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number 6

Fahrenheit 9/11 and Khyber Pass
by David Hammond

The Oak Park premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11 at the Lake Theater was like a 35th annual reunion of Woodstock Nation. I ran into neighbors, teachers and old friends, and lots of people I thought I recognized (please understand: after swimming in the same western Chicagoland gene pool for half-a-century, I’m always bumping into folks I knew in junior high, got loose with at the very colorful ‘67 Airplane concert in Grant Park, many former young people I hated and loved. Sometimes I think they’re ghosts; other times I think I am. Metempsychosis.

Inside the theater, people were nudging one another, shoulder poking and into it, lots of grey hairs feeling young again; a be-in.

After the movie, I was ready to drive 10 miles or so to Noon-o-Kebab in Chicago to have some Persian food (I like themed evenings). Our double-date friends suggested Khyber Pass, right across from the Lake Theater. Having the very obvious advantage of being right there, a few steps away, we crossed the street and right went in. As Sir Michael said, “you can’t always get what you want,” so on this night, in the slanting golden light of 7pm (“magic hour” as we call it in the video biz), I got what I needed.

Khyber Pass is not a favorite Indian restaurant among Chicago food enthusiasts. It’s been more or less ignored by cognoscenti of Indian cuisine. Fun fact: “Khyber” is Hebrew for “fort,” and although Khyber Pass in Oak Park is an “Indian Restaurant,” the actual Khyber Pass is a timeless war zone separating Pakistan (nuclear power) and Afghanistan (ally?); this restaurant serves an eclectic blend of food from throughout the region. Khyber Pass has been an invasion point to the subcontinent since Alexander, so it is a fitting symbol for what Orwell predicted would be an era of “continuous war.”

We did the buffet (earlier, I ran a few miles, so I felt I deserved it - at least 2K calories, no prob).

- Samosas. Pretty standard stuff, with potatoes and yellow lentils; it became much more interesting with thick red and very snappy tamarind sauce.

- Ginger gorsht. The lamb chunks in some thin gravy were surprisingly tender and good. The seasoning was mild, just some herbs and bell pepper and tiny bit of ginger, which was fine because the lamb shone through. This, I suspect, did not start out with tender lamb; the chunks were probably from an older beast, and because they’d simmered all day, very tender and flavorful, and had some character.

- Lentil balls in yoghurt. This stuff was a lot like wet yellow bread, but in a good way. It didn’t have a lot of taste, but it was cool and palate-cleansing, and it looked fine, messed up on my plate with the lamb.

- OKRA. OKRA. OKRA. This was the standout. It felt fresh, not frozen. This was not the smooth skin okra we know in the US; the skin on this okra was armadillo-like, numbly, and so full of goodness in a relatively light sauce with onion and perhaps a little turmeric. No oleaginous mush; just firm and lush green taste, with an undercurrent of okranian pastiness. Though diced, it was clear the pieces were cut from a big long vegetable, very unlike the little torpedoes common in the American south. I would go back to Khyber Pass for this dish alone.

-- Tandoori chicken. This stuff was a little strange with an unearthly red cast, even for tandoori chicken.

-- Mango ice. Nice dessert. Rich pumpkin yellow. Cake-like density. It was pretty much okay.

Overall, I judged it pretty much okay, and I slurped vast quantities with my fellow lestrygonians. Had two bottles of Flying Horse, an Indian lager; weak, but then again, I’m thinking maybe lighter brew is better with this kind of chow.

This place, however, had two big pluses that were not on the menu: live sitar (and some other stringed instrument) and a huge, maybe 18-foot mural featuring guys in Taliban-type hats (they’re called pakols, and I wear one in the winter; friends whose opinions I respect say I look like an total moron in it, yet I persist). What I liked most about the mural (aside from the kabobs offered generously by the genial Taliban-type guys in the picture) was that it made me have dinner in front of this gigantic picture of fellows who are enemies, or so I’m told. The movie I saw earlier suggested that the real enemy was closer to home, but you should really see the flick for yourself.

Anyhow, I’m glad we ate in Oak Park, so we didn’t have to drive, or otherwise use the fuel that gets us in such terrible messes.

Walking in the park on the way home, nighttown, we sashayed past two gentlemen sitting on a bench on what might have been the most gorgeous and fresh night so far the summer. One guy was drinking SureFine grapefruit juice in a glass bottle with, I’d guess, a hefty splash of vodka (he had the gregarious air).

GUY #1 (with awkward gusto): What’s playing at the Lake tonight?

ME (beat, beat): Fahrenheit 9/11

GUY #2: Good?

THE WIFE (with embarrassingly evangelical enthusiasm; see, she actually went to Woodstock): See it!

GUY #1 (a little cautiously): I’m a vet.

ME (turning and smiling): Then you’d appreciate it.

GUY #1 (sincere): Thanks!

ME (spinning as I walk, pausing at the arc of my turn, making brief eye contact with Guy #1, continuing backward for a moment before resuming forward stride, and painfully aware of my totally fake-y Vince Vaughn/Dino demeanor with which I intended, pathetically, to convey equivalent sincerity): Thank YOU… (beat)… really.

Khyber Pass
1031 Lake, Oak Park
Tel: 708-445-9032

David Hammond is a writer living in Oak Park, Illinois, with his wife, three daughters, and a very foolish dog.

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