Homemade Pasta in Chicago at Trattoria Gianni

There’s nothing more upsetting to a chef than when you don’t eat the food when it’s hot.

I was admiring the presentation of arguably the best gnocchi in town and mussels at Trattoria Gianni, an “authentic Italian restaurant” according to DNA Chicago in Lincoln Park (a little further north than NewCity ) when the owner, Gianni Delisi came up to me and insisted that I eat.

I feel loved and relaxed and I just walked through the door. There’s exposed brick and old time photos of horse and carriages. The music is light and perfect for celebrating a co-workers birthday, as the table next to ours is, or sharing a meal with a best friend as I’m doing tonight.

White drapes hang as I look out to the quiet street on Halsted.

I’m distracted as I hear Gianni tell a guest, “Enjoy the show.” He knows his customers and where they’re going.

I turned my attention to the menu. Trattoria Gianni offers gluten-free and whole wheat pasta, which is nice for my Chicago Foodies like gluten-free Chicago Blogger, Allison of Life’s a Beacham. 

Trattoria Gianni is known for their homemade pasta.

The waiter greets us with “Buena Sera.” And it wasn’t the only Italian word he spoke; the waiter was fluent. I wish I hadn’t said that I was Italian.

We start with mussels in a flavorful tomato sauce.

Then, we sampled some of the best pasta I’ve had in my life. If you must choose one pasta dish, I would suggest the gnocchi, it is homemade and it is heaven.

The second best dish is the rigatoni with sun dried tomatoes. For a lighter fare, I would order the linguini with scallops or the homemade veal. The veal is exceptional, and it’s light with broccoli.

If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, you should make room for dessert. Finish the night with a frothy cappuccino and a slice of tiramisu to share. Before you know it, you’ll be getting up to leave a place that feels like Rome, but happens to be right in your Chicago neighborhood.

 

A Night in Lincoln Park: Dinner and Theatre

Trattoria Gianni is at a perfect location. It’s right by the Apple Store and furniture shopping if you’re grabbing lunch, or multiple theaters and a bowling alley for a more playful or cultured evening.

There’s a theater next door, The Greenhouse Theatre. I suggest going to the theater and then having dinner because these homemade pasta dishes are an art of their own and you’ll want to sit and relax and let the food savor and the conversation linger after a show. If you’re going to come after the show, split the tiramisu and have it with some Moscato.

P.S. There’s also the IO Mission Theatre about a half mile away. I suggest eating a nice meal at Trattoria Gianni and then taking a little walk to IO Mission Theatre on a Monday night to see one of the most sold-out shows, 3Peat.

If you are on a first or second date or are out with friends, I would suggest having some appetizers like the mussels and then staying for some delicious cocktails like the homemade cosmo.

 

 

 

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The Dessert at Grand Lux That’s Better Than Cake

I’m traditional and as much as I love cake for celebrations – I noticed that restaurants are now serving something a little off-kilter – a little more sophisticated – and that’s Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding.

National Sticky Bun Day is Sunday, February 21st. If you’ve never heard of sticky buns, it’s a German dessert or breakfast similar to monkey bread or cinnamon rolls.

To celebrate, one of the restaurants known for making handmade, fresh and decadent desserts with every order, the divine Grand Lux Cafe on Michigan Ave. has a special twist on the dessert.

Grand Lux is an elegant restaurant with views overlooking lit up trees on Michigan Ave., and plush seats below descending high-ceilings.


This is where you order pasta’s or fish (I recommend the salmon with asparagus) and then box up the rest to save room for their legendary desserts. One of those desserts is Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding. It’s sweet – very sweet and as the name suggests, warm. And the aftertaste lingers.

The Sticky Bun’s crunch and the sweet caramel drizzle are completed with a side of whip cream, which both complements and cools the dessert.

Stop in this February at Grand Lux for their Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding dessert and pair it with a silky cappuccino. If you want to try it at home, below is the recipe from Grand Lux Cafe.


Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding Recipe:

Ingredients:

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Directions
1. Cut the bread into 1” cubes.

2. Place the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl.

3. Combine the butter, sugars and spices in a mixing bowl, whisking to combine completely.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread, tossing to fully coat the bread cubes with the mixture.

5. Spread out into a 9×13 baking dish.

6. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Be sure to stir the bread cubes once or twice while toasting.

7. While the bread is toasting, make the custard.

8. Whisk all ingredients together until evenly combined.

9. Once the bread has toasted, remove the pan from the oven.

10. Pour the custard over the bread cubes.

11. Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes before cooking.

12. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into a 300° oven.

13. Bake for 20 minutes.

14. Remove foil from pan and continue to bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until light golden brown and the custard has set. You can test this by inserting a paring knife into the center of the pudding. If the knife comes away clean, or with very little pudding clinging to it, the pudding is ready.

15. Allow the pudding to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

16. To serve:

Top the pudding with toasted pecans and warm caramel sauce.

Serve with either vanilla ice cream or crème anglaise.

 

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Italian BYOB Valentine’s Day Dinner in Chicago: Trattoria Ultimo 

Romance is Italian food at an intimate restaurant with New York City flare and Parisian vibes. Add some flowers and some Beivuma wine because it’s BYOB. That place is Trattoria Ultimo in West Town. 

I recently went to Trattoria Ultimo for a Galentine’s Day preview organized by one of my favorite Chicago bloggers, Once Upon a Dollhouse. 


Antipasta:

There’s a number of antipastas at Trattoria Ultimo. My personal favorite was the prosciutto di Parma with Buratta because prosciutto and fresh mozzarella are two of my favorite Italian foods.

My second favorite dish was the asparagus and white mushrooms. If you are going to order the cheese platter with dessert, I suggest starting off with the asparagus.

Prosciutto di Parma with Buratta 


Chicken Liver with Crostini and Peach Mostarda

Baccalà Mousse and Polenta

Razor Clams with Fresh Calamari and Fajioli and Arugula


Vitello Tornnato with Roasted Vegetables and Capers

White Mushrooms and Asparagus with Parmigiano Reggiano

Cleanse Your Pallete:

After appetizers, you want to cleanse your palette for the main dish. We had Celery Apple Sorbeto. It tasted like cucumber ice cream. Like it’s the kale chip of ice cream – you originally think it’s disgusting, but it surprises you. If every time a guy ghosted me and I turned to cucumber ice cream I would be in better shape.

Intremezzo: Celery Apple Sorbeto


Main Dish:

The main dish is probably the best dish. At this point, I was on my second or third glass of red wine and had tasted dishes I’ve never experienced before. I was ready for staple Italian dishes like chicken and pasta.

Trattorio Ultimo surprised us and brought out risotto. There are plenty of good dishes to choose from like the hearty gnocchi and bone marrow or the perfectly seasoned asparagus with hay chicken, but I was partial to the creaminess and flavor of the risotto. I’m usually impartial to risotto like the crab risotto I had in Seattle. But, this risotto was cheesy and well balanced with fig mustard and crispy prosciutto. Again, I love prosciutto.

Risotto with Tellagio Cheese with Fig Mustard and Crispy Prosciutto

Ravioli Tartufi Contrario with White Truffle Sauce


Gnocchi with Beef Short Rib and Roasted Bone Marrow


Hay Chicken with Roasted Vegetables


Branzino with Broccolini Green Beans and Haricots Verts in a Wine Herb Sauce

Dessert:

At the time dessert was called, we had tried twelve Italian dishes and my table was opening up a fourth bottle of red wine.

But still, they put a platter of cheese – fine, creamy, dry, and hard cheese all on one plate. It didn’t even need crackers. 

We couldn’t say no to dessert – especially homemade chocolate truffles – chocolate so different from Godiva or Fannie Mae, though both are good, Trattorio Ultimo’s milk chocolate is refined and delish and unique like the chocolates at Katherine Anne’s in Logan Square. 

Cheese Platter


Almond Cookies, Medieval Almond Cookies, Coconut Macarons and Chocolate Truffles with Taragon

I hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day and if it’s a table for one or two or a dozen, I hope you treat yourself to a beautiful, authentic meal and slip into a little red dress. Don’t waste this one springtime Chicago winter. Go out and look beautiful and dine like the princess you are.


Bon Appetit.

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Lone Star BBQ Bar: A Little Sauce, A Lot of Country in Chicago

I can smell something sweet and savory from the patio. It’s the post oak smokewood that Lone Star BBQ uses to marinade their meats. It’s the only oven in Chicago that doesn’t use electric or gas, just post oak smokewood (like the cowboys).

My senses are already heightened as I sit down to a table with a roll of brown paper towels ready for me to spin as I dig in.

I ordered a little bit of everything and I started with the drinks – the craft sodas.

Lone Star BBQ has three types of craft root beers and so opted for the Dead World Vanilla Root Beer over the Triple XXX or the WBC Chicago.

Most of their drinks come with a cowboy boot glass. It was fitting for the country music that reminded me of my days singing country music on the stage at my favorite restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee.

Appetizers:

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I started with the Corn Fritters. They came out looking like cinnamon donuts with a Remoulade glaze on the side. Inside they have actual corn.

Salads with Brisket:

From sweet, I moved to something a bit healthier. Lone Star BBQ has a variety of salads and one of May favorites is the Alamo Bowl with cactus fruit, Naples, spinach, bacon and you can add Brisket.

The brisket tastes amazing in the salad. It’s flavorful, but not overly juicy so that the spinach keeps well. It was light but flavorful and filling. It’s perfect for summertime Chicago nights.

Craft Cocktails: Moscow Mule:

I paired it with the Austin Mule – Titos handmade vodka, fresh squeezed lime, Barritt’s Ginger Beer over ice. My favorite Chicago summertime cocktail is the Moscow mule and this Texas BBQ inspired restaurant did not disappoint.

Another one of their signature cocktails is the Galvestan Hurricane. This is great for anyone who likes a Tequila Sunrise or Long Island. It has Tito’s Handmade vodka, Captain Morgan White Rum, Hendrick’s Gin, Triple Sec, Grenadine and fresh fruit juices over ice.

One of my favorite songs, “Straight Tequilla Night” starts playing and I feel like I found a place that brings the country out of a city girl.

As I savored my salad, the owner, Gus said, “You have to try some BBQ.”

Pulled Pork Mac N Cheese Burger:

Lone Star BBQ makes their own handmade BBQ sauce.

One of their signature dishes is the pulled pork topped with Mac n Cheese.

There is extra sauce on the side, but the sandwich comes out perfectly flavored. I like that Lone Star BBQ Bar prides itself on the meat and doesn’t saturate the BBQ meat in sauce.

Their Carolina Sauce is made with mustard, vinegar and sugar and some of the house sauce. In Texas the only thing they do is brisket – it’s the hardest meat to cook right and cut right (against the grain). You have to constantly modify the way you cut the brisket.

 

Lone Star BBQ Bar is in the Dunning neighborhood.

The restaurant is very relaxed. “People come because they want to be comfortable and relax rather than want to be seen,” the owner said to me in between bites of macaroni and cheese.

Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.

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The Roosevelt Collection has an answer for a casual place to take your thoughts after a movie.

And that answer is surprisingly a steakhouse. I recently had a media dinner at Chop on a quiet Monday night.

I love the Roosevelt Collection for its outdoor fire pits and expansive shopping , but unfortunately, without sustenance, we will shop till we drop.

Restaurants come to the Roosevelt Collection:

Chop is the first of a few restaurants including Nando’s Peri-Peri moving onto the block for those craving a nearby spot to linger after a movie or regain strength in between shopping trips.

In March, Chop completely revamped their menu from a burger joint to a space offering the highly desired meats like Filet Mignon and Porterhouse along with the fixings like grilled asparagus and Lobster Mac n Cheese.

Overall, Chop is not your typical steakhouse destination; it’s a convenient option for a quick appetizer or a sweet dessert to share.

It’s a place that reminds me of Nashville – with bare bones and country vibes instead of the usual white tablecloths. And it works. One of the best parts about Chicago is the way restaurants create distinct and memorable interior design.

Chocolate Cake:

I would highly recommend the chocolate flourless cake with a glass of Moscato. It was one of the best desserts I’ve ever tried – and Chicago has some amazing desserts.

And I think after a movie, coming in for some dessert and wine is perfect.

The Steakhouse Wine List:

While Chop offers cocktails that come fruity and with an umbrella like the vibes at Three Dots and a Dash, I would turn your attention to Chop’s extensive wine list.

For appetizers, I suggest a nice Cabernet to pair with the delicious crab cakes or the shrimp. There were unforgivable items on the menu like the lobster bisque which was salty. And the passable standards like the salads.

Recommendation:

Overall, stick with the cake, cake, cake – the crab cake and the chocolate cake.

 

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