Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
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United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Chinalite: Great Neighborhood Chinese

We just got back from a few days away in North Carolina visiting Win’s family. It was a fun visit, and as always, we had the chance to sample some really delicious food in our travels. I’ll save the reviews of some Carolina cuisine for the next couple days though. Tonight I want to talk about a great place for Chinese food in Chicago.

Chinalite is an excellent Chinese restaurant. It’s gotten terrific reviews from WGN, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Reader and I can absolutely see why. The food is consistently high quality, delicious, nicely presented and reasonably priced.

We’ve ordered takeout from Chinalite on numerous occasions and have always found their delivery service to be friendly, efficient, and accurate. Tonight, back from a trip and with nothing too exciting in the refrigerator, we decided to dine in at Chinalite and check out the in-person dining experience.

Our waiter was terrific and he made sure we always had everything we needed. Chinalite seems to do a bustling takeout business, so I always pictured their interior as a very basic Chinese place…perhaps more of a storefront to service their takeout customers than a beautiful dining room. Chinalite’s dining room is quite spacious, attractive, and welcoming, however, and we enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere.

We ordered Hot and Sour Soup to start. The hot and sour is so delicious at Chinalite. Warm, spicy and full of all the unique ingredients that make hot and sour such a treasure. I love their hot and sour soup.

After our soup, we selected Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, which is shrimp stir fried in a black bean sauce with egg. This was served with broccoli. We also chose Governor’s Chicken, also known as General Tso’s Chicken. A fairly common dish, this is slices of chicken breast glazed in a ginger and garlic tomato sauce with baby corn, carrots, and green peppers.

Both dishes were outstanding. Fresh tastes, bold flavors, and generous portions.

While Chinalite is basically just a neighborhood Chinese restaurant, it’s worth a visit for its delicious, high-quality food, efficient and friendly service and good value. It's also worth noting that you can download coupons from their web site and place takeout orders online...a helpful convenience.

3457 N. Southport
Chicago, IL
Telephone: 773-244-0300
Web Site: http://www.chinalite2go.com

OK, so I guess it’s time to make the shopping list to get the refrigerator restocked for the week. Back to cooking tomorrow…

Next time At Our Table: Sumptuous Southern Treats

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Amazing Mexican at Rick Bayless' Topolobampo

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of dining at Topolobampo. Topolobampo, or Topolo, as regulars call it, is one of Rick Bayless’ award-winning Mexican restaurants. Bayless has received ample praise for the fresh, authentic Mexican food served at Topolobampo so we were excited to try it. Each course showed us why Topolo has received its accolades, delighting us with every bite.

Topolobampo and its sister restaurant Frontera Grill share a front door and a bar. Click here to see some photos of the two restaurants. Each has a distinct feel and flavor, with Topolo being the more upscale and quiet of the two.

After being seated at our table by a charming and completely thorough maitre d', we were served fresh guacamole with slices of cucumber and jicama. This was our first clue that the presentation at Topolo would be fabulous. Served in a silver bowl atop a shock of colored paper, the guacamole was both visually pleasing and delicious. With every bite you could tell how fresh it was and how carefully prepared.

As we pondered the menu, we sipped perfect margaritas. A Gold Margarita for Win and a Margarita Primarosa for me which included fresh raspberries. As you might guess, the drinks were outstanding and got us off to a great start for the evening.

For a first course, Win ordered a special scallop ceviche that was part of the Chef’s Tasting Dinner Menu that evening. Each night at Topolo, you have the option of ordering a la carte from the menu or ordering the Chef’s Tasting Dinner Menu, which is a pre-set five-course meal. Win and I opted to order a la carte that night, but the scallop ceviche off the Tasting Menu sounded amazing. Win was really pleased when our server said it would be no problem to order that one item a la carte. Our server and Topolo won points with me right there. I absolutely hate it when restaurants are inflexible about breaking up their tasting menus and I was really pleased that Topolobampo had no problem accommodating Win’s request. The scallop ceviche was delicious, with a unique combination of fresh and spicy flavors. As you can see from the photo above, it was also beautiful.

For my first course, I ordered Crepa de Huitlacoche. This was a green-chile crepe folded around Three Sisters Garden inky corn mushrooms, roasted local winter vegetables, and melted Jack cheese. It was served with avocado-tomatillo salsa and pea tendril salad. This crepe was really delicious, with just the right balance between the cheese and the vegetables allowing you to taste everything. The pea tendril salad was outstanding as well and actually added a lot to the dish.

After our appetizers, we shared Sopa Azteca, which is Topolobampo’s version of tortilla soup. According to our server, Sopa Azteca is one of their signature dishes. It consists of a dark broth flavored with pasilla chile and then garnished with grilled chicken, avocado, Meadow Valley Farm homemade Jack cheese, thick cream and tortilla strips. This soup is definitely one of the best soups I have ever had. If you go to Topolobampo, you or someone at your table really should have this soup. It is rich, bold, flavorful and absolutely satisfying.

For my entrée, I selected the Pescado en Mole Verde Queretano. This is garlic-marinated fish with Queretaro-style green mole of sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, poblanos, plantains, and spices. The fish was served with ricotta-filled plaintain tortitas and braised Snug Haven organic spinach. The fish was amazing and flavored in a way I can barely describe. The spinach was also quite good and complemented the fish well. I had really high hopes for the ricotta tortitas (like little puffs) but they didn’t live up to my expectations. They were good, but not as decadent and amazing as I thought a little ricotta tortita might be. Still though, this dish was excellent.

Win selected the Pato al Pasilla Dulce for his main course. This was roasted, chile-glazed Gunthorp duck breast in dark, fruity pasilla chile sauce. It was served with a pyramid of grilled scallion white rice, crispy duck chicharron, watercress salad, and jicama-fig salsa. The duck was succulent and the sauce prefect for it. Win really enjoyed this dish.

Before the duck arrived, Win decided that he’d like a glass of wine with his entrée. Earlier in the evening, Topolobampo’s wonderful sommelier Jill Gubesch had stopped by our table to introduce herself and offer her services. Opting for margaritas to start, we declined her services earlier in the evening but now Win was curious about her recommendations for a wine to go with the duck. Win mentioned this to the waiter and he very competently offered his thoughts on what wines would be best with the duck (a Zinfandel or a Syrah). He then consulted with Jill and she had a clear preference in the Zinfandel. She told our waiter that people can really “wrap their minds around” the flavors of the duck and the Zinfandel together. This woman clearly has a passion for wine and knows her stuff. We heard her talk to a few tables about their wine choices and she was knowledgeable, warm and friendly. Her recommendation worked for Win too; he loved the Zinfandel with the duck.

Our dessert was another highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, I don’t have the formal name for this dessert written down and can only scratch the surface of what delicious ingredients it contained. The dessert was shaped like little chocolate cigarettes and had cigarettes in its official name. We can’t remember what the cigarettes were filled with, but it was outrageously good. A special chocolate sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds surrounded the cigarettes. In my mind, the absolutely best part of this dessert was the scoop of banana sour cream ice cream atop it. This ice cream was amazing and definitely in the top five of ice creams I have ever experienced. It was so full of sweet, pure banana flavor and so rich without being overly sweet or fatty. Absolutely decadent and such a great way to end our meal.

We loved Topolobampo. The staff there deserves high praise for striking exactly the right balance of formality, professionalism, and knowledge mingled with a passion for food, friendly service, and a down-to-Earth sensibility. Any question that we asked of our waiter was answered really competently and it was clear that he understood the menu inside and out and was able to make recommendations tailored to what we liked. The restaurant’s atmosphere is beautiful and the food presentation delightful. Each dish we sampled was a treat and I’d highly recommend Topolobampo for a fresh, unique Mexican experience.

445 North Clark
Chicago, Illinois

Telephone: 312-661-1434
Web Site: http://www.fronterakitchens.com

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Chicken Soup with Jasmine Rice and Ginger

Last week, I dove headfirst into the March 2005 edition of Food & Wine and cooked three dishes from the pages of that issue. First there was the Citrus Risotto with Seared Garlic-Chile Shrimp, then there was the Clay Pot Ginger Chicken. The third recipe I tried is Chicken Soup with Jasmine Rice and Ginger. Similar ingredients and flavors to the Clay Pot Ginger Chicken, but this time the flavors take hold in a mellower soup.

I love this soup, It’s incredibly easy to make and the end result is a fragrant and flavorful broth, with just the right amount of chicken and rice.

Chicken Soup with Jasmine Rice and Ginger
Adapted from the March 2005 issue of Food & Wine
Serves 4

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon jasmine rice, rinsed
4 cups water
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
½ cup shredded cooked chicken
2 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise (note: I omitted these)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

1. In a large saucepan, cover rice with the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut the piece of ginger into slivers.
3. Add the chicken stock, fish sauce, salt and sugar to the rice. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger and let simmer for 10 minutes longer.
4. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls, garnish with shredded chicken, sliced scallions (unless you are me and hate scallions), chopped cilantro and serve.

This soup is very healthy and low calorie. One serving has just 128 calories and 3 grams of fat. It’s soothing, simple and delicious.

Next time At Our Table: Topolobampo!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Fun with Fondue: Dinner at the Melting Pot

A couple weeks ago, Win and I went to The Melting Pot for dinner. As I’ve mentioned before, I love The Melting Pot. It’s a terrific place to have a long, leisurely fondue experience.

Since I’ve written about The Melting Pot before, I’ll keep the descriptions of the dining experience there somewhat brief this time around.

We started with the Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue, which is Gruyere and Emmenthaler Swiss chesses blended with white wine, garlic, fresh lemon, nutmeg and Kirschwasser. The cheese fondue is accompanied by an assortment of breads, vegetables and green apples to dip into the warm cheese. This is always my favorite course; I love their cheese fondue. It's heaven.

Next we had a California Salad. No photos of the salad because as tasty as it was, it was just a salad. Let’s move on to more fondue!

Next was the main event. We ordered the “Big Night Out.” This included lobster tails, filet mignon, pork tenderloin, salmon, shrimp and vegetables. We selected the Coq au Vin cooking style and dipped all this delicious meat and seafood into a broth of Burgundy wine, garlic, mushrooms, and other herbs and spices. This course was also accompanied by an array of dipping sauces to enhance the flavor of each bite.

Despite being pretty full, we did sample Melting Pot’s dessert fondue as well. We tried their Cookies ‘N Cream Marshmallow Dream, which was dark chocolate topped with marshmallow and then flambéed to toast the marshmallow. After the flambee step, the chocolate and marshmallow are swirled together and topped with crushed Oreo cookies. This decadent dessert fondue was served with all sorts of fresh fruit, cheesecake, brownies, and marshmallows. Yum---so, so good!

The Melting Pot is terrific and serves high quality food in a warm and relaxed atmosphere. My only issue with the Chicago location is that its servers still sound very scripted when presenting the menu options and explaining how the fondue process works. The staff comes off very professional and they clearly have memorized their lines, but if I had one piece of advice to share with them it would be to just loosen up a little and make the script you have memorized your own. Don't get me wrong---I'm absolutely in favor of being professional, polished, and able to recite everything on the menu and they do an excellent job with that. I'd just like to see some of the servers there be a bit less "robotic" when presenting the food. This restaurant has only been open for a few months though and I expect the waitstaff to loosen up a little, if Melting Pot corporate policy allows, with time and experience.

The Melting Pot is a wonderful place to go when you’re looking for a more “participative” dining experience. Delicious, delicious fondue from start to finish.

The Melting Pot
609 N. Dearborn
Chicago, IL 60610
Telephone: (312) 573-0011

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Clay Pot Ginger Chicken (Minus the Clay Pot)

The March 2005 issue of Food & Wine struck a chord with me and I’ve found myself trying a lot of their featured recipes this week. Here is one for Clay Pot Ginger Chicken. According to the Food & Wine article, fragile clay pots cook food slowly over low heat, helping to bring out flavor without the addition of a lot of extra fat. As such, clay pots are helpful tools for creating delicious and healthy meals.

Well, I don’t have a clay pot and I really wanted to try this dish. Fortunately, the recipe made it clear that you could also cook this ginger chicken in a heavy saucepan or casserole.

Clay Pot Ginger Chicken
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2005
Serves 4
Total Prep Time: 35-40 minutes

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 plus ¼ cup hot water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into slivers
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3-by-1-inch pieces
1.5 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
6 cilantro sprigs, cut into 1-inch lengths

1. In a small saucepan, cook 2 tablespoons of the sugar over moderate heat until bubbling, about 4 minutes. Gradually stir in 1/3 cup of the hot water and simmer for 3 minutes to dissolve the caramel. Remove from the heat.
2. Heat the oil in a medium Chinese clay pot or in a casserole. Add the chiles, garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat about 20 seconds. Add the chicken, fish sauce, salt, and the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar and stir until the chicken turns white, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the onion wedges, the remaining ¼ cup of hot water, and the caramel sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens a bit, roughly 8 minutes. Add the scallions and cook for 3 minutes longer.

4. Remove pot from heat, add cilantro to garnish and serve.

I served the ginger chicken over jasmine rice and was pleased with how they complemented each other.

I loved the flavors of this dish. The ginger is so fragrant and fresh and the whole meal feels healthy but satisfying. My one issue with this meal (and I knew this going in) is that I prefer white chicken meat. For me, thighs are ok, but upon tasting this dish I just knew I would have loved it even more if I had used chicken breasts instead of the thighs.

Win, on the other hand, loves dark meat and he raved about the dish. He agreed that the flavors in the sauce were outstanding and he thought the chicken thighs were excellent. So this ginger chicken really is delicious and got rave reviews; my personal preferences would just have me use breasts next time.

This would be a nice meal to make when you’re feeling tired, worn out or in need of some detoxification. It’s easy to prepare and the end result is really tasty, healthy, and almost has a "cleansing" quality to it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Citrus Risotto with Seared Garlic-Chile Shrimp

I made an amazing new dish yesterday: Citrus Risotto with Seared Garlic-Chile Shrimp. This delicious creation was featured in the March 2005 issue of Food & Wine and the minute I saw it I knew I had to try it.

This is an outrageously good dish as long as you like spicy food. If you can’t handle or just don’t like spicy food, then definitely reduce the amount of chiles used or perhaps tweak the dish and see how you like it with other herbs or something more mild.

Citrus Risotto with Seared Garlic-Chile Shrimp
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2005
Recipe from Chef Bill Granger of Australia
Serves 4
Total Time: 1 hour

2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 small red Thai chiles, chopped (use a milder chile like jalapeno or serrano if you prefer)
6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1.5 cups Arborio rice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1.5 teaspoons grated lemon zest
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
lemon wedges, for serving

1. In a mortar, pound the garlic and chiles to make a paste. Cover and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Cover and keep hot.

3. In a different large saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the arborio rice and cook, stirring, for one minute. Gradually add the stock, one cup at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the stock has been absorbed before adding more.

The original recipe says this will take 25 minutes, but my rice took 40 minutes to completely soak up the stock. The risotto is done when the grains are tender and the sauce is creamy. Remove risotto from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Season with salt and pepper and cover. Here’s how mine looked at this stage:

4. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until the shrimp are almost pink throughout, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic-chile paste and cook, stirring, for one minute. Stir in the parsley.

5. Spoon the risotto into bowls and top with the shrimp. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Honestly, you must try this dish if these kinds of flavors appeal to you. It is so, so good. The citrus risotto is creamy and rich, but the lemon juice and zest also provide it with a clean, fresh edge that prevents it from being too heavy. The shrimp practically burst with flavor in your mouth. While not for the spice-shy, the garlic-chile paste on the shrimp is wonderful. The combination of mellow, rich risotto and spicy shrimp works so well together. I love this recipe!

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I often try and share recipes that can be done quickly and easily. While this dish is easy to make, it should be noted that 40 minutes of constant risotto stirring is something that needs to be planned in to your schedule. (I did it while our Lima Bean was napping.) The effort is absolutely worth it though.

Next time At Our Table: I'm in the mood for ginger

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Toasted Almonds

Here's a terrific chicken salad recipe that's been a hit with my guests each time I have served it. The original recipe comes from allrecipes.com and was submitted by a woman named Becky Riley. I like Becky's fresh take on chicken salad and have just modified her recipe a tiny bit to meet my own preferences.

Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Becky's Chicken Salad recipe on allrecipes.com
Serves 10
Total Time to Prepare: 30 minutes at most

2.5 cups of cooked chicken meat, chopped and chilled
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup green seedless grapes, sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mayonnaise (if you generally prefer to go lighter on mayo, just use 3/4 cup and it'll be fine)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1. In a medium bowl, whip cream until it forms soft peaks.

2. Combine chicken, celery, grapes, almonds, parsley, salt, and mayonnaise with whipped cream. Mix thoroughly and chill.

I like to serve this chicken salad on a hearty wheat or whole grain bread, often toasted. It's a great dish to serve for a casual lunch because it is quick and easy to prepare and can be made well in advance of your guests' arrival. My friends and family have all found the chicken salad to be really tasty and they like how the subtle sweetness of the grapes, the crunch of the celery and the warm smokiness of the toasted almond slices works with the chicken. It's a nice twist on a classic.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ingredient Improvisation Gone Totally Wrong

I love sharing recipes, restaurant reviews and ideas about food with you. When I make a dish and it comes out great, I'm hopeful that a few of you will try it and enjoy it as much as I did. When I try a new restaurant and write about the excellent food, I hope that perhaps a few of my readers might venture out to give that restaurant a go too. So with most of my posts I'm excited about sharing a delicious experience with you.

Not this time. Whatever you do, do not recreate this dish at home. This meal was very, very bad. Here's what happened:

We didn't have big plans for Super Bowl Sunday. After the Lima Bean was tucked in bed, Win sat down with a big bowl of popcorn and was planning on making that his game-watching dinner. (We had eaten kind of a large lunch that day) While I didn't need anything huge, I did feel like more of a "real" dinner, so I headed to the fridge to see what I might find.

I love it when I improvise and come up with something really delicious, just by throwing some different ingredients together. This is not an innate skill for me; I've traditionally been a recipe follower and I trust the expert chefs to decide what ingredients taste best with what others. Over time and with experience, however, I've gotten better and bolder with kitchen improvisation.

So emboldened by some recent successes, I peered into the fridge and decided to make a quesadilla from:

-2 flour tortillas
-shredded Asiago cheese
-1 stick of string cheese that was mozzarella and cheddar swirled together
-1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

OK, looking back on this ingredients list now, it's obvious that this is going to be nasty. But at the time, I was full of hope and optimism and thought that maybe I was about to create something magical while also using up odds and ends from my refrigerator.

The quesadilla was disgusting. Asiago cheese really doesn't work in a quesadilla and the fake, rubbery string cheese did nothing to help the situation. You may remember that I used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for my Queso Fundido recipe a couple weeks back. The peppers were outstanding in that dish, so I figured they'd be great with the quesadilla. Earth to Linda...think about the pepper to cheese ratio when using exceptionally hot peppers! The queso fundido mixed 2 chipotle peppers with 8 ounces of cheese and loads of other ingredients to cool the heat a bit. I mixed one chipotle pepper with barely an ounce of cheese. Mouth on fire!

So we have mismatched, rubbery cheese and flaming hot peppers. For the final touch I threw in some parsley because hey, it adds some nice touches of color throughout and maybe it would add a little freshness. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The parsley just sat there mocking me "I really should be cilantro, but no, I'm parsley."

I'm not one to waste food but this quesadilla had to be dealt with forcefully. Thus, after a few horrible bites, it was sent to its final resting place.

Remember, you have a warning. This dish was very, very bad so never try this at home.

Next time on At Our Table: A unique twist on an old favorite (and I promise it'll be good this time!)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Who Do You Think Should Cook for George and Laura?

Have you heard that the White House is looking for a new Executive Chef? Current executive chef Walter Scheib is leaving after nearly 11 years of service and the search is on for his replacement. You can read more about the history of the White House chef position here.

Juliette Rossant of superchefblog has an interesting idea. Why not have top American chefs co-cook for state dinners---one guest chef per dinner? I think it's a really unique and fun concept and Juliette set up a way for you to Vote for White House Guest Chefs on her blog.

So, foodies, just click the link and cast your vote.

Next time on At Our Table: This dish was bad. Very, very bad.

*Flag photo courtesy of Free Photos and Clipart.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Now My Neighbor Can Stop Yelling at Me: Dinner at Roseangelis

When we moved to Chicago a couple years ago, one of our neighbors took an immediate interest in telling us about the city and recommending places to eat and shop. Her favorite Italian restaurant in the city is Roseangelis and from very early on in our relationship she was encouraging us to go there.

Well, people get busy, other restaurants come up, and a year passed without us trying Roseangelis. Our neighbor scolded us for missing out on such great Italian food. Win and I really did want to try it, but we heard that they can have very long waits and our Lima Bean isn't usually able to cope with long, drawn-out waits for her dinner. So more months passed and our neighbor continued to chide us whenever the subject came up.

Finally, after close to two years of living in Chicago, we made it to Roseangelis and I'm glad we did. Roseangelis is an unassuming Italian restaurant, tucked away on a quiet residential street. Hidden behind its low-key facade, however, is some really quality food.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Pizza del Giorno pictured above. That day's creation was a delicious pie topped with artichokes, mushrooms, olives, shredded cheese, fresh tomato and loads of other delicious vegetables. While it was billed as an appetizer, it was quite large and we ended up taking a lot of it home with us. The flavors were great and the thin crust was delicious.

As his appetizer, Win ordered the Panzarotti con Pesto e Gorgonzola which is sauteed cheese ravioli served with a pesto gorgonzola dipping sauce. Perhaps you can see a bit of it behind the pizza in the photo above. While the pizza was excellent, this panzarotti was amazing. The pesto gorgonzola dipping sauce was really rich and flavorful. I think we'd both highly recommend this appetizer.

For my main course, I ordered Raviolini alla Maria, which was salmon-filled raviolini in a basil pesto cream sauce with chopped kalamata olives. Check out the photo below. Yes, this dish is as rich and creamy as it looks in the photo. The salmon flavor came through nicely and wasn't overwhelmed by the pesto. The raviolini had a terrific blend of textures and flavors and was so, so rich that I ended up taking most of that home too.

Win ordered the Pollo al Vesuvio for his entree. This dish is roast chicken, cooked with wine, lemon, herbs and other seasonings to make it tender and flavorful. Oddly enough, it was the only dish on the menu that required any special length of time to prepare. Boring old roast chicken? Needing extra time? Pollo al Vesuvio required 45 minutes because they slow roast the chicken and use the time to allow the flavors to seep in thoroughly. Remember how I mentioned that our Lima Bean can't tolerate long waits for dinner? Well, she wasn't with us this time around (thanks to my parents being in town and babysitting for us) so Win decided to live it up and order the Vesuvio.

This chicken was really special. Moist, tender, and perfectly roasted with wonderful flavor. It was worth the wait.

Roseangelis' portions are large, so as I mentioned above, we did end up taking quite a bit of food home with us. As such, we passed on dessert. Their dessert menu looked good, but we were simply too full.

Roseangelis is known for excellent food and long waits during peak hours. They apparently don't take reservations. The night we went we were seated immediately and didn't have any wait, but most of the tables in the restaurant were constantly full and the restaurant was doing a booming business that evening.

I'm happy we finally listened to our neighbor and checked out Roseangelis. It's a charming neighborhood Italian place with helpful, friendly service and delicious food. Don't wait as long as we did to try it.

1314 W. Wrightwood
Chicago, IL
Telephone: 773-296-0081
Web Site: http://www.roseangelis.com

Sunday, February 06, 2005

1000 Recipes Hits Chicago

I'm pleased to report that I'm the proud holder of Book 11 in the 1000 Recipes series! It landed At Our Table a few days ago and I'm busily at work adding my contribution to this project.

1000 Recipes is the brainstorm of Santos, who also writes The Scent of Green Bananas and other blogs. Click here to read more about her inspiration for this project and to find out how to participate. It's a lovely idea; people from around the world sharing recipes in these journals and passing them on.

I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with! I'll soon send the book off to Coco in San Francisco and then it's on to Alice of Temple City, CA, Hana from the kitchen crusader in Greenboro AL, Barbara from San Venanza, Italy, Melanie of Forest Hills, NY, Patrick from pdbd.com in Oakland, CA, Joanne of Wellington NZ, Laura from Malden, MA, Valerie from Flying Fur in Middletown, NJ, Pat from Quakertown, NJ and finally Keiko in Suffolk, England.

#11 coming to San Francisco soon, Coco!

Next time in At Our Table: Now my neighbor can stop yelling at me

Friday, February 04, 2005

Provencal Chicken, Artichoke and Olive Pasta

About 4 years ago, Win and I took a trip to Nova Scotia, a beautiful and charming destination I highly recommend. While on the trip, I picked up a copy of a Canadian magazine called Chatelaine. It was a great issue and inside I found one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes: Provencal Chicken, Artichoke and Olive Pasta. This dish is easy, versatile, and it has been a big hit every time I’ve served it.

Provencal Chicken, Artichoke and Olive Pasta
Adapted from recipe found in Chatelaine magazine, September 2001
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Serves 6
411 calories per serving

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 small onion
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 large fresh tomatoes or 1 28-oz can drained plum tomatoes (either fresh or canned work fine)
1 teaspoon dried basil
6-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, well-drained
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
1 pound short pasta, such as penne or rotini (I always use penne)
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Finely chop onion. Heat oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add chicken, onion and garlic. Stir occasionally until chicken is golden. This should take about 4 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, core and coarsely chop fresh tomatoes and add to chicken along with any juice. Or stir in drained canned tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. (Note: It’s fine to use either; canned works just as well)
3. Add basil, artichokes and olives then bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened a bit. This should take about 10 minutes.
4. While you are prepping the sauce and vegetables, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, uncovered, according to package directions. Drain well. If the pan containing your sauce is large enough, add drained pasta directly to sauce with parsley, salt and pepper. Stir to coat all pasta with sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan.

This pasta is really delicious. If you have some gorgeous fresh tomatoes in peak season, then use them. If you don’t have access to excellent fresh tomatoes at the time, then use canned without any hesitation. I have made this pasta both ways and they both work fine.

This won’t be pasta dripping in sauce. Rather, it’s lightly coated with the tomato sauce and accented by the bold flavors of artichoke, olive, onion and garlic. The amount of chicken doesn’t seem like much, but it’s actually just right with this dish.

I’ve served this dish to parents, in-laws, friends, and co-workers and they all have loved it. It’s easily transported to parties and reheats well, if needed (just remember to add the fresh parsley after reheating if that is your intention). While I usually serve it as an entrée, it also works well as a hearty side dish.

So delicious and easy, it’s a winner every time. I hope you think so too.

Next time: 1000 Recipes comes to Chicago

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Chocolate Buffet at The Peninsula Hotel

My parents celebrated their 35th anniversary when they were in town last week. I figured that 35 years warranted a special celebration and hoped to plan something a little bit unique for them. I chose the Chocolate Buffet at the Peninsula Hotel for an evening out.

In my mind, The Peninsula is one of Chicago’s most beautiful hotels. It’s stately and ornate without being gaudy and the staff makes you feel special and well-cared-for from the minute you walk in. Each week, the Peninsula hosts a chocolate buffet in their lobby lounge. The lounge is beautiful, with lovely décor and large windows providing a sweeping view of Chicago’s skyline. The tables are decorated with fresh orchids and beautiful candles. Completing the glamorous setting are a terrific singer and jazz trio that do several sets of classic ballads and jazz tunes throughout the evening.

Now that you have a sense for the setting, we can get serious and talk about the chocolate. As you can see from the photos here, the Peninsula puts out an elaborate buffet of chocolate desserts on a beautiful candle and flower adorned table. Each of the desserts is petite, which is helpful because you’ll want to sample them all. The desserts range from the richest chocolate concoctions you’d ever think of to more simple treats like biscotti with a subtle hint of chocolate. As such, there’s really something for everyone here.

Our group enjoyed chocolate crème brulee, chocolate mousse, chocolate covered espresso beans, rich brownies, delicious white and dark chocolate cookies, petit fours, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate chip muffins, and many other bite-sized chocolate baked goods. In addition to the desserts, there are two urns of hot chocolate. One is a milk chocolate that is so thick and rich it is almost like pouring pure melted chocolate into your cup. It is amazing and unlike anything I have ever had. A small cup will do though because it is truly one of the richest drinks you will ever taste. The second kind of hot chocolate was a white hot chocolate that had a more fruity taste. It was much less rich than the milk chocolate one and it had a totally unique fruit/floral flavor.

My favorite things on the chocolate buffet were the hot chocolates. So unique and so delicious, I couldn’t stop with just one cup of each. I had to go on to a third cup to get another taste of the white chocolate drink. The only item I found disappointing on the buffet were the chocolate chip muffins. They were fine, but that’s all. Nothing too unique or special about them. So I recommended that my table skip the muffins and focus their eating elsewhere, saving the calories for the truly delectable goodies.

My parents loved the whole experience. My Dad, a huge jazz fan, especially enjoyed the music, and that added an additional layer of special entertainment to the evening. I was really pleased with our night out too. While the Peninsula itself can be pricey, their Chocolate Buffet is actually relatively reasonably priced given the wide array of delicious treats you can choose from, the beautiful setting in which to enjoy them, and the live music. The Chocolate Buffet is a very unique way to spend an evening and the Peninsula Hotel provides an elegant backdrop.

The Chocolate Buffet at The Peninsula Hotel
108 East Superior Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: 312-337-2888
Web Site:

*Reservations recommended; call in advance to find out what days the Chocolate Buffet is available.

Next time: One of my favorite pasta dishes---Easy but delicious, it's always a winner.

Feeling inspired? Check out these chocolate recipes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Big Burgers, Small Snowmen, and The Dish

A few days have gone by between posts because my parents were in town for a visit. It was wonderful to see them and they of course love to see the Lima Bean. In addition to being fun to have around, they always thrill us by offering Win and I the chance to go out and take advantage of their free babysitting services when they are in town.

So on an afternoon outing, sans Lima, Win ordered the hamburger above at The Cheesecake Factory. It's two patties topped with bacon, cheese, barbeque sauce and onion rings. When the burger arrived, the people next to us actually asked if ordering this monster was part of a bet or something. It wasn't; I think it was just a sign of Win being happy to have a free afternoon on the town. Since the burger is bigger than our first apartment was, Win made a small, but reasonable dent in it and the rest remains in our fridge awaiting round two.

While we were out, my parents made a tiny snowman with Lima. I guess they decided that it should be scaled down to match her 21-month old frame or something. Check out the diminutive little fellow below. It cracked me up to find this waiting on our sidewalk.

Due to being a bit off schedule with my parents' visit, I've been terribly remiss in welcoming some new readers from Chicago Magazine's Dish column. At Our Table was mentioned in the January 20 edition of Dish and since then I've gotten lots of new readers checking out the site. Welcome to any new readers and please feel free to sign up for e-mail alerts on new posts by joining my update list. Simply provide your e-mail in the Notify List box on the lefthand side of the page and I'll send you an alert every time At Our Table is updated.

Thanks to Chicago Magazine's Dish for the mention. Dish is a fun, interesting and informative guide to goings on in Chicago's food scene. It's a free weekly e-newsletter that's worth checking out if you are not already subscribed. For this week's column, click here and see subscription information at the bottom.

So now I'm back and will have some more posts soon. Stay tuned for a great pasta recipe with a French flair, a review of another wonderful neighborhood Italian restaurant, and a recap of my night at a chocolate buffet. All coming soon!