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Posts Tagged ‘potatoes’

Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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Farmer’s Market season officially kicked off this past weekend, and I couldn’t be happier. While it’ll still be some time before the best produce is available (peaches, carrots, etc.), there are some great veggies ready for the taking. With Sunday not only being the first Wicker Park Farmer’s Market, but also being an absolutely beautiful day, Yuki and I took Otis out for his first taste of the fresh produce Michigan has to offer.

Jakes Country Meats was there some beautifully smoked pork products. All of their pork is smoked with wood and vegetables like beets and celery that contain natural nitrates. They hit me up for a couple of smoked chops and a package of kielbasa as I am a lover of kielbasa. Haven’t had the kielbasa yet, but I salivate every time I open up my freezer and see them sitting there just waiting to be thawed and thrown on my grill!

I also picked up some River Valley Kitchens asparagus ravioli, some beautiful purple asparagus, and a few butterball potatoes. Along with the smoked chops these ingredients were to become dinner.

I also used 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, and a handful of parsley chopped.

In my large skillet I melted the butter and then sautéed the garlic, onion, and asparagus for about 6 minutes. I added the ravioli (since they were not frozen I did not boil them) and let the fry in the butter for about 5 minutes or so on each side. Then I tossed in most of the parsley and seasoned with some salt and pepper. I set it aside until my grill was done.

For the grill I cut the potatoes into wedges and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I grilled them on the top rack for about 8 minutes on each side. Since the chops were smoked they just needed to be heated, some nice grill marks were also in order. So, I just let them cook for about 3 minutes on each side.

On the side I made a very simple salad with iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges, and a lemon vinaigrette I made with the juice from 1/2 lemon, twice as much olive oil as lemon juice, salt, and pepper (emulsified into a smooth texture).

I will say this, the chops, while very delicious, were more like breakfast ham than dinner meat. They were a tad salty for the way I prepared them. If I were to buy them again, which I would in a heartbeat, I would serve them with a vegetable hash and a nice runny poached egg on top. Otherwise everything was fantastic.

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With Yuki’s dad back in Japan her mom wanted to make some home-style comfort food. Unsure of what to make I suggested Nikujaga. I’ve made Nikujaga before, and it turned out pretty tasty, but I wanted to try Tamiko’s since she has a lot more experience making it than I do.

The basics are the same…beef and potatoes simmered in dashi with soy sauce, sake, and mirin. I’m not sure what her ratio for the broth was, but it was perfect! For mine, I used yukon gold potatoes, she used fingerlings (only because that’s what we had in our kitchen). Also, she used snap peas instead of the edamame in mine. Otherwise, they were pretty similar (both had carrots, a staple in any Nikujaga), only hers was definitely more refined than mine.

For a side dish she had me grill some sawara steaks. Sawara is Spanish Mackerel and we found some really nice steaks at Tensuke Market. Tamiko simply sprinkled it with salt and pepper. All I did was throw it on the grill for about 6 minutes each side. For the sauce, she mixed yuzukosho with some mayonnaise. Yuzukosho is one of my new favorite things! It’s yuzu mixed with pepper making it a citrusy spice that keeps my taste buds begging for more!

She also made a simple miso soup with wakame and tofu. Being a Japanese comfort meal, white rice was also served.

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This dish is actually from this past Sunday night. Since Yuki’s parents love seafood, like most Japanese, I wanted to grill some red snapper for Tamiko on Mother’s Day. Our friends that gave us the Rick Bayless cookbook were up at Tensuke Market so I had asked them to bring me some snapper. Unfortunately, they did not have whole snapper, just filets. They did, however, have Sanma. I remember Tamiko made Sanma for me once in Japan so I thought it’d be fun to grill some up and return the favor.

Sanma is a Pacific Saury, commonly called Mackerel Pike in English. About a foot long and slender it’s simply salted and grilled, complete with the guts. You can certainly eat the guts, as Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun does, but they’re very bitter. I don’t eat them, too bitter for me. After grilling you simply pull the skin and meat off the bones and chow down. The skin gets very crisp and tasty while the meat stay moist.

To prepare the Sanma I simply washed them down with cold water and patted them dry. Then I heavily salted both sides of the fish and let it rest for about 20 minutes. This allows the salt to stick to the fish and add the depth of flavor while keeping it a little less oily.

I had some fingerling potatoes that needed to be used up so I halved them, drizzled them with olive oil, and sprinkled some salt and shichimi togarashi on them.

I heated up the grill to med-high. The potatoes went on the top rack while the fish were on direct heat. I cooked one side of the fish for about 8 minutes then flipped it over and cooked the other side for about 6 minutes. Not sure why, but Tamiko said you should cook the first side a little longer. Since this was my first go at grilling Sanma I happily took her experienced advice. Glad I did because they cooked to perfection!

Sanma is typically eaten with grated daikon radish that has a little soy sauce poured on top of it. So, I grated some daikon and we poured a little soy.

Tamiko made Bara Sushi to accompany the Sanma. Bara loosely translates to spread out, so it’s basically just spread out sushi. She made two cups of rice and mixed some rice vinegar, sake, and mirin (maybe a little sugar too, not exactly sure what her blend of sushi rice consists of, but you can find multiple recipes for sushi rice online if you feel like trying your hand at it) into the rice. I fanned the rice down while she mixed the vinegar mix in to help rid some of the moisture. Then, she mixed in some smoked salmon, thinly sliced pea pods, thinly sliced lotus root, thinly sliced soy simmered shiitake, and carrot matchsticks. She then made some scrambled egg crepes, thinly sliced them and placed them on top. Finally, it gets garnished with thin strips of nori seaweed. It is absolutely delicious!

The soup was a simple clear dashi broth with wakame seaweed and eryngii mushrooms.

I wish more Americans would cook whole fish instead of the typical flavorless tilapia filets you see at every grocery store. Sanma is such a flavorful little fish that really would be a waste to add more than just salt. By keeping the guts inside you really get a full fish flavor, and you certainly don’t have to eat the guts. Full of omega-3’s and lower in mercury, it’s a great fish to grill up and enjoy with a cold beer or some cold sake.

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The other night Yuki and I used up another Groupon that was about to expire. We were intrigued by the $30 savings from an all-you-can-eat Brazillian steakhouse, yet one that’s different from the Brazzaz’s and Fogo’s of the world. This Groupon was for Al Primo Canto. At the time they had two locations, one at 749 N Clark and one at 5414 W Devon. The Clark location would have been a quick busride for us, but for whatever reason they closed that one down before we used the Groupon. Oh well, what can you do? So, we drove up to Edgebrook.

The location looks very generic on the outside. It’s a small little strip of storefronts right on the intersection of Devon and Central. The Metra rolls by about 1/2 block to the west. When we saw the facade we weren’t real excited about going inside. Once inside though, it was a different story. I wish I had a good pic of the interior, but it was the complete opposite of the exterior. It was very warm with lots of wood and really was a comfortable atmosphere. They do need a little better exhause system though as we both smelled like smoke when we left. The grills are in the back, but somehow the smoke fills the entire place. It’s not too bad, but will absorb into your clothes and hair, especially if you have a thick Jew-fro like me (and I’m just talking about my tuchas!).

The main difference between Al Primo Canto and other Brazzilian steakhouses is that there are no gouchos walking around with huge skewers of meat and there is no mile long salad bar. You can either order a la carte, or all-you-can-eat. We opted for the all-you-can-eat option in order to try out the various cuts of meat.

The meal started off with cheese pop-overs, flat bread, and eggplant caponatto. The eggplant was great, it tasted very similar to baba ghanoush.

Then they brought out three pasta dishes, all with fetucini. One had a mushroom sauce, one tomato sauce, and one garlic and herb. The pasta was all very simple, but tasted pretty good. The noodles were nicely al dente.

Next came the meats and starches. Fried potatoes with a blue cheese sauce, fried polenta with parmesan cheese, a plate with lamb and beef both grilled on large skewers typical of Brazillian steakhouses on top of sauteed green beans and pearl onions, and a couple pieces of grilled chicken.

They also brought out a mixed green salad.

The beef and lamb were a little dry due to overcooking on the grill, but not so much that it ruined the dinner. The flavors and quality of the meat were pretty damn good. I will say that the chicken was outstanding! Crisp skin and juicy meat they covered it in fresh sage. I liked that a lot.

I washed everything down with a couple of caparinhas. Not too sweet, but could have used a little more cachaca.

We split a flan for dessert. It was served with a raspberry couli, powdered sugar, and a blackberry garnish. It was ok, a little dense for our tastes. Don’t quote me on this but it didn’t taste homemade. It wasn’t terrible though.

As for the service I will say that the server and bussers were extremely attentive and on the ball…for the most part. We had actually commented a few times to each other at how good the service was until we asked for a box to take our leftovers home. That’s where the wrench was thrown. Appearantly they do not allow you to take home leftovers from the all-you-can-eat menu. I told them how ridiculous it was that they were going to throw away all of that perfectly good food that we were paying for. The server brought the manager over who, again, wouldn’t allow a box to be brought over. He said he’d have to speak with the owner and I told him to let me speak to the owner. So, the owner came over and explained the reasoning behind this. I guess people used to take advantage and would order more dishes just to take home. While I can understand that we were never even aware that we could order more meats or pasta. We were under the assumption that what was brought out was the meal, plain and simple. A little back and forth and finally he agreed to let us take our food home since the server never explained how they operate. I would have won even if the server did just because I’m an argumentative bastard who doesn’t give up. Plus, how can you throw away all of that food? This world is on the brink of a major food crisis. People in Japan right now would love a full meal to eat, not to mention all of the 3rd world countries or even a lot of people in America (Yuki even brought up Japan’s crisis).

In the end though, the owner did do right by us. We didn’t order any refills of any food so he didn’t feel cheated. Because of that we got our lunch the next day.

Overall, I would say that Al Primo Canto is a very average restaurant. The food is good, the service for the most part is good, but nothing is special. If we lived in Edgebrook we’d probably go there every once in a while. It is not worth a drive though. There are way too many places much closer to us that serve better food at similar or even lower prices. So, while we’ll probably never be back, I can’t say that the place isn’t worth a stop, it’s just not worth going out of your way for.

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Oden is Japanese home cooking at it’s finest as well as being a favorite winter-time treat. While the ingredients can vary, the basis of oden is to have a slightly salty dashi broth filled with fish cakes, daikon, konnyaku, hard-boiled eggs, and potatoes. Slowly simmered and warm in the belly, this is true comfort food. In Japan, it’s served at home, in restaurants, at street vendors, and you can even get it warm from vending machines (you can get anything in a Japanese vending machine, and I do mean anything!).

To start I made a good dashi broth. I used about 1/3 cup of dried anchovies, 3 tablespoons of mirin, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Most oden sets come with their own little packets of soy flavoring. They are usually pretty good, but it’s just as easy to do it yourself giving you more control over the flavor.

I let the anchovies simmer in 4 cups of boiling water for about an hour. I wanted every last bit of flavor out of the fish and into the broth.

I strained the broth and discarded the anchovies. Then I mixed in the mirin, soy, and salt.

You can buy oden sets at any Japanese market and some Asian markets. We got two two-person sets that were on sale from Mitsuwa, each containing a variety of fish cakes. Some with carrot in them, some with burdock root, some grilled, most deep fried. We also had a package of chikuwa fishcakes that we used. I skinned and chopped two russet potatoes, medium boiled 4 eggs (just enough to peel the shell off, since they were going to simmer in the dashi for a while I didn’t want to overcook the yolk too much), 1 daikon skinned and chopped, a bunch of green onions chopped, and a couple packaged of shirataki konnyaku.

Once the dashi was ready I added the eggs and daikon and simmered them, covered, over a low heat for an hour. This allows both to absorb a lot of the dashi flavor.

Then I added the potatoes and konnyaku. If you boil the potatoes too long they will fall apart and melt into the broth. I only let them simmer for about 20 minutes. That’s also enough time for the konnyaku to take on some flavor. If you’re using sliced blocks of konnyaku instead of the shirataki noodles you’ll need to add them about 20 minutes earlier.

Since most of the fishcakes are deep fried before packaging they can sometimes have a little bit of grease residue. Because of that I boil and drain them seperately for a few minutes before adding them to the dashi, that gets rid of any unwanted oil. They also are fully cooked so just need to be heated up. After about 5 minutes in the dashi, along with the green onions, the oden is ready to go.

To serve it up I divied one of each for both of our bowls and then laddles some dashi on top. Oden is great with a cold beer and some white rice, I covered our rice with ground sesame seeds. I tell you though, oden is even better the next day. It is a stew, so once all of the flavors fully penetrate the ingredients you really have a special dish here. The daikon and egg for lunch today were outstanding!

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This is actually what I cooked last Thursday night for dinner. I had a couple of huge strip steaks that I cooked up. If you go back, you’ll see that I sautéed some red kale with onion the night before. I made way too much, we still had leftovers after Thursday’s lunch. To get rid of it I turned it into a soup to go with the steaks. I also made some garlic mashed potatoes, roasted tomatoes, and sliced some avocado.

For the soup I used the leftover kale, a can of canelli beans drained and rinsed, and one carrot chopped up. I put all of the ingredients in a soup pot along with 3 cups of water. I brought it up to a slow boil, covered the pot, then turned the heat down to low and let it simmer for 45 minutes or so while I prepared the rest of dinner.

For the potatoes I peeled and cubed 4 yukon golds and added them to a pot of boiling water along with 5 garlic cloves. I let it boil for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes were soft enough to mash-up. Then I drained them, put them back in the pot (garlic included), and poured in 3/4 cup of milk. I mashed it all up with salt and pepper until it was nice and creamy.

For the tomatoes I slivered a clove of garlic and speared on sliver into each tomato. I drizzled some olive oil all over and roasted them at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.

I salted both sides of the steaks and then coated them heavily with black pepper. In a really hot ovenproof skillet I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and then set the steaks in to sear them up. I let them sit for about 4-5 minutes until the bottom were nice and brown. If they are sticking to the pan, then they’re not quite ready. Once they release with ease, they’re to be flipped. I only let the side sear for about 2 minutes and then I put the skillet in the 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes. When I took it out I let the steaks rest on a plate for about 7 minutes while I made the sauce. I turned the burner back on and deglazed the skillet with about 1/4 cup of red wine. Once that reduced down I poured in 1/4 cup of milk. I let it reduce for a few minutes and then turned off the heat. Since I used milk, the sauce separated a little, that’s where cream would have been better. The sauce would have turned out nice and smooth with cream. Oh well. After the steak rested I sliced it and served it up.

I put a big dollop of mashed potatoes on one side, laid some avocado slices down on the other. I laid some steak on to of the avocados and spooned some sauce over the top. Then I put a couple of tomatoes on the plate and ladled up the soup.

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My buddy Nimah has been in town and finally made a little time to see Yuki and I Sunday night for dinner. His wife and brother were supposed to join us, but they both backed out. It’s nice to know where we stand on their totem pole (I’ll remember this Lora and Ramin!). At any rate, for the past couple of weeks all he’s been talking about was Smoque. “Yo Twig”. He’s been calling me Twig since high school. “How’s Smoque?” I just kept telling him that it’s hands down the best BBQ in Chicago, maybe even the best BBQ north of Mason-Dixon Line. It’s at least the best BBQ Brisket north of Texas. Honestly, I haven’t even eaten it’s equal in Texas, although I’ve only had a couple of BBQ Briskets there.

So he got there early, which is quite amazing. He’s notoriously late (no, he’s not pregnant, but he does have three testicles…all Iranians have three testicles, just ask him) and I’m notoriously punctual. We were supposed to meet at 7 and he got there at 6:40. I was just about to hop on the highway and he called. “Twig, there’s a friggin line down the street!”. That should have been a sign to him that I’m not the only one who thinks Smoque is the best. That worked well for us since he got to wait in line for us. When we showed up, it wasn’t too bad. They do a pretty good job of keeping the line moving.

He kept asking me what to order, and I kept telling him to get the sliced brisket sandwich. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever gotten there other than the chili made with their brisket. I have to imagine that their ribs are pretty damn good too, but I’ve never had them. Always skeptical he asked one of the guys who works there. Of course, he said, “Get the brisket”. Just goes to show that I’m always right.

After about a half hour wait, not too bad, we ordered our food and got our seats. Besides sliced brisket they also do a chopped brisket. Yuki and I decided to try the chopped, so we got one of each and split them. I have to say, I think the chopped may even be better! You get more of the charred outside, and that has a ton of flavor. But, the sliced has more of the fat. You really can’t go wrong either way. All sandwiches come with a side of slaw. Theirs is nice because it’s just vinegar, no mayonnaise. That helps keep it light and helps you digest all of the delicious smoked carcass. I’m a mac’n’cheese guy, so I usually get that for my side. They have a great mac’n’cheese. Yuki got the fries. They cut their own potatoes and they keep the oil hot enough to cook them properly. Nimah got the baked beans. Simple BBQ beans, but their sauce makes them stand above the rest.

Oh, I should back up a bit in the story. While we were waiting for our food to be called at our seats one of the owners brought the people next to us some fresh made ginger cookies. I didn’t know why at the time (turns out they wanted some cobbler but Smoque was out, so they brought them some complimentary cookies) but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. I said to the owner, “We have some problems with our food too, do we get cookies?” I was completely joking because we haven’t gotten our food yet. He said, “Sure, I’ll get you some cookies”. I told him I was just kidding, but he said they had more and it was no problem. Moral of that story, it pays to be an obnoxious extrovert with no shame!

Wanting to try their pulled pork, but only having one stomach each, Yuki and I brought a couple of sandwiches home for lunch today. Beautiful! Absolutely lovely. Every bit the brisket’s equal. Well, I think I’d still get the chopped brisket over the pulled pork, but there isn’t a better tasting pig-which in town! The cornbread also held up to a night in the fridge. It was relatively moist all things considered.

All in all, if you haven’t made it to Smoque yet then you really need to. That is unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan. In which case you and I must have a sit down. Vegetarian meals are important, but only on Meatless Monday. Every other day of the week Smoque makes a tasty and inexpensive option to fill your guts.

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Alright, finally my last Restaurant Week experience. Yuki and I took advantage of the Art Institute’s free month in February this past Sunday. Afterwords we had planned on meeting up with a couple of friends, one in from Japan, for dinner downtown. We walked by Texas de Brazil and it looked damn tasty. So, I asked the hostess if they were participating in restaurant week, and when she said yes I made a reservation for us. What they normally charge for $50, we got for $32. Not a bad deal at all, not bad. Those of you have been to a Churrascaria before know what I’m talking about.

Again, the pics were taken with my cell, so they’re not the best quality. Also, if you’re a vegetarian or a little squeemish, don’t look any further. There are chunks of bloody animal carcass on my plate. Consider yourself warned.

We started off with a round of caipirinha’s. While the bartender whipped those up we headed over to the sushi and salad bars.

I apologize, I ate the sushi and most of my first run to the salad bar before snapping a pic. I have to say, the sushi was quite good. There were three different maki rolls, tuna and avocado, california, and salmon. The salad bar was outrageous! Check out their website for a complete list of items. My favorites were the tuna tataki, pomegranate quinoa, and the cheeses. Everything was top quality. They did not skimp at all. The soup was lobster bisque, which for some reason none of us tried. Why is that?

Once we finished the first round at the salad bar the meat-a-thon began! Flip the token to green and meat just started flying everywhere! Highlights were the garlic beef (of course), bacon-wrapped filet (of course), and the sausages (of course). I asked the gaucho what the sausage was spiced with and his answer was brilliant, “Brazillian spices”. Great, now I know how to make them at home. Other tasty bits were the lamb chops, leg of lamb, and flank steak. Just like the salad bar the meat was all top quality. They definitely did not buy their meats from Jewel! While mauling the meat we were served mashed potatoes, little cheese puffs, and fried plantians as well.

After ingesting about two and three fifths of large farm animals I thought it would be best to get some leafy greens in my stomach. I made another run to the salad bar and just grabbed some mixed greens and topped them with what they call “Brazillian Dressing”, just some small diced tomatoes and peppers in lime juice. Had I not gone for the salad I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to my intestines.

Dessert was also offered with our meal. We had our choice of a banana’s foster cheese cake or key lime pie. So, we got two of each.

I tell ya, as much fun as Churrascarias are and as delicious as they are, I don’t think I can go to one again. I always end up eating so much meat it’s not even funny. Don’t get me wrong, I love meat, it’s my favorite vegetable. Let’s be honest though, a 150 pound man should not swallow 207 pounds of dead animal in one sitting! It’s just not right! I almost couldn’t get up from the chair after the night’s festivities came to a halt. It also ruined my normal cycles for a few days, but that’s a whole different story in itself.

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Alright, Restaurant Week restaurant number 2…Cafe Spiaggia. I’ve long thought that Italian food in Chicago was sub par with only a couple of good restaurants around. Most Italian joints here serve big heavy sauces and overcooked pasta. Even some of the higher end ones I’ve been to were extremely disappointing. I’ve always wanted to hit up Spiaggia, but it’s a little out of my normal budget. By a little I mean a lot. When special occasions come along I’ve always opted to go to other places instead. However, the $22 pre fix lunch deal at Cafe Spiaggia this week is too good to pass up. I know it’s not quite the haute that the main room of Spiaggia is, but it did give me a very good idea of what it’s all about. Good things, all good things.

We started with two salads. This one is the PERA; Baby arugula with toasted pear chips, Alto Adige I.G.P speck (a ham from northern Italy), goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. The pears were a little under-ripe, but otherwise everything was light, clean, and fresh.

This salad is the ITALIANA; Escarole, treviso, and frisee with Parmigiano Reggiano and Chianti vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was outstanding! Otherwise, it was a very simple salad that was not overdone, exactly what a salad should be.

We ordered one each of the two entrée’s that are offered on the Restaurant Week Menu. First is the CAPPELLACCI; Hand crafted butternut squash filled pasta with amaretti, Parmigiano Reggiano, brown butter, and sage. You see this dish on a lot of Italian menus and in a lot of cookbooks, so it’s nothing creative or off the wall. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone execute the dish to this level. The pasta was perfectly al dente, there was just the right amount squash seasonings (I think cinnamon), and the brown butter wasn’t greasy at all.

The other entrée offered is BATTUTA; Pounded chicken breast with sautéed Swiss chard, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, and Pecorino Siciliano. Again, nothing off the wall. Just simple, fresh, top quality ingredients prepared perfectly to allow each other to compliment one another.

For dessert you’re given three choices out of the Gelati and Sorbeti menu. Yuki ordered the passion fruit, vanilla, and pineapple-basil.

I ordered the red raspberry, grapefruit and stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings). They were all great, but out of the six I think the pineapple-basil was the best. It wasn’t too sweet and had just the right amount of herby basil in it. The grapefruit was also great as it tasted just like eating a slice of grapefruit.

Service at Cafe Spiaggia was fluid and attentive. That’s pretty much to be expected of such a high quality restaurant. The interior was also nice and laid back. It had the feel of an outdoor cafe in Italy with views of Lake Michigan. One of these days we’ll dine in the formal restaurant to get the full on experience. I will tell you this though, there is no doubt that Chef Mantuano is one of the few chefs in Chicago who truly understand what Italian food is all about. No need for heavy red sauces or huge plates of gut-busting, overcooked pasta. Keep it simple, light, and fresh while letting the ingredients themselves do the talking. I can’t wait for the full-on experience!

Side note, there is a bit of irony for me to finally dine at Cafe Spiaggia. About 5 years ago when I was looking to get back into the restaurant biz I interviewed to become the manager of the cafe. I was called in for a total of 3 interviews and turned out to be the runner-up in their search. I lost out to a long-time server of theirs. I wonder what life would have been like had she not gone after the position……hmmmmm?

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