Gail Levin’s magnificent Lee Kranser biography was hard to give up and now I know why. Three disappointing reads in a row? John Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent” was engaging but cartoon-y, a precursor to all things Updike. Adam Gopnik’s “Winter” essays are — I can’t believe I’m going to use this word for one of my all-time favorite writers — pedantic. Then I picked up Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending,” which I liked while I was reading, but left me feeling short changed. Its main character Tony is married, a father, divorced…in a single page. I knew too little about the characters, so its ending shock failed to move me.
Speaking of shock, and awe, two New Yorker magazine pieces kept me in words:
If I can’t recommend books, my next love is food. New in Chicago is Yusho, a yakitori-style restaurant in Logan Square (2853 N. Kedzie Ave.) Owner Matthias Merges stopped by our table to lend advice. We needed it: gobo root? quail eggs? beef tongue? Hold on. Cocktails first at this place. Tonic is house made, so their g&t is like nothing I’ve ever tasted. I was still thinking about it the next day, and I don’t even like gin, or tonic. Beyond cocktails, this was Merges’ advice: stick to foods you know. We ordered twice fried chicken, grilled leeks and steam buns filled with short ribs. The steam buns were so tasty my friend ordered another. Hip, exotic, delicious, spot-on service. We’ll be back.
Another new place I’d like to revisit is Bar Toma, chef Tony Mantuano’s casual Italian just off Michigan Avenue (110 E. Pearson St.). Mantuano is justly celebrated for his Spiaggia and Spiaggia Cafe restaurants (980 N. Michigan Ave.) Both are excellent choices for fine dining in Chicago. Bar Toma is Mantuano’s riff on a streetside pizzeria. (We tried the “power” pizza: thin crust, piled with spinach. Mmmm.) There’s also a gelato bar, a coffee bar and a bar bar. It’s loud and lively even at lunch time. Go before it’s overrun by tourists.
Finally: has television ever been more fun? A one-hour Valentine’s Day “30 Rock,” which I’ll have to watch again and again and again. A two-hour “Downton Abbey.” (The clothes! The house! The twists and turns and very bad behavior!) And my new favorite: “Fashion Police,” on E! Stars, clothes, and Joan Rivers’ funny, foul mouth.
Happy Valentine’s Day.