World Music, PR Food: Humboldt Park
Tonight, The Wife and I went to the Humboldt Park boat house to catch some of the World Music Festival, which is taking place in Chicago through Sept 23. We saw a wild Afro-Caribbean percussion band followed by the even wilder Mamady Keita who got some remarkable sounds out of a Guinean drum. Most entertaining were people from the audience who jumped up and did some jaw-droppingly gymnastic dancing: kind of like controlled seizures.
We had intended to go out for food afterwards, but much to our surprise, it turns out that La Palma, the Puerto Rican joint on Homan, has set up operations in the Humboldt Park boat house as the in-park concession. This is an excellent example of the traditionally powerful imagination of the Chicago Park District instead of offering Frito-Lay products and predictable crap, theyve invited a good PR restaurant to offer good chow at good prices in what has got to be one of the most beautiful public venues in the city.
We got a bunch o stuff: some alcapurrias, yellow rice with grandules, yuca (or do you say cassava?) with garlic, and something they called a yama, which is a red yam. The alcapurrias were my favorite: stewed chicken, nestled in green plantain cooked almost to the point of gelantinous transparency. The yuca was also good, and if you try it, I would definitely get it with the garlic without, its just another bland starch (like the red yama). There are also a lot of edgier items on the menu, such as Fried Pig Ear Stew and Liver and Hearts in Onions. You can also get blood sausage and fried, thick PR bacon by the pound. Many of the items are stews, or guisados, so they transport quite well, and I saw a van pull up every now and again to drop off new hot table items.
What made the meal more delicious was the setting. The boathouse is a recently (and flawlessly) redone Prairie School structure, and it looks out over the lagoon and garden, designed by Jens Jensen and recently renovated to its original glory using old postcards of the park as planting guides. There are tables set out on the terrace, and eating this very capable PR food and listening to free and very good music is fine way to spend an evening. With the sun setting golden, and gulls sweeping over the lagoon, the peaceful scene framed by the leaping arches of the boat house reminded me of a Maxfield Parrish painting.
There are free World Music events throughout the coming week in Humboldt Park and at other places in the city (see link, below)