Thursday, January 18, 2007

On a Cold Day, Oasis Warms Me Through My Stomach

Oasis Café: (Loop) Chicago
17 S. Wabash Ave.
(312) 443-9534

Oasis Café, Moussaka pita and Foul (fava beans).jpgOn the way to a lecture on Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago - one installation of Landmark Illinois' monthly Preservation Snapshots at the Chicago Cultural Center - I stopped in Oasis Café for a quick lunch. They're in a new home next to three buildings that are being torn down - all except for the windowless historic faces that an exterior rig holds up - one block south of their previous location in the back of a jewelers' mall, a spot that's been reclaimed by another Middle Eastern spot called Kabob 2. If you overlook Oasis Café's new food court location aside a few chains, you might taste some really good food in a relaxed crowd, from hipster students to workers in dress slacks and others in jeans.

Thursdays they serve a portobello mushroom pita sandwich special, but I had the moussaka pita sandwich (roasted eggplant, tomato, garlic and spices blended together). The new location lets you see through a glass sneeze guard to the steam table. I asked the fixer behind the counter what the beans I saw were. Foul, he told me - Egyptian broad beans with vegetables and "special spices." These beans, also known as fava beans, make an appearance on my friend Michael's official family cookbook. Michael told me this is "THE classic Egyptian dish," but that different people make it different ways; some use tomatoes or garlic, and his mom uses good amounts of cumin with lemon and Kalamata olives - they're "key". Foul sounds a little like "fool", as in the fool I was for not ordering a full plate of these. So I came back later for one and got a taste of their tender portobellos, too. These beans can warm you from the inside out on a cold day. Of course, Oasis Café also serves the Middle Eastern classics falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj and tabouleh.

Burnham's Plan was to make Chicago beautiful - a destination place. And so it is. After leaving the Cultural Center down a grand staircase, through a gallery and with a stop at the water fountain, I thought of Chicago's majesty as I walked down Clark Street in front of the Art Deco La Salle Bank Building. This building's streamlined lobby is a hallway that tunnels through to La Salle Street past elevator banks with catwalk-style bridges crossing above and endless Art Deco finishes.


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