Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rotwang's Lab, or: No Wonder I Can't Sleep

Could many things be much better than walking through softly falling fat, plump snowflakes to your buddy's new coffee roasterie after stopping at the Swedish Bakery to pick up cookies to exchange for the coffee you're about to get?

My friend just set up shop in a new space --make that a new enormous space --make that a new enormous space with a ping pong table, beer left behind by a band in exchange for rehearsal space, and some really, really loud speakers. Sure, it's hard to get into; the door is always locked and I'm the one person left in the world without a cell phone, so it usually involves several precious laundry quarters and multiple calls from the pay phone across the street in order to get in. But that entertains him, and he's got a couple of beautiful ancient and super controllable roasters custom installed pretty much by him, a big scary fan that made me feel like a goose on the Hudson River, and the place smells really good.

And this day I got there right in the middle of the whole process; my other friend who does most of the roasting was there, filling bins with wonderfully whitish-green beans in order to load the hopper to the roaster just as another batch was finishing. Standing over the cooling pans as the finished coffee (as we talked, he kept pulling out a biopsy-like sample of the coffee in the same way a wine maker would pull samples from a barrel, smelling it closely each time, and believe me, this guy's nose and palette are pretty close to being unmatched) came pouring out of the roaster filled my head with deep, wonderful smells, a nourishing experience usually reserved for things like my mom's pound cake or roasting poblanos on a fire outside or the way the ocean smells in Gloucester, MA (this is a good thing, I mean, in addition to the sea smells, the beauty of the place attracted people like Edward Hopper and Mark Rothko and Marky Mark, so...).

He handed me a bag of the stuff, which in my opinion is the best in Chicago and by Saveur's opinion, one of the nine best in the country. I reciprocated with the cookies, in the standard Swedish Bakery packaging of a white box wrapped in red string (which reminds me of Mike's Pastry from my Boston days, the North End bakery that sold the greatest cannoli and wrapped each box with blue string, sort of a required score before, during, or after a stop at Caffe Vittoria for espresso and/or grappa. Which, while we're on this path, reminds me: ever since the tiny La Tavernetta, the strangest looking yet so so good Italian restaurant with such wonderful cannoli in Lakeview closed, I've been despondent for great cannoli here in Chicago, until Pasticceria Natalina opened, with it's perfectly crisp pastry shells hand filled to order with the richest ricotta filling, garnished with candied orange. Mmmm...). Cookies swapped for coffee (and as good as the S.B.'s cookies are, I still won out in this exchange, and what a deal, 'cause I'm unemployed, remember?), I shook my friends hand in that confusingly complicated way guys will often shake hands involving several steps and left into the snow to walk home, smelling like a big cup of coffee the whole way.