Thursday, January 28, 2010

Italian Embassy - Line One.

Buca di Beppo
505 Foothill Boulevard
Claremont, CA 91711-3402
(909) 399-3287

Chains are interesting things really. They have sterile atmospheres, the food is usually mediocre, and the service is usually palatable. It is easy to diagnose the problem, when a recipe or service parameters are reduced into a codex, you lose something. For example, you can locate several dark spots on my brain due to fits caused by watching a barista nervously thumb through a manual as he pours ice over my espresso.

But let’s face it, Chains become “Chains” because they originally start with some successful concept. “Chicken Fajita Burritos, served in a building that looks like a factory, how original!” [Chipotle]. “Unlimited fries… blasphemy!” [Red Robin]. “Sandwiches served in a deli with wallpaper comprised of pictures of New York back in the 30s and 40s. Amazing!” [Subway].

With Buca di Beppo, you have to think about the original store and what the venture capitalist saw.

[Curtain rises]
It is a dark stormy night in some desolate red state that George W. Bush will take by 30 pts. The stage is unlit.

A well dressed man enters onto the stage. He is wet from the rain, cursing under his breath.

Man: “Why did Goldman Sachs have to send me to [insert Hick state]. Fuck, this better jack up my Christmas bonus.”

The man fidgets a little. The audience hears a slow rumble that is suppose to reflect his hunger. The stage is lit, it is a shrine to tackiness. Random statutes, rosaries, pictures of the Pope, and Italian flags are strewn all about the stage. Instead of using a color wheel, the set designer used a drag-queen’s make-up drawer for inspiration. At the center of the set, is a table … covered in plaid-plastic.

Enters Waiter carrying a very large plate of pasta: “Hello Dear Sir, how may I help you?”

Man: “Well, I scuffed my Prada’s, would you by any chance have a shoe-monger in this God forsaken [stomach grumbles] …. What is that you are holding?”

Waiter: “Why this? Oh it is merely competent pasta bolognese.”

Man: “Why, I have never seen pasta served on a big plate. And look at this place, with the exception of a million households in the Midwest, I have never seen something so tacky. Sure it might be slightly offensive to Italians and members of other religions. Wait till the partners at Goldman hears about this!”
[Curtain Falls]
Fast forward 15-20 years, my mini-high school reunion is set at Buca di Beppo. Nestled in a rather large booth, our party of five scrutinizes the menu. Oh, the possibilities are endless! Do I choose the “Spaghetti with Meat Sauce” or the “Spaghetti Marinara?”

Helene and I dissect the menu as if we were looking for the Bible Code, a sasquatch walks to our table. He does the obligatory “have you all been here … all the portions are large … blah blah ….” I inquire as to the beers that are offered. Sasquatch rattles off several talking points about Peroni and hefenweiser. Since it is Italian, why ruin the motif? I order a Peroni. Dan almost has a stroke in the waiter’s inability to pronounce hefenweiser. Five minutes later, Sasquatch returns and relays the message that “We are out of Peroni.” Dear Reader, if you question the existence of God, or your role in the general cosmos, do take heart that the Great Mover is at least humorous … how the fuck is an Italian restaurant – let alone a chain – out of Peroni? Resigned, I order a “Buca di Beppo Sangria.” Without a beat, Sasquatch asks if he can put in an order for appetizers. Dan orders “Brushetta.” Sasquatch says “Sure a large,” and walks away. Bewildered in the lack of choice, Dan looks at us, “A large it is.”

Now “Sasquatch” might be picturesque, but I really need to put brush to canvas. Think of an overweight male in his mid-late 30s. Unshaven, slightly taller than 5’8’’ with the posture of Fred Flintstone. Dear Reader, I posit a simple question, “What do waiters normally wear?” It is a simple question, you do not work at Buca de Beppo, the answer is obviously “white dress-shirt.” Sasquatch followed the norm per se; it was a white dress shirt. But alas, I will never be able to recreate the kaleidoscope. Sasquatch wore a very colorful undershirt. One that Dan and I actually spent a disproportionate amount of time attempting to decipher.

My “Buca di Beppo Sangria” arrives. And I really have no complaints. It is quite sweet. But I am a stickler with menu descriptions. To wit, it is described as “served over ice with orange slices and cherries.” I got no orange, and one cherry. Where the hell are my oranges? Now, I understand, I may look like a dick for being so inflexible. But if a corporate menu says orange slices and cherries, then I presume, a trainer and a instruction manual must have instructed the bartender “Step 5: Insert Orange Slices and Cherries (not cherry) into tacky goblet.”

Sasquatch brings the brushetta to the table. We look at it. There is an awkward silence. We stammer to our orders. But in between words like “salmon” and “marsala,” there is always a weird pause in our cadence; “what the fuck is on the table!” I googled “brushetta recipe” and the very first link brought me to the following recipe:

• 6 or 7 ripe plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 6-8 fresh basil leaves, chopped.
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 baguette French bread or similar Italian bread
• 1/4 cup olive oil

Pretty standard, a lot of oil, garlic, tomatoes, basil. Here is Buca di Beppo’s brushetta:

• Insipid tomatoes – a lot.
• No garlic – because contrary to the menu, why stick with shtick
• Olive oil – make each serving resemble the torn hull of an oil tanker
• Two shreds of basil
• Bread – the same type that is given for free
• There is no free will, it is a large for everyone

The entries were just as inspiring. I can’t remember what John ordered, but Stacey and Dan ordered the “Chicken Marsala,” and the “Manicotti.” Helene and I ordered the “Pesto Salmon” and a large order of “Green Beans.” Stacey said she was perfectly happy with the chicken because it was her favorite dish when she used to work at the restaurant. But the other three entries are a bit more noteworthy.

Helene is one of my best friends. She was one of the first people I came out to. I was in her wedding party. Helene is one of the first people to know of any material developments in my life (see next entry). I rarely disagree with Helene. Here, there was a small split between us regarding the salmon. We both thought it was overcooked, but from tenor and tone, I actually felt that I had a more positive experience with the dish because of the pesto. Now for fair disclosure, I am ludicrously partial to pesto. Lately, I have been putting it on top of white rice for dinner. But this pesto I found to be quite interesting; it was served with entire cloves of roasted garlic. Now the garlic may have been an accident – maybe the line cook intended it for the brushetta – but it made it into the pesto, and it was really good. So delicious, that I was actually spooning it onto the complimentary bread; thus, making an appetizer better than the one ordered.

But if there was a split in opinion between the salmon entrée, I think Helene and I were quite united on the green beans. It was a salty wet mess. The beans were served in a reservoir of liquid that comprised of lemon juice, oil, and water. At the time I was thinking this was quite possibly the worst plate of beans I have ever placed into my maw, everyone in my high school turned out to be teachers. Stacey teaches our next learned generation and is now the head of an entire science department. John is a professor and teaches people how to argue and use logic. Several other compatriots also chose the noble profession of bestowing knowledge to others. If I could only teach the kitchen how to properly steam green beans.

But the night's low, was Dan and Stacey’s manicotti. There were four on the plate, and Dan had one. He artfully described it as “A cheese log.” Sasquatch came and cleared all the plates, and asked if Dan wanted to “wrap” the manicotti up. He just shook his head and waved the plate away (btw, this is the first time I met Dan – he seems like quite the diva – and I am quite a big fan). What really annoyed me, was that Sasquatch did not inquire to the lack of interest in the manicotti. To me, it appeared that it was routine to be returned untouched. In fact, that should go for the entire restaurant.

In a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being the best.
Quality: 1.5. I had to give an extra point for the pesto.
Service: 1.
Atmosphere: 2.
Hotness of clientale: 1. My god, the Inland Empire really is the armpit of Southern California. Helene and I went to the Trader Joe’s across the parking lot, and even the gays are … if you are in your 30s stop wearing Abercrombie! An aside, Stacey did not look like she aged one bit, and John has the booming voice of a Senator.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Time Is It?

Good Time
19240 E. Colima Rd.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 965-9303

January 19, 2010
It is quite fascinating to hear the exploits an underage person performs in order to get alcohol. They often range from: the juvenile – asking a person to buy alcohol in the Wal-Mart parking lot; to the laborious - a hallmate made me a fake I.D. to get into the shitty Nashville bars; and to the absurd - taking flight to another nation in order to imbibe ambrosia (Thanks Poi). But there is no need to be so creative, you can just go to Good Time in Rowland Heights.

January 16, 2010
2:30 A.M.
Dear God, where am I, why do I smell like a mixture cigarettes and fruit?

January 16, 2010
10:40 P.M.
We were watching Jersey Shore, and we were discussing the many ways of extricating ourselves from the possibility of playing poker with Uncle Eddie.

“So what are we going to do,” Jason nervously asked.

We discussed tipping cows, playing mahjong, playing Magic the Gathering, playing Call of Duty, ceremonial sacrifice; anything but playing poker with Eddie.

Jason was looking at me “I want to go out drinking with you, I want to be in your blog.”

“Really? You actually read it?” I asked in a surprised voice.

“Hell yea, I read them all. By the way, Darren is a bear.” We all laughed at the inside joke.

Puzzled I asked, “Bryant, how old are you? Isn’t it going to be a problem since you are 5?”

“It is ok, we could go to Good Time,” he answered.

They all nodded.

January 17, 2010
1:30 A.M.

“Eric it is your turn. A.”

I have no idea who said that. I was in a drunken stupor, and I was sitting next to Darren. As Jason indicates above, Darren is a bear; therefore, he is a comfortable warm pillow. I peel my eyelids open. “I am THINKING!” I go back to sleep.

January 16
10:55 P.M.

We walk into the successor of the Asian opium den; red walls, red booths, Asians eating really red things and wearing really red clothes. I thought I was in Hell’s waiting room.

The greeter was leading us and Jason sagaciously inquired to the “backroom.” At the word, my interest was piqued, but much to my surprise, it was in this blue room decked out in a frenzied nautical theme. There were signs taped to the wall saying “L.A. 30 miles west,” and “No swimming in shallow waters.” To add to the montage, there were several barrels a’la Donkey Kong attached to the wall. To capture the glory that is Good Time, close your eyes and imagine yourself as flotsam and jetson scattered amongst a wreck.

January 16
11:30 P.M.

“If you pour the Soju into the Hite it makes it sweet,” so says Darren in an authoritative manner.

I gag. When I hear “sweet” I think Snickers, not a combination of death, mud, and water.

January 16
11:07 P.M.

We are ordering. Jason tells the waitress that we want two Hites, and a Soju. Darren asks her what type of Soju cocktail she would recommend. Blank stares. Nothing. Silence. But it is always darkest before the dawn. Darren asks “What type of flavor would he (pointing to me) like?”

Without a beat, she says “PEACH.”

Everyone including the waitress laughs.

January 16
11:00 P. M.

“Ouch, what the fuck!” Darren screams in pain. He accidentally hits the barrel that he is sitting under – TWICE. For those who never met Darren, think of an Asian Shreck.

January 17, 2010
12:20 A.M.

Jon is explaining the rules to a drinking game. Somebody says the name to a videogame character. The next person needs to name a character using the last letter of the previous; for example “Rydia” comes after “Tauren Sledgemaster.”

January 17, 2010

It is my turn to pick a topic - "Books". I smoke the round in three.

January 16, 2010
11:55 P.M.

Some sort of Korean concoction hits our table. It is a combination of fish cake, ramen, and lots of red sauce. It needs salt. And people are smoking ….

I inquired, “Why are people smoking here?”

Jon points art Bryant “They obviously do not care about regulations.”

January 17, 2010
12:10 A.M.

Darren orders “Combo #2”. It comprises of two Hites, chicken wings, and Bulgogi.

January 16, 2010
11:40 P.M.

The waitress delivers the Peach Soju. It looks like a carafe of milk. Always the gentleman, Jason pours five shots. We each pick a glass up and make the obligatory “cheers”. With trepidation, I pour half of it into my gullet. As an automatic response I wince and shudder, but then a realization occurs - the peach Soju is quite tasty! Instinctively I finish the rest of the shot.

January 17, 2010
1:50 A.M.

Jon throws a Banana Republic bag into the back seat. “Hurl into this,” he instructs. I giggle like a little girl.

January 17, 2010
1:15 A.M.

The smell of chicken wings makes me want to throw up. Everyone grabs for one. You can hear the crackle of the skin, the slurping of the sauce, the smell of a mixture of fowl and saliva envelops the table.

I reach for the french fries that comes with the wings. They are fried pretty well. Unfortunately, I do not understand why they come to the table covered in ketchup.

January 17, 2010
12:15 A.M.

More Hite arrives. It dawns on me that the youngest one of us could probably out drink the rest of the room.

For those unfamiliar with Hite, it is one of the main beers in Korea. Kind of like Miller Lite, only much better. My cousins finish four super-sized bottles in an unsatiable thirst. I think to myself “Why are there barrels on the wall?”

January 17, 2010
12:55 A.M.

I spit it out. I wince at what would pass for beef in third world countries. Is that the face of Jesus on the meat? I ask Jon “What is this?”

Between bites Jason answers “Bulgogi.”

“Dear God, do they not have salt?”

January 17, 2010
2:35 A.M.

I am staring into a toilet. It is filled to the brim with green vomit. I have no idea why it is green. All I know is that I smell like peach.

Out of a score of 1-5 with 5 being the best.
Quality - N/A I was asleep when Jason and Darren paid
Service - 3.5 Surprisingly good for a Korean Bar
Atmosphere - 2. Think of swimming in a disaster.
Hotness of clientale - 2. There were a bunch of teenagers, and FOBs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Halsted's Bar & Grill
3441 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60657

Dear Reader, the most exciting thing about New Years Day is “potential.” The possibility that the next year will be better, that TARP will be relegated to the footnotes of history, that 10% unemployment will be merely a question in Trivia Pursuit. We all look to 2010 for new possibilities, for the potential that things will be better.

Possibilities and potential, it is why some of us are cryptozoologists seeking Nessie, why some of us want to have kids, and why some of us seek a deeper relationship with a higher power. We want to leave a mark, we want; nay, we have to believe that there is something larger than us, and that we can be part of it. 2010 – things will be better. New Year’s celebration at Halsted’s is supposed to begin my new course of possibilities - and it is why this entry is so late.

I was really fortunate to be accompanied by such a distinguished but motley gaggle of gays. There is “Edward” who is a doctor, and who makes it clear to everyone that he is one. I know this makes him sound like an ass, but he is actually quite cute about it, and he is not stuck up about his achievements. But woe to the person who mentions that he may have burped earlier in the day. While speaking in a language that would be a hybrid of Aramaic, Latin, Mandarin and Extraterrestrial, Edward will go through a comprehensive diagnosis of the gaseous emission. He also has a boyfriend “Emmett”. Where Edward may be a bit ostentatious in his learned ways, Emmett is the complete opposite. In fact, the two are quite the yin-and-yang; physically and in the manner in which they communicate. But it works out, they make an excellent couple. If possibility is the central theme, then they are the archetype of how people should approach their relationships – what is actually possible. Emmett’s best friend, “Carlisle” also joined us. He is the CTO of a firm in the loop, and he has the ability to track if people are watching porn on their Iphone’s. He is arguably the most powerful man in the loop.

Emmett is a consummate planner, and he made reservations far in advance. As he approached the greeter to ask about our table, I started to wonder, why did we need reservations? The place was not empty, but it hardly resembled a restaurant preparing for New Year’s revelry. It looked more like a normal Thursday evening.

Halsted’s is actually a pretty well designed bar. The interior is divided into three sections. The dining room is essentially divided into two vertical sections. The one gripe I have with place is that the dividing area between the rooms acts as a waiter station; consequently, when it gets really busy, there should be a significant amount of burdensome foot traffic in the area. As you walk back into the longer section there is a bar that sits 14 people. Facing the bar are several high tables and stools. And behind the bar is a relatively sexy open patio.
As we nestled into a rather comfortable booth and weaned ourselves of several layers of clothing, I could not help but make fun of Edward’s Abercrombie & Fitch clothing (if you did not recently pledge into a fraternity please move up). Hearing a quick quip, the waiter “Enrique” instinctively introduced the pre-fix menu to us. Twenty-five dollars! Hot damn, that was five dollars less than what I expected. 2010 is going to be better! We ordered drinks, I ordered an “Organic Winter Wheat.” Well drinks came in a rather expedient manner, but Enrique kept coming by to inquire “If we were ready.” As stated in other entries, I hate it when a server asks about my readiness. Edward may be able to diagnosis you for fibromyalgia, and I may be ready to order, but dear budding waiters, preface your question in a different manner; for example, “How may I help you tonight?” After shooing him off numerous times, I entered an order for tator-tots. After what seemed like a languorous wait, we ultimately bit the bullet. We ordered the rest of our meal. In attempt of saving the waiter from my proverbial wrath, Emmett and Carlisle brilliantly counseled Enrique to pace the meal accordingly - we were going to ring in the New Year after all.

I started to consume my Organic Winter Wheat. Dear Reader, if this is how organic tastes, than I prefer pesticides please. Not since the opening Act of Macbeth has a brew portended such dreadful things. It was insipid, if there was a liquid to make our children alcoholics it would be this beer; people would be unable to distinguish it from water. By the time I was finally able to finish my organic bromide, everyone else was already well into their second round.

The tator-tots finally arrived and talk about lost possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious. But I am getting a bit tired with well-fried potatoes. There is nothing that really separates tator-tots in a bar from the ones that I overly indulged in when I was in elementary school. Sure the ones at Halsted’s are salted well, and fried in a superior manner, but they are essentially the same thing – except $3.50 more expensive. A restaurant has a right to charge a premium, but it should not have the freedom in being lazy.

The appetizers to our pre fix came out. Edward ordered a shrimp cocktail, and Emmett and Carlise both ordered salads (I can’t remember what type). I ordered the “Lemon-Garlic Marinated Chicken Tenders”. Marinated my ass. A sprinkle of Mrs. Dash does not make a marinade. But here is the thing, the “spicy Caribbean mango sauce” that came on the side was a revelation. It was sweet, spicy, tangy, and salty all at once. It was so layered that I was actually looking for porcinis to determine if there was umami. I dipped everything into that sauce, including random shreds of lettuce. Even the vapid chicken tenders took a bath (which actually made them quite delicious). If there was a magic elixir, it was found in that ramekin.

In between courses we ordered a fourth round of drinks (this would be my second). I ordered the Bar Harbor Bluebeer – imported from the far flung reaches of Maine. If there was a trade deficit between the states, Illinois was ripped off. The fucking bottle was undrinkable. If the Organic Winter was the possibility of beer turning into water, the Bluebeer was the possibility of beer turning into urea. I was repulsed. For twenty minutes I nursed that fucker. Even Enrique noticed. What galled me was that he did not make the offer of taking it away to some incinerator. I was going to make a request, but Carlise and Emmett were a bit too smitten with our waiter. Oh the advantages of being born with cheekbones that could cut a steak. I was so disgusted with the Bluebeer I begged Edward to take it off my hands. He didn’t really resist because he already finished his fourth or fifth drink.

Our entries came out, and three of us ordered the orange-glazed salmon. Emmett ordered the tenderloin (or chicken). Similar to the mango sauce in the appetizer, the orange glaze was delicious. If there is anything that Halsted’s does well, it is sauces. Unfortunately, the sous-chef should have been in charge of the protein. Three identical pieces of salmon, all identical in size, shape and cut were all cooked differently. I noticed that Edward and Carlise’s appeared to be seared to an unctuous medium-rare. Mine was overcooked. Now I know there is an amount of selective bias, I actually prefer fish to be cooked rare, and admittedly I should have told Enrique this, but holding all things equal, mine should not have been so poorly done. Carlise even mentioned that the entre was worth $25 by itself. Oh the possibilities! But besides the glaze, I will stipulate, the sides were pretty damn good. I had “Lorraine Potatoes” a name that requires the combined powers of Wikipedia and Edward’s gourmand knowledge to explain. The potatoes are merely pan fried with onions, and rosemary - in a lot of oil. They were absolutely delicious, which once again makes me believe that the sous-chef is more talented than the executive one. (I understand that Sauciers are actually quite important and esteemed in the restaurant industry but I don’t think Halsted’s would have one; moreover, there is the possibility that the executive chef was in charge of potatoes, sauce and protein, but even if that is the case, his strength is in sauce and not the flesh of dead animals).

The last course was desert, I ordered the rather pedestrian sounding “Brownie Sundae”. Well guess what, of all the courses this was the best. The brownie was light, and sweet, but not so sweet it would make me a diabetic. Even the ice-cream, which really had no trace of vanilla acted as the perfect foil to the brownie. The one course that I thought would end in absolute disaster, actually turned out the best. Who knew that Halsted’s would be proving grounds for would-be pastry chefs.

After desert we did a shot of something that involved the word “sex”. As my table was in a drunken mess, and I could only make out the words “Snuggie,” “cancer,” and “bathhouse,” I noticed that there was only one other table in the room! Enrique gathered us to toast the New Year in the bar and I got awfully depressed. Is this it? Is this the celebration? Edward and Emmett at least have each other. Carlisle has the secrets of his co-workers. Would I be toasting the New Year by myself, the possibility of no kiss – for the 29th year in a row? But I started to think, I didn’t know these guys a year ago. Edward can drone on obnoxiously about the maladies of Vitamin E deficiency, but his palate rivals mine, his opinion one I oft defer to. Emmett is the worldly one, the humorous but relatively subdued Blanche Devereaux to our group. And Carlisle, well I only had the opportunity to hang out with him three times, but he had the testicular fortitude to tell me that my New Year’s resolution “Was stupid.” I respect him for that.

I think about my gaggle of gays, and it is not about possibility or potential. These are good guys – nothing to hope for, nothing to discover. 2009 wasn’t really that bad - I did meet them after all.

In a scale of 1-4 with 4 being the best:

Quality: 2.5. When done well it was pretty damn good. When poor, it was still serviceable; except my piece of salmon.

Service: Emmett and Carlise would give a 4. I think Edward would give a gentleman's 3. I give a 1.5.

Atmosphere: It is a good looking bar. I prefer it to the ones across the street – but the bathrooms are terrible and designed for hobbits.

Hotness of Clientale: It is hard to tell, but my group of vampires are pretty crazy hot.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Grill Works - Suck My Balls

Grill Works Restaurant & Bar
350 McHenry Rd
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
(847) 821-9000

Dear Reader have you ever been to a restaurant where the food is so bad, you just want to call the Health Department to close it down? If you have never done so, but you really want to take it out on some restaurant, do me a favor and call (847) 377-8000 and complain about Grill Works.

Grill Works is a restaurant that shares a complex with a bowling center, “lazer” tag arena, and a batting cage (coming in Spring 2010 exclamation point); hence, I was not expecting Tru. I was not expecting fries cooked in duck fat. I was not expecting scallops cooked in truffle oil. But really, a competent vegetarian sandwich … is that too hard to ask?

As we walked in, I did my trademark gay gasp. The restaurant was fucking huge. I counted 26 tables, each of which sat at a minimum six people. Adjacent to the dining room was a bar which sat at least 30 more people. Now we did come in early, it was only 5:00, but the place was completely empty. As we stood around to be seated, it actually took 5 mins for a waiter to seat us.

I was already developing pangs of trepidation because the waiter/greeter was also the bartender. I have often experienced that when a single individual is the jack-of-all-trades in off hours it often results in a terrible restaurant experience for one or more reasons: 1. The quality of the restaurant is such that it does not necessitate a visit on off hours to avoid a wait, 2. Being so hassled with taking orders, phone calls, and making drinks, the ombudsman will be unable to adequately refill my water and provide me with extra napkins, 3. The waiter is actually a retard; hence, he works such a shift, 4. It will actually take the kitchen an hour to give me an order of french fries because nobody, but a single line cook is working in the kitchen; 5. The waiter will provide minimal service because he will not get a cut in the tips when there is a transition between shifts. Dear Reader, in this case, facts 1-5 actually applied.

As we meandered to a booth, I ejaculated “What in gay hell.” Instead of a rose, or candle, or menu with bar drinks, there sat a bowling pin with crayons. I felt like I was going to dine with Pinhead of the Hellraiser series. As I scanned the empty restaurant I was beginning to develop epilepsy. What third-world community college graduate designed this god-forsaken place? Each table was covered in red linen, that was in turn covered with butcher paper; hence, making each table resemble a Knight Templar.

But the schizophrenia did not end with the tables. The menu was equally inexplicable. The first two leafs were standard fare: pizza, sandwiches, and burgers. Pages three and four was a cross between a barbeque pit, Chinese buffet, and a steakhouse. To wit, I quote: “GRILLWORKS SIGNATURE RIBS. House Specialty – Mouth Water Baby Back Ribs that melt in your mouth. Slow roasted and grilled to perfection.” As I type this description, I develop minor strokes. One – what signature? Who the Hell knows about Grillworks, let alone connects the place with ribs? When I hear of Grillworks I personally think of batting cages coming in Spring 2010. Moreover, I took a peek into the kitchen – they don’t have a fucking GRILL. So don’t call the restaurant GRILLworks, and don’t say the ribs have been grilled to perfection! They may have been parcooked off premises, but be honest and say slathered in tangy sauce or something.

Jennifer and Clinton both ordered hamburgers, I ordered a vegetarian Panini, and Candice ordered a chicken sandwich with spinach artichoke spread (she asked to substitute fries for chips). Fearing that we would not hit a $40 minimum (I bought a coupon) we also ordered an appetizer sampler. Well it took 30 mins for the appetizer sampler to come out. Now I was mildly vexed about this because the plate was a menagerie of fried foods: cheese sticks, onion rings, buffalo wings, (2) chicken strips, and potato skins. We were the only table, and there was more than one fryer in the kitchen, so how it could take half-an-hour for the trans-fat goodness was mind boggling.

But I am not adverse in waiting for good food. Dear Reader, this was not worth the temporal investment. The appetizer sampler was various hues of yellow on a plate. An aside, I was also really pissed off that I had to ask the waiter/bartender/host/bond-trader for plates when he carried the appetizer sampler in one hand! The chicken strips were emblematic of the lack of thought behind everything. The sampler was meant to be shared between four individuals: 4 skins, 4 cheese-sticks etc. I don’t understand why there were two chicken fingers. Sure the marginal cost for fingers is higher than wings, but the appetizer sampler was $13.99. In fact, I would imagine the main variable cost for the entire plate was yellow food coloring.

Five napkins after, our entrees came out. The first thing that really made me gag was the smell of the hamburgers. It was this weird beefy smell. Now Jennifer and Candice later commented that they thought it smelled good, and that a hamburger should smell that way. I respectfully dissent, while I tend to trend towards vegetarian options (unless it is for purposes of this blog), I know my hamburgers, and I thought they smelled like the violation of various Biblical laws. But the most offensive thing was Candice’s chicken sandwich with artichoke and parmesan spread. Now I am partial to white sauce, but this was pale on top of pale. I was so appalled that I actually inquired to what she ordered (I thought it was tuna-salad). Well we ate and Clinton and Jennifer actually stated that their hamburgers were “good”. I think they were trying to make me feel better. My sandwich was alright, quite salty, but it was a mess. In between the baguette were fresh mozzarella, “grilled” peppers, onions, and eggplant. One problem with my entrée was that the cook did not properly extract the water from the eggplant (which needs to be salted for 30 mins before cooking), but that was minor compared to the overcooked peppers. I am not sure how, but the peppers were cooked in such a manner where they lost all texture and color; thus, resembling the fingers of a decaying corpse. To top things off, Candice had to flag the waiter down and tell him that she ordered fries in substitute of the chips. Now to his credit, he got them out rather quickly (I presume the fryer works quicker for fries then cheese sticks), but how the hell can you mess up the only order in the restaurant?

The cherry, the capstone, the pinnacle of this gourmet extravaganza was the check. I was charged $7.99 for each burger, but as we walked out we noticed a window that held burger and fries $1.99. Clinton was the victim of such pernicious arbitrage as well. His 12 oz Sam Adams cost him $5.99 (!). The bowling alley was charging $3.50 for a domestic pitcher. Noting that Sam Adams is not really a “domestic,” Clinton noted he would have bought one! Oh, how hindsight brings so many possibilities.

In a scale of 1-4 with 4 being the best.
Quality: 0. I used a coupon, and I still had to get cash-back at Target.
Service: 1. One table, one fucking table and I have to flag you down as if I was in a
Chinese restaurant!
Atmosphere: 2. Chuck E. Cheese for adults.
Hotness of Clientale: 0. One guy came in, Candice thought he was a thug. Another guy came in, I initially thought he was the source of the hamburger stench.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Free Drinks, Onion Rings, and Bears, Oh My!

Big Chicks

5024 North Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60640-3118

(773) 728-5511

Big Chicks was my haunt back in the days of yore when I was an intern at Lambda Legal. I was introduced to the sordid bar by the Outreach Coordinator, Catina Lowrey, who ultimately became one of my best friends. A many nights we closed that bar: we talked about Earl Warren, we drank over Roe v. Wade, we cried about boys (when about me), we cried about girls (when about Catina). Big Chicks was our little haven. It was my alcoholic uterus.

We haven’t gone to Big Chicks in awhile. Catina left Lambda and is now getting her masters in something that deals with (1) management, (2) public policy, and (3) non-profits. Whenever she talks about (2) and (3), my eyes glaze over. She spends all her time harvesting tomatoes and lichens in her pursuit of making the world a better place.

After Lambda, my path was different. I could have been an attorney for orphans and widows. I could have been, but I sold out. When I hear “good public policy” I immediately think of “weighted average cost of capital.” Whereas rake and sweat come with her vocation, mine is coupled with gin and tonic. Christmas was around the corner, and I had to call Catina. It is not her fault she chose such a lofty life decision. She was still my best friend, and it was my turn to treat.

I picked her up at 8:00 and the conversation between the two of just continued to flow. It is hard to describe Catina. Think of Whoppi Goldberg, as a Blacker, man-hating lesbian, and you get Catina. She hates straight men. One time we were walking around Wrigglyville, and she almost tackled three overweight Cubs fans. I was afraid she would kill them. She is a badass. The type of woman that I normally surround myself with. But here is the one thing about her, as much of a militant lesbian she is, the gays love her. She is not a diva like some of my friends. She is not a faghag like Paulene. She hates the penis. The concept makes her violently noxious. She refuses to take any “[his]tory” courses because of its root; hence, why Big Chicks is Catina’s Bar. This picture of Catina is quite important. I parked along Sheridan, and we had to walk a block to Big Chicks. On that short walk, I thought I was walking with the mayor of Chicago. Everyone stopped to talk to Catina. And it wasn’t just the gays - the homeless, the needy, the well-dressed, everyone stopped by. It was like walking with the Black Statute of

Liberty carrying a placard that read "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses.”

For those who normally think of gay bars, one would likely have the image of a flashy, well manicured locale found in a gentrified neighborhood. Many of those do exist in Chicago. I tend to shy away from those. I may like Gucci loafers, but I want sticky floors when I drinking. In some way, Big Chicks scratches that itch. The bar is located directly across from some building meant to serve as residences for crazy people. I am not talking Arkham Asylum crazy, but more like the lunacy that runs in Asian mothers. To add to the motif, Big Chicks is flanked by some rather questionable establishments. Nothing all that pernicious because it is located in Uptown, and a certain amount of gentrification has occurred, but it is not a place where I would want my mother to see in her first visit to Chicago.[1]

It was fucking cold, and I walked ahead and into the bar. I was stunned. What the Hell happened to Big Chicks. It should have been called “Bears Den.” For the ones who are unfamiliar with the term “Bear” just think of “Smokey the Bear” or “Winnie the Poo” in gay form. Typically, Asians are not bears and I already tend to standout in crowds due to my vampiric pallor. I stood out even more at Big Chicks.

The bar is your typical long U-shaped table. I believe that there are more than 20 stools at the bar. Along the periphery are several hightables that can comfortably seat three. There are two other rooms. The back room has a pool table and two tall banquettes. It is narrow, and I hate elbowing through it when I go the bathrooms. The other room is adjacent to the bar. It serves as a dancefloor on some nights, a dining room on others, and a room where euchre is played on Mondays (which btw is the best Burger-Buck Nite in Chicago). Ironically, you have to walk through the dancefloor and to some desk in order to make any food orders.

As I essentially robbed a seat from some hairy fellow, I parsed through the menu. $12 for a Cobb Salad, $5 for onion rings, $7 for the California Burger, $5 for cake. Big Chicks is an all cash bar, and I started to think, “shit is $60 enough?” As Catina walked passed the adoration of a many bears, the mental calculus was forming, “Lesbians can drink, I will need to sell plasma.” As she stood next to me she nodded to the bartender, instinctively, another bear got up and yielded his seat to her. She was the like some ambassador, some emissary from Home Depot. Andy the bartender immediately got her a Peroni.

“When was the last time you came in?” I asked.

“Four days ago. Man we need to find a new place, I am so over this place.” She answered in a gruff manner.

Pondering how graduate students in non-profit studies could visit a bar so often I chimed in “What is with all the bears?”

She was already finished with half of her Peroni, “Boy! Are you going to drink or not? It is always bear night in this mother fucker. Andy, can my friend get a drink?”

“I would like a Peroni, and I presume she would too.” I was starving, “Hey, what do you want to eat?”

Catina was already chatting with a throng of bears. I started to have images of a witch in the woods surrounded by an army of bear-bodyguards.

“Bitch, what the fuck do you want to eat?”

A big black bear whom I shall refer to as “Smoky” stirred and jumped right between Catina and me, “Who the fuck are you calling a bitch you fag.”

Catina came to my rescue, “Smoky, leave him alone, the Asian is with me. I already ate babe.”

I walked past leagues of bears. Some were harrier than others. Some were heavier. Some were older. I wonder if there is a Gay Goldilocks for bears. As I ambled over to the ordering desk, I felt that all their eyes were on me. I was afraid of being mauled – the mini eggroll in their jaws.

I ordered the California Burger and a large basket of onion rings. The journey took me a scant three minutes. It is interesting how time flies when you are being assaulted while forging for provisions. As I returned back to our seat I noticed that there were three new Peronis sitting in front of me.

I tapped Catina on the shoulder, “Hey didn’t we order … what the hell woman! Are you drinking your second one? How many Peroni’s did we order,” I screeched. I was going to blow my proverbial wad before taking a sip. “How much do we owe the bar?”

Catina gave me a puzzled queer look, “We don’t, they bought it for us,” gesturing to her Ursidae friends.

I looked at them and said, “Oh thanks. I don’t really think Catina is a bitch. In fact I am more her bitch, we went to Detroit together.…” as I yammered on, I realized I made absolutely no sense. The bears were just smiling at me as if I belonged across the street. In retrospect, I have no idea why the synapses connected bears with Detroit, but they did.

Thawing to the situation, we started to talk about Lambda and transgender issues. I am not particularly knowledgeable with the legal landscape regarding the trans-population, but let me tell you, Smoky knew a lot about it. He was throwing words like “sex discrimination,” “gender stereotype,” “hostile,” and “Medicaid” into every sentence.

Finally I had to stop him “I am sorry, but how do you know so much about trans-issues.”

“Oh, I do drag.”

I almost threw up.

Serendipitously the food arrived. I offered my onion rings and french fries (which came with the burger) to Catina and my newly minted and knowledgeable friends. Catina took a handful of onion rings but the bears passed. So I thought to myself, “Good, more for me.” Well Dear Reader, as I bit into the onion ring I almost fell off my stool. No it wasn’t because an animal attacked me. It was fucking good. I rarely rave about anything, but these onion rings are quite raveable. So raveable that I would take off my shirt and The Big Chick can shower me in LSD. Each bite took me to the Age of Aquarius. I didn’t care about the french fries, and the burger did not hold my attention, I didn’t even care about the illegal activities occurring at the table next to me. I wanted more onion rings. I wanted them bad. It is impossible to do them justice. But each ring was a fat layer from a normal brown onion. Now these are not small onion rings like the ones found in burger king. These things were brontosaurus like. I am not sure if onions could be given steroids, but these things were the Schwarzeneggers of vidalias. Because they are naturally sweet, I am particularly partial to onion rings made out of vidalias, and nothing invites my wrath more than an insipid onion ring. But even more important than the species of onion, is the batter in which the thing is covered in. If there was ice cream made out of this batter I would eat it. The batter was a beautiful amber. It was sweet, crisp, and it had some sort of note to it (I presume it was beer). Dear Reader, this is the best onion ring I ever had. If I could loot my Roth IRA, I would eat infinite amounts of onion rings here.

As I was engorging myself in the onion rings, I would occasionally take a bite out of the burger. According to the blackboard, the California Hamburger is served with avocado, lettuce and tomato. What makes the California Burger, California, vis-à-vis The Delaware Burger, or the Toronto Burger is probably … the avocado. This is quite ridiculous. Tomatoes are not grown in Illinois, but for some reason we do not call every pedestrian hamburger a Fresno Burger. The burger was serviceable, but one thing I took note was the generous amounts of avocado found in it. It was either: a) an entire avocado, or b) a very large one. I presume it is “B,” which then leads me to wonder who the hell provides Big Chicks its produce.

The fries were pretty good. They were normal brown potatoes, fried to a crispy texture. I am particularly partial to fries where the skin is left on. But I hate french fries cooked in a sweet batter. This batter was quite sweet. Not so sweet that it would make me hyperglycemic, but sweet enough that I had to cast it aside. But I didn’t care – the O Rings beckoned.

As I continued to gorge on the onion rings, it dawned on me that a few more of these and I would fit in quite well with the crowd. Would I be a panda? As I thought of a whimsical moniker, I chuckled “I could be called Ling-Ling.”


What the fuck? Did I get shot? It is Uptown! As I tried to look up from what must have been a glutinous stupor, Smokey commanded “DRINK!”

I reached for my Peroni. It was empty, I presumed that Catina finished it. But in its place was a shot of what could easily be mistaken as tar. “What the fuck is that,” I asked.

Catina was suspiciously eying the shot glass that she was clutching in her hand, “Jaeger.”

Oh my god.

Not since the black tar in the X-Files has a black liquid been so evil. We did the “Cheers” – the drink – the slamming of the glass. I almost wanted to gag, but I couldn’t lose the onion rings. They were becoming quite precious to me. The bears laughed and bid us adieu. Apparently there was some bear party elsewhere.

After finishing the burger and onion rings I was still peckish, and I inquired about dessert. Big Chicks is known for its red velvet cake and I meandered over to the ordering desk for it. They were out, and I was bellicose. I blame it all on genetics really. I am the type of Asian who cannot process alcohol; moreover, my parents are Cantonese. So if I get loud in a bar, it really is one, or the other. With disdain I ordered the chocolate cake, but I did tip $2 feeling guilty that I was such an ass. It really isn’t my fault – just chromosomes.

As I got back Catina was already making a new friend, “Robert.” He told us he was a licensed masseuse and that he charged $60 an hour when working on the side. I gasped, why the hell did I choose my profession? Catina was shocked too, she asked if sex was involved.

As we discussed the logistics and the sliding scale of pricing in the massage-world, the chocolate cake came. The cake was disgusting. It was chalky, and desiccated. The one notable thing about the cake was the icing. It was chocolate and buttery, but no amount of icing could save the dry floury mess. I wanted the red-velvet cake, and instead I got this disaster that was the culinary equivalent of Chernobyl. Sensing my anger, another bartender bought us a round of drinks. And it dawned on me, I have not paid for a single drink at this visit. In fact as the night continued, Robert and the bartenders picked us up four rounds. By the end of the night I was staggering and requesting water in a hybrid of Cantonese, Mandarin, and Latin.

As we treaded out of the bar, I asked Catina “How many drinks did we pay for.”

“None,” she answered.

“How is that possible?”

“Bears like Asians.”

“Is there MSG in honey?”

In a scale of 1-4 with 4 being the best.

Quality: 3.5. It would be a four, but for the chocolate cake.

Service: 4. I love the bartenders, especially Andy. An aside, there is a surly barback, he needs to eat a sandwich.

Atmosphere: 3. It is a dive, and I would actually rank it higher, but some crazy people do come in; for example, odd wheelchair guy.

Hotness of Clientale: 2.5 They bought me a bunch of drinks – but I am not into bears.

[1] For those in the know, I admit Argyle Street is located in Uptown and one can get a decent Pho there, but you don’t know my mother. Think about it. She spawned me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ten Best Things I Ate in 2009

10. Onion rings at Big Chicks. OMG, Big Chicks sure has big o-rings. Juicy, crunchy, finger lickin' good ones at that.

9. Penang noodles at Joy's. Pan fried chow-fun noodles covered in Thai (coconut based) curry. Every fork is 500 calories. Every bite, an orgasm.

8. Seared pork belly with a pomegranate reduction at Riva's. I know it is at Navy Pier, and that many foodies gives this restaurant the proverbial finger, but Riva's has a special place in my heart. Eat the pork belly, and it will occupy your aorta too. Hormel has nothing on this; alas, it was wasted on worst date #10.

7. Three cup chicken at Lao Sze Cheun. With the fall of Shui Wah, there is only Lao Sze Cheun. And you have to order this! Sure the caramelized sauce (equal parts sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine) will send you into diabetic shock, but eat more. In fact order it to-go for the hospital staff.

6. Helene's blue berry crisp. Helene + Blue Berry + Brown Sugar = nuff' said

5. Curry beef stew at Tasty Choice. Sure it is my parent's restaurant, but it really is the best curry I ever had. In 10 days, I am freezing the stuff back to Chicago.

4. A pasta recipe I learned in my kitchen. Put sardines, olive oil, and basil in a pan. Cook together. Add angel hair pasta. Mix in parmesan reggiano. Top with toasted bread crumbs.

3. Cherry pie at Erwin. I would listen to Warrant for this.

2. A ragu that I made in February. The recipe called for 3 lbs of veal shanks, 12 oz, of spicy sausage, three 240z cans of tomatoes, carrots, onions, red wine .... I had it for two weeks and I try not to eat meat ever since. Totally worth it.

1. Happy hour with friends. Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's with Vlad, Dustin, Joshua, and ambiguously gay doctor. Dinner with my brother (you should get tickets). Dim sum with Asian drama.

Using Marginal Cost Curves in a Bathhouse to Combat STDs

Using Marginal Cost Curves in a Bathhouse to Combat STDs (WARNING)

WARNING: if you have a problem with reading about gay culture and bathhouses, do not read this entry.



Con Cuidado


Here it is.

Since New Year’s Eve, I have been eating out and drinking in a ridiculous manner. Over the past 40 hours I have been to:


Brew & View,


Starbucks (three times),

Argo Tea,


Joy’s Noodle,

Melrose Café, and

the new gelato place on Melrose and Broadway.

With the exception of Melrose Café, I was in a party of two or more, and I noticed that there was a central strand in all my social gatherings. Instead of talking about the New Year, or what we hope to achieve, the issue of “Steamworks” came up three times. For those not in the know, Steamworks is a “bathhouse” in Chicago. For those innocent of lascivious matters, a bathhouse is a complex where individuals go to have sex. In the context of Steamworks, it is a gay bathhouse. I now know why I have such few friends. In order to be popular I need to stop talking about Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge and write epistles about bathhouses.

As I stated, I had three conversations about Steamworks. In the first, a friend (“Jacob”) told me that he had to breakup with a “boyfriend” because the beau was HIV positive. Jacob mentioned that in hindsight it was not particularly surprising because he found out that the beau often met five or more men per visit.

The second discussion about Steamworks came out in passing when I asked “Emmett” about his frenemy “Jasper”. Emmett told me that even when Jasper was in a relationship, he still frequented Steamworks. In fact Jasper’s family was so appalled by his behavior, his mother actually went into the complex and asked the office to page his son.

The third discussion was with “Bella” whom told me that her brother was recently diagnosed with Hepatitis A. Both Bella and her brother believed that he contracted the disease from his many visits to Steamworks.

Now Dear Reader, I would like to dispel several notions that may be going through your head:

I. In none of these situations did I bring the issues of Steamworks or even sex (more the lack of) up;

II. My friends tend to be god-fearing types in stable relationships, and

III. I do not go to such places because I am

a. Spending all my money on food and drink;

b. Getting fat because of food and drink;

c. Have lost all interest in carnal desires and replaced it … with my love for quinoa and coffee.

That being said, the issue of condoms was brought up in discussions with Jacob and Bella. In both instances, they both confirmed that the infected party did not use a condom.

I am not a homosexual anthropologist, but I know that during the AIDS outbreak, gay culture went underground. Sexual norms included the use of condoms. But times change. With the acceptance of alternative lifestyles, people started to come out at an earlier age. Men having sex with each other was no longer taboo, it became a sort of amusement for the ladies of Sex & The City; a reoccurring chapter at the Oscars. Equally important are the good people at Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD) whom developed increasingly effective medication and treatments to combat various STDs including, HIV and Hepatitis A. As my friend, “Dr. Edward” said, “The life expectancy of a [HIV] positive individual is … 20 years. It is not the death penalty it once was.” This confluence of events led to the turning away of the bleak times of the AIDS outbreak, and to a new sense of carpe diem with gay men. We don’t have to worry about being safe because the STIGMA is not as sharp; the medication, not as invasive.

Now I do not know if Jacob’s boyfriend, or Bella’s brother engaged in such mental calculus, but between 2004-2008, the number of people newly infected with Hepatitis A, Syphilis, or Chlamydia rose (I could not determine HIV infection rates because the website breaks out its reporting by months and I got a bit lazy with my abacus). Inference does not lead to causation, but the inference is pretty strong. People increasingly do not use condoms, and they are getting infected.

An alarmist would argue “Close the fucking place down.” In fact this was the argument that a date, a dean of a prestigious graduate school presented. If Chicago can present evidence that Steamworks leads to greater incidents of HIV, then the city should use its police powers to close it down. Now this is completely constitutionally valid. In fact, until the dawn of this new decade, I use to hew to this orthodoxy. But now, as mercurial as my beliefs have become, I think there should be bathhouses, but there should also be incentives for the use of condoms.

I am not going into the logistics of it, but I presume that when two people engage in carnal activity, they prefer not using a condom. This preference appears to transcend sexual orientations. For example, many of my female friends use birth control in the form of prescription drugs rather than having their male partners wrap it up. Now I know there are some benefits in using pills; for example, one friend states it makes her skin better – but holding all things equal, a condom would be much less invasive. Hence, everyone has some sort of marginal cost (MC) in using a condom; less enjoyable sex. But that cost naturally comes with a marginal benefit (MB), reducing possibility of contracting an STD.

What the city/county/state/Federal government should do is subsidize the use of condoms. Now I don’t mean just giving them out. In fact condoms are so cheap now these days, that cost is rarely a barrier ((the cost may still be a hindrance for lower income households (in such a case, subsidy should be provided) but I am speaking under the spectrum of a Bathhouse here)). What the government should do, is actually offer a credit for used condoms at Steamworks. What this would do is shift the MB curve of using a condom. Say if an individual gets $1.00 for a used condom, this will give him an incentive to use it (there may also be more people going into Steamworks because I guess under this program they could make money, or at the very least lower the cost of entering; hence, the larger number of people having sex). Less people get sick. We, as taxpayers who pay 1.45% into Medicare will benefit. Condoms may not be perfect, but we are better off if they are used, rather then sitting in CVS.