Wednesday, March 19, 2008


John and I often joke that the only reason we need to leave neighborhood is for Indian food. That everything else we could possibly need—from ball bearings to fancy cheese—can be procured within a one-mile radius of the house. Last night we did make the trek for Indian food, took a great bike ride about five miles north in the drizzle to Chicago’s fabled Little India. This is one of my favorite rides in the city—passing through the light-industrial district just north of us, on through the sleepy enclave of Old Irving Park, then to Albany Park (the most culturally diverse square mile in the Midwest), past the post-war bungalows toward the city’s outer perimeter, and finally onto Devon Street, where businesses catering to Orthodox Jews give way—just east of California Street—to a rich Indo-Pak commercial strip. As much as I enjoy this sojourn, and for as many family-run restaurants that dot the street, it pains me to say it: the food, at least last night, just wasn’t that good.

It certainly didn’t hold a candle to our brunch of this past Sunday, at a cafe just three minutes by bike, and the first place John and I ever ate as we contemplated buying our first house. We’d been on the fence about which neighborhood to choose: our finances restricted us to just a handful of communities, and we spent a good bit of time weighing the pros and cons. The entire list went out the window, though, the night we ate here:

I still remember what was on the plate: halibut with a blood-orange reduction and local purple potatoes. You had to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, and the people who worked there were neighborhood people: varied accents, jeans and t-shirts, our orders remembered instead of written down. The whole thing gave us an instantaneous feeling of home, and we made a pact that evening that we’d look no further: we’d found the area where we wanted to live. The painting we sat beneath that night now hangs in our living room.

The restaurant has changed a bit since then. Prices have gone up, they’ve expanded to include what was once an old cigar shop next door, and the chefs fell in love, got married, and recently gave birth to their first child. This American Life’s Ira Glass once called this his favorite neighborhood restaurant in Chicago, and he actually broadcast a show there to test whether tips improve when servers mistreat their customers. Afterward, the culinerati came in droves.

It'd take more than that to spoil this place for me, though. This Sunday I had fresh-caught organic trout from Wisconsin over a warm potato salad. For brunch! We were there with a good friend of the restaurant, so we got a honey and black-walnut scone, still steamy from the oven, compliments of the house.

1 comment:

leslie said...

You're killing me here! That's it—we need to get to Chicago this summer, no excuses. I'll even take disappointing Indian food if it's preceded by 5 northside miles by bike. And Cafe Lula, of course, is a given.