The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Weekend reading list

Just a few things I'm reading that you also might want to read:

And finally, it's getting close to April and the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Stay tuned.

Last blast of winter

It's March, meaning it's meteorologically spring, but this morning it doesn't feel that way. The overnight low at O'Hare bottomed out at -19.4°C, with a forecast high today around -9°C. We may even hit a record for the coldest March 4th in recorded history. Real spring-like weather won't come until Saturday, at the earliest, when it'll stay above freezing all day while it rains on us.

At least we have a pleasant side-effect to this Arctic high-pressure system squatting over Chicago right now:

Same space, different restaurant

I live only a short walk from the space formerly occupied by 42 Grams, one of the best restaurants I've ever experienced. The food at 42 Grams was so good that they earned two Michelin stars just a few months after opening. But when the owners' marriage fell apart, so did the restaurant, closing suddenly one weekend in May 2017.

A new restaurant opened in the space at the end of September, and...well, it might be worth trying, but maybe not yet.

Brass Heart opened last summer. Chicago Eater was optimistic:

Last year, there was worry about a lack of fine dining options in Chicago after a rash of closings including Tru and 42 Grams. Brass Heart swings the pendulum the other way.

The Robb Report interviewed chef Matt Kerney on his ambitions for the space:

“It’s a chef’s dream to have a little tasting menu-only restaurant, and when given the opportunity, I wanted to do my high-end, hyper-refined restaurant,” he says.

“Everything that we cook I want to taste like the purest form of itself. I want the lobster to be the most lobster-y lobster you’ve had and the tomato to be the most tomato-y,” he says. “For our tomato dish we make a tomato oil, and then a tomato vinegar on top of that. Everything is about amplifying exact flavors.” And where at Longman he worked magic with a lot of off cuts, he gets the luxury of creating with high-end ingredients at Brass Heart, using A5 wagyu and lobster in his menu.

But the post-open reviews do not encourage. Chicago magazine gave it 1½ out of 4 stars:

Alas, the procession of zillion-megawatt meteorites is interspersed with miscalculations and filler. The course before that magical halibut involved cappelletti chewier than bubblegum, stuffed with oversalty pheasant, and served in a broth so aggressively earthy it almost tasted like dirt. After the halibut came a shockingly bland seared lamb loin sitting atop ground hazelnuts and surrounded by beets and 25 dots of flavorless persimmon purée. Next came the Kobe beef masterpiece and, with it, hope. But the following course? A nutty Grayson cheese that had been transformed into a slice of cheesecake and paired, for some nefarious reason, with Dijon mustard foam: a marriage that makes no sense. The 15 courses began to feel like a Ping-Pong game between James Beard and an art school freshman. The three-and-a-half-hour meal’s rhythm, which was relaxed bordering on somnolent, only accentuated the problem.

It does have 4½ stars on Yelp, but so do Wildberry Pancakes and Dog Haus Biergarten.

So I may not plunk down the $125 for the entry-level omnivore menu just yet. We'll see what the Michelin folks say.

Stuff I'm reading this weekend

From the usual sources:

Time to walk the dog.

This sort of thing has cropped up before

...and it has always been due to human error.

Today, I don't mean the HAL-9000. Amtrak:

Amtrak said “human error” is to blame for the disrupted service yesterday at Union Station.

A worker fell on a circuit board, which turned off computers and led to the service interruption, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

The delay lasted more than 12 hours and caused significant overcrowding at Union Station.

The error affected more than 60,000 Amtrak and Metra passengers taking trains from Union to the suburbs, according to reports. Some riders resorted to taking the CTA or using ride-sharing services to get home, Chicago Tribune reported.

An analysis of the signal system failures and determined they were caused by “human error in the process of deploying a server upgrade in our technology facility that supports our dispatch control system” at Union Station, Amtrak said in a statement. Amtrak apologized in the statement for failing to provide the service that’s expected of it.

Which led my co-workers to wonder, why the hell were they doing a critical server upgrade in the middle of the day?

Chicago's very own wormwood liqueur

Chicago produces a...technically non-toxic liquid called Jeppson's Malört. If you don't know what this is, The Ringer explains:

The first thing you should know about Malört is that, well, it’s bad. A Google search for it will direct you to the term “Malört face,” a query that will lead to a close-up montage of poor souls reacting to their first taste of the amber liquor: eyes closed, noses scrunched, jaws clenched, veins swelling out of foreheads, perhaps a tear trickling down a cheek in horror or disgust. This is pretty much the point.

For 85 years, Jeppson’s Malört has been a Chicago institution, one that has remained basically unchanged since Prohibition. It’s compared to absinthe, which shares its wormwood core, and to aquavit, which shares its Scandinavian lineage, but Malört isn’t like anything. Describing its flavor profile is a favorite parlor game among those who’ve sampled it. It tastes like earwax or a hornet’s nest or paint thinner or anger; in the words of the back label on the bottle, it is “bitter,” “unusual,” “full-bodied,” and “savored by two-fisted drinkers.” Its following in Chicago has all a cult’s hallmarks: an initiation ritual (see: the Malört face, frequently snarled by visitors who’ve trusted a Chicagoan to order for them), a secret handshake (the so-called Chicago handshake: a shot of Malört and an Old Style), and more than a few tattoos inked across diehards’ flesh. Malört is many things: a Midwestern tradition, a temperance loophole, and a passion project that became a life’s work that could become, maybe, a national phenomenon.

Malört came to the company by way of a Swedish immigrant named Carl Jeppson, who’d arrived in Chicago in the late 1800s from Ystad, a city in the country’s south. He’d fashioned Malört after the bitter spirits of Sweden and started selling the stuff as something of a cure-all—the word “malört” is Swedish for wormwood, sometimes used in digestifs out of a belief that the herb settles the stomach. This may have helped Jeppson skirt Prohibition: Legend holds that he was fond of offering suspicious, bootlegger-hunting Feds a taste of his wares, after which they could only conclude that no one would dare drink it recreationally. The exact details are murky, but sometime in the mid-1930s, shortly after Prohibition ended, Jeppson sold the recipe to Bielzoff, which carried on making it.

As a native Chicagoan, I have, of course, had some. And I can't recommend trying some too much.

The last moments of winter

Today actually had a lot of news, not all of which I've read yet:

And now, good night to February.

WBEZ's Natalie Moore on Tuesday's election

The veteran Chicago Public Media reporter says "Black Chicago has to stop chasing the ghost of Harold Washington:"

The spirit of Harold Washington won’t save Chicago.

Washington’s legacy as the city’s first black mayor and Democratic machine breaker is legendary. A remarkable 82 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 1983 race in which he first won. Compare that to the dismal 34 percent earlier this week. Unfathomable numbers when you pair them side by side. Voter turnout in mayoral races has usually hovered around one-third of the electorate in recent years.

His mayoral tenure is oft referred as the halcyon days. It’s a story that reads like a modern-day political fable. The unlikely charismatic candidate who stood up to the powers that be. The experienced politician the white media initially dismissed. He split the white vote and bested a white Republican contender. Once on the fifth floor of City Hall, Washington ushered in new inclusive policies while giving blacks a better share of political power and jobs.

The power of Washington’s name and legacy is real, but today, it’s almost a figment of our imagination. We’ve embraced a romanticized vision of that time and a belief that it is the template for harnessing black political power. His name is always invoked in political campaigns. When local elections creep up, the question comes up: Who is the next Harold? How do black wards agree on a “consensus candidate?” The magic of 1983 won’t likely be repeated. Ever. We will be okay.

Make no mistake. Washington is unforgettable, particularly for black Chicagoans who witnessed his rise to power. That time will always have a place in our hearts. But true black political power has many faces. It helped created the opportunity for Harold to become Harold — not the other way around.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk.

Historic Chicago election

I told you the Chicago mayoral election would be difficult. I had no idea that my preferred candidate would come out in first place, setting up an April 2nd election that will elect Chicago's first African-American woman mayor:

It’s only the second time Chicago has had a runoff campaign for mayor, which occurs when no candidate collects more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.

Unofficial results showed Lightfoot with 17.5 percent of the vote, Preckwinkle with 16 percent and Bill Daley with 14.7 percent, with 96 percent of precincts counted. They were trailed by businessman Willie Wilson with 10 percent, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza with 9 percent, activist and policy consultant Amara Enyia with 8 percent, Southwest Side attorney Jerry Joyce with 7 percent and former CPS board President Gery Chico with 6 percent.

The remaining six candidates, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, former Ald. Bob Fioretti, tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin and attorney John Kozlar, each collected less than 6 percent.

The results set up a showdown between two self-styled progressives — Preckwinkle, chair of the Cook County Democratic Party and a former longtime alderman who rose from Hyde Park’s bastion of liberal politics, versus Lightfoot, a first-time candidate who has railed against Chicago’s history of machine politics and vowed to usher in a new era of reform at City Hall.

One of them will become Chicago’s second female mayor, following Jane Byrne, who served one term from 1979 to 1983. And if Lightfoot is elected, she would become the city’s first openly gay mayor. Both would become the second African-American elected Chicago mayor after Harold Washington, who served from 1983 until he died in 1987.

On the other hand, out of 1.5 million registered voters in Chicago, only about a third showed up at the polls. My ward has about 55,000 residents, and the top-two candidates for Alderman only got 8,000 votes between them. (My candidate came in third, sadly.)

Still, I'm pleased with the results. I think Preckwinkle will win the runoff, given her name recognition and County-level machine behind her, but I'm OK with her as mayor. Regardless, the next four years should see some shifts away from policies that benefit people like me towards people who need the benefits more, which ultimately will help the city in the long run. Having an African-American mayor might also stem the flow of African-Americans leaving the city, which, again, will make Chicago stronger.

Boring Chicago politics

Tomorrow is Chicago's mayoral election (with an expected run-off on April 2nd), which is only one of the problems facing Elon Musk's proposal to build a high-speed rail line from O'Hare to the Loop:

The so-called O’Hare Express project sounded like the stuff of science fiction and for [36th Ward Alderman Gilbert] Villegas, it still is. The former Marine and Gulf War veteran’s inaugural trip on a retrofitted Tesla Model X in a mile-long tunnel in Southern California topped out at 40 mph and was bumpy going. He described the ride as uneven, like the feeling of driving a car on an unpaved road. “It wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be,” Villegas told The Verge. “It certainly felt too experimental for someone to invest a billion dollars in.”

In June, Musk said that one of the reasons he chose Chicago to host the first “publicly useful” Boring Company venture was that “the number of approving authorities is small.”

He had reason to believe that he had automatic approval from one of those authorities — the Chicago City Council. Musk’s bromance with [Chicago Mayor Rahm] Emanuel is strong. During their joint press conference in Chicago last June, the mayor praised Musk as “one of the great visionaries of our time” and jokingly asked for Boring Company stock.

Emanuel’s decision not to seek re-election (he’s abdicating power to write a book about why mayors rule the world) is disastrous for Musk’s O’Hare Express.

It’s possible that Musk could successfully sell his futuristic tunnel to the 14 mayoral candidates lined up to succeed Emanuel in May, but that prospect looks equally bleak. When asked to their opinion on O’Hare Express, the response from Chicago’s mayors-to-be has ranged from neutrality to open contempt.

“It’s going to die on its own. This thing is goofy,” said former Chicago Public Schools chairman Gery Chico during a candidate forum earlier this month according to the Chicago Tribune. Paul Vallas, another mayoral hopeful, had harsher words: “I’d kill it,” said Vallas according to the Tribune. “I can’t wait to kill it.”

Well, that's all pretty unfortunate. I would love to see high-speed rail from O'Hare, but I also know how this city works. We'll get it someday. Just not in the 2020s.