Art versus Science, like Coconut Curry Popcorn versus Olive Oil Cake

Losing yourself is different from getting lost.
You can lose yourself in a museum. Not get lost in it.

And when that happens, it will be preserved alongside other artifacts of life’s witnessings.

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I have always leaned towards the arts side when teetering the art and science debate in many corporate arguments. For some things need to be suspended in unprovable disbelief instead of being truly validated. Take the bean of Chicago, a scientifically accurate architectural center of Millennium Park, but one which draws more appreciation owing to its reflective, imagination inducing prowess.

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When venturing into the Art Institute of Chicago, I happened to come across a palatial white space in its very center, with sun rays beaming in from all directions. Almost like the antithesis of a speakeasy, but for restaurants located in the heart of art.

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Terzo Piano is a perfect brunch or lunch spot owing to its ethereal sunlit avenues in every corner. Little did I know, it actually features the cuisine of Chef Tony Mantuano who’s Spiaggia has been heralded as the only four star in Chicago, and one which I have reviewed sumptuously before. Chef di Cucina Megan Neuback  promises organic and locally sourced ingredients for a fit and fulfilling midday meal.

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I started with the local cheese selection, owing to a recent infatuation with cheese tastings, complete with raspberry and blackberry jam and homemade touille. The buffalo cheese was fresh and spongy, blending well with the tartness of the jam, which complete with its seeds and accompaniments, made for textural bliss.

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The aged gruyere melted well with the touille, both texturally and flavorwise, for it had its own silky sour quality that mandated an unmixed bite.

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Possibly my favorite bite of the day, and one that would go down in my history of best bites of Chicago, was the popcorn. I have previously publicly stated my dislike for popcorn, but this was a novel concept: curry coconut caramel popcorn. Definitely not your cloud-like butter glistening or salt speckled movie theater popcorn, this looked like it belonged in the plate of Zeus, owing to its gold-like quality.

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The caramel swooped several popped kernels together, and a single bite was a dance of spicy curry, aromatic (and crunchy!) coconut and sweet caramel. Borrowing from a Thai and Indian flavor profile, this was one snack that I gobbled in record time, and even asked for a second helping!

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Next up for my green fix of the day was a fresh green pea crostini with lime yogurt. The inventiveness of texture and flavor was matched only by visual appeal: for I had never quite thought that a pea puree with a hint of tangy-ness but with visible peas could be so sumptuous. And not one with a penchant for yogurt, the lime yogurt was a delectable healthy substitute to butter, elevating a crostini to a meal-like status!

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Never failing in the dessert department, and impressed by the flavor, ingredient and plating juxtapositions thus far, I got an olive oil chiffon cake with balsamic strawberries and olive oil ice cream. On point with an experimental ice cream trend and recent Bay Area staple, the ice cream and strawberries alone would have made a winning combination of temperatures, sour and sweet flavors, and a spectacle of science meeting palette art.

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However, the chiffon cake, called so owing to its gentle, spongy texture that melted in my mouth, was probably one that I could order a birthday cake size of. Sans any sweetness, it had soaked up the olive oil, leaving a light layer on my tongue as I inhaled it like a cloud on a mountainous sky. The entire combination was award worthy, with a comical role reversal of red and sweet looking tart berries and a sugary looking but savory cake.

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Highly impressed, I felt I had grown wings as I descended from my perch of the art museum down into the streets of a swaying summer in Chicago.

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Art, science, or simply good food,
At the end of the day its about satisfaction.
And I was (after)glowing in satisfaction.
(A bit lost in my thoughts of fulfillment.)

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