GREEN TIE BALL: A WILLY WONKA GALA

By now, I’ve realized that I don’t attend galas or charities to mingle and socialize. Like most media, I weave through the crowds in sub-par attire, camera in one hand, plates of food in the other. And it suits me perfectly, as I’m far more inclined to dote on food and entertainment than I am with conversation. But after several galas or so, they all start to blur together; you see the same chefs, the same sliders and ceviches, the same “young philanthropists” sauntering about in dresses shorter than their cocktail straws. You forget what charity you’re supporting, and you definitely forget what you wore that night.

But I don’t think I will forget the Green Tie Ball, a charity benefiting Gateway Green’s Expressway Partnership Program (“an urban greening initiative to create and maintain beautiful, sustainable landscapes along Chicago’s expressway”). You see, my favorite holiday is Halloween, so anything involving costumes automatically fills with me uncontrollable excitement. What began 21 years ago as a street party, the Green Tie Ball has since evolved into one of Chicago’s premiere black tie events, and this year’s theme was a Roald Dahl classic: Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (last year was Alice in Wonderland). Held at  A. Finkl & Sons, this year’s event had an impressive restaurant lineup and DJ Lupe Fiasco to boot!

But I ramble no more–let’s talk about food. And holy hell, there was a lot of it:

  • 312 Chicago: farro, shrimp, tomato, mushroom octopus salad
  • 90 Miles Cuban Cafe: roasted pork, black beans and rice, fried plantain
  • Barn & Company: frenched chicken breast
  • Devon Seafood Grill: shrimp ceviche, black bean and sweet corn relish, sweet potatoes, crispy corn tortilla
  • Dinotto Ristorante: mushroom, red pepper bowtie pasta
  • Davanti Enoteca: blueberry pop rock truffle, strawberry pate de fruit, caramel sour apple candy
  • Firecakes Donuts: Peanut Butter Cup donut, Valrhona Chocolate & Espresso Cream donut
  • Eli’s Cheesecake Company: vanilla, cherry, or blueberry cheesecake, fudgy brownie, 7 layer coconutty, pecan pie bar
  • Francesca’s Restaurants: sweet potato gnocchi with bison ragut
  • Gingersnap Sweets & Such: mini cake bites with topping of your choosing (peanut butter and chocolate, please!)
  • Glazed and Infused: chocolate crisp covered chocolate-donut, Nerds-covered regular donut, blueberry donut
  • Hubbard Inn: oysters, apple salad
  • Jellyfish Chicago: Chilled “Umpa lumpa” soup (cantaloupe and coconut soup, curried shrimp)
  • Kanela Breakfast Club: red velvet french toast
  • Kendall College: make-your-own pasta!
  • La Madia: bruschette of 3-hour roasted grapes, ricotta
  • Mercadito: shrimp taco with avocado
  • Mercat a la Planxa: a meatball of some sorts?
  • Nightwood: blueberry panna cotta
  • Tavern on the Rush: crabcake with citrus remoulade sauce
  • Quay: tuna and wakame salad on lotus chip
  • Ristorante Angelina: pancetta wrapped scallop, polenta
  • Rivers Casino: Augustus Gloop Chocolate Covered Candied Bacon, Veruca Salt Deconstructed Blueberry Pie
  • Roy’s Chicago: lobster dim-sum wonton
  • Rubs Backcountry Smokehouse: pulled pork slider, cabbage slaw
  • Shaw’s Crab House: sweet potato roll, tuna ceviche and avocado on chip
  • Star Fruit: pear and original kefir
  • Sunda: Salmon Bundles (crispy wonton chip, scottish salmon, lobster salad, horseradish creme, wasabi topico)
  • The Wit Hotel: chocolate cake fizzy lifting soda
  • The Refinery: the whipple-scrumptious fudgemallow delight bar
  • Vinyl Chicago: shrimp, corn, radish ceviche, pulled chicken slider
  • Zocalo Restaurant & Tequila Bar: beef machaca taco (mexican cola-cola-chipotle braised beef), carnitas taco (caramelized pork shoulder, coconut kefir lime green chile, toasted pumpkin seeds)
  • Other places included: III Forks, 437 N. Rush, Adobo Grill, Bake, Bull & Bear, Cactus Bar and Grill, Gibsons, Cantina Laredo, Franklin Tap, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, Homestead on the Roof, Hotel Sax Chicago, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, Lexington College, Le Cordon Bleu, Little Market Brasserie, Michael Jordan’s Steak House, Old Crow Smokehouse, Public House, Saloon Steakhouse, Siena Tavern, Spin-Spun Confectioners, Standard Market Grill, State and Lake Chicago Tavern, Tavernita, Roka Akor, Rockit Bar and Grill

Although I tried nearly all of the dishes, I only had seconds of the grilled seafood and farro salad from 312 Chicago. Perfectly seasoned, the dish hit every single flavor profile: smokey, sour, sweet, and savory. The crab cake from Tavern on the Rush also left me trembling with furious joy, as I could actually discern the crab taste and texture, not just mushy mayonnaise. Of course, I also had about 20 oysters from Hubbard Inn, and my favorite ceviche of the night came from Vinyl. Laced with fish sauce and a hint of basil, this little shrimp bite proved far more memorable (and tasty) than the usual tomato, mango, or bean mix. There was also a roasted pork leg and pork tamale (topped with a fantastic mole) from two restaurants that I can’t remember for the death of me.

As far as creativity goes, the Green Tie Ball did not disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised by the harmonic and unique flavors in Jellyfish’s curried shrimp and cantaloupe soup, and the tuna and wakame lotus chip from Quay was pretty darn good, considering my general distaste for fancy-smanchey plating.  And given the theme of the event, the desserts were particularly innovative. I ingested about 50 donut-cake pops from Glazed and Infused (the Nerds and chocolate crunchies adding that satisfying chomp), and the elaborate dessert trio from Davanti was just a big sprawl of fun.

The chocolate covered bacon from Rivers Casino was generally fucking delicious, and the chocolate cake fizzy lifting soda from the Wit Hotel appeared a clear green but tasted like chocolate! And although they really didn’t incorporate a Willy Wonka theme, the  7 layer coconutty and pecan pie bar from Eli’s Cheesecake was…I dunno, just so good.

Despite the overwhelming shitload of ceviches and sliders and pastas, I thoroughly enjoyed all the culinary bites. I don’t know how my stomach managed it, but I finished the night with some Garrett Popcorn and Starfruit kefir–plain, no room for toppings. And just in case all that food wasn’t enough, there was plenty of candy swag in the seating areas. Speaking of swag, one of the best ideas I came across were these pink bath slippers from Cadillac. Considering the average stiletto height of the attendees, I’d say Cadillac did a great job creating a socially acceptable way for women to remove their painful beartraps heels.

After eating way too much, I oonzed to DJ Fiasco, blew magical bubbles, ate rainbow sheet cake, sat in Cadillac car models (wishing I could afford them), and chatted with half-drunken chefs.

Needless to say, I had a ball (GET IT!?). In fact, I only suffered from one singular disappointment: I didn’t find a golden ticket in my Rivers Casino chocolate bar. Ah, well–not everyone can be Charlie.