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March 3, 2006

Get a Life—March 3, 2006

What is it about the end of the quarter that draws parents to the U of C? It doesn’t make sense that they should swarm at the time when we have the most work—and when we will probably see them again in a couple weeks.

But, for whatever reason, all my friends seem to have family visiting. And the parental visit—for me, at least—is about one thing: food. It’s about seeking out a restaurant that is amazing and amazingly expensive, dressing up in fancy clothes, hopping in a velour-upholstered rental car, and having a gluttonous multi-course meal without looking at the prices. And then there’s quality time, of course. Family bonding, heartfelt conversation, touching moments, etc., etc. But why not have these things over a good meal? In fact (little known fact here), the better the food, the higher the quality of time. True story. Tell your parents if they really wanted to have quality time, if they were serious about quality time, they would take you to one of these two places.

Blackbird

The gimmick at Blackbird is that they will, depending on your preference, sing to you either the Beatles’ “Blackbird” or the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” I’m totally kidding. Can you imagine if that were true? No, I’m pretty sure that everyone who works at Blackbird would quit before debasing themselves in such a manner.

Blackbird is as trendy and posh as restaurants get—which isn’t to say that the service isn’t attentive and, more importantly, that the food isn’t superb. It is. The constantly changing menu is best described as eclectic, modern American, with lots of fish and game as well as some vegetarian options.

I guarantee you will have to ask your waitress what half the words on the menu mean. Knelfa? Garbure? Arrop? Yeah, I had to look them up too. (Button-shaped egg dumplings, the name for a French peasant soup, and a syrupy pumpkin-and-wine dessert from Spain, respectively.) I wouldn’t bother with asking too much, though. Everything that comes out of Blackbird’s kitchen tastes good, no matter what’s in it.

Lula Café

The bummer about the parent visit is that once it’s over, and I have become enamored with a shiny, new restaurant, I can no longer afford to go. The beauty of Lula Café is that this doesn’t have to be the case. The restaurant has a menu of nightly specials, using more expensive, seasonal ingredients, as well as a “café” menu with most entrees under $10 and some much cheaper.

When my parents came to visit, I ordered the Brie and cauliflower soup with cider gastrique as an appetizer. It was super rich but very good, and they did the thing where they pour the soup into your bowl at the table. Love it. I also got the delicious herb-ricotta gnocchi with butter poached lobster, sweet potato “red hots,” baby leeks, and brown butter.

And for when my parents are no longer footing the bill, the café entrees are surprisingly good, too. I love that a restaurant that serves an amuse bouche also has a $6.50 entree. (An amuse bouche is that little morsel of food they bring out before the meal at fancy restaurants—literally, “mouth amusement.” Get your mind out of the gutter.) The décor at Lula Café is constantly changing: Our waiter told us that a new artist redecorates the place every few months. On this particular visit, the theme seemed to be Honey, I Blew Up the Kid meets Valentine’s Day: mini furniture on red walls with slightly trite and romantic sayings printed in cursive around the room. It wasn’t actually as weird as it sounds.

Be prepared to wait any time you go to Lula Café: They don’t take reservations, and it is one of the hottest tables in Chicago. Pass the time by discussing the cinematic merits of Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (is it inappropriate that Rick Moranis falls down the pants of his ginormous two year old?) and how amused your mouth will soon be.

Blackbird

Address: 619 West Randolph Street

Phone: (312) 715-0708

Via CTA: Green Line to Clinton.

Via car: Take Lake Shore Drive to I-55 South toward St. Louis. Take the I-90/I-94 West exit 292 toward Wisconsin. Merge onto I-90/I-94 West exit 53A toward Wisconsin. Take the East Washington Boulevard exit. Turn right onto West Washington Boulevard. Turn left onto North Jefferson Street. Turn left onto West Randolph Street.

Lula Café

Address: 2537 North Kedzie Boulevard

Phone: (773) 489-9554

Via CTA: Brown Line to Kimball. Take the #93 California/Dodge Northbound to North Shore and California.

Via car: Take Lake Shore Drive to I-55 South toward St. Louis. Take the I-90/I-94 West exit 292 toward Wisconsin. Merge onto I-90/I-94 West exit 53A toward Wisconsin. Take the Fullerton Avenue exit. Turn left onto North Kedzie Avenue. Turn left onto West Belden Avenue. Turn left onto North Kedzie Avenue/North Kedzie Boulevard.