Sunday, June 28, 2009

chicago: no. 1



We arrive in Chicago to blue skies and intense heat. The first thing I say getting off the plane is “This feels like home.” I grew up eight hours south of Chicago, and our summers were marked by long, hazy days. After several weeks of gray and rain and mist at home in Vermont, this feels divine.

Lunch is at Reza’s in River North, just a few blocks walk down Superior from our friend John’s apartment. It is in a huge space that looks like it could have once been a dancehall or a train station. The walls are painted a deep mauve, the trim is dark wood. Massive, gold-framed mirrors hang. Fantastic turn-of-the-last –century light fixtures with pressed metal details of fruits and vegetables suspend from the very high ceiling.

Reza’s has an all-you-can-eat middle eastern buffet for $9.99. I feel like it’s Christmas in July, even though it’s just June. Caleb orders the vegetable sampler, and I go for the buffet. I fill many plates with Greek salad, a Persian salad of tomatoes and cucumbers with herbs, hummus, falafel, tahini, and highly spiced meat dishes made with lamb or beef and a hot bean dish in a smooth tomato and pepper sauce with lots of cumin. We finish with Turkish coffee and cannelles soaked in syrup. We are in heaven, and I wonder if somewhere in my own lineage there is some beautiful Persian woman who could cook like a god as these flavors seem to suit my palate so well.

It is late in the afternoon, but we are not the only ones who need to come in from the heat for a bite and respite. A handful of families fill a few tables in the cavernous dining room, all of middle eastern descent. All the women wear head scarves, and a sign at the door encourages patrons t o make reservations for Ramadan now. Another couple who is not middle eastern sits by the window. The waiters are both middle eastern and not. I wonder if Reza’s caters to all middle eastern communities in Chicago. Is Yom Kippur celebrated as well as Ramadan? Are tensions here lessened because of the desire to share in these dishes that travel from one place across one amorphous border to another, where the ingredients and recipes are rather fluid between all these peoples? As the buffet closes, the waiters, dressed in their black pants and white shirts with black vests, sit down and eat at a long table together.

--Deirdre

2 comments:

Lady Christian of a Middle Vermont Township said...

Glad to hear you escaped the mild, misty climate of New England: for warm and bustling Chicago. Reza sounds simply delightful... I've come to depend on you to highlight the brightest part of any daunting travel, in the hospitality of the table. To gather with "striends" (strangers & friends) around a table filled with imbibng spirits and regional favorites. Have good travel karma, and jump the puddles to home.

Deirdre and Caleb said...

Thanks so much! It was great to get out of all this rain.....uuughhhh. I need some more good travel Karma as I'm off to new Orleans next week! More about that--