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Chicago dining

My visit to Coarse Italian in Glenview: talking family and community with restaurateur Franco Francese

Ask restaurateur Franco Francese about his favorite food-related memory, and his face lightens up at the thought of Sunday dinners of years past. It was a family affair, with everybody sitting down at the dining table and waiting their turn to get rigatoni. As with many Italian dishes, the secret lied in the sauce – and the Francese family recipe was a work of wonder, featuring cow’s neck bones simmered for hours at a low temperature so as to slowly develop their flavor. “Family matters,” Francese tells me with a pensive voice. “It’s what molds us and shapes us as people. And it’s nice to work with family.”

It is this spirit of family and familial love that Franco Francese is bringing to the Glenview Park Golf Club with his latest restaurant, Coarse Italian, which opens for dinner on June 17. Keep Reading

Chef Battle Midwest Regionals: I ate, I judged, I had a fabulous time!

I don’t know about you, but I love cooking competitions! There is something truly addictive in watching the adrenaline, the sweat, the trembling – and sometimes the desperation – of talented chefs working under pressure. Be it the ingredients that are hard to work with, be it the technology that fails, be it last-second misfortunes which render the final dish inedible – it’s all that drama that keeps me glued to the TV screen, waiting for the chefs’ next move. As a Chicago-based foodie, I’ve also had my fair share of live cooking competitions, which I attended and then described in detail on this blog.

The most recent competition I was invited to was Chef Battle Midwest Regionals. I also agreed to be a judge for the preliminary stage of this event. Spending Sunday downtown eating food made by talented local chefs and grading them for their efforts? Yes, please 🙂

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My review of Mezcalito: Are you #DownToFiesta? I’d say we are :-)

Chef Marissa Tuñon’s molletes, featuring refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo

Somewhere in hip River North, tucked in the basement of the famous Mercadito, lies a cocktail lounge that offers inventive food and drinks in an immersive atmosphere. The name of Mercadito’s younger sibling is Mezcalito, and its goal is to capture the hearts and minds of customers who want a quality bar experience, which blends authentic Mexican food with upscale tequila-based cocktails. Ever wondered how to make your night downtown memorable? Whatever you do, I strongly encourage you to check out Mezcalito at some point. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’m here to spill the beans – or the mezcal, more likely 😉 Keep Reading

My review of Coffee Joint: You don’t have to travel the world for exquisite coffee and sandwiches!

Coffee Joint’s Mozzarella & Basil sandwich

A journey around the world? Sure – who wouldn’t? Every morning? Ermm, maybe not – but I would gladly have a specialty sandwich instead! For those of us who don’t get the chance to travel often, eating out in a multicultural hub like Chicago is the next best thing. We live in a city where virtual travel in a matter of minutes is possible thanks to an abundance of diverse dining spots, which feature a respect for ingrained cultural traditions coupled with a desire for thoughtful innovation. Such is Coffee Joint, the only Latvian coffee shop in Chicago, whose cosmopolitan interior design and delicious casual fare make up for an exciting breakfast or quick lunch destination. Readers, beware: pics of deliciousness to follow 😉

Tucked on a leafy section of Irving Park Rd, Coffee Joint is a hidden neighborhood gem. Keep Reading

My review of Mason: a delightful touch of retro on the Chicago dining scene

Ever so rarely there is a restaurant that steals your heart, conquers your senses, and lives in your mind forever. The dining experience might be long gone, but the flavors and the music, the sparkles and the splendor will forever be yours, like an enchanting dream from which you don’t want to wake up. There is something special that restaurant has, something that works on your emotions by awakening nostalgia and delivering warmth like nowhere before. If you’ve already visited Mason, then you know what I mean. If you have yet to dine there, take my word for it: in an age when molecular gastronomy is trendy and culinary apps are all the rave, this retro spot on the Chicago dining scene is truly refreshing!

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My vegetarian lunch at Fogo de Chão: enjoying warm spring days one Watermelon Fresca at a time!

Maybe it’s just me and my preconceived ideas, but eating veggies is not something I would normally imagine myself doing at Fogo de Chão. Mention the name of this restaurant and more often than not I’ll have a vision of endless meats roasted over an open fire in a Brazilian steakhouse (aka churrascaria). There is drama and magic in the play of the fire, and the chefs look like illusionists taming a spirited force which turns rawness into deliciousness. And yet, Fogo de Chão is not exclusively about the gaucho way of preparing meat – on skewers impressively maneuvered by the chefs for hours on end – but also about veggies: wholesome, fresh, flavorful veggies meant to satisfy your appetite and to make your hot day lighter, healthier, and overall more bearable.

I visited Fogo de Chão in Rosemont IL for lunch recently following their invitation to try out the new salads featured on their summer menu. Keep Reading

My review of Fort Willow: Big Bites, bold flavors, amazing memories

Have you ever been to a restaurant which has a tree made from wooden slats and a swing inside? I have, and I’m here to reveal some of its secrets 😉 Indeed, somewhere in this amazing city of ours there is a charming little dining spot which fits the above description – a place whose quiet ambiance and whimsical decor remind you of childhood, innocence, and endless dreaming. The name of the restaurant is Fort Willow, its location is an unassuming section on Elston Avenue, and its cosmopolitan menu makes up a sophisticated journey through flavors. Do you want to travel back in time and around the world, savoring global flavors while joyfully reminding yourself that life is precious and memories are a cherished part of it? If you do, then Fort Willow is your place to be.

I visited Fort Willow at opening time one Friday afternoon. Keep Reading

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