A Tale of Two Cities

While Chicago is a beautiful city, and we would have liked to explore its boundless historical, artistic, and culinary delights… we were on a mission. This mission would take us from the “Heart of the Midwest” to its sports mecca soul… South Bend Indiana. Why you ask? To see “The Fighting Irish” of Notre Dame, of course!

Ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper I rooted for Notre Dame. Perhaps it was after my parents purchased their first color tv and “The Fighting Irish” were broadcast nationally. Or, perhaps it was their uniforms, their history, or maybe, just maybe, it was that Notre Dame was a breeding ground for some of my all time favorite NFL players. Joe Montana, Dave Casper, Alan Page, Tim Brown, and Jerome Bettis (the bus) are just a few of the many “Hall of Famers” that have played on the legendary field at the University of Notre Dame.

Nancy and I rented a car which we picked up at the Midway Airport in Chicago to begin our pilgrimage to Indiana and the University of Notre Dame. We were on this mission to see one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football, Notre Dame vs. USC. Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of going to South Bend and watching Notre Dame play USC… and so this was a bucket list event that would transcend any sport spectacle I had witnessed in person up to this point in my life.

On our way to South Bend we discovered that Indiana (not the whole state) was in the Eastern Time Zone. Because we calculated for any unforeseen obstacles, and this was the reason for our trip, we were not going to succumb to any outside forces that would stand in our way of visiting the campus prior to the game and thereby realizing the full and total Notre Dame experience.

We had booked a room at the Double Tree in South Bend and were blessed to find out the Notre Dame football players were staying there too. So, prior to the game I saw some of my favorite Notre Dame players dressed in their classic blue blazer with a gold tie. In addition to seeing the players there was a pep rally (thought I was back in college) which was just more icing on a beautiful cake baked over the course of a lifetime and devoured moment by moment as game time approached.

On a side note… Don’t ever stay at the Double Tree in South Bend. Their collective brains couldn’t buy enough gas to power a fleas go cart around the inside of a Cheerio.

After a delayed check in (Nancy had to change in the parking garage) we were off to the game. Our shuttle dropped us off directly in front of the “Golden Dome”. The Golden Dome was added to the main building on campus in 1882. Atop the dome you’ll find a nineteen foot tall, 4,000 pound statue of Mary, the Mother of God, “Notre Dame”. Notre Dame football players wear gold helmets in deference to the Dome.

I felt like Nancy and I were traversing holly ground as we walked the campus of Notre Dame. Besides the Golden Dome there was one other historical landmark I wanted to see… “Touchdown Jesus” (132 feet high and 65 feet wide).

Once the ’64 football season started (the first year of head coach Ara Parseghians reign ) Heisman trophy candidate and eventual winner John Huarte was throwing touchdown passes to Jack Snow… and thus “Touchdown Jesus” was born. This amazing mural adorns the south side of the library building positioned for the cameras atop the west side press box in Notre Dame Stadium. The mural was beautiful with a pond in front which became the subject of many of our photographs en route to capturing this very special day.

Now it was time to walk to the stadium. I envisioned the prayer for the Notre Dame players prior to the game and then Knute Rockne Head Coach of Notre Dame 1918-1930 giving his now famous speech to cheer on his team to victory inside this beloved stadium. We entered the stadium through Gate D (the Lou Holtz Gate). Lou Holtz was the last Notre Dame coach to win a National Championship in 1988.

We meandered down to some wonderful seats (Thank You Brian) 20 rows from the field in perfect position to see the Jumbotron, the players, and of course the band. Prior to the game the Jumbotron showed the players kneeling in the locker room listening to the prayer and coaches speech. The intimacy of the stadium, the Notre Dame band blasting “The Fighting Irish” fight song, the energy from the players, coaches and fans, and the vivid memory of Rudy Ruettiger being carried off the field created for me an emotional tide that ebbed and flowed through-out this real life fairy-tale.

I was both humbled and elated to see such a tradition as this college football rivalry game between two storied programs as Notre Dame and USC. One funny thing happened during the game which I will never forget.

Right before halftime a fight broke out between the two teams. The head referee helped break up the fight and then gave the signal for un sportsman like conduct. He then said these now famous words,” Un sportsman like conduct, Notre Dame… UCLA. Too bad he epically whiffed on that one as he failed to mention the team Notre Dame was actually playing that day, USC. So, through-out the game we were cheering on UCLA, a classic win-win. Speaking of win-win the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” beat USC in a close game 30-27.

I will never forget that day, that game, that city, and the kind and wonderful Notre Dame fans that added historical facts and perspective to the events of that magical day.

Vacation in Chicago… Part Two

Chicago is a city that is easy to navigate. Because our hotel (The Godfrey) was situated in a central location we were able to traverse the city seamlessly to visit some of Chicago’s most storied landmarks.

Is it just me or does the Google navigation system (when you’re walking) take you on wild goose chases down alleys and streets circumventing your destination and adding miles to your walk? A simple 40 minute walk can translate into a 2 hour “walk-about” quite easily. Good for our exercise but not so good for that elusive ingredient called patience. Having said that Nancy and I were bound and determined to reach our destinations reminding ourselves that the only time set for the day was a dinner at Morton’s Steak House later that night.

I realized quite a long time ago that if patience was a country I’d be Vatican City (according to Google the smallest country in the world). However, overcoming a small obstacle has its own rewards; and so it was time to march on to one of the most beautiful parts of Chicago, the river. We were actually only looking for a “Chicago” magnet we could put on our refrigerator to acknowledge our trip to one of the greatest cities in the US.

I chose a destination taking us to the Chicago river and thus killing two birds with one stone. This would enable us to see the river again (we were in Chicago a year ago) and enjoy some of the most beautiful vistas of the river and skyline. We found our magnet on the other side of the river in a shop located four feet from where we were standing as Google told us to walk another 1.25 miles to find said magnet shop. Anyway the city scape beckoned us to explore and so we decided to take the river walk which wraps around the entire downtown area.

Restaurants, bars, and boats dotted the landscape as we meandered around the river walk. We most certainly enjoyed the interaction between tourists and guides that were on the shore and in boats passing us by as they navigated the river while pontificating on the subject of architecture and the history of the “Windy City”. So many interesting stories bolstered by facts about gangsters, Hollywood, and of course the political infrastructure that weaves a tale too weird to be believed and too factual to ignore.

After the river walk we were famished. And so there was really only one place to go for lunch, an iconic restaurant that has become an institution featuring the famous “Chicago Hot Dog”, Portillo’s.

Any outsider while entering Portillo’s restaurant would be just a little hesitant to stay because of the long lines to reach the Holy Grail of hot dogs. We soldiered through within a relatively short period of time because as I’ve said many times the restaurant business is about manufacturing and this restaurant exemplifies the perfection of efficiency.

A lady stands in a space between the two lines formed to await the delectable hot dog some 40 deep with customers. She then takes your order while writing in short hand on a bag to take to the cashier. The cashier then writes a number on the bag and hands that to one of the expediters, soon to be filled with your delicious order. You then wait in another line while a lady with very strong lungs yells out the order number. You retrieve the food and search for a table not encumbered by some of societies largest examples of meat eaters.

After the hot dog we headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for the “Morton’s” dining experience. Morton’s started in Chicago and is now recognized as one of the premier steak houses in America. There are many choices in Chicago for steak but we like to go to Mortons on Wacker Place because of the General Manager (Chicago Jeff) who happens to frequent the restaurant I work at in Vegas, Jean George.

We started the meal with a couple of complimentary glasses of Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine) with our salads (we were going full on classic steak house menu) a caesar and wedge salad. Our main course were filets served with a wine that I brought (Jeff generously waived the corkage fee) a 2015 Grenache from a small winery out of Los Olivos near Santa Barbara called Barbieri. Mr. Barbieri’s was once the wine director at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and holds the title of Master Sommelier with his expertise as a wine maker focused on the small batch production of Italian varietals.

The meal was fantastic, the wine even better, and of course we had to finish the meal with the classic Grand Marnier Souffle. When in Chicago make sure you go to Morton’s Steakhouse on Wacker Place and ask for the General Manager, Chicago Jeff.

Next week’s blog is the reason we came to Chicago in the first place… A Tale of Two Cities.

Vacation in Chicago… Part One

After arriving in Chicago at the Midway airport, Nancy and I were off to the Godfrey Hotel in downtown Chicago. This hotel is designed for the millennial’s with a profound focus on advanced security and wi-fi while missing the mark on comfort and elegant design.

The outside of the hotel looks like one side of a Rubik’s Cube all in grey without any complement to the buildings of charm through-out the city. However the lobby does offer a look at a wine cellar lined with bottles of pedestrian Prosecco Italian sparkling wine right next to the elevator.

Entering the elevator becomes an exercise in patience as each person must scan their room key to advance to the next floor. So, people are reaching over one another to scan while others seem to be satisfied with “whatever” happens, or “whatever” floor they may end up on.

The room itself had all fixtures tilted at an angle (lamps, towel bars, etc.) giving them a perspective of being broken but were actually designed that way. The room was small with only a king size bed, a desk and two end tables… the shower however was spot on and the bed was perfect. In all fairness the Godfrey Hotel location was great and made it easy to navigate the city.

The first day we arrived we went to this little restaurant a few blocks away from the hotel that was very enjoyable, Doc ‘B’s. Nancy had the Ahi Tuna Salad and I had an Ahi Tuna Sandwich. Both were great and gave us just the right amount of energy for our next adventure.

Seeing Jazz in Chicago is a must. We love the Winters Jazz Club located at 465 North McClurg Court in the heart of the downtown area. This is a Jazz listeners club for those that appreciate the solitude of just listening to exceptional Jazz music. We listened to the Chad McCullough Quartet playing a tribute to Art Blakey.

Art Blakey was a world class drummer. Born in 1919, Art Blakey was the man that created the famous Jazz group, “The Jazz Messengers”. Art Blakey recruited young (as yet to be discovered) notable artists for his group such has Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and Wynton Marsalis to name just a few. He is listed in the Jazz Hall of Fame.

The Chad McCullough Quartet (we were blessed to listen to) consisted of a piano player, bass, drums, and Chad McCullough on trumpet. Each note performed by Chad was a sound imbued with a deeper meaning, measured and deliberate, introspective, and gorgeously melancholic. Listening to the quartet brought back memories of some of the greatest Jazz groups I used to listen to live in the 70’s with my friend John Greene at the Keystone Corner in San Francisco.

Next up was a wonderful dinner at Ocean Prime near the river in Chicago. First course was a steak tar tar served with a glass of the Caymus Special Select Cabernet 2016. Lovely!

Next we had our main course while overlooking the beautiful Chicago river drinking Kistler Chardonnay 2018. Nancy’s entree was a Pan Seared Wild Caught Halibut with whipped garlic potatoes in a champagne truffle sauce while I had the Fresh Grouper served in a lemon beurre blanc with a lobster gnocchi garnish.

The server brought out a wonderful chocolate cake for dessert immersed in a smooth dark chocolate sauce accompanied with fresh raspberries…. Don’t miss Ocean Prime when you’re in Chicago for a great dinner and ask for Aaron, the general manager.

Day Two in Chicago Next Week!

This Blog is sponsored by PAZAZ™ “The Magic of Cooking” Kitchen Tools for the Discerning Chef. Please go to www.pazazshop.com and purchase these “AMAZING” Hand Crafted Kitchen Tools

The Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat

The Heavy Duty Aluminum Baking Sheet Pan

The Steel Mesh Cooling Rack

Or the Best… “THE BUNDLE”

Enjoy Our Season Of Blessings… PAZAZ™ Style!

Actually every season should be “Our Season Of Blessings” but the reality is that as the world gets smaller and our time gets shorter the “Holiday Season” is that very special time to reflect on all those that enhance our lives and of course those less fortunate.

This is the time of year (whether we like it or not) we are forced to think of the things that are truly important. This includes but is not limited to our relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and a time to help those in need. Our interactions may be a donation to a favorite charity, or a card sent to a distant relative, an unusually friendly greeting to a friend or co-worker, or that very special gift that is not necessarily a monetary present (although it could be)!

Our giving could include something we made for that person that shows them how special they are to us. This would include any craft custom aligned to their interests or perhaps a dinner prepared from scratch to give them a sense of caring while enriching their culinary landscape.

The preparation of a meal is in my wheelhouse… a craft… not so much. And so with that introduction I would like to give you a very special “PAZAZ™” Style recipe that will evoke a wonderful connection between the culinary creation and the people you love and care about.

A classic fall/winter recipe would be the butternut squash soup. Keep in mind that in my opinion some of the greatest recipes are the ones that are simple and use a minimal amount of ingredients. This type of cooking enlists the love you put into a dish while you have carefully chosen the best ingredients for that dish.

(Butternut Squash Soup) This recipe is for 4 people

Ingredients –

2 Medium Size Butter Nut Squash

1 Table Spoon of Olive Oil

1/2 Cup of Shallot

4 Cloves of Garlic

1 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

1 Teaspoon of Maple Syrup

4 Cups 3-4 Cups of Vegetable Broth

Black Pepper to Taste

Butter to Taste

Garnish with Roasted Pistachios and Italian Parsley

Purchase two organic Butternut Squash medium size

1. Slice down the middle and extract the seeds from the cavity

Then, place them on my PAZAZ™ Heavy Duty Aluminum Baking Sheet Pan

Place my PAZAZ™ Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat inside the Sheet Pan

Then place my PAZAZ™ Steel Mesh Cooling Rack on Top of the other two items (They work in concert)

2. Place Butternut Squash on top of these PAZAZ™ items while putting a small amount of olive oil and butter inside the cavity. Finish the cavity off with fine sea salt and pepper.

3. Then place the Squash inside the oven which you have pre-set for 425 degrees. Place in oven for 45 to 50 minutes then take out and let cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Add chopped shallot and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, and stir often.

4. Use high performance blender to incorporate the following ingredients into the mixture:

Maple syrup, shallot and garlic the add the butternut squash, nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper.

5. Pour in 3 cups of vegetable broth in small batches if you have a smaller blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Garnish with Roasted Pistachios and Italian Parsley

7.For this recipe I like to add a soft roll topped with melted Havarti Cheese or Guyer Cheese to add another dimension of flavor (on the side).

Serve Immediately or keep in refrigerator for up to 4 days.