Chicago deep-dish pizza – if ever a city was linked to a dish, it’s this one. I would have been remiss in not ordering it on a trip to the windy city a couple of weeks ago. Wonderful, yes, and every bit as filling as I remembered it too. Sorry Chicago, I like your pizza, but Neapolitan style-pizza is still my favorite. The Chicago culinary experience is about so much more than pizza though. From the casual pizza joint Pizano’s (where the above pizza was sampled) to the ultra-elegant restaurant Spiaggia, and Greek and Mexican cuisine in between, I sampled lots of good food with my good friend Lilli during our three-day visit.
Dinner at Spiaggia was high on my list, ever since touring Acetaia San Giacomo (I wrote about the place here), where Andrea Bezzecchi makes his divinely delicious aged balsamic vinegar in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. Andrea sells the precious liquid to Spiaggia, in addition to New York’s Le Bernardin and other high end restaurants as well. The elegant Italian restaurant was also one of the the Obama’s favorite spots for date nights when they lived in Chicago.
Overall, the food was very good, and there were some real winners among the dishes we sampled, including the best dish of the night – my primo piatto – a raviolo filled with crescenza cheese and braised goat meat in a fragrant sauce surrounded by mushrooms (bottom left photo)
But some of the dishes were less than top notch, which is not what you expect when paying the kind of prices charged here. For example, a primo piatto of three tortelli d’erbette (top left photo) filled with swiss chard and ricotta was bland and under seasoned. This dish is a specialty of the region in Italy where my relatives live and I’ve eaten it many times there. This version fell short. For $28, you’d think the chef could have added more than three measly drops of Andrea’s balsamic vinegar to liven up the flavor.
My main course of halibut (top row middle photo) was overcooked and hard around the edges, inexcusable when the cost is $54 for the portion.
On the plus side, the waitress let me taste a couple of wines before I found one I wanted to order, and the free refills of San Pellegrino all night long were an uncommonly pleasant surprise. We also loved our antipasto selection. My friend Lilli and I couldn’t help ordering the same thing – wood roasted artichokes with mozzarella di bufala, date puree, and zucchini (center bottom row – $26 each). The basil-flecked bread and homemade bread sticks were noteworthy too, as were the complimentary chocolates and candied orange slices offered when we finished.
Our favorite item – not just that meal but perhaps on the entire trip – was a trio of ceviche dishes with different fish, each one presented in a martini glass – some with mangoes, some with grapefruit, some with avocados and other fresh and flavorful ingredients.
But my favorite meal out was noteworthy not for the food, but for the company. That was the night we ate at Quartino’s – a casual Italian restaurant that offers typical large portions of Italian-American food.
The food was just average, but the company – well that was exceptional. Joining Lilli and me were a blogger friend I’ve been wanting to meet for a long time – Marie of Proud Italian Cook (second from left). She brought along her friend Mary Alice and the four of us had a wonderful evening getting to know each other in person, after years of emailing. Now if only she could find her way to the East coast so we could show her what New York food is all about! We’re waiting for you Marie.
Our eating adventure continued en route home. Lilli and I spotted a Rick Bayless outpost called “Tortas Fronteras” within Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was the perfect place to pick up a sandwich for the plane ride back to New Jersey – a griddle-baked sandwich filled with chicken, avocado, arugula, chihuahua cheese and cilantro cream – all served with a dipping salsa. With airlines cutting out meals on short flights, this was a welcome lunch – and better than any airplane food I’d eaten in the past anyway. Rick Bayless, won’t you please move to New York?
If you still haven’t entered to win the Blue Willow china tea set I offered as a giveaway on my last post, it’s still not too late. I’ll be choosing a winner soon, so click here to leave a message on the blog post no later than Thursday, midnight Eastern time.