I wasn't in much of a social mood when I left yesterday about a quarter after five, but as soon as I was standing at the bus stop, waiting to catch a ride over toward the Amtrak station, my spirits began to lift. I graded homework busily on the way down, profiting from the utter lack of distraction in the train and the already-dark outdoors, and walked out feeling free and justified in taking the rest of the night off. I grabbed a cab over to Kev's hotel, and just soaked in the feel of the city again, as I did when we did this back in February, in its such-greater-size than Milwaukee.
The Lakeshore W Hotel was hysterically funny when I walked in, and it was hard to keep from laughing. Throbbing dance music in the lobby, with one of the hotel's bars and restaurants sort of bleeding out into the lobby area, and young successful business people or clubbers eyeing one another up as they decorated this space so overtly designed for them, just made the whole place seem an MTV-generation caricature of itself. It felt not so much a hotel as a Hollywood set of what a hotel should be, where everyone is young, hip, and looking for action. I rang Kevin from the desk, and when he came around the corner, he read my face perfectly and just started laughing about it with me.
After I dropped my bag off in the room, we headed upstairs to the skyline-view bar called Whiskey Sky, which was deserted as we walked in. We grabbed a glass of some Pinot Noir each, settled at the bar where we could half-turn and enjoy the view of the Loop, and started talking about the biofeedback/learning research Kevin was in town to discuss with a neuropsychology researcher from Northwestern, to see what kind of collaboration they might be able to put together with Kevin's work with individuals and groups. This quickly lost the attention of the two working the bar, who began to ignore us with obvious boredom. I've picked up enough of this sort of thing from Kev, and from Erik to a lesser extent, over the years, that I can usually ask reasonably-intelligent student-questions, and find these other areas of Kev's work – those that don't so intersect with my own – interesting in their own right. As an alternative to unnecessarily medicating kids with ADHD, which I saw waaaaayyyy too much of as a high school teacher, this would use a biofeedback system to train kids toward keeping their thoughts still and focused, rather than slowing their processes down chemically to produce something akin to a greater focus.
This kept us busy, with regrets expressed that Steve Camilleri hadn't been able to join us from the Bend, and other random topics until around 8:30, when we got ready to leave the now-thriving Whiskey Sky and head out for our dinner reservation. I didn't know Kev had already made reservations, thinking that we might be exploring one of the in-house places, but Kev is consistent with one thing: when in Chicago, one must go to dinner at The Signature Room. It was far more crowded than the last time we had been there, also late at night, which surprised me for Sunday night. But we were quickly seated in the northeast corner, instead of center-east, which had been the case every other time I'd been there, so this was a treat for me as far as having a great view of Chicagoland lights stretching away northward. As always, the dinner was delicious, and worth remembering:
•I ordered a bottle of Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Reserva 2003, which we both liked a lot (and which redeemed me, in my eyes at least, from the French red I'd picked at the end of my Jackson stay that I could only sip with tolerance). This was wonderfully smooth, with a high, dry finish that lingered deliciously in the mouth, and which lent itself to everything.
•Kevin ordered an appetizer of Duck Confit Spring Rolls (with orange chutney and whole grain honey mustard) that were astonishing to me. I couldn't believe that they were able to make the outer layers of the rolls so dry, flaky and delicate while at the same time have kept the interior as moist as a piece of fruit.
•We both went with bowls of their Lobster Bisque (chervil crème fraîche and jumbo lump crab) that we had had last time, and that is still probably the richest soup I've ever had, but without being overwhelmingly rich, so that it becomes a kind of unpleasant good taste, if you know what I mean.
•For our main courses, Kev went with a dish he'd tried before and wanted to return to, the Roasted Amish Chicken (pecorino romano organic grits, king oyster mushrooms; truffle jus), while I tried the Seared Duck Breast (curried wild rice, tat soi; quince and pear gastric). Again, I think we both were very pleased.
•For dessert, I intended not to have anything, assuming that I was stuffed, but it was such a celebration of food that I found myself ordering three scoops of ice cream – chocolate, vanilla bean, and burnt caramel – while Kevin went with a chocolate mousse cake with raspberry sauce. This was complemented by two glasses of 20 year-old port, the name of which I didn't catch, which we got for free when our waiter had knocked over our bottle of wine as we were working on our first glasses. This was a deal, as we had probably only lost a half-glass, though we had certainly had a startling moment.
The conversation was a lineup of our usual suspects of subjects: marriage, family, romance, dating, sexuality, psychology, theology and spirituality, learning curves and notions of what constitutes progress in people growing together. He was in an inquisitive mood, and so I tried to work my way toward giving some kind of systematic response to some of his questions about this year throughout all of this, and then looking back farther through our histories, spurred on by other restaurant memories. That took us ranging from looking back to he and Frannie bringing me up to the Signature Room for dinner on the first night of their honeymoon (a story I get a lot of mileage out of) to our starting to get into restaurant culture together ten years ago with our weekly London Broil-and-glass-of-wine at the Chicago Steakhouse in South Bend before Tuesday night rehearsals for our last year in the Notre Dame Folk Choir.
Some of the wine-enhanced mood was thus one of reminiscing, but without getting melancholy, with Kevin occasionally exploding in such laughter that the entire restaurant reverberated with it. (This was okay at this point, as we were closing the place down.) Of course we missed Frannie's company, and toasted her presence in spirit with us, as well as a few other memories or thoughts as the conversation went on, with Kevin capping things off with a variation on 1 Corinthians 13 (which he'd been reading and meditating on of late), with "Here's to loving extravagantly, trusting God endlessly, hoping fiercely...." Exactly right.
When the staff was ready to get rid of us. we took our ports and went upstairs to the club, now taking a seat on the south side, so that we had the Loop stretched out below us, glowing in it towers of light. This we shared for a bit with a swarm of businessmen from a Japanese trade delegation, and opting against Irish music or a too-late night since we'd had some time to hang out recently, anyway, we returned to the hotel. There we talked a little more and laughed looking through some of the pics from the Ireland tour that I'd begun backing up online. And we called it a very good night.