My favorite thing about my annual trip to New York has always been the food. From rainbow cookies and cupcakes to bagels and pizza, my to-do lists have always been filled with as many tiny bakeries and Chinese joints as parks and museums. On recent trips, my go-to has been Eataly (soon to be at 43 E. Ohio St.), that bastion of Italian imports, sandwiches, gelati, and pastas. As its tagline declares, “Eataly is Italy”...or as close as we can get on any given day. So when I heard Eataly was coming to Chicago this fall, I basically lost my mind. When I found myself in NYC this summer, I spent a morning at Eataly, stuffing myself with everything I could to tide me over until Chicago’s outpost opens. (And until then, there are plenty of great Italian restaurants in Chicago to help us all pass the time.) Here’s a look at the parts of the market I most hope carry over to the new location. 1. The Restaurants Eataly NYC boasts nine restaurants, from stands serving paninis and rotisserie sandwiches to full-service sit-down spots; the Chicago location will have eight. At Le Verdure, chefs create at least 13 dishes each day that focus on fresh, seasonal produce. La Pizza & La Pasta combines housemade mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh pasta, and Il Pesce serves roasted and pan-seared fish. Near the deli, diners stand around high tables, sharing plates of cheese and salumi. Whatever you’re craving, somewhere in Eataly is serving it. 2. The Drinks While shelves filled with imported Italian beers, wines, and liquors line the marketplace, the libations at Birreria originate closer to home—30 feet from your seat, in fact. There, head brewer Peter Hepp creates unfiltered, unpasteurized cask ales in collaboration with such industry experts as Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head; this partnership will continue at Birreria’s Chicago outpost. The menu features both lighter fare such as antipasti platters as well as heartier sausages and roast leg of lamb. 3. The Sweets Eataly is full of savory delights, but these are balanced by a plentitude of sweet treats. A gelato stand dispenses more than a dozen flavors of gelati and sorbetti made in small batches. Nearby, a bakery displays housemade Italian-style cakes, tarts, and pastries. A chocolate stand showcases hazelnuts enrobed by dark chocolate, sourced from respected Italian brands such as Venchi and Baratti & Milano. 4. The Pasta At this busy counter, pasta makers create two dozen varieties of fresh pasta by hand using nothing but flour, water, and eggs; fillings are made using only ingredients found at Eataly. Shoppers can watch as these artisans transform dough into spaghetti, orecchiette, ravioli, and garganelli; each shape is inspired by regional Italian traditions, such as Sardinian gnocchi. 5. The Groceries Imported Italian products abound all around the market, from honey, tomatoes, marmalade, and olive oils to flours, arborio rice, and dried pastas. Refrigerated cases burst with a range of cheeses, such as burrata, parmigiano, and quark, some from Italy and some made locally. Dried sausages and packages of proscuitto and porchetta are ideal for picnics and appetizer spreads at parties; the Chicago location will offer cured meats made by newcomer West Loop Salumi (1111 W. Randolph St.). Produce offerings include whatever’s in season—baby cauliflower and peppers—as well as a wall of mushrooms. 6. The Bread Half a dozen warm focaccias make for fantastic take-away lunches, topped with prosciutto, onions, peppers, and cheese. A dozen hand-kneaded breads incorporate natural yeast, lending sourness to each variety, which include classic baguettes and rustic fig loaves. Eataly’s bread oven—brought over brick by brick from Spain—runs on sawdust and features internal tiles that maintain varying temperatures, meaning each loaf must be rotated every 10 minutes until it’s done. 7. The Meat and Seafood At the seafood counter, wild caught is the name of the game. Wild grouper, salmon, cod, and monkfish share space with grumpy-looking whole fish and Spanish octopi. Oysters, spot prawns, live lobsters, and tiger prawns the size of your hand round out the selection. This seafood is hand selected each morning at Fulton Fish Market, ensuring only the freshest and best-quality items end up in the case. At the meat counter—overseen by third-generation butcher Pat LaFrieda—everything comes from sustainable farms and ranches, including lamb, veal, and Angus and Piemontese beef. Photo: © Melanie Bartelme, GrouponRead More
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Tony Mantuano has competed on Top Chef Masters. He's won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. He's cooked for President Obama. Yet in 2014 he looks to be just as busy as ever. Chef Mantuano is in the midst of relaunching his Michelin-starred Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave.), perhaps his best-known restaurant, where he'll create a more modern atmosphere complete with a new lounge space. And in the spring he'll open his first non-Italian eatery. At the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a busy year for him, Chef Mantuano sat down with us to share his plans, as well as some of his favorite places to unwind when he’s not in his own kitchens. GROUPON: I’ve seen you around at a couple restaurants—not that I’m stalking you—but I’ve seen you at Au Cheval (800 W. Randolph St.) and Slurping Turtle (116 W. Hubbard St.), and I was thinking it’s really cool to see other chefs at their peers’ restaurants, supporting each other, and it also makes me feel like I picked a good restaurant to be in. It made me wonder, what are your favorite places to go when you’re not in your own kitchen? TONY MANTUANO: Slurping Turtle we like a lot. Let’s see. I like Publican (837 W. Fulton Market) a lot, I’ve gone there quite a few times. It’s sort of a regular place; in fact, I think I’ve probably celebrated three or four birthdays at Publican, so that tells you something right there. I really enjoyed the steak house at Next (953 W. Fulton Market); I thought that was really fun and different for them. It was really delicious with cool takes on standards. It was a lot of fun. G: What is it that draws you to these restaurants in particular? Is there a certain characteristic you’re looking for when you’re outside of your own kitchen? TM: You begin to respect certain chefs and you know they’re going to do something that’s going to be pretty interesting. You know who’s really doing a great job, who’s at the top of their game. There’s only so many calories in a day so you want to make sure you spend them right. G: Would you say there’s a community feel among the chefs in Chicago? TM: There’s absolutely a community feel. There’s a lot of respect and graciousness when you go to each others’ restaurants. I don’t know if other cities are like this, but Chicago has a great chef community…There’s a lot of respect; you’re always rooting for the other guy to be successful; I don’t think you’re ever rooting for the wrong reasons or for someone to fail. When there’s someone who’s really working hard and at the top of their game, you want to root for that guy. G: So you’re undergoing some renovations at Spiaggia and opening up an entirely new concept on the river. Is there anyone in particular you’re hoping will come stop by once everything’s open? TM: I think what we’re doing at Spiaggia is going to open Spiaggia for a lot more people. The fact that we’re adding a lounge, I think that will appeal to the industry because there’s not that full commitment to a starred Michelin experience, like, I can be in the Spiaggia dining room, in the lounge, and be relaxed, so I’m hoping my fellow industry people will discover that. I think what we’re doing on the river [in the old Fulton’s on the River space (315 N. LaSalle Blvd.)] is going to be a place that appeals to everyone. It’s about roasts and a lot of great beer. I think it’s something that whether you’re a fellow chef or whether you’re an average guy you’re going to like it…One of the great things about that place in the summertime is that it may have the best patio on the river in the entire city. There are so many patios on the river, but this one is right next to the river. It’s pretty cool. G: It’s cool to hear you talk about [your plans]. I’m so excited for you. TM: We’re very excited about what’s happening this year. It’s going to be a great year. My executive chef, Chris Marchino, at Spiaggia is right now in Italy, and the daily recaps I get of what he’s experiencing is going to greatly influence the lounge menu at Spiaggia. So there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of great things happening right now. G: Thanks again for your time. I always have a great time when I eat in your restaurants. I especially love Bar Toma. TM: Oh, thanks! That’s great, I’m glad to hear that. Bar Toma’s going through some changes too this year to become even more of a full Italian restaurant rather than just a pizzeria; that’s what our guests are asking for. You’ll see more pastas on the menu there that we haven’t been doing before. G: That’ll be fantastic. I can’t wait to try it all. TM: Great! And say hello next time I run into you. Thumbnail photo credit of Jeff Kauck; inline photo courtesy of Huge CaldonesRead More
As the temperature in Chicago drops, there is nothing better than a pasta dinner at a cozy restaurant. With dozens of Chicago eateries dishing up pasta, it can be hard to pick a place to eat. After years of dining at Chicago's restaurants, I have created a round up of some of the most outstanding pasta dishes in the city. Cacio e Pepe at Balena This creamy cheese pasta is a classic. Cacio e Pepe translates to "Cheese and Pepper" and while a traditional formula for the recipe exists, Cacio e Pepe is a dish that not all restaurants have mastered. Balena's Cacio e Pepe, made with their house made pasta, is perfection. The cheese and pepper flavors are beautifully balanced, and the pasta dish has a satisfying creaminess.Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragu at EatalyEataly is home to several restaurants, including La Pizza & La Pasta. While Eataly can be packed with tourists making the wait time for dinner quite long, the Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragu is worth waiting for. Delicate fresh pasta is coated with a chunky short rib ragu and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano. This is a hearty, meaty, pasta dish and one of the best things Eataly has to offer.Raviolo at CocelloCocello is a quiet restaurant in Chicago's River North that serves classics and more modern creations. The space has leather booths and low lighting, making it a perfect place for a dinner with friends. The menu features several pasta dishes, but the raviolo is the show stopper. A Raviolo is a giant ravioli, and the creative twist on the dish at Cocello is that when diners cut into the ravioli a runny egg yolk spills out, and acts as a sauce for the ricotta filled pasta.The combination of the egg yolk, ricotta, and brown butter has just the right amount of richness.Meyer Lemon Tagliatelle at The Pump RoomThe Pump Room in Chicago's Gold Coast has a history of being a celebrity hangout. These days it is a favorite place for Chicago locals to spend date night. The inviting restaurant is decorated with globe lights which lend the space a romantic atmosphere. While The Pump Room isn't an Italian restaurant, it is home to one of the most fun and creative pasta dishes in the city. The fresh tagliatelle with a creamy meyer lemon parmesan sauce is simply delightful. The dish is light and uncomplicated and bursting with flavor.Chicken Thigh Ravioli at TesoriTesori is a new Italian restaurant in the Loop, just a short walk from the Art Institute. Their braised chicken thigh ravioli with leeks, chanterelles, and au jus is a highlight of their menu. The pasta had a nice weight and toothiness to it, and the balance of tastes was perfect. The au jus was a lighter sauce and this dish is intended to be eaten with a soup spoon so that the au jus can be enjoyed with eat bite.Cavatelli at QuartinoQuartino is a bustling restaurant in River North that is known for serving small plates of classic Italian dishes. While the restaurant does have exceptional thin crust pizza, I always order their pasta. The freshly made cavatelli with a rustic tomato sauce, chunks of ricotta, and torn basil is a vegetarian's dream. The menu at Quartino is large, but if you can't make up your mind, ordering two half orders of different pastas is a fun option. Short Rib Stroganoff at Bavettes Bar and Boeuf Bavettes is a steakhouse, but their short rib stroganoff is just as mouthwatering as the steaks. Fresh pasta is paired with big chunks of braised short rib, mushrooms, and a cream sauce. It is a decadent meal perfect for a special occasion.Read More