Welcome to the Local Dish
Melissa Elsmo | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 17, 2013 9:11AM
My love affair with restaurants began in earnest when I moved to Chicago more than 20 years ago.
On my nightly walk home from work, I’d peer into the windows of the historic Pump Room so intently that I was surely risking a voyeurism charge, but I had never seen a more romantic restaurant in my life. I was captivated by the glittering chandeliers, the diaphanous white curtains hanging in the windows, and the constant bustle of suit-clad servers in the dining room. I was barely 20 and couldn’t imagine being able to afford a meal at such a fine establishment, but gazing through those windows allowed me to imagine being grown up in an entirely new way. I stalked that restaurant for a year.
Aware of my propensity to linger near the restaurant’s windows, my boyfriend made a reservation at the Pump Room for us to celebrate a special occasion. He may have thought he was staving off my inevitable arrest, but his gallant gesture changed everything I knew about restaurant dining. I bought a new dress at Bloomingdale’s for the occasion and looked forward to the meal for days ahead of our reservation.
Walking through the doors felt like being welcomed into a secret club as I touched the black and white photographs of all the celebrities who had eaten in the restaurant over the years. The very same waiters I’d watched from the sidewalk pulled out my chair, asked if I was comfortable, and refilled my water glass. We ate soup served from a table side tureen, savored lobster ravioli, and giggled over the fact that were youngest patrons in the establishment by more than a few decades. Over the course of that meal, the grown-up life of my imagination had become my reality. I knew restaurants would play a vital role in my life from that moment on.
Today, I have the same dinner companion I dined with at Pump room all those years ago and we live with our kids in Oak Park. I save up for indulgent meals the way most folks save up for a well-deserved vacation and my love for restaurant fare is rarely exclusionary. I welcome everything from haute cuisine to blue plate specials. I’ll savor a prohibition cocktail made by a hipster mixologist or slurp a corner store horchata with equal exuberance. I relish in witnessing the graceful evolution of a world-class chef as much as I like chatting up the baristas in my favorite coffee shop. I am open to a romantic dinner for two or a raucous family style meal.
To break it down even further…I just really appreciate the people who cook for me. That’s especially true when it comes to dining locally. Thankfully, our community is brimming with adorable establishments that peddle their own house specialties and give lucky folks a place to sit back, relax and savor some local flavor. Twice a month, we’ll visit a local restaurant right here at The Local Dish. I’ll try to get to know the cooks in the kitchen and tell the stories behind some of our favorite local haunts. While I will highlight some standout dishes from each establishment, the column will not be critical of food in any way. I’ll describe the décor and pass along a little information about reservations and menu pricing to help make planning your next local restaurant outing a breeze.