2013.03.13 Chicago on the fly nets headless broccoli

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Except for flying in and out on a layover, it’s been a really long time since we’ve been to Chicago. Maddie has lived there since October, but this past weekend was the first time we’ve visited her.

She suggested it would be a good time for us to come since one of her two roommates would be traveling in Brazil and we could use her room. We’re cheap travelers, generally only visiting places where we have people to stay with, so it was a case of strike while the iron is hot.

Plus, Maddie’s travel trajectory has her pointed toward California where she plans to work at an organic farm for six months starting in June. I find it exceedingly amusing that she who loves warm places, and almost went to college in Florida, ended up in the Windy City during its coldest months. But, man ol’ man, I can see how she has easily endured the weather to be ensconced in the splendor of the city. 

We spent a late night, a full day and a morning and early afternoon keeping up with her. We had no plans; we hadn’t even done our usual sites-to-see-in-a-city research. I thought it would be fun to visit The Bean (Cloud Gate) sculpture in Millennium Park because I’d seen it in photos of friends on Facebook, and I wanted to eat good restaurant food, but beyond that, we formed our plans on the fly.

The guiding force of our approach to sightseeing was the chance to win $25 tickets to see “The Book of Mormon” at the Bank of America Theater. The theater has a drawing at noon and at 6 p.m. in which you can win one or two tickets. About 20 tickets are available. 

Maddie figured if only one of us won the drawing for two tickets, David and I should go to it since she’d have future opportunities to win the drawing. I thought that was crazy since we had come to Chicago to see her, not “The Book of Mormon.” I thought it made more sense for either of us parents to go with her; and not to be greedy, thought I should attend with her since David would probably have more fun people watching and visiting obscure places than sitting in a dark theater.

So, Maddie set about making plans with David in mind. Possibilities included Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and the Chicago Cultural Center. It’s one of the nicest things about an iPhone, or any smartphone, the ability to look things up instantly.

After a way-too-lengthy discussion on where to eat (the choices are so overwhelming), we set out for Chinatown. I don’t remember how Maddie knew to take us to Lao Sze Chuan, but it was an excellent choice.

The host, the gruffest-voiced Chinese man I’ve ever encountered, ordered us around like a Mafia gangster. He gave us a number and told us the wait would be 15-20 minutes. Maddie and David went off to explore while I chose to stay. Two minutes later he announced our table was ready.

In that two minutes waiting in the entry, I read a review posted on the window that raved about the chicken dish, Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili, and decided that’s what I would have. 

Maddie and David decided to share a dish so we wouldn’t be saddled with leftovers while sightseeing. They chose Chinese Garlic Broccoli, which, coupled with my chicken, we figured would be a well-rounded meal for all of us.

I almost burst out laughing when their broccoli arrived. Somehow I thought it included tofu, but it was simply a bunch of broccoli and garlic. And it wasn’t your normal looking broccoli—it was all stems and leaves, no heads.

“This looks like what I put in the compost when I make broccoli,” observed David. 

“It looks like they used the broccoli heads in another dish,” he said, gesturing to a dish of broccoli and beef on the table next to us, separated by only six inches.

“I thought it was prepared in Chinese style,” said David.

“No, it’s Chinese broccoli,” said Maddie, the former picky eater who now knows more about food than her parents.

Still, it was very good and my chicken was divinely delicious.

Taking stock a day later of our short trip, the visual that comes to mind is an open mouth. My open mouth.

Eating at the Chinese restaurant. Gaping in awe at the Chicago Cultural Center stained glass domes. Laughing at the comedy show. Jabbering about what an amazing city this is.

Not to be disloyal to New York, but Chicago—it’s my kind of town.

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