Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Casa de Isaac!

At the end of last month, I lectured at Lake Forest College, up in the northern coastal burbs. I don’t often wander out that way, but it’s always a treat to ride up Lake Shore Drive once it ceases to be an urban thoroughfare, especially in the fall. Leafy, golden Lake Forest – wildly moneyed Lake Forest – is also an architectural treat.

Nestled in nature, Lake Forest College is tiny (about 1300 students), Presbyterian-affiliated, pretty liberal, and very academically oriented. I read there about 15 years ago and remembered the students as sharp and interested.

No surprise, then, that the response was very similar this time around. The students were engaged, prepared, serious – it was a total joy to parry with them during our question & answer session.

Afterward, my host, Gizella Meneses took me out to dinner with a handful of faculty and students, as is standard practice. The surprise was in where she took us: La Casa de Isaac, a family-owned Mexican restaurant in nearby Highland Park.

Of course, there was nothing unusual in going to a Mexican restaurant. My hosts usually try to go for Cuban, but outside of Florida, New York and New Jersey, that’s usually a tall order. And I adore Mexican food, so I’m always game for the substitute (in fact, I often prefer it).

But La Casa de Isaac, as Gizella explained, is no ordinary Mexican joint. Besides its deliciousness (enhanced by the company of the Lake Forest women), it’s discreetly Jewish.

“I thought it was especially appropriate because of Days of Awe,” Gizella said, referring to my novel about crypto-Jews – hidden Jews -- in Cuba.

The big clue about its Jewish connection is in the name of the restaurant but a quick glance at the menu will show an utter absence of pork and shellfish. No, it’s not kosher, and there’s some mixing of meat and milk, but it’s, let’s say, kosher friendly.

Very Days of Awe!

Mil gracias, Gizella!