Saturday, December 23, 2017
Business took me to Superior and Halsted Thursday afternoon—more about that on Monday. When I was done, I realized that, rather than head downtown to Union Station to catch a train home, I could just proceed straight west.
It was a two-mile walk, but I had Jonathan Eig's excellent Ali: A Life to listen to on my phone, and was in no particular rush. I'd have plenty of time to intercept the 3:55 at the Western Avenue Metra station.
Condos gave way to industrial buildings. Some big Museum of Contemporary Art warehouse. A lot of construction—men tearing down buildings, putting up additions.
I slid over to Grand Avenue and realized I was hungry. My business at River West required me to percolate myself in hot and cold pools, and the turkey sandwich I had at 11:30 ran out an hour ago.
A Starbucks loomed into view and I briefly considered sliding in for a mid-afternoon cup of coffee and some kind of baked good. But the food at Starbucks ... ewww, right? It's what you eat when you don't have the option of eating anything else. I decided I'd rather be hungry.
And who knows? Some local establishment might present itself.
As if to reward me for that line of thinking, a few minutes later a pleasant little place, Tempesta Market, materialized on Grand. I went in.
My attention concentrated, naturally enough, on the gelato. I don't think I've had any gelato since we were in Rome last April. A friendly young woman named Danielle asked if I'd like a taste. Sure, the pistachio please. It wasn't bad. Your basic pistachio gelato send up from central casting. Not quite worth the calories to eat.
I explored the rest of the store. Their first sandwich was called "The Dante"—hot soppressata, mortadella, finnochioa, six meats in all. Danielle told me that the name was picked by Tempesta's general manager to honor the sandwich's spiciness, which instantly won my loyalty. Samples of ham and cheese were set out. I tried those, plus toast smeared from a large chunk of deep red substance—nduja—that tasted like a kind of dry chorizo, perfected by owner Tony Fiasche, from a family recipe dating back five generations. Interesting and complex. But not what I was hankering for.
And then I noticed a chalkboard describing soup: "Kuri-Kuri. Red Kuri Squash Soup. Creme Fraiche. Curried Pistachio and Toast."
"Is it good?" I asked.
"It's good," said Danielle.
"Give me the soup," I said.
Hail chef Mike Rivera (How many storefront markets even have a chef?) The soup wasn't too heavy or too sweet, not too hot or too anything. Just perfect. And it looked beautiful. Look at that soup. A mid afternoon joy, beautifully presented, for five bucks. The buttery toast was tasty too.
Don't overlook the thick cloth napkin under the bowl. I also had one on my lap. A really beautiful napkin, its green line echoing china coffee cups in old diners. Soft. Thick. The kind of touch that communicates to a patron that the restaurant cares, and is paying attention. Somebody has to wash that napkin, and dry it and fold it. A lot of work. But excellence and a lot of work tend to go hand-in-hand.
I returned my empty bowl and went on my way buoyed. Yes, the day got complicated after that. Turns out the 3:55 is one of the few trains on the Milwaukee District North Line that doesn't stop at Western. I watched it thunder by and thought. "At least I have my phone." Which went from 50 percent power to flatline dead in my hands, perhaps due to the cold.
Which is funny, because last week I switched from paper train tickets to e-tickets thinking No worries, the good old Apple never ever dies.
But I had a solid base from the soup and toast, had the presence of mind to go into the station—a truly empty, creepy room from the 1930s that looks like a black and white crime scene photo after the bodies were removed—and let the phone warm up.
Sure enough, it had just enough life to flash the conductor on the 4:15 my ticket, and the day recovered its sense of order and rightness. Next time I'm going for the Dante sandwich because, really, how often do you get the chance?