Cooper’s Hawk: Worthy of Skipping Work (or Taking a Date)

Located at 583 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling, IL.

I went to Cooper’s Hawk for a dinner party. That in itself isn’t unusual, but I happened to skip work to go… and it was a work dinner party where two of my bosses were in attendance. That’s the type of savagery I operate with, people. Surprisingly, I didn’t get fired and instead had to endure a night of laidback grilling from the group who struggled to comprehend how much balls it took for me to show up.

Truthfully, it got a little annoying after a while, but enduring some light ribbing was worth it to experience the delicious food at Cooper’s Hawk.

The first thing to keep in mind is that even though the name of this particular restaurant (it’s actually a chain) is the whitest name ever, it’s actually not all that posh inside. Sure, the lighting is stylishly dim, so you can’t tell if a girl sitting across the restaurant is really attractive or not, and sure, the interior is an expert combination of classic and modern architectural design.

I think the best way to really describe the physique of this place is to imagine a hipster-esque type of eatery, but an upscale version. Interestingly, there isn’t an official dress code, although I saw everything from casual sweaters to men in business suits walking out looking like they had somewhere to be.

The pricing would probably be equivalent to two or three dollar signs on Yelp (actually I just checked and it’s two). Most pasta dishes fall between $14 to $18, while genuine entrées like pork and steak range from $20 to $30.

Unfortunately, since I wasn’t paying, I had to take note of what other people in the group were ordering and, quite frankly, people were being too miserly if you ask me. Someone got spaghetti and meatballs, another person got fish and chips.

One of my bosses got a freaking salad. I am literally shaking my head.

In any case, even though I wanted to go big, I settled for gnocchi with butternut squash as my entrée. In terms of appetizers, I had no control over what was ordered, although the dishes that came were really good.

— Appetizers —

Cooper’s Hawk Calamari (12.99)

There was a lot of calamari. It was deep fried and glazed with a tastefully sweet and subtly spicy sauce. There was also a dipping sauce which I was literally too lazy to try. At first I thought it was cheese, but it was really aioli.

I would highly recommend this appetizer. There was more than enough to go around for a group of seven people. And did I mention it was delicious?

Over the Border Egg Rolls (10.99)

As you can probably guess, these egg rolls were a fusion of Mexican and Asian cuisine. It’s not the first time I’ve had egg rolls like these, and honestly I thought they were solid. They weren’t spectacular, however, and if you’re going to spend money at a place Yelp gives two dollar signs, you probably want to go for spectacular.

Having said that, it was another big appetizer, although I’m not sure if they did that because of the size of our group, or if they actually roll out (hehe) two handfuls of thick egg rolls every time. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, though, because the last thing you want to do is accidentally fill yourself with appetizers and end up shortchanging yourself for the actual entrée.

I would say if you’re in a group, go for it. If you’re there with one person, skip it… unless both of you are eating machines. If you’re there by yourself, what the fuck are you doing with your life? Find someone to spend time with, gosh!

Some Flatbread Appetizers (I Think SMH) (8.99 – 10.99)

Like I said, I wasn’t there when appetizers were ordered and I’m not actually a food connoisseur so it’s hard for me to remember which flatbreads the table ended up getting. Whatever they were though, they were worth the money.

The texture of the flatbread was perfect – crunchy, but soft where it counts. The flavors worked well together, just a symphony of colors bursting in perfect synchronization. Remember that one scene from Ratatouille?

It was like that. I would recommend these for sure. One of them definitely had a balsamic glaze, so that should help narrow it down.

— Entrée

Gnocchi with Roasted Butternut Squash (17.99)

I don’t know why, but every time I’m not sure what to order at a restaurant, I just go for gnocchi (if they have it obviously). Usually I regret my decision because halfway through a gnocchi dish, I start to feel a little sick. Thankfully, Cooper’s Hawk did something right because this was probably the best gnocchi dish I’ve had in my (admittedly limited) experience with the world of gnocchi.

The sauce was warm and mildly sweet. The squash accentuated the dish and they gave just enough so it wasn’t overwhelming, but you could get some squash with every bite of gnocchi if you were strategic about it. The gnocchi itself had some very good filling – mushrooms and maybe some other edible ingredients.

Across the board, people’s portions looked small, but I guess I was duped because nobody really finished their meals except me and maybe one of my bosses. I would recommend this entrée, although like I said, if you’re going to a place like Cooper’s Hawk, you might as well spend some damn money and treat yourself.

So there you have it folks. Who would have thought an eatery with a name a frat probably came up with would be so great? Plus, there’s a Westin just to the side so if you eat too much and feel like you shouldn’t drive, you can catch a room and nap your coma away.

Cooper’s Hawk also has wine tastings and they bottle their own wine too. I had a lot of wine. I probably shouldn’t have so much wine if I’m going to write about the experience later.

Anyway, check them out!

P.S. Make sure you tell the staff if you’re not done with your dish. Otherwise they might be obliged to glide in while you’re in the middle of a conversation and sweep that sucker out from right under your nose. Next thing you know, you’re stabbing the table with your fork because you’re expecting food to be in front of you.

It’s Showtime: “La La Land” Is My Film of the Year

Shoot, now you know what’s going to be at the top of the Pantheon in my 2016 Movie Power Rankings.

What I’ll always remember even when I’m fifty and drooling away on my deathbed (I peak early) is the audience as La La Land‘s ending credits rolled. There were a bunch of old people and some teenage girls; weekday screenings during the daytime usually have a demographic that reliably leans towards older folks and I can only assume teenage girls were there because Ryan Gosling is the pinnacle of human perfection.

In any case, after a heartbreaking epilogue that stabbed at our very souls over and over and over again, there was nothing left to do but sit in an emotional haze, valiantly blink away tears, sniffle like a bunch of crack addicts, and tell ourselves everything would be okay. I saw old ladies literally suffocating themselves with tissues because they were so overcome with angst while the teenage girls sitting next to me kept gasping and muttering “oh no” as this tremendous musical ended in maybe the most bittersweet way possible.

Visually La La Land is one of the warmest films you’ll see all year. It’s easy to get distracted by the catchy and original musical numbers, stunning cinematography, intimate yet grandiose production design, and phenomenal chemistry between Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling). You wouldn’t necessarily think of cynicism for something like this.

Yet it’s there nearly the whole time.

Damien Chazelle does a fantastic job in only his third directorial entry, somehow exceeding 2014’s excellent Whiplash, which one could argue is a significantly more aggressive version of this film. At the core, both films are about making it to the top, although La La Land chooses to wrap that core with a layer of romance while Whiplash flips off romance in the name of utter dedication to the craft.

There was certainly a fair amount of cynicism involved in Whiplash but one could argue there’s twice the amount here. It surrounds Mia, an aspiring actress making ends meet as a barista, and Sebastian, a musician who is passionate about a dying genre. She left college early to pursue her dreams and six years later she has nothing to show for it. He can’t hold down a steady job because he loves jazz so much he can’t stop himself from playing it even if it’s not what his boss wants.

It’s not a spoiler to say these two folks get together and they just click. They keep running into each other, which is crazy in a city as vast as Los Angeles, and eventually they end up in a great relationship. But, now you have to ask yourself what sacrifices are you willing to make for your own future… but also the future of your partner. The seductive tendrils of your dreams don’t ever go away, although Mia and Sebastian both struggle to reconcile with the reality of their situations.

Chazelle is a fucking savage though, because his idea of a resolution to this problem is to give us the worst-case scenario (that doesn’t involve death). And that’s where the second avalanche of cynicism comes in, particularly in the aforementioned epilogue.

Mia is happy. Sebastian is happy. But for the audience?

It’s devastating.

The genius of the whole thing is that the epilogue is essentially a sweeping retelling of history, a glorious case of what-could’ve-been, and that’s what makes it hurt so much more.

The violent intensity of Whiplash turned a lot of people off. They said it wasn’t realistic. I would say in this case, La La Land is one of the most sharply realistic movies of the year. To generate that type of reaction from the same movie that features spontaneous singing and dancing on a highway overpass, a posh party in the Hills, and a sequence involving outer space (!!) is not an easy accomplishment.

But, it’s the themes surrounding the story that make it so. It’s about sacrifice and love. Those two usually go together – sometimes your sacrifice is letting go of something or someone you love. It’s an eternally relevant fairytale with a sobering message at the end and it’s expertly packaged in a gorgeous original musical that is often breathtaking.

You should never forget La La Land is more than a musical, but you should also never forget how making this a musical instead of a traditional romantic comedy is part of why this is so good. For its technical excellence combined with a deeply nuanced emotional storyline (and other reasons I’ve discussed above), I’m declaring this movie my personal favorite of the year.