After suriving a much-hyped audition process that included a crowded field of more than 1,000 applicants, Catherine De Orio finally makes her debut as host of Check, Please! on October 18 at 8pm. The show's third host in 13 seasons, the "food/travel writer and dining trends consultant" and Eater.com contributor inherits the head seat at the table of WTTW Channel 11's beloved, Emmy-winning "regular person" restaurant reviews program from Alpana Singh, who stepped down after her tenth year to oversee her River North wine bar and restaurant, the Boarding House. A native of suburban Elmwood Park and former Kendall College student, De Orio has appeared on Today and The Rachael Ray Show. Whereas master sommelier Singh contributed a rare level of expertise to the show, the lively De Orio seems to bring a more classic "media personality" vibe—expressive, clearly engaged—that viewers tend to eat up. With her first Check, Please! season in the can (though she declined to say which restaurants would be featured), De Orio called to chew over her new role, her approach to food fight mediation and her biggest dining pet peeve.
What has been the biggest adjustment in assuming the role as Check, Please! host?
I’m an active listener, so I don’t like to cut people off, but you have to cut guests off because of time constraints. The show is 22 minutes and each restaurant gets between six and eight minutes. So if somebody tells a two-minute story, that’s most of that segment. That’s been a big challenge. As a journalist, when you let people talk is when you get your best material, so my natural inclination is to let them keep going. I’ve had to learn to say, “Okay, let’s shorten that” or “I love what you’re saying, but let’s get to the point faster.” Because you know, people want to say, “So, I pulled up and the valet came out and they were really nice and the weather was kind of rainy...” You have to go, “OK, we haven’t even gotten in the door yet!”
It’s all too easy for a guest to generically describe a restaurant or a dish as “great.” Can it be tough to get people who aren’t restaurant reviewers to be more descriptive?
Sometimes it is. I do a little pre-interviewing with the guests because it gets them to start formulating a better description. We want it to be very fluid, very unscripted, so they’re in no way being prepped. It’s more of a chat: “What was it that you didn’t like? Tell me about your experience.” I don’t want to be sitting at the table and be hearing for the very first time that somebody hated the restaurant.
But Check, Please! is at its most compelling when there’s disagreement, when a guest chooses his favorite restaurant and one of the others has a disappointing experience.
Absolutely. I agree with you. We encourage them [to disagree], as long as their opinions are fair or it’s not some vendetta against some restaurant owner. If they had a bad experience, we want them to say that on air because that’s how you’re going to get the most accurate picture of the restaurant—and also it’s going to make for more interesting TV, for sure.
Perhaps you've seen them in Pioneer Court Plaza (where this monstrosity once stood): a solemn assembly of red black, blue, green and yellow kids sporting goggles. It's The Watch, the latest sculptural installation by contemporary art superstar Hebru Brantley. A part of Chicago Ideas Week (Brantley is this year's artist-in-residence), the cluster of his signature Fly Boys and Fly Girls represent ten Chicago Public School student who are members of the CIW YOU(th) program. We asked the artist what he wants to convey with The Watch, then spoke about superheroes, Lupe Fiasco, Brantley's own youthful energy and more. Read the interview here.
On an upper level of the Museum of Science and Industry, a band wearing Mickey Mouse ear-hats was oom-pah–ing its way through "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins. On the occasion of the opening of "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives," running through May 4, 2014, Mickey himself made an appearance on Wednesday alongside a burst of rainbow confetti. An overstimulated child reveled in the moment, joyfully rolling on the ground in a pile of the paper shreds as if his clothes were on fire.
Indeed, a sprinkle of the Magic Kingdom's manic glee has come to the MSI. But the exhibit's focus on the animation genius who conceived the Happiest Place on Earth isn't all smiles. In fact, with the exception of a couple of hands-on activity areas, the show doesn't necessarily cater to what has historically been Disney's primary audience: children.
The dense display of more than 300 artifacts from 90 years of Disney and the accompanying wall text tell two stories of the late, great Walter Elias Disney. There's the well-worn tale of an ambitious cartoonist with a wild imagination who birthed a global entertainment empire. And then there's the arguably more interesting, certainly more human portrait available—at least for anyone not totally fixated by the Pirates of the Caribbean props and the cases full of early Disneyana—one of a Chicago native who continually stuck his neck out and survived a number of brushes with failure, often through sheer gumption.
CocoRosie + Busdriver Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady have spent the past decade blending freak folk and hip-hop, releasing records that seemed confusing by design. The group's latest record, Tales of a GrassWidow, is its most accessible to date, reigning in the duo's penchant for toy instruments and nonsensical interludes. It's the first album the pair has made that doesn't sound like its trying to be as bizarre as possible. Metro. 9pm. $26.
A Raisin in the Sun On Chicago's South Side in the early 1950s, the Younger family debates which dreams to defer in Lorraine Hansberry's classic. Director Ron OJ Parson makes his TimeLine Theatre Company debut with the revival. TimeLine Theatre Company. 8pm. $35–$48.
As a born-and-bred original west-suburbanite, I generally think of two things when I think of the Itasca area—proximity to the famed Medinah Country Club golf course and inclusion as one of BusinessWeek’s Best Affordable Suburbs in 2009. But now there’s a great new thing in Itasca—Church Street Brewing Company. It’s been on my radar ever since Elliott Beier, beer director at Owen & Engine and certified cicerone, described their Heavenly Helles to me as, “the best Helles Lager in all the U.S. right now.” Well, hot damn.
A process known as “decoction mashing” contributes directly to this high praise; it’s a process that takes extra time, extra special equipment and extra effort, which is why so few places do it. But it makes a notable difference.
An insightful chat by the guys at the Hop Review with the Church Street crew goes into more detail, but basically it’s a process which allows the brewers to better control the mash temperature and to extract sugars in a way that goes above and beyond the normal brewing process, which results in a clearer, crisper, more precise and consistent beer. It’s a process that’s also used in this darker seasonal lager as well, and to great effect.
Pouring a beautiful copper color, this Marzen is caramel-sweet but not sticky or cloying, a little smoky and maybe a touch burnt but that adds enough complexity to make it interesting without being overwhelming. Above all, that crisp, clear, fresh roasty-dark lager roars through unfettered, making this as light-bodied yet sweet, hearty and flavorful as you can ask for. The finish is a little bitterer than expected, but it doesn’t take away from this fall-afternoon-in-a-glass concoction.
Find Itascafest at Beer Bistro and Church Street will also be pouring at this weekend’s Chicago Beer Festival—ask for it by name. Ein Prosit!
If you’re having trouble finding Marzen, the folks at Metropolitan know their way around a lager. Their Afterburner Oktoberfest is heftier, just a little richer in flavor and most definitely worth tracking down. And there's Baderbrau’s Oktoberfest, which, hand to God, tastes like Cracker Jack. See if I’m wrong.
Cascabel, the unique collaboration between celebrity chef Rick Bayless and Lookingglass Theatre Company, is set for an encore, it was announced this morning in an event at Bayless's Frontera Grill. "This is not dinner theater—it's theater about dinner," Bayless said today.
Bayless and co-director Heidi Stillman made the announcement that Cascabel would be newly staged in the Goodman Theatre's Owen Theatre next summer for a limited run, July 30–August 24, 2014. Tickets will go on sale to Lookingglass subscribers October 29 and to single ticket buyers November 19.
As first staged at Lookingglass's Michigan Avenue theater in March 2012, the dinner/theater hybrid set a Bayless-created multicourse meal against impressive circus acts coordinated by Tony Hernandez (also the creator of the dazzling Hephaestus) and tied together with a loose narrative that also included Bayless onstage, portraying a lovelorn chef (and eventually engaging in a little dancing). Figuring a dinner/theater hybrid like this deserved a hybrid review, TOC's then–associate Food & Drink editor Julia Kramer and I filed this back-and-forth take on Cascabel.
Simon Winchester British writer Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman, Krakatoa) discusses his latest book, The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible. It explores what factors led to disparate states becoming unified. Each ticket can be redeemed for $10 off the cover price of the book. Unity Temple. 7pm. $10.
Taste of Detroit 4.0: Terrance Parker + Tim Baker + Adam Stoltz Get your dose of Motor City muscle in this sampler of techno both old- and new-school. With thudding synthetic pianos and deep bass, Parker serves up house music your pops would dig (assuming you have a cool dad who hung around Chicago discotheques when Reagan took office). Stoltz streamlines the trademark sound into something sleek, mean and minimal. Primary. 10pm.
When a copy of Vintage Attraction, the new novel by Chicago author Charles Blackstone, arrived at the office weeks ago, it immediately caught our eye—not for its scenic cover photo, featuring the lovely blue-domed churches of Santorini, but for a small detail in his author bio: "Blackstone is married to Master Sommelier Alpana Singh, owner of the Boarding House restaurant in Chicago."
Mentioning his partner's career is a marketing move—the "semi-autobiographical" novel is about a young English teacher, Peter Hapworth, who falls in love with celebrity sommelier–slash–TV host, Isabelle "Izzy" Conway (Singh was the host of the WTTW show Check, Please!)—but it's still weird. Weirder still is the Bookslut managing editor's narrative style, rife with brand names, ham-handed metaphors and confusing syntax. We read sentences like this aloud, in amused disbelief: "For twenty years, my cock had stood at perpetual attention, stoic, compliant, dimly guileless, smiling dumbly, yet capable, in theory, of wreaking great havoc, like an armed and overweight bank branch rent-a-cop." See more examples in the slideshow above.
When our theater editor tweeted about how reading the book aloud had derailed the workday, Blackstone replied, "I see drinking game potential." Since the novel is about drinking wine, we had to agree. In advance of the novel's October 22 release, we present…
Vintage Distraction: A Vintage Attraction Drinking Game™
Some sticklers may be put off by the way the CW's new teen soap Reign plays loose with history, but for sheer entertainment value, this drama about a young Mary, Queen of Scots is trashy good fun. With a French palace stocked with sexy teens making eyes at each other, dastardly plots to steal the young queen's virtue, a conniving queen played deliciously by Anne of Green Gables star Megan Follows and prophetic dreams from a hunky Nostradamus, Reign is packed with over-the-top entertainment that's incredibly silly but irresistibly amusing.
Fiona Apple's best work of late has been a cover of tune from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, "Pure Imagination," as heard in a long commercial for Chipotle. Last night in the Bank of America Theatre, the 36-year-old covered Conway Twitty's 1958 chart topper "It's Only Make Believe."
For an artist whose power comes from uncut, often uncomfortable emotion, there is still a heavy dose of nostalgia and fantasy to what Apple does. Her Chicago stop was in a theater that has housed Jersey Boys and Buddy, after all. As postmodern as her piano pop can get, the artistry is balanced with the traditions of the old fashioned American songwriter. There is a theatrical sense to what she is doing, though intimate it may be. Wearing a dark wool coat and chopped black hair, Apple largely stuck to recent material from the difficult The Idler Wheel…. After one particular roar of audience cheer, Apple responded, "How am I supposed to have my meltdown?"
This tour is a collaboration with understated guitarist Blake Mills, who has previously backed Julian Casablancas. Apple performed two new songs, "Tipple" and "I Want You to Love Me," as well as "Dull Tool" from the This is 40 soundtrack.
Local Author Night This installment of the Book Cellar's Chicago-area author showcase features Janice Deal (The Decline of Pigeons), Kelly Daniels (Cloudbreak, California: A Memoir) and Jude Stewart (Roy G. Biv: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color). It's an eclectic lineup, as per usual. To quote the Book Cellar: "If variety is the spice of life, then Local Author Night is pretty much a giant jar of cayenne pepper." The Book Cellar. 7pm. Free.
Comfort Films and the Logan Square International Film Series Every Wednesday night in October is a double feature at Comfort Station. October 16 is campy night, so don't miss out on the schlock fest including Troll 2 (1990). October 23 is What the Hell is Happening night with Blue Sunshine (1978) and Pontypool (2009). And finally on the eve of Halloween, Japan Night, featuring Wild Zero (1999), starring Japanese garage rockers Guitar Wolf, and Hiruko the Goblin (1991). Comfort Station. 7pm. Free.
I said it before and I'll say it again: In the realm of ideas, Chicago Ideas Week isn't exactly original.
In its third year, the seven-day series running through October 20 is packed with panel discussions, hands-on labs and "master classes" on a wide range of subjects (entrepreneurship, innovation and other tech-industry baiting topics). It basically amounts to a midwest TED conference. Except that there already is such an event, TEDxMidwest, which happened back in May.
Peruse Ideas Week's lineup and you'll see a number of events that sound a little squishy. Take "Vocalo: Public Radio with Swag" or "Me So Far: Interesting People Are Attractive" or "Arrfscarf: A Pizza Party For You and Your Pet." IDEAS!
But to be fair, Ideas Week also brings to town plenty of prominent thinkers, creatives, media personalities and politicians. Herein, a look at some of the big names—and their big ideas.
The Steppenwolf cofounder and active philanthropist rounds out the panel Work: Fueling Performance, which centers on tips for being productive in today's increasingly digital and remote office life.
Cadillac Palace Theatre. Oct 16, 4–5:30pm.
Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss
The famously litigious Winkelvoss twins—social media's sorest losers and now the Bitcoin-obsessed principals of Winklevoss Capital Management—headline Next: Tomorrow, Today, a panel discussion that looks at the question "What's next?"
Cadillac Palace Theatre. Oct 17, 7:30–9pm.
While it seems that a restaurant can't open these days without a craft cocktail menu, that definitely wasn't always the case. If you've ever wanted to learn about the rise of cocktail culture, you'll want to duck out of work early on Monday and head to the Music Box Theatre for a screening of Hey Bartender. The documentary, released earlier this year, explores America's growing interest in cocktails and tells the stories of a couple of bartenders as they try to make it behind the stick.
RECOMMENDED: Know Your Bartender
We saw the film this summer and spotted some Chicagoans (like Mike Ryan), but also learned about the early days of the craft cocktail movement and the growing importance of the bartender.
There's a special screening this Monday afternoon and we have 10 tickets to give away. Malty Madness, held every third Monday of the month, features beer and cocktail tastings from Wirtz Beverage, Vanberg & DeWulf and Binny’s Beverage Depot. The tasting, which starts at 1:15pm, features a specialty cocktail and Monk's Stout, a Belgian interpretation of stout. Hey Bartender begins at 2pm.
Lovers of whimsical kitchenware throughout Chicago were crushed earlier this year when Johanna Lowe, owner of Martyn George, announced that she was closing her Grand Avenue culinary antique treasure house. “So many people came to our closing sale,” remembered Lowe. “The shop was completely full for the entire weekend with lines out the door. There was praise and good wishes and a little bit of sadness.” Good news—Martyn George is back, at least in a small way, with a retail space inside of Bang Bang Pie Shop.
Lowe decided to close her retail store after she was unable to find another location. “I needed better foot traffic,” Lowe explains, “but the rents were just insane.” After some thought, she decided to try to preserve the brand by doing business in a smaller way. “I started to think about doing a focused presence in other established yet independent businesses.”
Oyster Fest Shaw's Crab House is hosting their 25th annual Oyster Fest with half-priced oysters and a nightly slurp-off challenge to eat a dozen oysters as quickly as possible. The week-long event culminates in the Block Party, with a Grand Slurp-Off, beer from Goose Island, wine, and live music from blues legend Buddy Guy. Shaw's Crab House, 21 E Hubbard St • 1900 E Higgins Rd, Schaumburg. Oct 14-18. Block Party: Shaw's Crab House. 21 E Hubbard St. Oct 18, 3–10pm. $30 cash only.
Whiskey Women Fred Minnick explores the importance of women in the history of whiskey with his book, "Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey." The talk will feature a discussion panel with Monique Huston of Stoller Wine & Spirits, Karen Sisulak of Southern Sisters Spirits, Meg Bell of Death's Door Spirits and Sonat Hart of Koval Distillery. There will also be whiskey samples from Death's Door Spirits, Koval and Stoller Imports. The Hungry Brain, 2319 W Belmont Ave. Oct 16, 6–8pm. Free.
1. Eugene Mirman + John Hodgman + Kristen Schaal Three of our favorite erudite weirdos team up for the six-city "MirmanHodgmanSchaal Sandwich-to-Go Tour." We keep trying to find a way to extend the drive-thru metaphor, but it all just sounds creepy. Still, that delicious graphic has us wondering why on earth Hodgman hasn't guested on Bob's Burgers yet. Vic Theatre. Oct 19 at 8pm. $37.50.
2. Janeane Garofalo The acerbic, politically outspoken comedian holds forth over a two-night stand at Mayne Stage. We imagine she'll have some choice words if the government shutdown is still on. Just don't ask her to tell you the truth about cats and dogs. Mayne Stage. Oct 18, 19 at 8, 10:30pm. $30–$40.
Frank Lloyd Wright Tour A visit to the Chicagoland area wouldn't be complete without a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District in Oak Park, home to the world's largest collection of Wright-designed buildings, including the architect's own home and studio. There are both 75–90-minute self-guided walking tours (in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish) and 60–75-minute guided walking tours. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. 10am–3:30pm.
ART & DESIGN
"Imperfect Symmetry: A Compendium" Curated by Sara Black and Karsten Lund, this group exhibition features multimedia explorations of "imperfect symmetry"—or the indeterminate border between symmetry and asymmetry. Artists engaging with the topic—via photographs, videos, sculptures, sound words and performances—include Sarah & Joseph Belknap, Escape Group, David Horvitz, Judith Leeman, Lucky Dragons, Carrie Schneider, Younger and others, each offering different takes on what imperfect symmetry might be. A print publication, featuring additional work by the participating artists, accompanies the show. A+D 11th Street Gallery, Columbia College. 11am–5pm.
RECOMMENDED: Halloween costumes for individuals
I'm a fan of the clever costume over the slutty one, but I have to acknowledge that there are going to be a lot of twerking Mileys this Halloween. So here's where you can find the perfect perverted teddy bear costume and Beetlejuice Robin Thicke costume to go with it. Plus check out more costumes for couples and groups at costume shops around Chicago.
Wondering why there is no mail in your mailbox? Why there are kids skateboaring in the Loop? Today is Columbus Day, the most forgotten of national holidays. The day is largely reserved for celebrations of Italian-American heritage. While Chicago's Columbus Day parade pales in comparison to New York's, we at least run our floats down a road named for the explorer, Columbus Drive. In the middle of a delightful fall Monday, crowds gathered to wave the red, white and green in Grant Park. We were there to snap photos.