Chicago, Argentina (part 1)

Chicago, Argentina (part 1)

I love getting a new idea. I love the magic of that initial spark. I’ll be walking Crash, taking a shower, sitting at my laptop, and something will just click. Oh! What if I wrote about this! 

It’s hard for me to say, “I came up with the idea,” because the idea came up to me. At best, I’m like the guy walking along the beach with a metal detector; all I did was show up with some clumsy equipment.

And “showing up” could be as simple as watching TV. Like last fall, I was watching the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. I was one of maybe 39 people in Chicago tuning in live. The United States had already been eliminated (by France) and the championship game was between Argentina and Spain.

For whatever reason, that’s when a new idea hit.

Oh! What if I wrote a series of posts about Argentina basketball? 

I’d start it with the upset over the United States at the 2004 Olympics. A young Manu Ginóbili and Luis Scola winning gold. The story would retell their careers and the rise of international basketball over the last 15 years. Talk about Manu. Dirk Nowitzki. The Gasol brothers. How the Olympics became a bit of an arms race. The United States reloading in 2008, reclaiming gold, led by Kobe and LeBron. We’ve been winning gold ever since, up until the 2019 tournament. 

Ideas rarely travel alone. They’re more like ants than cockroaches. The more time I spent with this idea, the more it started to snowball. What if the post was about Argentina’s culture too? I’d do an entire post about food. And what about that, “Don’t cry for me Argentina” song. Wasn’t that a movie? Alright, well, that should find its way into the story. Probably add something on the tango.

This new idea’s entire family moved in. Unpacked their suitcases. I poured them a glass of orange juice at breakfast and asked, “Hey, so when’s your return flight?”

“Our what now?” they replied. That’s when I knew I was in trouble.

There was no turning back on this story idea. I searched, “Argentina” on Netflix. Found an Anthony Bourdain Buenos Aires episode. Watched it. Took notes. Things got really bad when I found a recipe for Carbonada en Zapallo. I was convinced I’d do a post about making an Argentine beef stew inside of a pumpkin.

It gets worse. I looked up flights. I asked Ashley, “What would you think about a trip to Argentina?” “Why?” she replied. And before attempting to explain, “It’s for an article on Manu Ginóbili,” I looked at the prices again. Yeah… maybe I’ll look around Chicago. 

And that’s when I remembered Tango Sur.

Tango Sur is the place you go after you’ve lived in Chicago three years. Year 1: You’ve never heard of it. Year 2: Someone at work says, “There’s this place called Tango Sur.” Year 3: You wait for the stars to align. Because the dinner question: What are you in the mood for? That’s always met with things like burgers, pizza, Chinese food. There’s rarely a moment when someone says, “You know, I’m really feeling like an Argentinian steakhouse,” and you reply, “Oh, I know just the place.”

You pretty much need to start on Southport to end up in Tango Sur. The formula: You’re coming to or from the Music Box Theatre. The Music Box means you’re already a little bit off the trail. You’ve opted for an obscure film rather than a Marvel movie. You head maybe 300 feet north and to your right is Tango Sur. This is when you’ll have a “Dory from Finding Nemo” moment. All of these memories will flash by in a split second. Tango Sur. Steakhouse. Argentina. That guy with the weird Argentina blog. Oh! P Sherman. 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. We should get dinner here!

So I looked up how to contact Tango Sur, still pursuing this ever-evolving Argentina article. Along with Tango Sur, they also own the small wine and tapas bar next door called Bodega Sur. And the grocery store on the corner with my favorite empanadas in town (El Mercado). This stretch of Southport is known as a little Argentina. Different owners, but the nearby 5411 empanadas is named after the 5411 dial code to reach Buenos Aires. Then there’s FRÍO serving up Argentine gelato.

Outside of Southport, the owners of Tango Sur also have another candlelit restaurant in Wicker Park called Folklore and a lounge in Avondale named Barra Ñ.

argentina-restaurants

I reached out about the article I had in mind. Arranged an interview at Folklore. Went to the restaurant, interviewed Paulo Villabona, his title listed as Director Of Bar Operations/ Catering & Private Events/International Man of Mystery. Took my notes home. And then I didn’t do anything with the idea for seven months.

Because Argentina lost to Spain in the FIBA World Cup championship. It wasn’t even close. Luis Scola had eight points. And if I’m going to do an article inspired by a tournament that no one was watching, why not at least pick the champion? Plus Ashley and I went to Madrid a few months earlier. I could write about eating Spanish tapas from the source. Why would I do the Argentina one?

I love getting a new idea. I love the magic of that initial spark. But every idea – the good, the bad, the ugly – will hit the same fork in the road. It’s not even the middle of the project, it’s like Chapter 5. All of the initial excitement is replaced by totally rational reasons why you shouldn’t keep working on it. Questions like: What’s the point? Why spend all the time and energy on this? What are you gaining from this project? Couldn’t you be working on something else? Again… what’s the point?

Sometimes you blow right past this little rut. The idea and the connection you have to the idea is so strong this moment is more of a speedbump than a rut. But other times the rut does become a major obstacle. It’s at this point you either dig deeper, get the wind back in your sails, power through Chapter 5, 6, 7.

Or you don’t.

I could feel the spark waning the moment I thought, “Well, maybe I could do the Argentina post AND the Spain post.” It was a feeble attempt to “Yes And,” the dying project back to life. But it was over. There was too much other stuff going on. Other new shiny ideas showed up. The Argentina idea couldn’t keep up.

But ideas linger for awhile. Seven/eight months later, I finally pulled it back out. Ready to see where the story would go.

Despite the name, Medium Rare isn’t normally a food blog. But for the next several weeks, I’ll be featuring great local restaurants around the Lakeview neighborhood in hopes that readers support them with pickup & delivery orders now and go in-person later this year. Other posts include:

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