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Becco d'Oro, no balm for the sick, but eavesdroppers' delight

Mike G | Feb 11, 200309:34 PM

As I slowly recover back toward Chowhoundability from a bad winter cold (probably strep and who knows what else), I look forward to decent food at last. All the more disappointing then that I should pop in to an Italian restaurant adjacent to my doctor's after an appointment for a thoroughly disappointing meal.

Becco d'Oro is located at the corner of St. Clair and Huron, in a space that was formerly Red Rock Cafe or something like that, but has convincingly transformed from Tex-Mex into Italian. A part Italian staff seems promising. But foodwise, they batted 0 for 3:

1) Bread in the basket was obviously stale.

2) Caprese salad-- okay, obviously I have no business ordering a caprese in February, but I needed something soft I could swallow without pain. So I expected the styrofoam tomatoes. But the mozzarella was bland and weirdly grainy, and a fancy LOOKING presentation was no substitute for care in crafting the dish so that all the flavors-- chopped basil, salt, pepper, oil, cheese and tomato-- blend into more than the sum of their parts, as at my benchmark for the caprese, Piccolo Mondo. One lone, decorative unchopped basil leaf might as well be a spring of parsley for all it contributes in flavor. From now on, I will ask if the basil is chopped before ordering a caprese. And if they say no, I will pretend I've been paged for an emergency and dash out.

3) Gnocchi in tomato sauce were as rubbery as overcooked calamari-- I mean that literally-- and the harsh, tinny sauce suggested that it began with a can of V8. You could hardly get further from the light, fluffy pillows that gnocchi should be.

* * *

All in all, a real bummer with things that really should NOT be that hard. The only consolation was that I got to sit in on one of the all-time great eavesdropped-upon conversations. The speaker was an artistic, shall we say, black man of about 40, and he started off by telling his companions about his late wife, with whom he had 15 wonderful years-- before she died two years ago at 92. Yes, she was 77 and he was around 25, but that's hardly the half of it. She was, evidently, a white socialite of some renown (he dropped one clue that would, presumably, enable one to find out who she was-- she's an interviewee in Studs Terkel's Hard Times), but evidently she took up the cause of civil rights, and not just in a supporting Martin Luther King way, but in a throwing fundraisers for the Black Panthers kind of way, probably with delight in the shock it caused her social set. Anyway, so when she went shopping for a third husband she evidently found him at Neiman-Marcus, literally, a clerk whom she took home and wed, having at last found the perfect (presumably gay) husband who would wait on her hand and foot and share all her interests like art and so on. (It sounded like she was on the Art Institute board, and he may still be.)

So on the one hand it was one of the most shameless displays of name-dropping I've ever heard-- mentioning Terkel's book was immediately followed by "I had lunch with Studs about four weeks ago," Nikki Giovanni and Lerone Bennett (black authors) are going to help him with writing his late wife's history, Victor Skrebneski did their portrait when they got married and it's fabulous, a mention of Venice brought up somebody at the Guggenheim who was one of his dearest, dearest friends, and so on and on and on. It got a bit thick at times, but in the end, I had to say I admired the hell out of the old gal, whoever she was, and good for him for obviously caring on her intentions and spending her money the way she wanted. If you're a rich socialite who wants to advance the black community In Chicago, hell, why NOT marry a sales clerk from Neiman-Marcus and train him to be the custodian of your art collection and fortune after you're gone, and probably integrate the Art Institute board while you're at it? It's a lot more creative than just sending a check to a foundation. I have a feeling this is one of the great untold stories of money and influence in Chicago. Hopefully Nikki Giovanni and Lerone Bennett will see that it gets told in full.

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