I’ve been a resident of Chicago for two years, and after spending my childhood in the ‘burbs and nearly a decade in New England I took immense pride in having a city zip code attached to my address. I’ve been single for as long as I’ve lived in the city, but my romance with patisseries, pubs, and GrubHub has been constant. The thrill hopping on the El to explore a new neighborhood, the smells of curry, garlic, and something fishy as I walk down Sheridan Rd.- these exciting revelations haven’t diminished over time. Perhaps this is what happens when one has spent the past several years in a small town..
Whenever I go out on dates, my friends want to know how the company was, but it seems like a good chunk of the experience can be shaped by the atmosphere. Where we meet- whether it’s a hipster coffee bar, a Kosher-style deli, or my favorite brewpub- can influence the date almost as much as the conversation and chemistry (or, more often than not, lack thereof). With this in mind, I decided to explore writing about an evening’s juicy culinary details with my company in the background- instead of the other way around.
THE SCENE: Anteprima, Andersonville, on a warm, late August night.
I arrived early and was gratified to find that my date had made a reservation. The lighting was dim, and while the décor was sparse, there seemed to be lots of small works of art framed in copper-green filigree on the walls. The bartender quietly sang Michael Jackson to herself as she fixed someone else’s drink, and she handed me a menu- “reading material,” she called it. I stared aghast at the selection for several minutes: I wanted to eat every single thing. Making food decisions was going to be quite difficult.
My date approached me shortly thereafter, and we were ushered to the snug back patio. I greatly enjoy the restaurants on Clark Street in Andersonville for many reasons, especially the architecture- the buildings run long, and it’s often difficult to see the depth of the eatery from the host stand. We ordered drinks; my cocktail included peppercorn vodka, vanilla, and some other mystery ingredients that lent it a particular sweetness before giving way to the anticipated peppery bite. After a long deliberation my companion and I decided on ordering a set combination of several tapas-style starters; thank goodness I didn’t actually have to decide on a small plate or two!
The conversation ebbed and flowed, we both rejoiced over the presence of little breadsticks in the bread basket, and eventually our large plate of little bits arrived. By then the sun had set and soft lighting permeated the patio, reflecting off of the copious amounts of flowers that framed the back of the building. The first delicacy I chose was a petite purple olive. Lo and behold: love at first bite. The olives were almost fruity in taste (beyond the fact that they were marinated in orange, which I later remembered sheepishly), and the eggplant caponata looked dark as tar but brought a smoky-sweet flavor that somehow reminded me of summer camp.
My companion and I talked Star Trek and made our way through the rest of the small plate bonanza, which included grilled peaches (swoon), roasted corn, some kind of bean and red pepper salad, and zucchini. The service was impeccable, although when the waiter came around to ask us if we wanted anything else I rather hoped he’d just go away- I was still reveling in the aforementioned grilled peaches. In true tapas spirit, we concluded the meal by splitting corn ravioli in a brown butter sauce, which inspired a moment of rapture, closed eyes, and a verbal “mmph” of contentment from both of us.
Neither of us deigned to look at the dessert menu, but before we parted ways for the evening we both expressed the hope that another date would be on the horizon. Clearly, a gent who had chosen such an ambient, tasty venue for a first date AND had professed an affinity for Star Trek was someone I wanted to get to know better. When I texted him the next morning to thank him for such a lovely night, I suggested that our next date should perpetuate the pleasure we shared in enjoying good food: up next, a cooking class. I hear that Sur La Table has one featuring how to make French macaroons, which would clearly make up for the fact that neither of us were in the mood for one of the several decadent desserts at Anteprima.