k

KateB's Profile

Title Last Reply

Your First Cookbook?

Marcella Hazan's "The Classic Italian Cookbook" circa 1976. I still use it!

Kate

Mar 04, 2011
KateB in Home Cooking

Opinions of Ria please

My experience at Ria, less than two weeks ago, was completely the opposite of nsxtasy. I absolutely loved the food, the atmosphere and the service. The only thing that I didn't particularly enjoy was the cost! Obviously this is a luxury restaurant and hotel. This is not a place to go for a bang for the buck experience.

I felt like a pampered little princess from the moment I entered the elegant courtyard of the hotel. All I could think was "when did this little jewel go up?" The doorman actually looked pained that I somehow opened the door of my taxi by myself. Perhaps forewarned by some secret doorman's code the fellow at the revolving door was primed and ready to push the door for me. I actually started to giggle. When I asked the door pusher where the restaurant was he didn't say "it's on three" but escorted me to the elevator, pushed the call button and when the elevator arrived went inside and pushed the proper button for me. Over the top? ... Certainly but clearly what this place aims for and what it delivers,

While waiting for my three companions I opted to have a drink in Balsan as it looked livelier. I was intrigued by the menu and definately want to eat there soon.

The four of us opted for the tasting menu. We were universally glad that we did. The meal started out with a warm gougere, a perfectly fine gougere that I would not describe as "meh". I won't wax rhapsodic about this tidbit. I was after all just an amuse ;-). The next amuse was the apple cider consomme with radishes and such. I really enjoyed this. This was a wonderfully clear and flavorful consomme with a tiny hint of apple and some crunchy bites for textural contrast. I could not disagree more with the review that this was bland at all. I make a lot of home made stocks and broths and perhaps I was overly-admiring of the skill of making such a clear and wonderful consomme but I'd eat again in a heartbeat. My companions also thought it delicious and elegant and nobody got any more broth than anyone else!

I don't remember much about the bread service as I was saving myself for the dinner.

Dinner started with a scallop and baby octopus dish with caviar and a fumet blanc sauce. I really wish now that I had taken more mental notes but all I can say is really enjoyed it. Everything was perfectly cooked and nicely balanced.

The next course was the dungeness crab which nsxtasy describes and I agree that it was delishious. My only problem with this course and the only real hiccup of the night was the wait between the first and second courses. It was interminable! Easily half an hour. Sure the place was crowded and we weren't in any hurry but that kind of delay was really pronounced.

The next course was Dover sole with black trumpet mushrooms apples and calvados. Again perfectly cooked if not particularly memorable.

I should mention the sommelier he listened to our tastes (our preferences were different so compromise was required) in white wines and suggested a reasonably priced white that we both enjoyed with this seafood centric menu. Reasonably priced is relative in a place like this but it was under $75 per bottle.

The next course was a very pleasant surprise for me. I am not the world's biggest fan of venison and actually inquired if I could substitute something else for it. For a $10 supplement I could substitute the lobster from the menu but I decided not to and just go with the experience. I loved this dish! The venison loin was cooked in caul fat was amazingly tender and delicious served with shallots and rainbow chard and pain d' epices.

Desserts were also excellent: the first a gingerbread concoction with figs cranberries and ricotta maple ice cream and the second a chocolately heap of yumminess topped with a slightly smoked ice cream.

My SO treated us for dinner and I never saw the bill and he never mentioned the built in service charge. I hope that he noticed it and didn't double tip ;-).

I found the front of the house people to be knowledgable and gracious. None of our plates were removed inappropriately or precipitously. We didn't order the wine pairing. But the pairings certainly looked interesting . I chatted up a couple at the table next to us who ordered the tasting menu and the wine pairing and they were thrilled with the wines and food.

I am sorry that nsxtasy had such a bad experience. I can only note that mine was far far different and I will certainly go back for the next extra special occasion.

Kate

Dec 21, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Do You Despise Turkey As Much As I Do?

I am not a huge fan of turkey or goose but I have made plenty of both over the years. Frankly I live for the sides. The roasted garlic mashed potatoes with shallot and wild mushroom gravy, the butternut squash and apple soup, the butternut squash and amaretti ravioli, the homemade tortellini in brodo, the sausage and fennel stuffing, the pan fried brussel sprouts, the roasted cauliflower with bagna cauda sauce, oyster bread pudding, sformato parmigiano etc. etc. etc.. I love the desserts like chocolate pecan pie, butternut squash and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, creme brulee, chocolate pots de creme etc. etc. etc. I brine and roast the turkey for the crowd but everything else I make for me ;-).

This year one of my neices asked for a turkey moratorium and everyone agreed (much to my surprise). Our mains are going to be a seafood crepe with lobster, shrimp, crab, mussels and Beschamel sauce along with Mexican style grilled pork with a pumpkin seed mole. I might actually eat more of the main courses than the sides this year ... and possibly several pounds heavier.

Heaven!

Nov 24, 2010
KateB in Not About Food

Christmas Breakfast

Have you ever tried the Brioche Pecan Sticky Buns from "Baking with Julia"? They are incredibly good and can be partially made up to a month ahead of time. Quiche Lorraine (bacon, onion and gruyere cheese quiche) from Thomas Keller's "Bouchon" is revelatorily good and can be partially made up to 3 days ahead of time. Both of these are decadent crowd pleasers. Serve with some nice fresh fruit, crispy bacon, bagels with a variety of flavored cream cheeses and some hash browned potatoes fried in duck fat. Add some really good coffee and freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices and I'd say that you have a winner. In fact this may be my Christmas morning menu for my family!

Kate

Nov 22, 2010
KateB in Home Cooking

Heading back to Chicago - Schwa and what else?

I'm with Chicgail on Cafe des Architectes. I have had 3 totally disappointing dinners in a row there preceeded by one I enjoyed. The food and experience are not ones I would repeat.

I have had two very good meals at Avenues under Chef Duffy and several more when it was under Chef Bowles. I am not a fan of Bowles food at his namesake restaurant and wouldn't rush back but would go to Avenues happily again under Chef Duffy.

Spiaggia restaurant causes problems for me. The prices drive me insane and the hard sell of three courses is irritating. I can't eat that much food and I have lived in Italy and don't need the edification on how "one" eats/orders food in Italy. I had resolved not to go back to the restaurant (not the Cafe which I like) when I ended up there for no particular reason other than it was a Monday and had an absolutely terrific meal. But the prices!

-----
Cafe des Architectes
20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611

Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Sep 29, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Advice re: Bacchanalia

I ate there on Thursday night. Absolutely fabulous! The amuses were great. The first a cheese and bechamel filled gruyere was really interesting. I make gougeres a lot for parties and found the addition of bechamel really terrific. The second amuse was a chilled onion soup with really tasty and interesting croutons. The croutons tasted bacony and were extremely crunchy. I started with the Kumamoto oysters which were pristine and topped with something seasonal but, to my taste, needed a bit more acidity. My SO had the wonderful Thai flavored crab cakes in all of their citrusy glory. I ordered the pan fried trout with a multitude of tomatoes prepared various ways with a tomato vinaigrette. Very good. My SO loved his veal schnitzel and potato salad. For the cheese course I really loved the romano cheese and peaches. It was a perfect combination. My SO was thrilled with the Montgomery cheddar and apple salad. The intermezzo was fairly unusual but tasty. I think they called it an apple smoothie. It was a creamy candied cinamon apple drink in a glass rimmed with salt and sugar. I was pretty full by dessert so I simply tasted my medly of fruit sorbets (good) and my SO loved whatever he had for dessert. I couldn't sample the mignardeses but they looked nice :-). I have never left this restaurant less than thrilled and this was no exception.

If you have room for other meals on your trip I highly recommend two other restaurants we ate at during our recent visit: La Pietra Cucina and Ecco. Although La Pietra was sold out of 3 of the 4 dishes we wanted to order we still ate very well and the pasta with the chile braised pork sauce at Ecco was absolutely wonderful!

-----
La Pietra Cucina
Atlanta, GA, Atlanta, GA

Ecco
40 7th Street Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30306

Aug 24, 2010
KateB in Atlanta

Best in Atlanta (Midtown emphasis for dinner ) anything goes for other

Thanks so much for all of the input. I'll report back on my experiences!

Jun 30, 2010
KateB in Atlanta

Best in Atlanta (Midtown emphasis for dinner ) anything goes for other

Thanks, I will soon become a great friend of Marta, I did read the previous threads and if my tally is correct the following are my best bets: Nan Thai, Dogwood, Atmosphere, Tamarind Seed, Tierra, La Pietra Cucina, Park 75, Table 1280, Oceanaire, Ecco, Veni Vidi Vici, Tin Lizzy, Taqueria del Sol, West Egg, Figo, Holman & Finch, JCT Kitchen, Restaurant Eugene, Antica Pizza Napolitano, Babettes and Spice Market. Possibly I can try them all but I'd like to have a sense of how to rank them in order of "must try this". I like Ecco's menu because it seems to concentrate on small plates (which I love). What I wonder is how these places and others rate solely on the basis of food quality. I have done my share of ordering poorly at restaurants while my SO who rarely thinks about food when it isn't directly in front of him orders the best food at the restaurant. Are there any must tries at these places?

I am also interested in food excursions and Southern food experiences. Taking a day to experience BBQ or whatever. I like taking cooking classes wherever I go. Does anyone have any suggestions for cooking classes, any ethnicity, but Southern cooking preferred.

As an aside to ted: it is a great gig if you enjoy working 16 hours a day and haven't read a novel in 20 years and you wouldn't have an authentic experience in any city you visited if your SO didn't care enough to make sure that you had one .

-----
La Pietra Cucina
Atlanta, GA, Atlanta, GA

Ecco
40 7th Street Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30306

Restaurant Eugene
2277 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30309

Veni Vidi Vici
41 Fourteenth Street, Atlanta, GA 30309

West Egg Cafe
1168 Howell Mill Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30318

Tin Lizzy's
3639 Piedmont Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30305

Tamarind Seed
1175 Peachtree, NW, Atlanta, GA 30309

Table 1280
1280 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA 30309

Jun 28, 2010
KateB in Atlanta

Best in Atlanta (Midtown emphasis for dinner ) anything goes for other

I am going to be spending a few weeks in Atlanta this summer, staying in midtown ( Four Seasons) and am looking for ideas for 1) dinners very near the hotel ;2) breakfast and lunch in the vicinity and 3) food adventuring anywhere in the city accesible by Marta or cab. I am particularly interested in fine dining in midtown, great Italian dinners in midtown, dinners with southern flair near midtown and special places that are cabbable near the hotel. My days are free to roam and explore and I would love to experience whatever the area has to offer foodie wise. If I can get there by cab or Marta all the better since I will have no car. My SO is there on buisiness so dinner needs to be close to the hotel for him but I am willing to try anything accessible for other meals. Our favorite restaurant in Atlanta is Bacchanalia which I adore. The last few times we stayed in Atlanta were in Buckhead but that won't help much this time. Any "foodie" excursion itineraries for a day traveler who isn't afraid to shop and dine alone would be greatly appreciated!.

I have grown to truly love this city over the last few years and any suggestions for enriching my experience in this fabulous city would be delightful.

Kate

-----
Four Seasons
7130 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30340

Jun 26, 2010
KateB in Atlanta

Help! Business dinner (college profs) suggestions: Talbott Hotel on Friday

I like Naha a lot and you can't go wrong eating there. It's a cab ride from the Talbott. Closer to your hotel (about two blocks away) is the fairly new Italian restaurant "Pelago". It serves some of the best pasta in the city. I like it a lot better than "Cafe Spiaggia" or its fancier and exorbitantly priced sibling "Spiaggia". I've been to Spiaggia (the restaurant) twice in the past month and while the food was good it is nowhere near as good as the price demands. Cafe Spiaggia is good but Pelago bolts past it especially with the pastas. Pelago specializes in seafood and is very reasonably priced for casual fine dining. I tried Cafe des Architectes (walking distance from the Talbott) during restaurant week and was slightly underwhelmed but I suspect that is due to the fact that I was only able to order the restaurant week lunch option and so many other dishes appealed to me on the regular menu. It was obvious that the chef is putting out some very good food and I will defintely return for dinner some time soon.

I hope this helps!

Kate

Mar 10, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

50th bday weekend looking for restaurant/ethnic market advice near Gold Coast

My favorite new restaurant is the one actually located in the Raffaello, Pelago Ristorante. The pasta they make is some of the best I have had anywhere including at some of the best restaurants in Italy and the United States. I've been twice in the last two weeks. All of the pastas are house made and the trio of pastas served on the 4 course tasting menu(the trio counts as one of the 4 courses) is insanely good. It consists of Trofie Genovese (pasta spirals with a really terrific pesto, blanched green beens and potatoes), A ricotta and (I think) swiss chard agnolotti with parmesan butter sauce and Sardinian dumplings served with a wonderful sausage ragu. The restaurant specializes in seafood but offers several meat options. The first time we went we had the tasting menu which came with an appetizer of a perfectly cooked large shrimp (poached in court boullion is my guess) served over something yummy but I am blanking at the moment and seared tuna served over some of the best tasting caponata I have ever eaten. After the pasta I was too stuffed to do much with the generous main course of beef tagliata but it was also well prepared. I did manage to make room for the trio of desserts. A lovely apple torte, a peach ice cream with blackberries and a chocolate dessert (along the lines of a marquise au chocolate) served with creme anglaise.

On our next visit we asked to do just appetizers followed by the pasta trio again which they accomodated. I had the trio of fish carpaccio which was absolutely delicious and surprisingly filling.

The restaurant is quite small but lovely and the fireplace gave the room a romantic and inviting warm glow. The staff is friendly and enthusiastic and I know I will be returning again very soon.

Kate

Feb 26, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Lunch near Webster and Clyborn?

Real Tenochtitlam is not open for lunch (despite what their website says) during the winter so it may be a possibility in the future (I called and this is what they told me). The Lula, Turquoise etc suggestions in the first paragraph of your reply I didn't see when first I read your reply. Perhaps I am losing my eye sight??? I have always wanted to go to Lula's but didn't really have a handle (proximity-wise) on where it was located but since we frequent this theater fairly often it is nice to know that it is close with a car. Other lunch and dinner suggestions gratefully appreciated as Goose Island (though recently improved) and several other convenient but unmemorable venues inspire only yawns.

TIA

Kate

Feb 05, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Lunch near Webster and Clyborn?

Thanks for the replies. Note to Nsxtasy I also don;t know anything in the area and have been racking my brain! I live near north (LSD and North Ave vicinity) and my SO will be coming fom the Loop. Is Real Tenochiilan fairly close? He will eat Mexican and that sounds great to me!

I checked the websites for Bristol and as nsxtasy noted Bristol is only open for dinner and for some reason the Hot Chocolate website wouldn't open for me. I am not a dessert loveras a general rule so Vanille Patisserie is out for me. I assume Hot Chocolate serves a full menu of savories. Does anyone have a recommendation for what one might enjoy there? What is special at Real Tenochitilan? I an unfamiliar with it but the lunch menu looked good.

Kate

Kate

Feb 05, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Visiting for Valentine's Day weekend, need a little help finalizing food itinerary

North Pond is a lovely restaurant situated in a lovely venue but I found it underwhelming for the price and the food not very exciting, The last time I went we had service issues - namely very rude service. The six of us all agreed we wouldn't be heading back there anytime soon. Some of the food was quite good but some of the dishes pushed by the waitstaff as standouts and "must orders" were insipid. We may have come on a bad day for the restaurant as my previous dinner there (several years ago) was quite good but the attitude of the place really rankled all of us. This group consisted of serious "foodies" and we dine together at the best retaurants but we universally agreed that this was not one of Chicago's best or near best restaurants.
Kate

Feb 05, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Lunch near Webster and Clyborn?

I am looking for a really good spot for lunch in the vecinity of Webster and Clyborn. A place like Sweets & Savories (I assume it doesn't do lunch) or May Street Market (sadly no longer serving lunch) to go before a movie at Webster Place. My SO won't eat Thai so the place next to Pequad's is not viable and we were underwhelmed by Pequad's Pizza. Is there a good and interesting lunch spot in the area (we will be driving)?

Thanks in advance.

Kate

Feb 05, 2010
KateB in Chicago Area

Romantic prix-fixe dinner in the $20-30 range?

Sweets & Savories has a fantastic deal for the quality of the food (very high) a three course meal for $29.00. This includes appetizer, entree and dessert off the menu. The restaurant is BYOB and parking is available on the street (west Fullerton). They also have a special on Tuesday nights that includes half off the entire menu. The last ttime I was there I had the lobster risotto which is sinfully good and loaded with lots of tender lobster meat. For the price I honestly don't know how they do it!

Kate

Oct 24, 2009
KateB in Chicago Area

Spectacular Salad needed!

Happy to Comply!
8 ounces mixed baby greens
6 ounces haricots verts or string beans, blanched and refreshed in a cold water bath
3 ripe pears cored and sliced length-wise(2 will do)
8 ounces stemmed red grapes
1/2 small red onion sliced into into thin rings and soaked in cold water or wine vinegar (vinegar better) then drained
8 ounces roquefort (I use Maytag blue) chilled
1 tbl chopped chives (I use more)

For the spiced pecans:
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tbl light brown sugar
2 tsp olive oil

For the Green Apple Walnut Vinaigrette:
1 Granny Smith Apple (the recipe calls for 1/2 apple which does not work as well IMHO given the amount of oil) peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 shallot, peeled
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
2/3 cup canola or light olive oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

First make the vinaigrette. In a blender or food processor combine the shallots and apple chunks until smooth. Then add the sugar and vinegar and pulse to combine. Add the oils and blend. Season with salt & pepper. (Will keep for a few days covered in the fridge)

Make the pecans (these will keep for a few days tightly covered):

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Mix the cayenne, cumin and sugar in a mixing bowl then add the olive oil and combine. Toss in the pecans and combine until thoroughly coated. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes taking care not to let the pecans burn. Stir the pecans half-way through the cooking process. Let pecans cool before using.

For the salad:
Put greens, pecans, beans, pears, grapes and drained onions in a bowl and drizzle with half of the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble or chop the roquefort or blue cheese over the salad and garnish with the chives. Toss and serve with the additional vinaigrette.

May 28, 2008
KateB in Home Cooking

Spectacular Salad needed!

I really enjoy this salad. It's a mixed baby greens salad with pears, roquefort, spiced pecans, haricort verts, grapes and onions with a green apple and walnut oil vinaigrette. The recipe comes from "American Brasserie" by Rick Tramonto and Gail Gand but the vinaigrette recipe needs more apple than as written. If this appeals please e-mail or post and I'll be happy to post, as modified, recipe.

Kate

May 27, 2008
KateB in Home Cooking

Atlanta

Not a mom and pop type place and I know nothing about locals but I was recently in Atlanta and I highly recommend a very upscale restaurant named Bacchanalia. The food was seasonal, local and extremely delicious. The amuse of chilled asparagus soup with Meyer lemon cream; the appetizers of ricotta gnudi and crab fritter with Thai and citrus; the"cheese and contrast" asparagus and gruyere tart and Montgomery cheddar with fuji apples and candied walnuts really wowed us. The pre-dessert pannacotta with candied hybiscus and the desserts and mignardises sent us over the top. The main courses were only so so but the rest were heavenly. I'd go back in a heart beat!

Kate

Apr 01, 2008
KateB in General South Archive

First ever visit to Chicago..

For Mexican try Frontera Grill or Topolobambo but you may be disappointed because of the hype for these venerated restaurants. I have loved both and been disappointed by both which is exasperating. I've had really good meals at Salpicon but, again, it can be uneven. For American I like Naha, One Sixty Blue, Sweets & Savories, Blackbird and North Pond but have very mixed views on Sepia and Agra Dolce and May Street Market. For Italian Spiaggia is always recommended but my last meal there was average considering the very high price point. Your mileage may vary because when they are at their best any of these restaurants can be truly excellent.

Kate

Apr 01, 2008
KateB in Chicago Area

Sepia

Sepia is a very attractive restaurant with a nice ambiance but I wasn't enamored with the food. It's not a place I'd rush back to. I like Naha a lot and would really like to get back to Sweets and Savories both of which are within the same price range as Sepia if I recall correctly.

Kate

Mar 19, 2008
KateB in Chicago Area

Last Minute Atlanta

Thank you both for your prompt replies! I made reservations for tonight at Bacchanalia. I haven't yet decided on Thursday and Friday but you've offered much *food* for thought ;-).

Kate

Mar 19, 2008
KateB in General South Archive

Last Minute Atlanta

I'll be staying in midtown and haven't been to Atlanta in years so I have little or no knowledge of the restaurant scene. I am looking for fine or quasi fine dining restaurants for dinners (3 total) within cab distance of 14th and Peachtree. Restaurants can't be excessively loud or tables piled on top of each other and preferably American, Italian or French. For lunch or breakfast, on the other hand, anything goes as I will be dining solo and couldn't care less about such factors if the food is excellent. Ethnic, funky, memorable hole in the wall, or just plain fun but with a serious emphasis on food quality most preferred.

Any help appreciated!

Kate

Mar 19, 2008
KateB in General South Archive

what is everyone cooking for valentine's Day?

It is delicious but I need to get it out of my kitchen as I keep cutting off a wee slice now and again. It serves 8 and we are only 2 and there is a lot of butter in this tart!

Feb 17, 2008
KateB in Home Cooking

what is everyone cooking for valentine's Day?

I haven't been cooking as much lately so I decided to make V Day special this year. I made Smoked Salmon Tartar with Sesame Tuile Napoleans (the basic recipe for the napoleans is the one for the cornets from the French Laundry cookbook but the cornets are *hard* to make right so I just made them into round discs and layered the smoked salmon tartar in between and topped with creme fraiche, minced onion and capers). The main course was White Truffle, Asparagus Tips and Lobster Risotto (he wanted this for the main) and dessert was the Pierre Herme inspired French Lemon Cream Tart from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours". The tart was sinfully rich and conveniently published in the Chicago Tribune the day before V Day. All in all an excellent meal!

Feb 16, 2008
KateB in Home Cooking

What went wrong with my Veal Osso Bucco?

As noted by others it's hard to tell what went wrong without specifics. How large were the shanks and did they appear excessively fatty before cooking? I find that shanks in the 2 to 3 inch size work best. I always cover at least 3/4 of the way with braising liquid and turn the shanks several times during the braising time and I think the amount of liquid is very important to the final result. I always start the braise on the stovetop until it reaches a simmer and then finish in the oven at 325F. When the meat is meltingly tender remove from the heat. I find the whole thing generally tastes best after a day of flavor mingling so I cool, cover and refrigerate overnight. This is also very nice in party planning as a major componant is completed well in advance. Just re-heat, place shanks on individual plates, and if the braising liquid seems to watery, reduce to desired consistancy

My basic technique starts with sauteing pancetta (versus your bacon - just a flavor preference) over medium heat until it renders most of it's fat. Remove the pancetta from the pan and set it aside. Supplement the rendered pancetta fat with olive oil in order to brown the flour dedged shanks over higher heat. Brown over medium high heat for about 5 minutes per side then remove shanks to a plate and season generously with salt and pepper. Then I make my braising liquid by sauteing onions, carrots and celery, re-adding the pancetta towards the end when the vegetables are translucent and then deglazing with wine. I use home made meat stock which gets reduced with freshthyme, tomatoes (canned or peeled and seeded fresh in season) the veggies and wine plus I add capers and kalamata olives (for that certain extra piquancy that many osso bucco recipes seem to lack). The meat, along with any juices collected on the plate, gets returned to the pan and additional meat stock is added to almost cover. I finish as indicated above. I've never had anything but moist and tender and falling off the bone deliciousness. I've used the same recipe and technique with lamb and beef shanks albeit with a slightly altered finishing technique to remove excessive fat and gristle from the latter before serving.

I hope this helps!

Kate

Jan 13, 2008
KateB in Home Cooking

Cafe Spaggia, Bistro 110, Frontera and Riva this weekend

You are not alone even if we are in the minority. The last two meals at the Cafe have left me underwhelmed and this was a place that I used to love to go to. Last night I went to Spiaggia, the restaurant, as I hadn't been in several years. I am sorry to report that it also underwhelmed. My pasta course was quite tasty albeit overly salted. It was a ricotta filled ravioli in a lamb ragu. The pasta itself was perfectly cooked and the lamb ragu was very flavorful but the salt was just too intense. My SO got the spaghetti alla chitarra with lobster and house dried tomatoes and it was acceptable but very bland. We were both very disappointed in our mains. I had the sea bass wrapped around a large sea scallop supposedly served with a chili vinaigrette and a garlic mousse plus other flavorings that I am forgetting. It was completely bland and uninteresting. The chili vinaigrette must have missed this plate and while competently cooked it was unseasoned. The biggest disappointment was my SO's veal chop with porcini and chanterelles and "crispy" veal sweetbread. The veal was so fatty that it was largely inedible. Huge globules of fat in every bite. The meat was underseasoned. The porcini were good but the chanterelles were flacid and flavorless. The sweetbread was a round disc in the shape of a mini muffin and tasted overwhelmingly organy (to my SO - I never sampled). I like sweetbreads but this just didn't look appetizing. My SO had never eaten sweetbreads before and after his first and only bite he vowed never to again. Still hungry we split a dessert which was basically a beignet filled with a chocolate mousse and whipped cream. I wasn't wild about it as the beignet texture was difficult to cut through and eat but the SO liked it.

This is a minor quible but the amuse that started off the dinner was just plain silly. It was a small slice of sopprasatta salami topped with a dollop of (supposedly) butternut squash mousse. It certainly failed to excite my appetite.

That said the service was great and polished and the venue lovely as you would expect at a 4 star restaurant but when the food fails there's really little left to say.

Kate

Nov 06, 2007
KateB in Chicago Area

Italian in Near North Side

As I mentioned I haven't been to the Chicago branch but since it is in the old Biggs space it is certain to be a pretty and romantic place to dine. Most of the reviews that I have read have harped upon the outrageous prices and the offenses that engenders. I've only eaten at the Manhattan location but the food I had was excellent but, then again, I wasn't paying. If I had my perspective may be different. I can whole heartedly endorse the ones that I have been to. Spiaggia is deluxe and worth the price of admission by any standard that can afford it. I could live on the pheasant agnolotti at Vivere quite happily even though the decor of the restaurant doesn't work for me. As far as Cafe Spiaggia goes it is hit or miss for me. Certainly never bad and sometimes truly great but it used to be my shopping lunch place until they remodelled and changed the menu (the latter coming first) and removed the 4 cheese pizza with sun dried tomatoes from the menu. I was completely addicted to that pizza. Now I have to drive to Spacca Napoli for my neopolitan pizza fix and that is a hardship I willingly endure. The bonus is that I never order the same pizza twice ;-)!

Kate

Jul 16, 2007
KateB in Chicago Area

Italian in Near North Side

I second Topo Gigio and I have eaten there many times over the years as I also live near by. It's just a neighborhood place but a really nice one and I've also never had a bad meal there. If you want something a little more upscale and quintessentially near north (Topo technically qualifies as Old Town ;-)) try Spiaggia Restaurant or Cafe Spiaggia both located at Oak and Michigan. Spiaggia restaurant is the Grande Dame of Italian fine dining in Chicago. It is a dramatic space with lovely views of the Oak Street Beach. The food is refined and the prices stratospheric. For a splurge it is highly recommended. It's cheaper and more casual sister restaurant, Cafe Spiaggia, is a very nice and a very pretty space. I particularly like the addition of the Montovani fresco replications in the dining room. From the description of where you are staying you could easily walk or cab to Vivere restaurant which is part of The Italian Village complex on Monroe between Clark & Dearborn. This is the most upscale restaurant of the three and my favorite. There is also Il Mulino which is located on Dearborn just south of Division. It's in the old Biggs space, a restaurant known more for it's romantic setting than ever for it's food. I haven't been to the Il Molino in Chicago, only the NYC branch, but from the reviews I've read it is as pricey and probably as good as the one in Manhattan.

Kate

Jul 15, 2007
KateB in Chicago Area