a must-see for any summer Chicago traveler. It lasts all summer long, with shows just about every night. We’ve also heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform there, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Many families bring picnic blankets or tables, even setting out wine glasses and other tableware and doing the whole affair in grand fashion. The lush green grass is perfect for lounging about, much like a well-kept football field in high season. Speakers strategically placed throughout the park ensure that no matter where you settle in, you won’t miss any of the action. All it takes is about a 40-minute train trip on the Metra (and that’s only $5 on weekends, for all the trips you care to embark upon).

After Ravinia, we were ravenous, and as per tradition, we took the Blue Line down to Greektown, where we enjoyed gyros and other delectables at Greek Isle. Another favorite, Costa’s, had burned down, but we’d been to Greek Isle before, and the food is equally tasty. A crusty sesame-seed topped bread whetted the appetite before the main event, the gyros (and in my son’s case, a lamb shank appropriately braised in yogurt). We didn’t even have room for dessert, and the portions were so huge, we had to ask for to-go boxes. (And yes, the son polished the leavings off in short order Sunday morning.)

Later today, I’ll try to post Sunday’s agenda.... check back later!