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Date Night #8 - Joffrey Ballet & Tanta

When we first moved to the Chicago area, we were smitten with the possibilities the city had to offer - especially when it came to the performing arts. We couldn't wait to explore the city's treasure trove of theaters, and to experience the plays, symphonies, concerts, ballets, ...and who knows, maybe even an opera or two! Fast forward 18 years, and while we've made it to a handful of performances, we really haven't explored much outside of our 'comfort zone'. Our theater rounds have consisted primarily of mainstream productions like Blue Man Group, Wicked, Book of Mormon, etc., and they've been few and far between. Until now!

The main event of Date Night #8 was the Joffrey Ballet. Our tickets were for "The Times Are Racing", which was a collection of five separate works, each by a different choreographer. More to come on that later. But first, let me start at the beginning...

We ventured into the city much earlier than we normally would have for two reasons: 1) our date night happened to fall on NBA All Star Weekend, and we were rightfully worried that traffic would be an absolute mess, and 2) papa needed a new pair of shoes (papa being me in this instance, not David)!

Our tickets were at 7:30pm, so we left for the city a little after 4:00pm. Traffic was not bad at all, and we found ourselves at Old Orchard's Nordstrom store in no time. It didn't take long for me to find the exact pair of black leather loafers I was looking for, and bing-bang-boom, we were back on the road heading into the city. Traffic remained tolerable, and we arrived at the parking garage just south of the Auditorium Theater a little after 6:00pm, with ample time to kill.

There's not much within walking distance of the theater, and after wandering for a few minutes it hit us: last time we were downtown for Date Night #1, we stopped by Teuscher Chocolates and had gotten there mere moments after it had closed. We vowed to return again soon... what better time than now? We could take a quick cab ride up there (5-10 mins max), get some of their famous champagne truffles, maybe stroll around the shops for a bit, and cab back with plenty of time for the show! What a plan!

Moments later, we were already in a cab heading up Michigan Avenue. Before I go any further, I'll repeat that. Michigan Avenue. On Saturday night. On NBA All Star Weekend, with one of the three major venues being at Navy Pier, only blocks away from where we were.

Michigan Avenue was a parking lot. The 5 to 10 minute cab ride turned into a 40 minute journey. Undeterred, we leapt out of the cab upon reaching our destination, and hustled our way through The 900 Shops, right to Teuscher Chocolates. We went straight for a box of a dozen of their signature champagne truffles. Knowing that these were for home, and we still had a full ballet performance to get through before dinner, we also treated ourselves to some individual chocolates for the road. While in the shop, we awkwardly tried to get a good selfie that included both our faces and the chocolates in the same frame, which we quickly discovered is a talent that is seemingly reserved only for millennials. Taking pity on us and our ineptitude, one of the girls who worked in the shop graciously offered to take our picture. She was clearly just as sweet as the goods she sells!

With no time to lose - amply fueled by our handful of chocolates for the road - we headed straight back out to Michigan Avenue and hailed a cab to inch our way back to the theater. Traffic was just as bad heading back, but our cab driver was not timid, and he heroically charged his way through the herd to get us to the theater with minutes to spare. After I made a quick dash to the car to drop off the truffles (in my fancy new loafers, by the way), I met David back at the lobby and we made our way into the theater.

The Auditorium Theater has been home to the Joffrey Ballet for 22 years. Originally built in 1889, the theater is a classic in the true sense of the word. It is richly decorated in gold tones and ornately adorned throughout. Truth be told, it shows its age and is in need of some refurbishment, which is likely why The Joffrey is moving to the Civic Opera House in the fall. We felt fortunate to witness the end of an era by seeing the second-to-last Joffrey production in their long-standing home. After grabbing a couple of sparkling waters for the show, we headed into the theater and settled into our seats.

We were fortunate enough to secure front-row center balcony seats, which offered a grand view of the theater and were perfectly situated for us to appreciate the full effect of the choreography. I won't describe the performances in detail, but I must say that seeing the 5 different works was a great introduction to ballet. Each had a distinctly different style, ranging from "traditional" performances that one might expect from a classical ballet, to very modern interpretations that spanned a wide range of relevant social themes. In some regards, it was similar to the film shorts we had seen in Date Night #7, in that we were surprised at how quickly each performance could immerse us in a journey that so thoroughly captivated us from beginning to end. We found ourselves transfixed by the allure of the music (superbly performed by a live orchestra), the breathtaking talent of the performers who graced the stage before us, and the brilliance of the choreography that intertwined the two. It was quite an experience, and one we would gladly repeat! A future visit to The Joffrey in their new home is most certainly in order.

After a lovely evening at the ballet, we headed to our next stop - dinner at Tanta, a Peruvian kitchen that boasts a menu that "is like traveling throughout Peru from the Pacific Ocean to playing in the desert to touring the Andes mountains, the reflection of the Lake Titicaca over the Altiplano, through the amazing colors and sounds of the Amazon Jungle... traveling, celebrating, sharing the flavors and joys of Peru and having fun with respect and gratitude to the Earth." Given that we had just traveled throughout Peru last May (including just about all the destinations this quote covers), we were dying to try this place!

We arrived just after 10p, and the restaurant was still bustling (don't let the picture fool you - that was taken at the end of the evening, after dinner). We were seated next to a table of women who were celebrating a birthday - shades of Date Night # 5b at Belmonte - and they had clearly been enjoying themselves for some time before we arrived, which was both mildly entertaining and distracting at the same time. The place had a distinctively Peruvian vibe, reminiscent of what we had seen in Lima, with hip Peruvian music and an eclectic mix of traditional crafts, rich wood paneling/accents, modern fixtures, and vibrant artwork. The menu leaned a little more toward the upscale cuisine we found in Lima rather than the traditional dishes we found throughout the inland regions (there was no trace of guinea pig to be found), but it was a good representation and there were plenty of choices to be had.

We started with a savory/sweet pastel de choclo (a Peruvian corn cake with mushroom sofrito) which we very much enjoyed, and yucca chips that came with three different sauces - all three of which were delicious. I also ordered some ceviche, because I couldn't resist, and I was very happy that I did! For the main course, David ordered the Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken with bean stew, rice, salad, and potatoes), and I had the Plancha Marina (mixed seafood served with potatoes and peppers on a sizzling iron skillet).

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal! It was loaded with fish, prawns, and calamari, and the mix of flavors was intense! It had just the right amount of spice, with the perfect blend of peppers, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and a smattering of super-sweet teardrop tomatoes. It was fabulous! Truth be told, it took me a minute to get past the tangle of tentacles and sea creatures that looked like they might have just been fished out of Yoda's stew pot, but once I took my first bite, I couldn't stop. David enjoyed his meal, too, but was a little disappointed in its blandness. The roasted chicken was good, and so was the bean stew, but it lacked the heartiness that we found in so many of the country dishes we had tried in Peru. I guess there's only so much you can do with roasted chicken!

After gorging ourselves on meals that could easily have served four, we politely declined dessert (which would have been very tempting if we weren't so full!) and waddled our way to the car to make our way home. By then, it was well after midnight, and we were thoroughly satiated from a wonderful evening and another successful date night.

Footnote: in case you were wondering, yes we did indulge ourselves with a champagne truffle before bed. I mean, seriously... did you expect anything less?

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