Monthly Archives: October 2009

Real-Life Candyland

Update: The Clark Street Dulcelandia is now closed, but other locations around Chicago are still selling sweets!

Happy Halloween! Earlier today we used the upcoming holiday as an excuse for a candy-related adventure and headed to Dulcelandia in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. “Dulcelandia” translates to “Candy Land,” and this Chicagoland chain was every bit a Mexican reincarnation of the whimsical board game. Actually, it was better: It included piñatas.

Dulcelandia

When we walked into the story, the woman working at the register (Mary was her name; we became friends) offered us a tray full of about eight types of small candies to try. (As if we hadn’t already expected to love this place, but this solidified it.) All of the candy in the story is imported, the majority from Mexico and some from Colombia. The piñatas, which hung from every inch of the ceiling and covered the floor in the front of the store, also are made in Mexico and shipped to Chicago. We took some time investigating the candy selection ourselves before asking Mary to point us toward the most popular—and craziest—candies. Lollipops and anything chile-flavored, especially chile-flavored lollipops, apparently are the bestsellers. We picked up a few “pollo asado” lollipops, which were spicy and shaped like whole chickens (seriously!) as well as some mango and watermelon suckers coated in chile, of course.

Dulcelandia

Some of our other favorite finds (well, Mary helped us find them) were Tomy sucking candies, which are peanut-flavored and reminiscent of Werther’s, chewy watermelon-flavored candies with a kick of chile, decorated sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos and “dulces de camote,” which are slices of candied sweet potato. Every time Mary noticed a certain candy intrigued us, she’d grab a piece, rip off the wrapper and say, “Here, try it!” We thank the culture of Mexican hospitality for that generosity. But seriously, why aren’t all candy stores so encouraging?

Naturally, we wanted to stay in Dulcelandia forever. Once we finally forced ourselves to leave, we gorged on our full-bag purchases (each of us only spent about $5 for hordes of delicious imported candy!) the whole way back to Evanston. We went from sugar high to sugar coma before we even saw Northwestern’s campus. Looks like we haven’t learned since we were five years old.

DSCF0024

See for yourself: We visited the Dulcelandia at 6718 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60626. Look here for more locations. All photos by Tara and Karina.

Tara and Karina for TKGO

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A Compás (In the Rhythm)

 

Flamenco

Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, October 15, by Karina for TKGO.

 

One of the nation’s top flamenco troupes—Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company—visited Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, and we managed to secure tickets before it sold out. Below are our reactions to the event. (Here’s a hint: We were mesmerized the whole two and a half hours.) To peek at what we saw, watch the video below (which isn’t actually from the show at Pick).


Tara’s Take

My flamenco background is by no means extensive—I’m the only one wearing a red skirt in a Northwestern University class full of black-skirted women and a couple guys—but it’s been a month now since the class started, and I know the difference between a farruca and a bulerías.

 

My Northwestern University flamenco class, with instructor Joel Valentin-Martinez (left), by Tara for TKGO.

 

Paco Peña’s was the first live flamenco show I’d seen, but because I’m the worst in the class, I do a lot of YouTubing. The show’s selection of flamenco styles all follow the a compás rhythm, a 12-beat measure with emphasis on the third, sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth counts. They stuck to a traditional range of flamenco music, but the dancers often added touches of Spanish ballet to modernize the show. They didn’t even stick to the program! The highlight of the first half was when Ramón Martínez took the stage by storm doing zapateado (“footwork”) in blood-red patent leather shoes. After the intermission, we saw Charo Espino’s solo performance, which in my opinion she was made for: Her impeccably clean but fluid arm movements only looked better with a shawl as a prop.

But the energy during Explorando el Compás was unmatched. Paco and the gang hammered on steel tabletops, clapped a jota, and hit the bass for the ultimate garage band sound. The best part? The improvisational goodie bag at the end, when the stout, gut-wrenching martinete singer, Inmaculada Rivero, took the dance floor in a messy, passionate, authentic close to the performance.

Karina’s Thoughts

My time spent abroad, as I’ve professed before, threw me into a love affair with all things Spanish. So when Tara forwarded me the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company performance information, I didn’t even double check if I was free. I would be there.

During the performance I was so caught up in the intensity of it all I was practically immobile. Charo Espino fiercely twisted her dress around and I felt caught between her ruffles. Ramón Martínez spun in repeated circles, beads of sweat flying from the top of his head in beat with the passionate cries of Inmaculada Rivero and I was stuck in his spins, her song dictating my emotions. Every element was enchanting, but Paco Peña’s guitar playing would have been an astounding performance on its own. He nimbly plucked the instrument, fingers expertly flying over the strings, and it was as though I was hearing a guitar for the first time. The guitar became a living creature in his possession, seemingly with its own breath and heartbeat. I have never felt, seen or heard Spanish guitar like that.

The show was so authentically Spanish, from the late start and lengthy intermission (but who wants to rush artistry anyway?) to the way every number seemed to devolve into an overwhelming and confusing cacophony, but then come to together perfectly, precisely right when it needed to (which is essentially a parallel to how I felt at times while living and studying abroad). Spaniards are passionate people, and Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company’s A Compás performance epitomized that characteristic.

-Tara and Karina for TKGO

Chicago’s Viet Town Treats

Whether you’re trying to cure a hangover, add some green to your space, find some cheap groceries or test a new rice pudding flavor, Viet Town off the Argyle stop on the Red Line is packed with Vietnamese goodies.

My motivation, I admit, was a hangover cure. Nothing jump-starts the day after a long night like a banh mai sandwich, so I grabbed my roommate, Chenault, and made the trek.

 

Ba Le, 5018 N. Broadway St., Chicago

Ba Le, 5018 N. Broadway St., ChicagoThe wall of pudding selections at Ba Le, by Tara for TKGO.

 

Our first stop: Ba Le French Bakery (5018 N. Broadway St., 773-561-4424) for some banh mai sandwiches. Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s anything but French. I ordered the house special ($2.95), with ham, pork, cilantro, carrots and other assorted veggies, and maybe some headcheese. Though New York has thousands of better banh mai places in Chinatown alone (my fave is Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich’s house special, 369 Broome St.), but this one did the job! The bread isn’t great by French standards (according to Chenault, who spent five of the last nine months in Paris), but for a U.S. rendition, it’s top notch. The cilantro and veggies are fresh, and it’s not too heavy to finish in one sitting. Be sure to pick up some pudding! This was a definite highlight. We tried the mung bean and coconut milk, and the taro — both great, original flavors. The consistency is grainier than the creamy rice pudding we’re used to, but the effect is a dissolve-in-your-mouth sweetness.

 

Some of the tasties we brought home from Ba Le. Sandwiches, dumpling, and pudding are recommended. Skip the rest.

Sandwiches, dumplings, and pudding are recommended — skip the rest, by Tara for TKGO.

 

Next, we headed to Viet Hoa (1051 W. Argyle, 773-334-1028) for affordable Asian groceries. Chenault and I picked up kimchi, udon noodles, fresh loose tea, lychee sodas, miso soup mixes, gummy candies and Durian fruit, and heavily debated getting a live crab before deciding storage may be a problem. The vegetables, especially the mushrooms and bok choy, are cheap and fresh.

 

Chenault, in front of the pastries at Chiu Quon.

Chenault, in front of the pastries at Chiu Quon, by Tara for TKGO.

 

Heading back to the car, we spotted an irresistibly decadent bakery with a line nearly out the door. Chiu Quon (1127 W. Argyle St., 773-907-8888) had some of the tastiest BBQ pork buns and custard buns I’ve ever had! Chenault picked up a sesame ball, which was equally warm with a crispy shell.

With bellies full of banh mai and arms full of groceries and pastries, we attempted for the third time to leave Viet Town and walked toward the car. But, of course, we met one final obstacle: Q Ideas (5100 N. Broadway, 773-989-8283), a bamboo garden you can take home. With our last dollar, we took home a tiny bamboo plant.

Chenault and I will be back — but with emptier bellies and far more cash.

Tara for TKGO

NYC Sampling

To shop New York is to shop sample sales. Forget walking Fifth Ave., perusing the racks of a store you could find at your hometown mall—albeit a bigger version—or even any of the changing room amenities (read: privacy) you thought were standard in any place clothes are up for purchase.

A New York City sample sale is an experience. I know “experience” is a catch-all term, but it’s really the best and only way to describe it. Some I attended were major disappointments with fashion houses trying to pawn off shoddy merchandise while others seriously enhanced my wardrobe for a relatively low cost. Regardless of the end result, each one was an experience. At one filled with 20-somethings and older, I saw a girl not a day over 13 carrying a pile of merchandise (bigger than would fit into any closet I’ve ever owned) walking with her mother, who intended on purchasing the pile, to the register. And then there was the time at the alice+olivia sale when one woman tried to talk another woman—a stranger—out of a dress (literally) so she could purchase it instead.

 

Tara and I were decked out in sample sale wears at my 21st birthday dinner. Her's (L) is from alice+olivia, mine's (R) LaRok.

Tara and I were decked out in sample sale wears at my 21st birthday dinner. Her

 

But shopping a New York City sample sale is a rite of passage. Below are a few basics I, a still-learning and former NYC sample sale neophyte, have compiled to help with the mental preparation. (You’ll need it.)

  1. Target sales that aren’t Louboutin level (On a scale of 1 to 10 of sample sale madness, this is THE ’10.’ I’ve heard stories, crazy, crazy stories of women bloodthirsty for those red soles.) but are still something you could brag about. Don’t worry; it’s a sample sale right to brag. I will warn, though, that it sounds a little pretentious when outside of New York… as most New York things do.
  2. Do your price-range research. Sample sales are high-pressure environments and you’re going to walk out with something—just face it—and it’s generally a good idea if you can afford what you’re buying. That said, beware the urge to snatch and purchase while waiting in line. Tara did this at the LaRok sale and ended up with an oversized t-shirt we had trouble belting, styling, anything. Luckily it was only $10, but still. Store employees squeeze the line between filled racks for a reason.
  3. Choose the sample sales you believe are going to yield the highest rate of success because, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to have had your fill for a while after just one. It’s like Indian food. I love Indian food, but I can only eat it when the craving hits. Then after an indulgence I’m satisfied for weeks, months, even.
  4. Show the other women… and, er, sometimes occasional man you are not the enemy. You can actually make friendly with them and alliances are critical! Once Tara was MIA while I was in the fitting room at a sale, so I turned to the insanely core fusion-toned mother who I had chatted with in line for an honest opinion.
  5. Get everything you think you might even consider buying into the try-on area the first time. You are NOT going to want to endure that try-on mayhem again. Unless, that is, you delight in long lines, cattle-herding tactics used to move deal-obsessed women through and stripping down with about zero privacy.

Tara and I relied on the Daily Candy NYC edition and NYMag.com for most of our New York sample sale info. We have yet to venture into Chicago, but I’ve seen some good deals listed on Chicagomag.com and the Chicago-based Poor Little Rich Girls, (which was founded by a recent Medill grad—fun fact!).

I’m still waiting for the sample sale urge to hit to check out Chicago’s offerings. I give myself a month…

-Karina for TKGO

Shortchanged at the Chicago International Film Festival

This past Friday we headed downtown for the U.S. debut of Barah Aana (translation: Shortchanged) at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was an intimate and exciting setting, and we actually ended up seated behind the very talented and down-to-earth director, Raja Menon.

Trailer (without subtitles)

The Indian independent film was entertaining and thought-provoking, laden with commentaries and reflection about India’s newly-developed social structure. As Menon described it succinctly, the movie was about dignity— the necessity, cost and implications—told through the stories of three flatmates, each of a different generation, in Mumbai. Although it is set in India, the movie and theme resonate worldwide, which explains why the audience (us included) was completely caught up in the film’s characters and plot. Heck, we’re still thinking about it. Needless to say, we highly recommend Shortchanged.

Menon was gracious enough to participate in an honest question and answer session following the screening. We also managed to snag him after that for a brief TKGO interview of our own, below.

TKGO Interview with Raja Menon

Visit the Shortchanged official site here.

-Tara and Karina for TKGO

Champagne Tasting

Pops for Champagne is one of the nation’s top champagne bars and, lucky for us, right in Chicago. Last week we attended a Marguet champagne tasting and had the chance to talk with the owner and producer, Benoit Marguet, who had flown in from France for the event. Cheers!

-Tara and Karina for TKGO

The Day in Spanish Harlem

The name “Spanish Harlem” just tickled my curiosity. Is it really Spanish? Or Mexican? Puerto Rican? Or identical to the regular Harlem? I had to go. I did a little Wikipedia research beforehand: The restaurants are few (unless we’re talking fast food) and the population is poor. So one Saturday, determined to find an “authentic” non-fast food meal, I looked up all the Spanish Harlem restaurants in the New York Magazine restaurant database and jumped on the 4/5/6 to 125th.

It was a little early for dinner, so my friend Katie and I stopped at Sammy’s Nail Salon on Lexington between 123rd and 124th and got a fast (unexpected!) lesson in Spanish Harlem culture.

“The Ox will come next week, next week!”

Sammy is Korean. The first guy that started on my nails clipped and buffed away for about two or three minutes before Sammy came over and yelled at him and gave him a lesson on how to really clip and buffer, in Korean, and on me for practice. The poor kid was so lost, Sammy shooed him out of the way and began chatting with me. “You girls going out tonight? You getting your nails done! Where you going?”

 

Sammy's Nail Salon, courtesy of Google Images.

Sammy

 

Before I could answer, a skinny teenage boy walks in and inquires about Sammy’s latest men’s cologne shipment (“The Ox will come next week, next week!”—We decide he meant ‘Axe’). Outside the window I see the same cologne kid copping a pair of fake Air Forces against the store window. Sammy passes me off to an older, blind-ish man who proceeds to lay down a clear topcoat and later a mandarin OPI color. He concentrates so hard, you’d think he’d be working on the next Mona Lisa. I look at them after, surprised to see they actually look pretty awful.

All done? I pay my $7 and wait in the back for the bathroom to open up (across from a wall of fake Gucci, Prada, and other mens’ colognes). A five-foot-tall, 65-year-old Asian man walks out, and the smell immediately follows him. He grins from ear to ear and giggles when he sees I’ve been waiting. I decide to hold off.

La Fonda Boricua

We head to the restaurant: La Fonda Boricua, a Puerto Rican joint a couple blocks down Lexington, on 106th Street. It’s a local secret (Who comes from downtown Manhattan to visit this little place in Harlem?) but no one bothers to pay us any attention when we walk in. We choose a booth in the corner and wait for a waiter or menus. Neither come. We finally flag someone down, who, in broken Spanish, lists off a couple dishes the kitchen’s making that night. He has something with chicken, something with potatoes, sides of collard greens, and a steak. We opt for a chicken and corn meatloaf, a traditional Puerto Rican dish that he recommends, and the rump steak with onions. They come out on plates heaping with white rice and doused in thick, cream-based sauces. Delicious. Our grand total (without tax/tip) came to $16, and we left full and happy.

The verdict? Spanish Harlem rocks.

Tara for TKGO