A couple weeks ago, right before my trip to LA, I was perusing my new favorite travel app, Porter & Sail. It's the coolest app I've used in a while and make me feel super VIP...it's your very own insider concierge. First it lets you book a room in some of the coolest hotels in London, LA, New York, Miami, and Singapore. Then, once you're actually a guest, it gives you access to some of the best restaurant reservations and events in town. (They actually helped me get a rezzy at Gjelina... which is usually almost IMPOSSIBLE to get in to.) So. My. Speed. While perusing, I came across this gem of a hotel, The Farmer's Daughter.Read More
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Lobsters have long been considered a delicacy. The ultimate and proverbial "last and final meal" most people would choose before meeting our maker. Since lobsters have seemed so lofty and unattainable (especially in daily life) the general public knows very little about this fascinating arthropod. I was fortunate enough to be sent to Portland, ME last week to delve into all that encompasses the Maine Lobster. This trip could NOT have been more perfect for me, as I have NEVER had the privilege of visiting the beautiful state of Maine, and I have also become more appreciative of lobsters recently as I try to no longer eat red meat (or mammals).
In Maine, lobsters are a way of life. They are a massive part of the economy and also a way of employing thousands of lobstermen and sustaining their families. Seeing this dynamic and the importance of lobsters to this region was truly special. Thanks to the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, I was able to get an inside look on the entire process; from trap to table. Most importantly, we were to learn all about Maine "New-Shell" Lobsters. These are lobsters that have recently shed their hard outer shell toward the end of the summer. The shell is much softer, you're even able to poke a hole in a claw with your finger...unheard of for old or hard-shell lobsters. These "new-shell" lobsters are supposed to be the sweetest and tastiest lobster in the world, and I'm here to taste them myself!
The first stop on our lobster tour was the Cape Seafood processing plant. The vast majority of the lobster that is processed at Cape is shipped out to all the Luke's Lobster restaurants around the country. We really got up close and personal with all the lobbies here...all while wearing the finest in rubber boots, hairnets, gloves, and cloaks in order to keep everything as sterile as possible. We saw how the lobster is cleaned, cooked, cooled... and ultimately, picked. They had a room full of about 50 pickers who were as quick as lightening and can pick all the meat from a knuckle and claw in about 2 seconds flat. It was incredible to watch, not to mention the respect you garner for the pickers' talent, dexterity, and diligence.
Next, we got to actually TASTE the incredible "new-shell" Maine Lobsters at one of the most famous lobster roll restaurants in the country. The Clam Shack, in Kennebunk, ME, has won award after award and continuously has been voted "best lobster roll". They put in on a round brioche bun instead of the typical hot dog bun or split roll. They also use a mixture of mayo AND butter to give you the best of both worlds. It was a simple, sweet, and outstanding sandwich.
Later, we all were aboard The Lucky Catch, a real lobster boat. The weather was perfect, even out at sea. The skies were pure blue as was the water, and the shoreline of Portland was breathtaking. Few things are more beautiful than the historic shores and harbors of New England, and to see it from an actual lobster boat was surreal. Our lobsterman captain was going to show us the ropes (pun somewhat intended) of how to set the traps and haul in the goods.
First off, we put bait in bags. Several pounds of large herring went into each orange mesh bag. Those would then be placed inside the large and genius-ly configured lobster traps. Once we caught some lobsters we got to measure them and band them.
Measuring them is of utmost importance. The Maine Lobster rules and regulations are incredibly strict in order to conserve and sustain the lobster population. A legal lobster in the State of Maine has a carapace or body shell length that measures between 3 ¼ inches and 5 inches. If they are too big or too small they MUST be immediately thrown back. Small lobsters haven't yet been given the chance to breed and larger lobsters have shown that they are good breeders and are to be kept in the population. Check out this video I shot to see how it works!
We also had the rare chance to see a "berried" female, or a female who is covered in eggs. These females must be immediately thrown back and notched on their tail to tell future lobsterman that they are capable of breeding. It was one of the coolest things I have witnessed in nature.
When I heard we were going to the Maine State Aquarium, I wasn't all that excited at first, as I thought it would be "just for kids". However, when I saw all of the insanely rare specimen of lobster they had in their possession... I was blown away. Check these out!! The 1st is a 1 in 100,000,000 rare albino lobster, and the second is a 1 in 2,000,000 cobalt blue lobster. It was one of the most stunning sights my eyes have ever laid upon.
We closed out this lobster immersion trip by, well, eating more lobster! Attending the Claw Down event in Boothbay Harbor was a fantastic way to bring this experience full circle. 20 local chefs were competing for the "best bite" of lobster. It was a blast and was so cool to see all of the different and unique ways in which new-shell lobster could be prepared. There was pasta, sandwiches, stews, sautés, etc. Here is a lobster salad served with crispy chicken skin on a soft roll. Delicious!
I've always been a huge fan of lobster. However, now that I know everything that goes into the fishing, sustainability, dealing, processing, preparation, and of course...eating...I have an entirely new respect for this delicious animal. I've also now become a fan of the succulent and sweet "new-shell" Maine lobster. Make sure that when you order your next lobster, if it's in the late summer, early fall, ask if it's new-shell. If it is...watch your tastebuds explode and then please tell me all about it!!
To learn more, visit: http://www.lobsterfrommaine.com
The excitement I felt when I found out my spontaneous travel destination was Austin, was palpable. It's as if Time Out New York Magazine and Booking.com knew that Austin, Texas was my spirit animal. If you know my brand, Eat Travel Rock, at all; you're aware that I love to combine food and music...and of course travel, in any situation. Well this was the ultimate trifecta. Good times were about to be had...by one.
I have traveled solo many times...for quick work trips. I have never traveled on a solo vacation before, and I must say... I was pumped. No one other that myself dictating when and where to go, what to see, what to eat. The decision making began the evening before my flight when I actually found out that Austin was my destination. I immediately went on the Booking Now app on my iPhone and began to search. The ease and functionality was superior to ANY travel app I'd ever used. Since Booking Now is for travel less than 48 hrs out, I was a bit worried that desirable accommodations might not be readily available. Incorrect. The most luxurious hotels in town, as well as unique and boutique hotels were easy to find...and more importantly, affordable. Many of the hotels even had discounts that were just for Booking.com and Booking Now customers. I booked a gorgeous room at the JW Mariott in a matter of a minute and I was all set. Ready to wing it in Austin!
When I arrived in Austin, and after I got settled into my glorious city center accommodations with a stunning view of the Colorado River... I got my game face on. Fortunately, Time Out New York Magazine and Booking.com wanted me to explore the musical culture of the Live Music Capital of the World. This was going to be fun, to say the least. My first challenge was to "bear hug the unknown", and seek out a local record shop...one that is hidden or known only to locals. I decided to walk down South Congress, or as the locals call it, SoCo. I didn't let the 100 degree heat sway me from my mission. I found a tiny little spot called Friends of Sound, and believe me, it was hidden. First, I ventured off the main drag and down a little side street. The sign said "entrance in alley" So I walked down the alley...then around an old brick building... then around another corner. Finally, tucked away, was a vintage vinyl shop that was so perfectly and authentically Austin. I shopped a bit and of course picked up some old school Country tunes like pre-outlaw Waylon Jennings and the Best of Johnny Cash. I then cozied up to the manager to see if he had any great recs for where to see some live music. Not just any live music, mind you... but my next challenge was to "scare myself silly" and find a local gig that was well outside my musical comfort zone. Well he and a fellow shopper gave me some great tips for where to find some great live shows that evening... shows that were not necessarily Eat Travel Rock friendly.
Later, I ventured out for my first ever solo "night out on the town". It was great. Amidst the hustle and bustle of buzzing 6th street in downtown Austin, I hardly felt alone. The vibe was electric, and music was pouring out of every doorway and corridor. I was headed toward the Red Eyed Fly and it reached me before I reached it. The music was LOUD... and joyfully angry sounding. I asked the door guy to fill me in and he said the Death Metal show on the outside patio was $10. SOLD!! Now, I'm usually very non-discriminating when it comes to Rock music. I love it all. But death metal has always been an enigma to me. How can you even understand what they're saying with all that grunting and barking into the mic??? Plus it just seemed...scary! Well, I let go of all that and head banged with the best of them...with a Lone Star beer in hand. The crowd seemed friendly and no one seemed to mind that I only had 15 tattoos instead of 50. After a while, even though the music was starting to make my head hurt, I could see why people gravitated toward the overall vibe. Death Metal will not likely be filling my iPod soon, but it was sure fun for 30 minutes.
Next up, I wanted to venture even farther from 6th Street, and "abandon my compass". I needed to find a Rock bar that was in a part of town unknown to me. I found this tiny little run down club called Beer Land. It was definitely off the beaten path and looked right up my alley (no pun intended). They had a surfer-esque garage band on stage and they were totally my taste. A cross between the Ventures and Green Day. As I cozied up to my 2nd tall-boy of Lone Star, I sat back and realized how fortunate I was to be experiencing something so magical. Not even 24 hrs before, I didn't even know I'd be in Austin. Now here I am, sippin' on a cold one, and soaking up one of the coolest musical scenes on the planet. Bless your heart Rock N' Roll.
My final challenge was to find an iconic spot in town where a part of musical history occurred. After some research, it became clear where I needed to visit. Arlyn Studios is a place where music history has been made; over and over again. This recording studio is not only the home studio of Willie Nelson, but many of my all-time favorites have recorded here: Waylon Jennings, Sublime, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Gary Clark Jr., Phish, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few. Their history is rich, but even more impressive is what the music is made with/on. Arlyn Studios possesses one of the few Neve recording consoles in existence. If you saw Dave Grohl's documentary, Sound City, you would know the level of prestige and mystique this conveys. Not only do they have a Neve console, but it is a Neve/API hybrid and the only one like it in the world. As the gracious owner of Arlyn, Lisa Fletcher, explained to me..."It's like the Bentley and Rolls Royce of sound boards coming together." I was lucky enough to have Lisa give me an after hours tour of the entire studio. I couldn't get over the musical history that was in my presence. She even let me "play" with the Neve console. To touch the boards where some of the most significant albums in music history were made, was surreal. I could actually feel the pulse of all the sounds that have been flowing through that studio for decades. It was an experience that will last a lifetime.
After all of my musical challenges were completed... it was time to EAT!! You didn't think I'd forget the food, did you?! Here is a run down of some of my favorite Austin meals. Many of these recommendations came from locals as well as Time Out Magazine Austin. Lonesome Dove Western Bistro was first. Wow. Chef Tim Love's latest adventure in on point. The menu is eclectic and represented by almost every animal species on earth... from duck to rattlesnake. The food was outstanding, and since I was solo, they let me do a tasting of several of the dishes. I would definitely say the best piece of fried catfish I'd ever had. The staff was overly accommodating and friendly. It was my happy place.
Next up was to satisfy my taco craving. You can't go to Texas without filling up on this Tex-mex staple. Torchy's Tacos was ALL i'd been hearing about and it was a must. I took an Uber to this little trailer park lot and there was Torchy's. A cute little food trailer in a dusty parking lot surrounded by red picnic tables. I actually had a fried avocado taco...my life will NEVER be the same. It was taco heaven...in a trailer park.
Finally, I had my last meal at Odd Duck. I could not hear enough about this James Beard Award nominated hot spot. I also heard their brunch was spectacular, so that's what I went with. Everything they serve is locally sourced and sustainable. If you don't believe me, in the most serendipitous fashion, they sat me at the bar right next to Farmer Chris, who is actually the chicken farmer from whom they directly source their eggs. My egg education is now on a loftier level... and the dishes I enjoyed at Odd Duck were next level. It was one of those authentic experiences that can't be described, only felt. I knew I was in a special place, away from the tourists and the hustle, where I could feel the true sense of this remarkable city. My last bite and breath of Southern Texas before heading back to Chicago.
Needless to say, traveling solo may be my new favorite thing. Not only was I able to learn so much more about Austin, its music, and its culture, but I was able to learn more about myself. My sense of adventure is alive and well, and people and places (and music) that once seemed foreign or intimidating, are now welcomed and appreciated. I'm so grateful for this quick journey, and even though i'm back in Chicago, in my comfort zone...Austin is already calling me back.
I had never been anywhere warm for New Year's Eve...ever. 34 NYEs have been spent in insufferable arctic temperatures. Fortunately for me, my better half made sure my 35th NYE was spent in the warm Caribbean sun. It can be very hard for me to stay out of the planning phase of a trip, but I let Jay and his buddies take the reigns on this one... and wow, did they pull off one hell of a trip. Note to self: Always leave trip planning to adventuresome men who love to party.
I had never been to, nor really heard of Anguilla (pronounced: An-gwhil-uh). Apparently it was in the British West Indies...and that was good enough for me. Let me cut to the chase. The island is perfection. It's only 13 miles long and 3 miles wide (you fly into St. Maarten/Martin and take a 20 min boat ride over). It is encircled by the most glorious talcum powder beaches and pristine turquoise water. It is not heavily developed and the islanders are gracious and welcoming. They are very proud of their island paradise, and rightfully so. Very few resorts occupy Anguilla, and the ones that do are quite exclusive. We stayed at Ce Blue Villas, a gorgeous resort made of only 8 villas overlooking a quaint, yacht speckled bay. The terrain and waters seemed more reminiscent of Hawaii than the Caribbean. All in all, a sight for sore (and frozen) eyes.
Our first day there we went Scuba Diving. There was a great little dive shop on the beach and we were able to charter a private dive boat for the 6 of us. The diving was not the best i've experienced (that actually would be Hawaii) but it was solid. The shallow dives were a bit murky but the deeper (80ft) wreck dive was fantastic. Clear warm water and an abundance of sea life was visible, including several sea turtles. Overall, definitely worth it.
Day 2 was an experience of a lifetime. Being all "eat travel rock" as I am, many would be surprised to find out that I'd never been in a little plane. They've always made me nervous, so I've avoided them at all costs. Well I was outvoted when it came to deciding how we were getting to St. Barths. It's an 1:15 boat ride, or a 9 minute plane ride. The plane won. We chartered a small 8-seater, and low an behold, 10 minutes later (landing on Earth's shortest airstrip, and one of the world's most extreme airports) we were in the South of France.
St. Barths was surreal. I literally felt as if we were magically transported to Europe. EVERYTHING is in French, EVERYONE speaks French, they use the Euro, and the streets and buildings look much more European that Caribbean. We had reserved a table at the world famous, Nikki Beach, and had the time of our lives. Fresh sushi, delicious grilled chicken and steak, and magnum bottles of Domaine Ott Rosè for days. The crowd was international... we may have been the only Americans, which was such a relief. Live music, dancing on tables, endless food and wine, while playing on the St. Tropez-esqe beach was otherworldly. We then WALKED to the airport and hopped aboard our little flight back home... touchdown... 9 minutes later.
When people ask how my trip was, my first comment is: The food was amazing!! It's true. EVERYTHING we ate was delicious. The service is friendly, but timing...well everyone is on island time. So don't go to a restaurant starving (hard for me) because you won't eat for about 30-60 min. But soooo well worth the wait. Each meal we had was perfection. From beach shacks (Blanchard's Beach Shack), to fine dining (DaVida), everything was on point. Of course each menu was seafood heavy, which was expected and welcomed. Yet they do great BBQ, and have other great ethnic food such as Italian. The meal that took the cake, however, was Scilly Cay. This restaurant encompasses one entire tiny island. Our instructions were to: "go to the end of the dock, wave like an idiot, and a little boat will come pick you up." I was the one who volunteered to wave like an idiot, and sure enough, 1 min later, a little boat scooped us up. The island was a 2 minute boat ride away and it was untouched, authentic, and gorgeous. The food: Grilled lobsters or grilled chicken...that's it. Oh and some earth shattering rum punch. That. Is. It. I went with grilled lobby, and smarter people went with a combo... I missed out because the chicken was some of the best i'd ever had. Both were coated in a sweet coconut curry sauce that was sublime. After my big meal, I went over to a little lawn chair on the beach, had a spiritual moment, and just let it all sink in...
And New Year's Eve! This is all I will say. When the clock struck midnight, I was on the beach with my feet in the water, glass of champagne in my hand, watching fireworks, kissing my guy, and hanging with great friends. Best. EVER.
Anguilla is an island destination I would absolutely return to. I've been to Jamaica twice, and Dominican Republic twice and I'm not a huge fan because you can't leave the resort or really explore the indigenous food, people, and beauty of the island. Anguilla is different, it's safe and easy to find hidden gems and mingle with the locals. The food, the people, the beaches, and the scenery make this my favorite Caribbean destination, and overall my favorite trip I've taken. If you need more activity or restaurant recommendations, let me know by commenting below! Viva Anguilla!!
Hell's Kitchen was not a New York neighborhood I was too familiar with. I'm sure I've driven through it from the Upper West Side to downtown, but I never paid too much attention to it. Maybe because I thought it was too close to Times Square, or maybe because the name sounded scary...nevertheless, I finally got to know this little "hood" and I likey.
I'm now partial, mainly because my new favorite hotel is in Hell's Kitchen. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants has prestigious boutique hotels all over the country, including several right here in Chicago (Palomar, Allegro, etc.) but Ink 48, right in Hell's Kitchen is outstanding. From the second I arrived to the second I departed, the service was on point. My room was GORGEOUS and unique. The jacuzzi tub was in the living area and the enclosed stone shower was tucked away around the corner... very cool layout. I had a great view of the city and other room amenities included a granite vanity (perfect for doing my pre-TV makeup) and a yoga mat (perfect for a very early AM stretch before heading to VH1). They also have one of the city's most killer rooftop bars called The Press Lounge.
The location of Ink 48 and Hell's Kitchen is great. It was an easy walk to Times Square, where I film. But it's also a short cab ride down town or up-town... close to subways too (I usually take subways everywhere in NYC). There are also some great dining options. Ink 48 has their own upscale and trendy dining spot, Print, and you're only two blocks away from the badass Gotham West Market which is the coolest "food court" I've ever seen. It also has a quick serve version of the famous Ivan Ramen.
Cannot WAIT to go back soon and stay with them during my next visit. Never thought I'd say this, but hope to see you all in HELL's Kitchen ;)
Eating and Traveling are 2 of my 3 favorite things. And they occur simultaneously, often. Eating food at an airport is usually either a hassle, or a quick necessity...and rarely delicious. What if airport dining could be a pleasure? Crazy concept?....maybe.
So I'm kind of weird. I actually enjoy spending time at airports. I'm fascinated with air travel in general and just like being around it... watching the planes land and take off, seeing the pilots hustle about the terminal. Air travel definitely isn't as prestigious and romantic as it was several decades ago, but I still like finding ways to enjoy it. I like to get there as early as possible prior to my flight, of course for logistical reasons, but I also like to have a good meal before I board. Unfortunately, options can be limited, especially at my home bases, O'Hare and Midway.
Yes, Chicago airport food has definitely improved, but it is far from haute cuisine and chic dining. No, we don't need 3 star Michelin restaurants at our airports, but how about things other than soggy or overly dry and processed genetically modified turkey sandwiches? Even the "Wolfgang Puck" restaurants still offer the same boring dry turkey sammies. Yes, Rick Bayless makes an appearance with Tortas Frontera, and there is a sushi spot called Wicker Park Seafood (I haven't tried it, reviews seem positive). But for the most part, you're stuck with all Chili's-esque options. Processed and microwaved "bar" food. Is it THAT hard to bring in some fresh and organic options?
I'm spending a lot of time in New York lately. Laguardia is a cesspool of nastiness. Zero options for a good meal. JFK on the other hand is like the Garden of Eden of airport dining. High end steak and sushi options, healthier fast casual options, and streamlined bars at every other gate. I had a delicious sushi dinner last night in the Jet Blue Terminal at Deep Blue. It was sexy and sleek and the food was actually great.
I do have one way to ensure that you can at least get the best meal possible at ANY airport you go to. There are a few great apps out there can be very helpful. Gate Guru is my favorite. Not only will it give you the updated arrival and departure boards at every airport but it also has a complete list of all food, shops, and amenities and what terminal and gate they're at. It also features reviews of other travelers so you know which to hit up, and which to steer clear of. Happy travels all, and please share with me which airports YOU feel have the best food!
It's ok, I'll let Food Network piggy back off of Eat Travel Rock. Quite flattering the hashtag for their event last weekend at Ravinia Music Festival was #EatDrinkRock... haha, ok seriously folks. My manager, Chantel, and I headed up to Highland Park to explore what was sure to be incredible food and incredible music...sounds right up my alley!! I also managed to snag 2 quick interviews with some heavy hitters in the culinary world.
The first chat was with Billy Dec (Co-Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions) and Chef Kevin Hickey (Executive chef of Bottle Fork and the upcoming Duck Inn). They were FRESH off their win for BEST HOT DOG. Quite an accomplishment being in Chicago and all. Check out the Video HERE!
Next, I had a chance to interview a Food Network Chef/Host I've been a fan of for a while. She has a simple yet bold take on Latin American food... hence her show's name, Simply Delicioso! Check out this video of Chef Ingrid Hoffmann !!!
Food trends have been quite, well, trendy as of late. There is always something new that is "all the rage" and Chicagoans buy into the trends (literally and figuratively) whole heartedly. Are we jumping on the bandwagon because we are yearning to try new and interesting foods, or are we absorbing all of these calories just because it's what everybody in town is doing? Which brings me to the next point... Are these trends making us fat? Are ANY of these trends healthy? How long can these trends be sustained?
Meat. Ahhh meat. So delicious, so satiating, and so controversial. If you follow my blogs you will know that I have recently become outspoken on trying to be more socially responsible with my meat intake. For now, I'll put this aside. Chicago is a meat city, and these meat trends have been on a steep incline. Is bacon something new? No. Is seeing it in and on everything imaginable new? Yes. A few years ago, you didn't see bacon on your doughnuts, and in your chocolate, and garnishing your martini. Yes this CAN BE delicious. But an immense intake of bacon can't be good for us and our waistlines, correct? What has come along since bacon became so En Vogue? Pork Belly. This fatty splendor can be found everywhere. On burgers (as if that's necessary), in tacos (this I have ZERO qualms with), in eggs, and in/on pasta and pizza. This is where trend separates from indigenous foods. When you see a pork belly taco, that is a regional Latin American specialty. When you see pork belly on a 1/2 lb "Santa Fe" burger at a local "gastro pub" it's a food trend. This all becomes silly and unnecessary when people start throwing bacon and pork belly and foie gras on EVERYTHING just because it's a fad. Maybe I don't want foie gras on my PB&J!!!!
What is up with the doughnut and cupcake trends?? I mean, yea they're freakin' delicious, but could we be shoveling our faces full of anything worse for us? The problem is; that because you just HAVE to try Doughnut Vault, or you haven't lived until you've had Sprinkles or Sweet Mandy B's, people flock like lemmings to these places and consume vast amounts unaware of how bad it is for us. The occasional dessert is fine, if not necessary. But to have full venues, restaurants, and shops dedicated to these trends may be too much. I think the public is starting to speak, however, when entire chains like Crumb's Bake Shops are going under. Maybe a 2,000 calorie cupcake isn't on OUR menu anymore. Also, stores like Sprinkles and Glazed and Infused which had lines around the corner or were sold out by 11am, now are much more tame. Is the trend on it's way out? Are we becoming more health conscious, or just sick of certain trends and waiting for the next big one? What are your thoughts friends? Does Chicago have room for a potentially healthy food trend? Why can't omelets or healthy soups be the next big thing? Don't throw "but Kale and Brussels Sprouts are huge right now!" at me... entire restaurants or menus dedicated to these items aren't springing up left and right... they're just side dishes... and half the time they're loaded with bacon and pork belly anyway.
I'd love to know your thoughts! Leave me a comment!
I didn't necessarily think that my first visit to Seattle would qualify this city as one of my favorites. Maybe Forbes was on to something when it voted Seattle, just this month, as the #2 Coolest City In America. I will not dispute this ranking as Seattle was so much more than I expected, and yes, the cool just oozed out of it's pores.
The first thing I noticed, even from the airplane window, was the mind-blowing topography. It was something out of a dream. As I decended I could see how the green was almost blinding while the rolling hills were only overcome by the sprawling backdrop of the Cascade Mountains. The soundtrack of the trip was me saying on repeat, "This is SO pretty.... Oh my God, this is SO gorgeous!" It was surreal to me that Seattle residents had the privilege of waking up each morning with heaven as their view.
I know what you're saying....Slow down Kelly!! Isn't Seattle known for their gloomy and depressing weather. Yes... they have a shitty rep for it. But the city must have been prepared for my arrival and knew how depressed I was with the Chicago's lackluster summer, as she dialed one up for me. Four straight days of 85 degree and sunny weather. Which made exploring many of Seattle's massive lakes (Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish) by boat, all the more enjoyable. Yet Seattle residents and Washingtonians alike don't mind the negative press regarding the weather...this way they get to keep their gem well preserved and close to the chest.
As a foodie, I was impressed with the vast amount of good eats. Since I'm trying to eat less meat, Seattle is THE spot for me. The abundance of fresh seafood is almost incomparable...for obvious reasons. My absolute favorite spot was Pike Place Market. This is the go-to for locals, tourists, and chefs alike who want seafood that was caught 5 minutes ago. My pick of the day was a big cup full of so fresh and so clean Dungeness crab cocktail. Pure, delicious, and only $12.
As a music lover, and more importantly 1990's alternative rock music (and grunge) lover, Seattle offered up the EMP Museum. This was everything a person who appreciates music could ask for. I spent the most time in the hall of guitar history and in the Nirvana exhibit. The Nirvana exhibit was surreal as the amount of rare artifacts they had on display which belonged the tragic trio was incredible. Plus they incorporated digital exhibits which showcased many of the other grunge bands who were responsible for creating the "Seattle Sound".
All in all, my Seattle trip epitomized the ultimate Eat Travel Rock experience, as I consumed copius amounts of some of the world's most delectable seafood while learning more about the music scene that captivated the world for over a decade over 20 years ago. Clearly Seattle has found it's way to make a name for itself on the world stage again by being voted one of our "Coolest Cities". Well deserved Seattle, well deserved.
Hey fellow foodies! This last year has truly been an epiphany for me and I have undergone a tremendous paradigm shift.. Even though I haven't yet fully crossed over to the 100% socially, ethically, and health conscious side (and I may never), I have made a small leap. It may not be too apparent in my Instagram food posts, but I assure you, changes are happening behind the scenes. The food we now eat has become incredibly controversial... and for good reason. Not only is obesity the leading epidemic and cause of death in our nation, the overall treatment of animals used to produce the majority of our food borders on sadistic. Herein lies the conundrum. How can we foodies, still live our glorious lives of indulging our culinary desires, without perpetuating rapid heart disease, poisoning our bodies, and the disdainful inhumane slaughter of some of God's most beloved creatures?
I started to make some changes for several reasons. The first was when my sister, Kristin Rizzo, became so impassioned with a feature documentary on animal rights she directed with her best friend, Katie Cleary, who created and produced the film called Give Me Shelter. It's a ground breaking film that opened my eyes to many current issues in the animal world I was previously ignorant to. I then wanted to learn more...I watched, horrified, (over and over) documentaries such as Food Inc. and Earthlings. If you can get through these films and not change your life, at least a little, then.... well.... no comment.
With other documentaries I've watched, and books I've read, I've realized that 90% of the crap I was consuming was poison. Diet soda (or diet anything) for example, is just a huge serving of toxic chemicals. Diet soda actually increases formaldehyde production in your brain. Um, no thanks! I have cut ALL of this out of my diet. It's much better to have the actual sugar along with the calories, than Soylent Green. Processed food is killing America, and even though i'll have my occasional gummy bear (my vice), if it's processed or has any preservatives or is unnatural in any way....I'm doing my best to steer clear.
But how can we foodies eat all the deliciousness that is available to us without eating meat? Well I guess it's possible... but I'm not ready to take that step yet. I cannot go full vegetarian or vegan, nor do I want to. What I AM doing is making smart and deliberate choices in order to be as socially conscious as I can, without giving up all meat, and enjoying my foodie lifestyle.
1. I try hard not to eat meat at fast food places anymore. If I must go to McDonald's or Subway (very rare...I know... a BIG change for me) I'll get the Filet O' Fish (don't knock it until ya tried it) or Tuna Salad. Here and there I will still get food from my cherished Portillo's, come on, I'm only human!!!
2. I try to only get meat (beef, pork, lamb...I no longer order veal) at restaurants where I know they source their meat from local and sustainable farms where the animals are treated as well as possible while alive and slaughtered as humanely as possible (oxymoronic, I'm aware). I filmed an episode of my previous show, Food Junkie: Chicago, at Slagel Family Farm (watch it HERE). I have seen first hand the difference between an old fashioned family farming operation, and the factory/commercial feedlots and slaughterhouses. They are worlds apart. Even though, yes, animals are still being killed for our consumption, this is by far the best way to ensure that at least you aren't contributing to the filth and evil that exists at the large corporate farms.
3. I buy mostly all organic produce and dairy. It's more expensive, but it's worth it. ESPECIALLY the dairy. You want milk and eggs from happy cows and chickens who are being treated well and raised in a healthy environment and without hormones and antibiotics. Don't just go after "free range". That is a bullshit title. Go for "Organic".
4. I eat a TON of seafood. This is hardly a sacrifice. A foodie can survive off of oysters, lobster rolls, escargot, hamachi sashimi, tuna poke, blackened catfish, BBQ salmon, and miso glazed chilean sea bass. Pastas are also our indulgent friend. This is where being Italian comes in handy :)
I'm definitely not perfect, nor will I ever be. We all occasionally get hungover and have cheat days. Or we just HAVE to try that new burger at that new hot spot. If you invite me to your house and you grill chicken or hot dogs or make me some Hamburger Helper, I'll gladly and thankfully eat it. I'll never be the pretentious diva in your home to ask "Excuse me where is that meat from? Um noooo thank you then." But I may view it as an opportunity to share some of my findings with you. It's undeniable Americans should agree that we need to make some changes. Fortunately for foodies, these can be attainable, realistic, and delicious changes!
I love the unexpected. Especially when the unexpected is a good thing... or better yet, a delicious thing. Last week I was taking my new production assistant, Raquel, for a beer to talk "shop". I thought I'd stop into a friendly watering hole, and by friendly I mean the bartender, Liz, is a close friend and the owner, Joel is a fellow Hawkeye. For those of you who have been to Theory, you probably think of it as a late night Hubbard Street spot or a bustling sports bar that's an awesome place to catch a game while listening to loud hip-hop (all good things). This is how I always thought of Theory.... more of an upscale sports bar with typical "bar" food. Not where I would necessarily go for a great dinner or a unique libation.
So much to my surprise, my casual beer turned into some delicious cocktails and about 10 plates of insanely good food. Right when I sat down and tried to order us two craft beers, Liz said, "No way girl! You're trying one of these new cocktails...this one is named after me!" Low and behold, we had the "Smashed Lizard", the name rings true because after one of these made with Patron silver, Patron citronage, ginger beer with fresh muddled oranges and limes, you may be a bit smashed. Then Liz and Joel gave me a menu and when I looked it over I was shocked. These dishes were not what I was expecting, and NOT typical bar food. I was also intrigued by the fact that they specialize in BBQ. How did I not know this?! They smoke all their own meats, in house, low and slow over hickory smoke. "Alright Raquel, get ready... we're eatin' good tonight!" Even though this was her first dining experience with me, she is aware of my reputation, and immediately had a look of concern on her face. She knew it was about to go down. But, being the good sport that she is, she happily indulged with me, dish after dish, until we were no longer mobile.
Our first taste was my favorite nacho to date. I say "nacho" because they are served individually. Perfectly proportioned little bites of heaven... all on one chip. Theirs include a spicy fried shrimp, a slice of jalapeno, sour cream, pico de gallo, and oozy melty cheese (not the sparse shredded cheese you see on many nachos)... all finished off with a tasty salsa verde. One of the reasons why I don't order nachos, even though they are all of my favorite food in one pile, is that you always end up fighting with your friends over the "best" chip or most densely populated area of the pile. With Theory's nachos... all of your friendships can remain in tact.
Next, was an outstanding mac and cheese, and yes, I consider myself a connoisseur of this soothing comfort food. Theory's version kicked it up several notches (sorry Emeril) by using spicy Cajun shrimp in the thick creamy cheesy sauce. Finally a BBQ smorgasbord followed. I was unprepared for just how good this BBQ was going to be. I was also unprepared for BBQ pulled pork, tater tot Poutine!! WHATTT??? As if Poutine couldn't get any better with just fries, they had to go and add tater tots!? It was almost too much flavor and deliciousness in one bowl. But the glory of their BBQ really shined through in the simple dishes. The BBQ pulled pork slider was simple, and perfect. Yes, it's very saucy... but not the kind of saucy where they're trying to cover up or add to the flavor of the meat. They just have a damn good sauce and like to put a lot on it. Lastly, the BBQ ribs. Wow. These baby-back babies were intense with flavor, not too much sauce, but had one hell of a spicy kick.... which made me happy and thirsty at the same time. But of course, the cole slaw is right there to help you cool down.
Here are the pros. I found an amazing River North spot for BBQ. I now know the place to go when I want a delicious yet casual meal with a good cocktail in my neighborhood. Here are the cons. I may have scared my new production assistant away as Raquel was expecting a quick beer and she got a full on BBQ festival. But hey, if you're gonna work with me, ya gotta keep up!!! Thanks Theory!
I’ve loved burgers for as long as I can remember. The seeds of love and trust began to germinate when I was a little girl and my dad would take me and my two younger sisters all over Chicago to fun burger and hot dog spots; Byron's, Plush Pup, Wolfy's, etc. Of course there were the frequent trips to McDonalds, still a fond and comforting reminder of childhood, but it was the authentic Chicago burger joints that really made an impact.
I can appreciate a fancy gourmet burger just as much as the next foodie, but it’s the tried and true, old fashioned, greasy spoon burgers that are near and dear to my heart. You also can’t go wrong with a classic Steakhouse burger. My list below is compiled of many of MY Chicago favorites. I really tried to stay away from the main stream “favorites” that everyone always talks about. Of course we all love Kuma’s Corner, Au Cheval, etc., but I wanted to bring some new flavor to the table… pun intended. Here are my favorites, in no particular order.
The Lockdown Bar and Grill- Let’s just say I have a deep Burning Love for this next burger. The Fat Elvis Burger is all kinds of crazy. First off, for those of you who haven’t graced the space that is the Lockdown, be afraid…be very afraid… in a good way. DO NOT go on a day you have a migraine; as the incessant blast of heavy/death metal is on a decibel level not known to the common restaurant. But don’t let the hardcore, blood-curdling tunes and the prison-like atmosphere deter you. For the Fat Elvis Burger really makes this Jailhouse rock. If you like dessert for dinner, then pull up a chair, you're gonna be quite happy. They begin with Grand Marnier sautéed bananas and thick cut smokey bacon and pile it on a juicy black Angus patty that happens to be smothered in PEANUT BUTTER. The decadence is off the charts. Even though I ate this when I was already stuffed from about 5 other burgers… I couldn’t stop eating it. The juxtaposition of the sweet with the salty and the savory was sublime. Worth EVERY screaming calorie. 1024 N. Western Ave. West Town
West Town Bakery- A bakery?? Somewhat unlikely for one of my favorite burgers. Yet this fluffy piece of paradise deserves a top spot on the list. The West Coast double burger with American cheese and special sauce is curiously reminiscent of my favorite NON-Chicago burger, In N Out Burger. Pretty much everyone on Earth agrees that it doesn’t get any better than In N Out, so here’s a way to get a souped up version of it right here in Chi Town. It’s melty deliciousness is off the charts, and it’s soft bakery bun gives it a polished finish many “greasy spoon” burgers lack. The quality and freshness were incredible. A must try. 1916 W. Chicago Ave. West Town
Dusek’s- Ahhh the Juicy Lucy. Even though Pilsen is a bit of a hike, going to Dusek’s for all of their food, but especially their burger, is worth every step of the journey. Yes, the Juicy Lucy is considered a “Gourmet” burger… but that’s ok. Any burger that is made of Slagel Farm beef automatically scores major points. This burger is no exception. The preparation is unique yet with a recognizable flavor profile. The thick “local and sustainable” patty is served with a red onion and bacon marmalade that explodes with flavor. That, along with an heirloom tomato slice and butter lettuce make this burger deliciously well balanced. It should also be noted the Juicy Lucy is served with Duck Fat Fries. Yup… these fries are no joke. Bacon marmalade and duck fat fries on the same plate? Yes Please!!! 1227 W. 18th St. Pilsen
Centro Ristorante- I can’t remember a time I’ve EVER had a subpar meal at any of the Rosebud Restaurants. They’re not only known for their exceptional food, but also their consistency. Centro is their most recent opening, yet it is a revival of one of their very first Rosebud locations, Centro on Wells. But man, this River North spot knows how to do a a Steakhouse burger. Their Rosebud Burger on a Butter Bun is perfection. Don’t you dare get it cooked more than medium rare, as this thick juicy patty doesn’t deserve to be dried out. The butter bun is soft and scrumptious and it needs no more accoutrements than the simple combo of lettuce, tomato, and ketchup. One of the best steakhouse burgers I’ve ever had. 6 W. Hubbard St. River North
Chop Shop- This is one of my favorite NEW spots in EVERY aspect. It’s a kick-ass restaurant, it’s an Italian butcher shop, and also an entertainment/live music venue. It’s everything I love in one spot! But their burger is wonderful and is already scoring them a ton of buzz. Once again, simplicity and classicism win over pomp and flash. Their Butcher Burger is comprised of Slagel Farm beef (yay!!), aged cheddar, and smokey bacon. Cooked perfectly, perfectly seasoned, and perfectly delicious. This place will be my second home for sure. Oh, did I mention their incredible cocktail and craft beer menu??? Yea, definitely will be my second home. 2033 W. North Ave. Wicker Park
Odge’s- From the outside, Odge’s looks like a local graffiti artist had a field day. Inside… well it’s your typical old school Chicago hot dog/burger stand. The warm cozy nostalgia takes a back seat to the delicious burger. Double patty, oozy melted American cheese, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard, on a sesame seed bun. It was perfect and whisked me back to childhood and everything that is great about regional Chicago casual cuisine. If you want a solid and traditional burger… no frills, but cooked perfectly… check out Odge’s. 730 N. Damen Ave. Ukranian Village
Portillo’s- As I said this list is in no particular order. That being said, the Portillo’s cheeseburger is the one I eat most often, and may have to be my all time favorite numero uno. I’ve really never found another burger that can stand up to, or top this charbroiled masterpiece. It’s simple, and it’s perfect in every way. Lettuce, tomato, mayo, and melty American cheese. Needs NOTHING else…except maybe the occasional bacon upgrade. Hats off to you, Portillo’s. You’ve been curing my hangovers and making me happy for many years past, and I'm sure for many years in the future. 100 W. Ontario St. River North
Dillman’s- Au Cheval has gotten more press for their burger than probably any other food item in Chicago over the last year. Yes, the Au Cheval burger is glorious in every way… and wow…that egg. However, I wanted to give props to another Hogsalt Restaurant Group creation… the Dillman’s burger. Dillman’s is what you get when you cross a Jewish Deli with Bavette’s. A dark intimate room that serves one hell of a matzah ball soup…and burger. Imagine an actual quality version of a Big Mac on steroids. The towering double patty with “sharp” American cheese with dill pickle and dijonnaise is reminiscent of American’s iconic “I’m lovin it” burger. Only better, wayyyy better. It’s delicious and needs its own place in the spot light… apart from it’s famous Au Cheval sibling. 354 W. Hubbard St. River North
Edzo’s- Let’s just say when I met the manager, Thom, at Edzo’s he informed me that he’s eaten at least one burger a day for the last 27 years. I kid you not. So it says a great deal that he chose to manage the acclaimed Edzo’s in Lincoln Park. Now he can satisfy his burger obsession easily, often, and with an amazing product. Edzo’s does the traditional, old-school burger right. Fresh, never frozen, tasty thin patty with the traditional toppings, ketchup, mustard, pickle and onion. The also offer a “Slagel Farm Upgrade” which made me so beyond happy. It’s not everyday that a fast food burger joint will offer the highest quality, local, sustainable, and “animal friendly” meat. So, I of course, tried the “Spicy Sconnie” burger with the Slagel Farm beef. It’s made with “ketchipotle sauce”, jalepeno infused Merkt’s cheddar, and grilled onions. It was spicy, sweet, tangy, and unreal. Loved every bite. If I were Thom, I could definitely see eating one of these creations on a daily basis. 2218 N. Lincoln Ave. Lincoln Park
The Wiener’s Circle- Chances are, if you’ve ever been to The Wiener’s Circle, you were likely blackout drunk at 3:30 am. You also probably remember the screaming insult match you got into with the staff instead of the meal you ordered. So please allow me to refresh your memory. I’ve been going to this crazy joint for about 15 years now. And shockingly, I’ve been there in the broad afternoon daylight…as well as in the dark and ominous twilight hours. Their charbroiled cheeseburger is out of this world. I do NOT want to know how it’s made, who is making it, or what the sanitation process is, I put the blinders on for this one . It’s magic on a bun. The char flavor with that Merkt’s like sharp cheddar sauce that resembles a neon orange greasy form of crack is sinful. Literally, i’m sure. I implore you to try it in the light of day… not only will you remember it, but the staff will go a bit easier on you too. Tip: Do NOT order the “Chocolate Milkshake”. 2622 N. Clark St. Lincoln Park
I know I can be quite enthusiastic about my dining experiences and I tend to ooze a multitude of superlatives, yet sometimes; gushing is appropriate. Sometimes even the loudest of applause doesn't properly commend an experience. Dining at Neta in NYC is one of these occasions. I implore you not to dub me "the boy who cried wolf" , but Neta was truly my favorite dining experience...EVER.
I should have known I was in for a culinary adventure when Nick Kokonas (owner: Alinea, The Aviary, Next), explicitly advised me, "If you're going to New York, go to Neta. Get the Omakase. Period. Do not ask questions." Yessir!!! .... and I didn't ask questions. When Nick gives restaurant advice... you take it.
My best friend of 22 years, Jamie, was my partner in crime and (over)indulgence this evening. Even though she is a long time NYC resident... she knows that when I am in town, I will schlep her to about 5 dining establishments each day... usually ending with pizza at 3am. She has just recently learned to go with my flow, and especially after Neta, she'll continue to.
Neta is located in the West Village and was so inconspicuous that Jamie and I walked up and down 8th street about 6 times because we failed to notice the 12pt Times New Roman font sign on one small window. Finally, once we walked in, the minimalist decor was surprisingly inviting. We were thankfully seated at the bar as we couldn't bear to not watch the master sushi craftsmen at work.
After ordering our Omakase (chef's choice, multi-course, prix fixe menu) and a bottle of dry unfiltered sake, Jamie and I became mesmerized by the energy in the kitchen. We have never seen anything like it. It was a hurried harmony... no one spoke, or rushed or moved out of place. It was like a choreographed dance of the white aprons. The service mirrored this dance. I have only seen service this impeccable and attentive at the finest of fine dining establishments. Yet this wasn't stuffy! The staff was so cool and laid back. Our Japanese server, Hiro, was hilarious and sarcastic. When he'd make us laugh and we'd tell him how funny he was he just said, "I'm not funny, I'm Japanese." Hmmmm....
Oh! There was food too! First course, Kani (crab) and cucumber with a smokey ginger vinaigrette, The fresh lump crab was so sweet and fresh and the smooth smokey finish was a perfect compliment. Great way to prepare our palette. Second course, Cobia crudo with daikon radish and a ginger bonita sauce. The Cobia literally melted in my mouth. The third course was my favorite: Scallops, uni (sea urchin) maitaki mushrooms with fresh lime. It was so buttery and rich, smooth and complex... but the acid of the lime cut through it all and balanced it perfectly. We ate this course while the sounds of Notorious B.I.G. "Juicy" boomed in the background.... how appropriate.
Have you ever had fresh corn and truffle formed in a ball and tempura-ed?? Yea, me either.... but Neta thought this was the perfect accompaniment to the Fugu (blowfish) tempura. Damn, they were spot on. I can't help but recollect a Simpson's episode where Homer eats poisonous Fugu and was informed of his imminent demise. Fortunately, Jamie and I survived our run-in with the notorious fish. Deliciously survived. Mmmmmm Fugu.
The piece de resistance was the best shot of tequila i've had to date. The stereotypical looking mixologist came from behind the sushi bar, where he was strategically stationed, and over to our seats. He had a little platter with 2 sake glasses filled with yuzu and ginger granita and a glass filled with smoked salt. He poured the Tequila Ocho over the savory slushy and added the salt with a squeeze of fresh lime. It was like a tequila slurpee, and it was refreshingly perfect. What made it even more perfect, was that these shots (2 rounds of them) were guzzled to "Satisfy My Soul" by Bob Marley. Neta really had the tunes down. It's as if they knew I was comin' in and they made a playlist just for me. It got a bit silly after multiple shots and a huge bottle of sake, as Jamie and I were dancing in our seats and singing (and rapping) along to the music. Sorry not sorry, Neta.
The sushi platter was a rainbow of variety and flavors and textures. It was it's simplicity that was the most impressive. Every bite was savored, and enjoyed.
Drink for drink, and fish for fish, not only was this the best and most thorough sushi experience I've had, but because of the service, music, decor, and creativity, it was the best overall meal i've had. I cannot WAIT to go back...fortunately, NYC, beckons to me about 3 times each year... in the mean time i'll get a bottle of Tequila Ocho to keep me company :)
When you think of Oysters, do you also think of Country Music? No? Well in Chicago, we do. They go hand in hand just like Shaw’s Crab House and Joe’s Bar go hand in hand. Last week, these two institutions joined forces to put on one hell of an event in River North. A massive parking lot was transformed and packed full of 4,000 attendees who were visibly hungry for two things… delicious oysters and live country music. Lettuce Entertain You supplied all types of delectable goodies, but their oysters stole the show. Actually, the oysters shared the spotlight with County Music star Lee Brice. I’ve met Lee before and we have a ton of mutual friends, so it was a good ol’ time catching up with him on his tour bus before he took the stage. We got to chat about his recent #1 hit and his coveted CMA Award nomination for Best New Artist. You can catch the entire interview by clicking here.
The crowd seemed to forget how cold this October night was once Lee commanded the stage. His bold performance, powerful melodies, and poignant yet fun lyrics captivated the audience. He rocked through his biggest hits: Hard To Love, A Woman Like You, Love Like Crazy, as well as the fun-time anthem, Beer. He also surprised me by performing "Crazy Girl." This was a recent #1 hit by Eli Young Band and one of my favorite songs because of its haunting beauty… I had no idea that it was Lee who penned it... almost a decade ago for an ex-girlfriend. The outdoor festivities were immensely successful… but we all know the fun couldn't stop there. The die-hard music fans retreated back to Joe’s for the after party. Tyler Farr performed to an exuberant crowd and Lee sneaked back on stage for an impromptu performance of MY REQUEST: More Than A Memory!! Another painfully gorgeous remnant of his songwriting days… which happened to be a #1 hit for an obscure and up-and-coming artist, Garth Brooks. :-) It's always a pleasure when Lee or any of his buddies (Jerrod Niemann, Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Jake Owen) visit Joe's. They're a blast, yet so down-to-earth and easy going. Can't wait to see when some of the other guys will be coming back... StayTuned!!
Ciao Tutti! If you're asking, "What's burrata?" It means one of two things: Either you're not Italian, or you haven't been out to a notable restaurant in the last year or so. Burrata (or "buttered" in Italian) has long been known to my fellow countrymen as a delicious delicacy that can be enjoyed any time of day...as a main course, or as an antipasto. Fortunately, it has become increasingly popular in the U.S. and is springing up on more menus everyday. For those of you who don't know exactly what it is, here's a little lesson: Originating from the Puglia region in Southern Italy, it's a fresh cow's milk (and sometimes buffalo's milk) cheese, and is made in a similar way to fresh mozzarella. It actually consists of an outer shell of fresh mozzarella and a filling of stracciatella and cream. Stracciatella is basically the leftover shreds of the cheese curds mixed with a heavy cream. The fresh mozzarella is formed into a pouch and then filled with the stracciatella mixture and then tied off. It is HIGHLY perishable and must be eaten within 1-3 days after it's made. There are some reputable burrata producers in the U.S., however, the best stuff still comes from Puglia, and luckily, its import is becoming more common.
I decided to shoulder a huge burden and go out there and find the best burrata in Chicago...so that my trusty readers wouldn't have to take this miserable task upon themselves. See how selfless I am?? My arduous and backbreaking journey of burrata eating carried me to 5 different venues...shockingly not all of them were in River North :-). The first three on my list have outstanding burrata are STRONGLY recommended. (It's important to note that I've tried burrata at several other venues as well, but these were the most unique and memorable...for various reasons.)
Prosecco, a beautiful and upscale River North Italian spot, really knows how to showcase their burrata. My sister, Kimberly, and I went in strictly to try the burrata appetizer and had no idea we would end up having such a fulfilling experience. Upon sitting, they offer their patrons a complimentary glass of Prosecco (how appropriate) and a delicious spread of Sicilian caponata...a great intro. I mentioned to the manager and server that I was going to be writing about their burrata and how I was really looking forward to it...they told me they actually feature TWO daily burratas. I said "Bring 'em on!" and "Kimmy, you better eat for once...don't you dare leave me with two huge piles of cheese." She happily obliged when she saw what was presented to us. One burrata had a bit of a Caprese vibe, with basil and a balsamic/olive oil drizzle, yet featured sun-dried tomatoes and prociutto...delicious. The second variation, their "special", was brilliance on a plate. The marriage of grilled peaches with pistachios and a honey-balsamic glaze was sublime. Even Chef Mark Sparacino came to greet us and explain how they import their burrata directly from Puglia twice weekly so it really is the best of the best. He also noted that their daily special is always made with the freshest fruit of the season and designed to compliment the daily dinner and wine specials.
Many of you know I really can't shut up about RPM Italian, and their burrata is one of the main reasons why. A traditional preparation for burrata, especially as an app, will usually have some greens (likely arugula), some sort of sweet component on toasty grilled bread. RPM stays true to tradition and serves their incredibly high quality burrata with fresh arugula, a delicious sweet and tangy tomato jam on crusty crostini all topped with a nutty and fragrant olive oil. It's really a show stopper and how I always start my meals at RPM.
My third restaurant (although I would rate the burrata as "tied" with RPM) is a bit unexpected as it's NOT an Italian restaurant. Tavernita does, however, like to incorporate several different Mediterranean influences into it's cuisine... and bringing in the burrata was an excellent choice. Even though Chef Ryan Poli traveled around and lived in Spain for 2 years, burrata was not something he typically ate while there. He came up with his "Pan con Burrata" on his own, as he felt burrata was the most luxurious cheese available that would compliment the toasty crostini with the complex sweetness of the tomato marmalade. A drizzle of Spanish olive oil finishes off this small bite of perfection. I also love how the dish is already assembled for you...with the perfect ratio of ingredients, as most restaurants require you to mix/build everything yourself.
Gilt Bar was another non-Italian restaurant to have burrata as an appetizer. The burrata they feature threw me off a bit because it is very non-traditional, yet it intrigued me. It is served on a colorful bed of smashed peas and mint along with pickled green onions. The presentation was gorgeous yet I felt the flavor was lacking. There was a minty sweetness from the peas and the burrata was fresh with great flavor, but it lacked a kick from an acid (such as vinegar or fruit) that should usually accompany the dish. An interesting concept that didn't fully deliver.
Last on my list is the "Burrata and Sea Urchin" from Nelcotte. Nelcotte has an eclectic "small plates" menu that gets it right on so many levels (like their milled in-house pizza). That ain't the case with the burrata. In order to be fair, I actually went back TWICE to try this dish...in case my palette was a bit "off" the first time. Turns out my palette was just fine... the mixture of the salty/fishy sea urchin with the creamy cheese flavor of the burrata did not work. In fact it scared me. Sea urchin is not too big on my list of favorite delicacies to begin with, and to mix it with an Italian cheese like burrata was highly unorthodox. The burrata itself was a sparse portion which featured more of the "mozzarella shell" and less of the creamy interior mixture. I can understand and appreciate how they were trying to accomplish a bold flavor profile, but somethings are just not meant to go together. This is a classic example of why seafood and cheese should usually be kept separate.
If you only have one night out and are just dying to try the best burrata in Chicago, go to Prosecco. Not only do they have the freshest and tastiest preparation, but they have a version that changes daily, so you're always in for a pleasant surprise. If you can actually get a table at RPM Italian or Tavernita, then you must try their burrata as well...some of my favorite dishes in town. Regardless, whether you're a big fan of this Italian delicacy or a newbie, hopefully you'll get out there and order it for you next meal! Buon' appetito!!