Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thit Nuong in the Park

It’s been a few years since we’ve been to the Lincoln Park Zoo, because it’s in the city and the logistics of getting there are hard. In many ways, though, that zoo is the more likeable of Chicago’s two major zoos. It's a manageable size, surrounded by the pleasant spots of Lincoln Park, and free. It doesn’t have animals in quantity like the Brookfield Zoo, but the zoological quality is just as good.

It was the first zoo we ever took Lilly to. We lived in the city in the months after her birth, so it was just a matter of hanging on to her as we took the #36 Broadway bus south a couple of miles. It was on an unusually warm day just before Christmas. It wasn’t really for her. It was for us, to get out of the house.

On Saturday, nearly eight years later, we were back. This time it was for Lilly and her sister, but it still involved the #36 bus because we parked near Argyle Street, bought sandwiches at the Ba Le Sandwich Shop, and caught a bus right outside the shop for the ride to the zoo, south a couple of miles. Parking near the zoo is inconvenient and costly at best, impossible at worst, while parking is free and available on the formerly familiar streets of Uptown-Edgewater.

True, herding children and their gear onto a city bus is trouble enough, but our little picnic on the lawn in front of the Lincoln Park Conservatory (near the zoo’s entrance) in the warmish October sun was compensation enough. Especially since we’d bought sandwiches called thit nuong at the French-Vietnamese Ba Le, which contain pork, vegetables and delicious Vietnamese spices on a fresh baguette, $2.95 each. We also had two banh u, or sticky rice pyramids with chicken at the heart, wrapped in palm (?) leaves. Wrapped up in dark green sturdy leaves, anyway. $1.50 each.

At Ba Le, baguettes are sold individually from an enormous pile of them in a clear plastic box. Ann knew what she wanted, and it was in that box, and she let us know. So we got her one, 35¢. She didn’t bother with waiting for a picnic setting of grass, but got to work on it right away, on the bus, in violation of CTA rules. But cute toddlers get a pass on such things.


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