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.

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