My father loved to go to restaurants and for that I will be forever grateful. We ate at some, if not most, of the best restaurants in Chicago—perhaps out of self-preservation (try as she might, my mother just could not cook). My father was a gracious man, always a gentleman, and he complimented my mother generously on her culinary efforts while claiming that eating out was “a break for Mom.” In reality, of course, it was a break for us.
My favorite restaurant was the Cape Cod Room at the Drake Hotel on the north end of Chicago’s Miracle Mile. The nautically themed restaurant served fresh fish that was flown in daily from several locations. The food was delicious and the service was elegant and attentive; the Bookbinder’s soup is simply the best soup I’ve ever had and it was a part every meal I ever ate there since my initial visit in 1960. It was where our family frequently ate before the symphony concerts we attended and it was where my parents took me and section-mate Peter Erskine when we played Orchestra Hall with the Interlochen Arts Academy orchestra.
The symphony was a major attraction for my family, as were the chamber concerts and recitals at various colleges in the Chicago area. We also liked the theater and the Chicago Art Museum and the Cubs, and jazz at such places as the London House and Mr. Kelly’s. I was blessed to be raised with music and was lucky to hear great conductors and accomplished soloists play the world’s greatest music. I was able to add to those experiences while living in Cleveland, New York and Los Angeles.
At one of a handful of going-away parties thrown for us before our move to Montana twenty-four years ago, a television producer I knew asked how I could possibly abandon all of the cultural opportunities in L.A. for a life in the boonies. I explained to him that we were not moving to the boonies part of Montana, and assured him that it had more than just mountains and rivers under its canopy of big sky. Then, after a brief discussion about all of those opportunities in Los Angeles, I asked how often he went to concerts, recitals and plays. “Not very often,” he admitted, “maybe once or twice a year. But it’s nice to know they’re there.”
My work as a jazz writer kept me in nightclubs three or four nights a week for most of the seventeen years I spent in Los Angeles, so I didn’t go to the symphony as often as I would have liked, or to plays or recitals, but I know it was more than once or twice a year. I also couldn’t afford to go very often. Ticket prices were generally high and the cost of parking was even higher.
Montana has far exceeded my expectations in many ways. I wish I could talk to that television producer whose name I don’t recall and tell him that this state has seven symphony orchestras and countless theaters. There are numerous chamber concerts and recitals at the colleges and universities scattered across the state. While I’ve only been able to read about the season programs of six of the state’s seven orchestras, I continue to be impressed with the scope of their repertoires. I am only intimately familiar with the Bozeman Symphony.
Under the very capable direction of Matthew Savery, the Bozeman Symphony is impressive on every level. The players bring enthusiasm, professionalism and well-honed musicianship to each performance. Renowned soloists are regularly featured. And the programs are ambitious and daring.
Last season, the pianist Spencer Myer played a Prokofiev concerto that thrilled. Carl Nielsen is not exactly a popular composer on the symphony circuit but he made the cut in Bozeman. So did Dvořák and Miklás Rozsa. The orchestra gave an inspired reading of the Shostakovich Fifth, the very symphony I performed at my Chicago Orchestra Hall debut in 1968. The season ended with a heart-stopping Symphony No. 1 in D Major by Gustav Mahler.
To my Los Angeles friend who believed Montanans only have cowboy poetry and foot-stompin’ music played around campfires and in saloons, I’d like to suggest that he come to the Last Best Place to hear some of the Bozeman Symphony’s offerings during its 50th season: Gershwin, Bernstein, Barber, Stravinsky and Mahler, to name a few. The tickets are affordable and the parking is free.
The Cape Cod Room went out of business at the end of last year. It had opened in 1933. I’ve been making Bookbinder’s soup for many years, modifying the original recipe from Bookbinder’s Restaurant in Philadelphia as did the Cape Cod Room to replace snapper turtle with red snapper and using a fish or vegetable stock rather than veal.
10 oz of red snapper fillets
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons flour
2 medium carrots, 2 medium celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
8 white peppercorns, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
8 cups fish or vegetable stock
a few dashes Tabasco
1/8 cup sherry
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat; sear and cook snapper fillets for about three minutes a side. Remove fish and reserve.
Melt the butter in the Dutch oven over medium heat and sauté carrots, celery, garlic, onion, and bell pepper for about four minutes. Add the flour; stir the mixture for about five minutes. Stir in peppercorns, bay leaf, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary and marjoram; cook two minutes.
Whisk in the stock until smooth; bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to a low simmer for thirty minutes. Add Tabasco at the fifteen-minute mark, and salt to taste.
Strain the broth, discarding solids and return broth to pot.
Flake reserved snapper and add to the broth along with the sherry.