Birthday Gourmandizing

Okay, yes, so I kind of lied with yesterdayʼs title. I didnʼt really tell you very much about My Big Birthday Weekend, and I knew as I was writing that wasnʼt going to be the topic — it was more like The Background to Our Recent Weekend Getaway. As the decent nonlying person I am, I feel so guilty about that misleading title that I just have to tel you much, much more about last weekend.

We arrived in Lake Geneva on Friday, about noon. Janet had made me print out a route map with directions from Mapquest (her general preference) and Google Maps (mine). But I also planned to bring our GPS and let Jill Garmin (our active voice on the device is named “Jill”) tell us where to go. That proved to be a worthwhile decision (as you wonʼt get to find out until tomorrow, though).

First, our online maps estimated our arrival after nearly three and a half hours of travel. They, of course, did not reckon on The Lovely Oneʼs driving (skills and speed). The GPS, on the other hand, shaved an hour off their estimates, targeting us into the parking lot at The Cove about 12:14 (which we extended by three minutes, as Jill realized, with dense traffic, in more ways than one, in and around Beloit). The GPS had the advantage of knowing her actual driving speeds.

Friendly and fu, Guinness-loving Santa with The Lovely One at Bistro 220

Although check-in did not occur until 3:00, as we heard the girl at the desk tell an inquisitor on the phone when we walked in the door to the lobby, she let us check in and get our key without quibble. By 12:35, we were in our ground-floor room (I think Janet would have preferred being up a flight, especially as she tried climbing the first set of stairs we came to; of course our room number gave the impression we should be on the second, not the ground floor), where we quickly unpacked and settled in. And then, by 1:30 we were heading outdoors and downtown to explore and eat lunch.

During our stay we ate at four places — Bistro 220, Medusa, Ryan Braunʼs Tavern and Grill and The Red Geranium. We also ate food from Jimmy Johnʼs, a national chain so they donʼt count, and the nearby Chicago Pizza Company.  I liked everything I ate, but the two best spots were certainly Bistro 220, which we happened upon that first afternoon and returned to for our next lunch on Saturday, and Medusa, the birthday dinner spot.

For both of us, Bistro 220 was a perfect replacement for the vanished Le Berry Bistro from (ironically) Geneva, Illinois. We got to sit upstairs, on their well protected balcony* (the days were pretty cold while we were in Wisconsin), the food was excellent and the service was wonderful. Janet ate quiche both days (ham and vegetable both times, the Saturday lunch being more veggie), plus a cup of daily soup, served with yogurt and berries topped with granola. She loved it both times. I ate sandwiches, a portabella on Friday and chicken with asparagus the next day. Both times I had the soup of the day as well. All excellent, savory, flavorful and delicious (and in satisfying but not overwhelming amounts). It is a place that will bring us back — not cheap, but then we generally figure you get what you pay for, but not actually pricey, either.

Medusa, taken on Monday on the way to pick up the car after the tire repair (see yesterday and tomorrow)

On Saturday we got to talk to Santa (actually a New York-trained actor visiting downtown businesses in character for the weekend), first at lunch (thus the photo above) and later on the street. Long talks both times, and I donʼt think he ever knew we had theatrical connections; he responded to my Guinness gear, being of Irish extraction. When The Lovely One told him of our dinner plans at Medusa, he told us it was where the guys who owned 220 went to eat out. A good recommendation for any place, and it was not amiss.

Medusaʼs head chef and owner had cooked at the New French Café in Minneapolis in the Eighties, when Janet and I ate there repeatedly (some of the best French food this novice has ever tasted) which was a positive for us. As you can see in my photo, they have the hugest sign possible on a very tiny restaurant. Almost half the patrons have to/get to eat at a chefʼs bar just outside the kitchen (which permits them to be the ones who get to shout “Opaa!” when the saganaki gets flamed, safely not quite tableside). The other tables are small and intimately close (which normally distresses this borderline Asperger-case) but it was all good. Our waiter was enthusiastic and friendly, excellent on the food (even advising me to step down a few bucks for a better choice on my entree).

We couldnʼt resist saganaki, a wicked favorite of ours. But I had also read their grilled calamari was wonderful, and it was — smoky and tenderly juicy bodies, the tentacles crisped over the fire, on a tomato sauce with tahini. Extraordinary.

Janet ate veal in a wonderful, delicate sauce (but rich for me), which she adored, along with vegetables and mashed potatoes topped with a dollop of puréed squash. She kept saying she was literally in heaven, fortunately since her choice had stepped well outside her usual box. My well advised meal was the chicken dish, very smoky from the grill (which I loved), topped with two grilled shrimp (equally tasty, perhaps better) and the same sides as her meal. Elegant and hearty at the same time. Wonderful, spectacular, totally worth the cost.** We finished with the ownerʼs handmade gelato — banana and berries on one side of the dish, mocha and caramel on the other. it was a fine and perfect conclusion to a wonderful day of birth.

Of course, best of all, as I had purchased the room, The Lovely One paid for all our meals all weekend long!

* Which you can see in their photo if you click the Bistro 220 link.

** As neither of us could finish our entrées, we got to enjoy half the meal all over again at home on Monday — still outstanding, still exciting, still delicious.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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