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Belleville

WHAT: Belleville
WHEN: June 27 – August 25, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted St.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $20-78

OUR RATING: Do It!

(steppenwolf.org)

(steppenwolf.org)

Amy Herzog’s intriguing work about two Americans living fitfully in the French capital, albeit in a peripheral neighbourhood, uncovers for us one of the deepest fears we can have about anyone – what is a person’s true nature? While producing a facade of slightly Bohemian homeliness, Herzog illustrates that just under the surface writhes a secret world, waiting to be exposed.

Adam: Relationships are ongoing affairs – each one meanders in such a way as to make it totally indiscernible to the the outside world. Couples present visions of themselves, and to each other, and Herzog’s keen writing and knack for accentuating a fractious situation sheds light on the darker side of the individual – the part of us that is not truly known.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Zack (Cliff Chamberlain) and Abby (Kate Arrington, Steppenwolf ensemble member) live in a limbo world in which neither of them belong: an all-American home thrust into a foreign city and, to make matters more confusing, they reside in a district populated by the scions of the Francophone empire. Perhaps it is this obviously different backdrop that allows Amy Herzog’s characters to love and fight so passionately, but there is also a sickness flowering between them, fueled by a need to escape, an escape from their very contained reality.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

This relationship is instantly illuminated as tainted by neuroses: both parties have much to answer for, and the unknowing juvenal nature of their behavior can take an audience from laughter, to repulsion, and finally, to shock.

Alicia: After reading the script for Belleville I was excited to see such a riveting play performed by a quartet of some of Chicago’s finest (and sexiest) actors. Amy Herzog’s script might have a few flaws, but she is a very talented writer, and what seems most important are the levels of suspense she creates. You’re not suspended in one feeling, but taken on a journey, so that once you reach the climax of the production, you’re on the edge of your seat just waiting for a fall, but what kind of fall that is, and from how high, is a mystery.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

My first impression of Steppenwolf’s production, however, was not quite so high, as I was immediately put off by James Schuette’s set design. Two young expats with two kids manage an apartment complex in the North of Paris, and two Americans with low-paying jobs are coming to live there. But the set is relatively extravagant, and seems not-quite-so affordable for these characters.

Nonetheless, the show as a whole was a definite thriller, and even though I already knew the suspenseful ending, the production and Anne Kauffman’s direction brought a whole new life to a complex and intelligent script.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Final Thoughts: Be wary of who you go to see Belleville with. We’ve heard of couples having huge fights after the play, each identifying with different characters and viewpoints. But, if you can take that emotion home with you, then a piece of art has done its job.

P.S.: Despite our love for most Steppenwolf productions, we must admit we were furious with our seats. Steppenwolf should be ashamed to seat patrons in their box seats if there are sightline issues. We could not see the entirety of stage right. Luckily, most of the thrilling action occurs stage left, so we felt more sorry for the folks seating in the house right boxes. Nonetheless, disgustingly disappointing.

Fish Bar

fishbarchicago.com

fishbarchicago.com

WHAT: Fish Bar
WHERE: 2956 N. Sheffield Ave.

OUR RATING: Chance It!

David Morton and Michael Kornick, heads of the DMK Restaurant Group (including Ada Street, MK, DMK Burger Bar and the soon-to-open County Barbecue), bring Chicagoans Fish Bar, a casual seafood joint serving sustainable (buzzword) seafood goods along with cocktails in mason jars.

fishbarchicago.com

fishbarchicago.com

With the feel of a seaside fish joint that you’d perhaps find on the south-east coast, Lakeview’s Fish Bar is brimming with briny character that seems at once authentic and tongue-in-cheek. We recommend you try and snap up some of the outdoor seating, as its beautiful in the summer to eat fish en terraza, even if the nearby hospital sometimes makes this a noisy experience.

Adam: When I’m reviewing places, I try to shy away from the specials for two reasons: 1. they might not be available when you go there, and therefore you are left in a bemused state as to what to order, and 2. specials are secretly a way for chefs to get rid of surplus ingredients that don’t necessarily fit the bill. That being said, I was drawn to try Fish Bar’s special the day I went, reeling in a tasty lake trout for good measure.

But, for starters, starters. Our waitress was kind enough to provide us with a complimentary dish of crispy lemon, onion and jalapeno that has to be one of the oddest vegetable medleys to have passed my lips. Very interesting (the most adventurous part being the lemons), I would highly recommend it for the flavor, but be warned that it won’t fill you up.

My lake trout was nicely put together and steamed to a seething flakiness that made it clear that Fish Bar was truly a fish restaurant. Accompanied by greens and a delicious acidic sauce, I was truly sated after this, and would venture to say that it was a medium, rather than small plate.

Alicia: While Po’Boys and Maine Lobster rolls seem to be the most popular menu items, I instead tried Fish Bar’s seafood gumbo paired with their Octopus a la Plancha. The gumbo was slightly thick with the perfect level of spice with a healthy dose of blue crab and andouille sausage. I could have done with a bit more crab, but all in all this was a very filling and delicious start to my meal.

And now for the main event, the Octopus A La Plancha with grilled octopus, preserved lemon, fried caper, chili flakes and parsley. To be perfectly frank, the star of this dish, the octopus, wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. It wasn’t too chewy, but it was just a little dry and uneventful, and while the dressing for the dish proved light and with a nice bite, the seafood itself was just one-noted. And really, fried capers just don’t do capers justice, so I could have done without all of that extra oil and frying. Ultimately, however, I was pleased enough with the dish, and while I wouldn’t order it again, I’m glad to have given it a try.

Final Thoughts: Be warned that while Fish Bar advertises as a fully fledged restaurant, it is really a small plates affair, as the server will tell you when sitting down. We do take issue with this – such information should be made apparent to customers before dining and we consider it rather cheeky to only let your diners know of something of such import upon sitting. Let’s be clear – if you’re small plates, you’re small plates. Ultimately, the plates were relatively medium-sized, so all in all perhaps a bit overpriced. While reservations are for parties of three or four only and most media says that the place is packed out, we managed to comfortably sit five at an outside table with ease. Overall, definitely a yummy and unique take on seafood…for Chicago.

Maxwell Street Depot

WHAT: Maxwell Street Depot
WHERE: 411 W. 31st St.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Maxwell Street Depot, or just Depot for short, has been doing a brisk business for many years, trading in burgers, hot dogs and fries that are fantastically traditional and yet as low priced as you can get. Located in the South Side Bridgeport neighborhood, Depot is a regular joint for UChicago students with a car and the closer IIT, doling out heaped portions of onions atop steaming meat patties that will fill the hungriest of late night, last minute crammers.

Adam: Depot has to be considered a Chicago staple: if you’re visiting and have a car it’s a must-do (as long as you don’t mind eating in your car – there are no seats). After pulling into its parking lot and trundling up to the long service window facing the street, you have a choice of the essentials: burgers, hot dogs, polishes and fries. Onions are absolutely requisite on all dishes – beautifully soft and with a slight bite, I’ve never had onions akin to this elsewhere, so the trip is worth it just to sample this deliciously intoxicating sensory experience.

What is little know is that Depot is a part of Maxwell Street Polish, of the Pilsen neighborhood, and yet I’ve never ordered a Polish here ever. I automatically gravitate towards the double cheeseburger, for a measly $4.50. For that paltry price you get your burger with a ½ pound of meat, cheese, a pile of onions, mustard, and a sizable bag of fries. And this isn’t fast food style rubbish: you’re getting a piece of Chicago history.

Alicia: $2.25. ¼ Hamburger with grilled onions and a bag of delicious freshly fried fries with a soft center and a crunchy outside. This is the best and cheapest burger deal in Chicago, and it never fails, and I will forever be thankful to my Bridgeport native college buddy for introducing this place to me. Interestingly, apparently the original Maxwell Street Depot (once actually located on Maxwell Street) was dismantled and moved piece by piece to preserve the original structure two miles away. They mean business.

The burger is juicy, the bun soft and a perfect ratio to the thick patty of meat, and the mustard and sweet grilled onions cut through it all with an amazing bite. The key is just to order the works (sans cheese for me), but this won’t come with ketchup. Don’t even mention ketchup, or the cooks will get testy. If you want the ketchup, there’s plenty of bottles outside the window, along with containers of salt, and let’s just say I get REAL messy with the both of them for both my burger and fries. It’s my sinful, salty, oily indulgence, and it’s the only way to go.

Final Thoughts: Remember: fries come with everything for no extra cost, so no need to order additional packets unless you’re starving. So strap in, sit back, motor on and try some of the best authentic Chicago cuisine imaginable.

The Internationalist

WHAT: The Internationalist
WHEN: May 28 – June 16, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Steppenwolf Garage Theatre (1624 N. Halsted)
RUNTIME: 85 minutes, no intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company/Northwestern University
PRICE: $20

OUR RATING: Skip it!

The Internationalist, written by Anne Washburn, is one of the three productions that make up Steppenwolf’s Next Up Repertory presented in collaboration with Northwestern University’s MFA programs in Direction and Design. Featuring the work of graduates of those programs, the productions are coupled with casts of professional Chicago actors. Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig and Adam Bock’s The Drunken City complete the repertory, all set up in The Garage Theatre.

Set in an undisclosed Eastern European country, The Internationalist tells the story of American businessman Lowell on a business trip abroad, where he must cope with a foreign culture and language he can’t begin to understand, all the while caught up in an overwhelming office romance and an overall disconcerting office culture undergoing constant chaos.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Alicia: This show had a difficult start, and it was clear from the beginning that Northwestern MFA student and director Erin Murray couldn’t quite make sense of what is ultimately an intriguing, but very rough and flawed script. And neither could I for that matter, and while the center of the story had a few ups in its execution, the shaky beginning and end of the production found me confused and frustrated, and all I wanted to do after the show was over was forget I ever saw it. Which was not really a problem, as in the end there was nothing really memorable at all.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Perhaps the only consistently redeeming aspect of the production was Scenic Designer Stephanie Cluggish’s set, who pulled off some amazing effects and beautiful scenes and who really made this place (whatever it was) her own. And while most of Sound Designer Kevin O’Donnell’s soundscape was intriguing (with a consistent underscore of a manipulated “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood), there were some really awful choices made in some scenes where the music would suddenly change to un-subtly reflect the change in topic and mood, which instead of enhancing the transition, called it out in an extremely uncomfortable manner.

And don’t get me started on the transitions in this show. Oh, so very painful.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Adam: There is something seriously unintelligible about The Internationalist, and its not just the gibberish language created to reflect some unknown Eastern European tongue (it doesn’t sound Eastern European at all). One has to imagine that we are being plunged into the depth of jet-lag while trying to make sense of our new surroundings, but who really wants to see a play where you feel the awful oppression of a nine hour difference in a mere 90 minutes. There is a sense of mystery here, but the subplots seem unfortunately under-realized, while placing this work in any particular genre seems almost impossible.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

We have glimmers of an intriguing story: a businessman on the same plane as a suspected jewel thief,  the dizzying array of noir characters (some potential assassins, others criminals and some just completely narcissistic) lead one to believe we are about to see something unique and special. But the jewel heist is unexplored, the assassins brushed under the rug and the potential criminal activities never completely explained, meaning I felt extremely lost in translation in an unfulfilling, dragging way.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Perhaps the star of the show was John Gray (James, Waiter and (potentially) Partisan Bartender), whose ability to flawlessly move between a variety of characters (self-conscious, confident, brazed and psychopathic) makes him a pleasure to watch. So make sure you look out for him in upcoming productions around Chicago: he has star talent.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Final thoughts: Overall, The Internationalist is a murky play, with little content and more cryptology surrounding it than the old KGB building. But, just like you wouldn’t want to hang out in Lubyanka Square, so too is this production one to be avoided.

DAVIDsTEA

WHAT: DAVIDsTEA
WHERE: 924 W. Armitage Ave., 1645 N. Damen Ave., & 3530 N. Southport Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Tea is taking off, and has been for some time. The city itself is quite replete with teahouses, from the swanky Russian Tea Time to the more relaxed Argo. DAVIDsTEA emerges into an already well-populated market with three locations in Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Bucktown. With its Canadian credentials, bright wooden interior and literally hundreds of teas, DAVIDsTEA clearly wins all the style points. Add the alcoholic tea cocktail we tried and you’re in for an even bigger treat.

Adam:

(davidstea.com)

(davidstea.com)

I’m always a little suspicious of those chains that start small and explode rapidly to encompass whole continents. Starbucks and Teavana are the quintessential examples (the latter now owned by Starbucks). I have nothing against large chains, I just always suspect that their craft has not been honed to its fullest potential yet. The best empires are built slowly, preferably once the home-stores are self-sufficient and producing a major surplus. The goal should never be to expand, but to consolidate and take advantage of profits to enter undervalued markets. Anyway, enough of my business strategy prattle, because DAVIDsTEA allays some of my initial worry.

(davidstea.com)

(davidstea.com)

When you enter a DAVIDsTEA you’ll immediately notice the difference. A combination between the clean lines of modernism and the classic healthfulness of a Scandinavian spa, this company taps right into a branding message that just speaks volumes to the new generation of minimalist, health-conscious urbanites. With just over 150 different teas, and boasting the largest organic tea selection in North America, it can be confusing as to which tea to try. If you feel befuddled, just ask, as the lovely staff will be happy to make suggestions and guide you through the tea choosing process.

Whether you choose to imbibe in-store or take a few packets of leaves home, DAVIDsTEA has an astonishing variety (think traditionals like Assam, rarities like butterfly jasmine green and downright fun ones such as mint julep). I’ll let Alicia clue you in on the more alcoholic options, but as you can see DAVIDsTEA brings something awesome-new to the equation.

Alicia: On our latest visit to DAVIDsTEA we were introduced to the ambitious concept of a tea cocktail. DAVIDsTEA hosted a lovely cocktail reception with specialty cocktails infused with their summer collection teas, created by Tyler Fry of Chicago’s infamous Violet Hour. We were a little too late to sample the “One-Two Punch” with an all-fruit blend of mango, pineapple, and tangerine flavors (DAVIDsTEA’s Mango Fruit Punch blend) combined with tequila, but we were able to sample their “Migratory Coconut,” the low calorie answer to the Pina Colada with Appleton White Rum infused for two hours with DAVIDsTEA’s Coconut Grove blend and a bit of fresh pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. Such a perfect spring drink!

The Migratory Coconut Cocktail

The Migratory Coconut Cocktail

But if you aren’t lucky enough to stop by a shop during one of these special events, not to fret! Tea Cocktails are super easy to craft at home and with DAVIDsTEA’s remarkable array of tea flavors, I can’t really think of a cocktail you can’t mimic with tea, and I’m sure brand new cocktail concoctions are relatively limitless. After purchasing your tea and spirit of choice, all you need to do is combine your 750ml bottle of spirit with either 5 Tbsp of herbal or white tea for 2 hours, agitating periodically. If the aforementioned Mint Julep black tea is more your style, go for 4 Tbsp for 1.5 hours. After the proper amount of time, simply strain the infusion and decant in the original bottle. And if you’re on a budget but want to make things even fancier, simply add a sprig of fresh herbs, such as mint, and you’ve got a rockin’ tea cocktail.

(davidstea.com)

(davidstea.com)

Final Thoughts: Stylish with an extensive collection, DAVIDsTEA provides a unique experience that feels exclusive and yet welcoming to all in the neighborhood. Tea is the most communal drink in the world, and we think DAVIDsTEA is one of the best places to enjoy it.

Volo

WHAT: Volo
WHERE: 2008 W. Roscoe St.

OUR RATING: Do It!

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

This wine bar in Roscoe Village has a casual elegance that makes it the perfect place to enjoy a glass or two, indulge in small plates (which aren’t really that small) and relax in the cool embrace of your own personal cabana, complete with wispy gauze curtains and dazzling strings of lights that trail into your peripheral vision. With an extensive wine list and eclectic food menu, Volo is set to become the staple for date-nights throughout the city.

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

Adam: When first laying eyes on Volo, you might not think much. The front is like all the other wine bars you’ve ever seen, with a small selection of seating on the pavement. Inside, a secluded and dark atmosphere exudes, but it is the back patio that really makes this place special. Your feet patter across the red-brick floor to your desired seat, whether it be a black-iron table, or one of the specially upholstered cabanas. Lanterns dangle from the ceiling, casting a warm glow, while vines creep up the walls.

(Bubbly and White Wine Flights)

(Bubbly and White Wine Flights)

Volo is, first and foremost, a wine bar, and it would have been criminal not to have tried some of their almost endless varieties on offer. For a diverse and leisurely experience, try out one of their wine flights. I chose the Oregon Whites Flight, partly because the options seemed interesting, and also because Oregon is an up-and-coming wine region, worthy of our appreciation and scrutiny. I started off with the 2010 Brooks Riesling from Willamette Valley, OR. Technically, of course, Riesling should derive from the Rhinelands, but the Oregon type still maintained some of the original character, if not also being rather tart for a Riesling. Next, I sampled the 2012 Anne Amie Müller-Thurgau of Yamhill-Carlton, OR. A relative recent variety of white grape, it was bred for the first time in 1882 by Hermann Müller of Thurgau, Switzerland. Again, we have the German connection, although this wine shines brighter than the Riesling, with peach, melon and minerals creating a crisp, strong wine. Finally, I sipped away at the 2011 Four Graces Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, OR. A Burgundian formulation originally, the pinot gris has a fragrant, slightly sweet incarnation here, along with a honeyed finish that is divine as the Graces themselves. Highly recommended alone, or in the trio.

Veal Bone Marrow

Veal Bone Marrow

As for food, the selection is sumptuous. Small plates are not small, and will easily feed two people. Choosing one of their signature dishes, the marrow bones and toast, of roast veal bones served with medium flake sea salt and thyme dashed toasts, I was presented with a mountainous plate of at least 6 bones, each of which had beautifully succulent marrow within. Like a hunter-gather of yore, I relished in the juicy softness of the marrow, so dutifully spread upon the toasts and seasoned with just a hint of salt. One of the best plates I’ve tasted in a long time.

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

Alicia: Volo’s back patio is the perfect date-night spot, or even a girl’s night out, where one can sit back and relax with good wine and food and talk the night away while bathed in the ambience of a magical secret garden. To fit with the elegance of my surroundings I chose Volo’s bubbly flight. I started with the NV Adami, Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco from Veneto Italy. With scents of apple and peach and with notes of white flower, this Prosecco had a strangely crisp and savory mouthfeel that while initially refreshing, left a somewhat muddled afternote. I continued the flight with the NV Camille Braun, Cremant d’Alsace, France, which was extremely fruity and crisp, and yet delicate all the same. Unsurprisingly, my favorite of the night was the NV Terres Dorees, FRV 100, from Beaujolais, France. This bubbly had a lovely rosy color and was complete with red berry melange, orange oil, a touch of soil and a zesty mousse.

Trio of Cheeses

Trio of Cheeses

To complement my flight I ordered a trio of their artisanal farmhouse cheeses, which lovingly came with a large basket of toasts for $12. I added on a plate of their sweet honey, candied nuts and date jam for $5 and was not disappointed, with portions of everything being quite generous, and really–with how rich every component is–a little goes a long way.

Cheese Plate Accoutrements

Cheese Plate Accoutrements

I started my cheese plate by playing it safe with a montchevre garlic and herb from wisconsin, a lovely goat’s milk cheese from Wisconsin that was mild and creamy with delicious roasted garlic, rosemary & thyme, perhaps my favorite of the night. I had my hopes up for their lamb chopper from California, a mild sheep’s milk cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre that was buttery in color and flavor with a long finish, but ultimately it was pretty run of the mill. The most unique cheese was the epoisses de Bourgogne, France, a pungent, unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese washed with brandy. The brandy was subtle and yet added an amazing bite that cut the pungent quality of the cheese quite nicely.

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

Final Thoughts: This is one of Chicago’s places to be, but if you plan on going you should plan on the long haul: meals here are very European and you might find yourself there for a lengthy period of time. Because of the longer meals and the popularity of the outdoor seating, we suggest you reserve in advance and eat a little earlier to beat the dinner crowd. And hey, they have happy hour oysters and pork belly skewers every weekday night from 5-7 anyways, so this is the perfect early-evening extravaganza to delight all of your senses.

Lascivious Something

Picture 35WHAT: Lascivious Something
WHEN: May 4 – June 8 (schedule)
WHERE: Signal Ensemble Theatre (1802 W. Berenice Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 50 min w/ a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Signal Ensemble Theatre
PRICE: $15-20

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Sexually charged, mysterious and somewhat reclusive, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s Lascivious Something meanders through the treacherous relationships that ensue when one doesn’t fully leave behind the past (or that past comes after you). Set on a remote Greek island, an American expatriate has settled with his local wife and is enjoying the ancient Greek tradition of winemaking, although it is clear that this industry has become lost over the millennia. Then, as if a thunderbolt came crashing through the clouds, a familiar stranger from his past wreaks havoc upon the couple, presenting a situation that has no easy answers or quick getaways.

Sheila Callaghan’s script can be choppy at times, but that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with this production – it just depends on your tastes.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Adam: On a meticulously detailed stage that seems to be inspired in its positioning by the skene and orchestra of the ancient variety, four characters collide in the disturbing and sometimes reflective Lascivious Something. Vinification is the word of the moment, and the obsession with producing the perfect bottle central to August (Joe McCauley), as he becomes lost in the process of creating a legend in a bottle. But, as we see his past unfold before us, through anecdotes related to his wife, Daphne (Simone Roos) and the unexpected arrival of a long-lost friend (Georgann Charuhas), we start to wonder whether he is trying to bottle himself, almost, and the potential legend he could have been, were his choices just slightly different.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Time is a key element here, with alternate possibilities played out in sequence. Although this is sometimes confusing and becomes almost routine by the end, the use of time as a way of exploring unspoken or unrealised actions gives the work an interesting and unique angle. The playwright seems to be acknowledging the endless universes in which we could be living, or is she just hinting at the ponderings and fantasies  we all have, thus explaining the more extreme outcomes.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

But, above all, this is a play about gender, politics and sex. August is now settled with a child on the way, but old loves, both human and ideological, still play heavy upon him, like mind-ghosts creeping in the shadows, just waiting to pounce. Will he resign himself to his supposedly stable relationship (it’s not; his wife clearly has other sexual conquests of a more Sapphic type in mind) or resume rebellion, personally sexual and public social, back in California with his wayward love? Perhaps neither answer is satisfactory – the decisions were all made long ago.

One aspect of this play does prove itself to be rather weak in the offing, namely nudity. I, like most people of my generation, am immune to nudity, as it permeates just about every cable show imaginable in such a way as to make it commonplace and expected. This is less so in the theatre, but I am of the belief that most directors choose to portray nudity for shock value, rather than for any real plot driven reason. Unless the nudity is absolutely necessary for the scene, I view it as a last resort: simply there to give people something to talk about afterwards. It cheapens the play because it’s desperate and naively assumes that none of us have ever seen a breast before.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Alicia: As you walk into the theater, Buck Blue’s magnificently intimate Grecian set greets you with its warm embrace – an invitingly quaint villa with the utmost detail. Yet while its picturesque image astounds, it is simple enough to let the actors shine, highlighting Signal Ensemble Theatre’s mission on actor-focused work. And despite a few dips on the acting scale, the performances are quite powerful, with tension-filled moments lying masked in the dangerous minefield of August’s ultimate reckoning. Perhaps the most stand-out performance came from Cassidy Shea Stirtz (Boy), for while her stage time was the shortest, her moments were achingly raw and exciting.

Sexual tension and images of a carnal nature are pervasive in this work, and actresses Charahus and Roos play with this tension masterfully, always knowing when to hold back and when to strike and sink their teeth into their next biting remark or their outspoken revelation. They’re quick to the punch, and sultry in their manipulations.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Ultimately, this play was a little difficult for me to wrap my feelings around, for while the concept was new and exciting and the cast and crew worked crazy dramatic magic, Callaghan’s script was really rough. The twists and turns and moments of instant-replay were filled with tension bordering between threatening and arousing, which made for an exciting theater-going experience. Yet, near the end of the play the plot became muddled in a way that made it impossible to wade through, and I found myself exasperated. Director Ronan Marra and the Signal Ensemble team did what they could to make this script work, but ultimately I was caught between being compelled by their production, and being thoroughly confused with Callaghan’s thought-process.

Final Thoughts: Lascivious Something has powerful staging, interesting relationships and makes you feel like the Greek sun is beating down on you. However, certain aspects mean it will not be appreciate by all who lay eyes upon it.

Irazú

WHAT: Irazú
WHERE: 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Picture 24Named after the mighty Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica, this lively, spirited and eclectic restaurant allows you to enjoy the unique cuisine from this little sampled country in Central America. Flavourful, mild and lots of fruits and vegetables clearly mark these dishes out as deriving from the lush rainforests of that country, which houses an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity, while being only 0.25% of the Earth’s landmass.

With a colourful and light-filled interior and exciting buzz, you’ll be just itching to try to many rare delicacies that come at phenomenally reasonable prices.

Picture 26Adam: Locked between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultures, with a good dose of Spanish colonialism mixed in, Costa Rica (literally Rich Coast) is most certainly true to its name when it comes to food and Irazú provides all the bounty that this nation has to offer. Brought straight to your table and served casually, steaming plates of traditional foods whirl in, with all the colour and verve of this canopied country.

Casado with tilapia

The menu is vast, offering breakfast items, appetizers, vegetarian options, tacos, empanadas, burritos, sandwiches and even shakes. The forefront of the menu, however, are the Costa Rican dinners. Being in the mood to try the most authentic dish on the menu, I opted for the Casado, a traditional full-plate meal.

Casado with steak

Choosing from steak, chicken or tilapia, you can really appreciate the full force of this diverse cuisine through this dish. I went with steak and was not disappointed. A heaping portion served with black beans, sweet plantains, a cabbage salad, rice and an over easy egg to top it all off, the portion was very large and I felt truly stuffed when finished. I actually had my meal upgraded to include gallo pinto instead of rice, a mixture of rice and beans which is exclusive to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Watch out though: they won’t tell you this upgrade costs a buck when they offer it, although it’s worth all one hundred cents.

Potato Tacos

Alicia: One of the many things I love about Irazú is how vegetarian friendly they are. Some of the guests we went out to dinner with ordered the restaurant’s famed potato tacos: crispy corn tortillas filled with mashed potatoes (flauta-esque) and served with guacamole and mole sauce. The dish was gigantic, and also served with yellow rice, beans, deliciously cooked sweet plantains and a cabbage salad. Beware: the mole is not vegetarian, but it’s possibly one of the most delicious moles I have had in the city.

Avena Shake

What I wanted to try more than anything was Irazú’s Avena (Oatmeal) shake made with milk, which was the most deliciously complex consistency with beautiful hints of cinnamon. It was sweet and savory and an entire meal in itself, so I’m glad I only ordered a salad to go with it. They have a ton of other interesting shake flavors, including Pinolillo (Corn Meal) and Tamarindo. Definitely an adventure for the tastebuds!

Palmito Salad

Oh, and by salad, I don’t mean just any ordinary salad. I ordered a large (and boy was it large) Palmito Salad: Heart of palm steaks on a bed of cabbage slaw, tossed with beets, avocado, tomato, radishes, cilantro, splashed with vinegar, lime and olive oil. The salad was perfectly dressed and the dish in its entirety was a refreshing and adventurous journey. The vinegar and lime cut through the hearty heart of palm steaks and the slaw provided a fun crunch with every bite. I would order this dish again in a minute, but it’s imperative you go with someone else so you can steal a few of their delicious sweet plantains.

Picture 25Final Thoughts: In a meal that’s like a rainforest on a plate, without any of the more slippery animals, Irazú immerses you in the warm embrace of the jungle. Excellent portion sizes at good prices, this BYOB (no corkage fee!) is a particular Chicago experience you can’t miss.

D.S. Tequila Company

WHAT: D.S. Tequila Company
WHERE: 3352 N. Halsted St.

OUR RATING: Skip It!

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Tacos. Tequila. Outdoor patio. This all sounds quite dandy, especially when D.S. Tequila Company serves up half-priced food on Mondays and All-you-can-eat tacos on Thursdays for ten bucks. But don’t let the specials fool you – this Lakeview taco/burger/tequila joint is not so special.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Adam: I understand, I’m spoiled. I like my food hot and good, my drinks cold and interesting and my ambiance beautiful and intoxicating. I’ve been to taco joints all over the city, and whereas Bullhead Cantina and Antique Taco stand out as highlights, D.S. Tequila Company might as well start with a different set of letters. Unfathomably small portions, and a taste that’s not much to write home about, you can certainly boycott this place to your heart’s content.

Chicken Fajita Taco and Coffee Steak Taco

Chicken Fajita Taco and Coffee Steak Taco

I started out with a chicken fajita taco. Simple is best, right? In this case, completely wrong. This grilled chicken was as dry as a bone, accompanied by a smattering of refried beans and queso fresco that was almost undetectable. I slathered on hot sauce because I would rather have my mouth burning like the Savannah than consigned to the dry depths of Death Valley. Next, sampling the steak taco with trepidation, I was slightly surprised. This taco is decent, but that may have more to do with the coffee spice rub than the steak. And at $3.89 for one measly sample size, you might as well go to a more upscale place and enjoy yourself a little.

Jalapeno Slaw & Elote Corn Hash

Jalapeno Slaw & Elote Corn Hash

As for sides, they are wildly disappointing. Jalapeno Slaw sounds really great, but when the mayonnaise overpowers even the slightest hint of jalapeno, I wonder why I am going to a Mexican restaurant at all, and not just buying slaw and dumping giardiniera on it at home. Trust me, the homemade recipe would be hotter.

Tangibly dreadful fare at shockingly inflated prices, D.S. Tequila needs to move over for more reputable competitors. Seriously, it’s like they’re trying to cheat you here.

Tequila Shrimp Taco & Grilled Fish Taco

Tequila Shrimp Taco & Grilled Fish Taco

Alicia: Being big into seafood, I was super excited to try some fish and shrimp tacos here. D.S. Tequila’s grilled fish taco served me alright, with jalapeno cole slaw and spicy aioli. There was plenty of sauce and a good amount of bite, but the mayonnaise in the coleslaw kind of drowned out the rest of the taco. Actually, coleslaw was most of the taco, with a frighteningly-small serving of grilled fish hidden somewhere in there.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

With these lukewarm feelings I then attempted the tequila shrimp taco with red cabbage, pineapple salsa and spicy aioli. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this taco was basically three pieces of shrimp in a corn tortilla with some raw red cabbage. Pineapple salsa? Spicy aioli? Pretty non-existent, and really just some diced pineapple. Tequila? Yeah…not sure that was in there either.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Ultimately, I found each of these tacos pretty underwhelming, with little to no love given to the food inside the tortillas, let alone the dry and boring tortillas themselves. I was even more disappointed with elote corn hash. The name sounds fun, but really I was just served a bowl of corn and some type of light cream with some crumbled queso fresco. It tasted like cream corn, but even less flavorful. It was pretty horrific, and gives elote a bad name.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Final Thoughts: If we hadn’t been lucky enough to get in on this food on a Monday (i.e. we paid half-price), I think we would have been in an uproar to pay full price for what we got. With mediocre food, sub-par service, and a forgettable ambience, D.S. Tequila Company is definitely a place you can skip over if you want some good Mexican food. Sure, the outdoor patio is alright when the weather is nice, but a park bench will do you just as good.

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