Eating my way through the Windy City

This might just be me, but it seems like every time I take a vacation, be it a weekend jaunt or a longer trip farther away, I  immediately feel like I need another vacation just to recoup from the first one. After last week’s long weekend in Chicago, where I went with the beau for three days of being a tourist and one of being a wedding guest, I not only need another vacation but a serious detox, juice cleanse, boot camp and possibly a jaw-wiring procedure, too.

I had never been to Chicago and so felt the need to eat my way through the city like someone on death row at his last meal— except for four consecutive days. (Not counting the gorging we did on the first night we landed, more on that later.) I’ll keep telling myself that the miles and miles we walked around the city countered our obscene caloric intake, but really, deep inside, past the thick layers of adipose tissue, I know better.

Behold, the Chicago style hot dog. A whole lotta tastiness right there.

All talk of my morbid obesity aside, Chicago was a great city that I thoroughly enjoyed and would happily visit again. We had lots of good food, ranging from quick bites at holes-in-the-wall to fancy meals at trendy restaurants, and several others in between. In the end though, one of my favorites was a Chicago food icon, the famed Chicago style hot dog.

We had a couple during our weekend in the city, but our favorite ( because yes, the boy and I discussed this and came to a mutual agreement) was at foodlife, a crazy, kind-of-overwhelming foodcourt of sorts near the Hancock Tower. It met all the requirements of a true Chicago style dog and most importantly, it was friggin’ delicious. If you’re like me prior to my Windy City visit and don’t know what constitutes a Chicago dog, it’s a Vienna beef hot dog in a poppy seed bun, topped with chopped white onions, sweet relish, spicy pickled pepperoncini, crisp cucumbers, juicy tomato wedges, a sprinkle of celery salt and a nice squirt of mustard. Absolutely no ketchup. (Apparently its considered sacrilege.)

While I think New York is a better city than Chicago, they definitely have us beat in the hot dog department, hands down.

Stay tuned for more Chi-town adventures in gluttony…

Finding The One

Since moving to the West Village last December, I’ve felt a little like Goldilocks in The Story of the Three Bears. Instead of a bed though, I’ve been looking for a place to make my neighborhood go-to, my spot if you will.

I’ve tried coffee shops, wine bars, and all sorts of eateries, from greasy Chinese take-out to homey Italian to sushi directly below our apartment and yet nothing’s felt exactly right.

That is, until Buvette, which might just be the one, the one that’s cute and charming, has good food, wine and coffee, and feels right whether I’m alone at the bar with a book or at a small corner table with the beau.

Snuggled in to a small space on Grove Street, Buvette is a casual eatery that feels like something you might find in a picturesque Parisian neighborhood. The food has a decidedly French slant with Italian notes here and there, like the Campari spiked lemonade or the selection of Italian wines. From the times I’ve been there, here are my favorites:

Pomodorini tartine

On my first visit I had this tartine, which I’ll admit I didn’t think would be more than a snack, but ended up being  pretty filling and a great lunch. On top of the crunchy toasted bread were creamy blobs of mozzarella, juicy, tart sun-dried tomatoes, soft, purplish-colored olives and a crisp, almost bitter green mixed in.

Spoon bread

For dessert on that first time, I followed up with the spoon bread, if for no other reason than because I had no idea what spoon bread was. It turned out to be a delicious carrot cake-like dessert, served with in a rammekin and topped with a small mountain of a thick, rich, cream cheese frosting.

Croque Madame

On my most recent visit, I had the ridiculously good Croque Madame, a neat little stack of  crunchy toast topped with a fried egg, buttery ribbons of prosciutto and a sprinkling of parmesan. When I poked the fat, orange center of the egg peeking out from underneath the ham, it erupted with runny yolk oozing over everything. My mouth is watering as I type this. Torture, I tell you, torture.

Croque Forestier

Flaneur, who I couldn’t wait to take to Buvette, had the Croque Forestiere, a mini tower of pieces of toast smothered in gruyere and mushrooms, browned to a warm, golden crust. This would be amazing for breakfast, lunch or dinner… or even all of them all in one day.

Chocolate mousse

Finally, because my sweet tooth always has to have the last word, we split the chocolate mousse, a seemingly shapeless, fat scoop of chocolate mousse with an equally haphazard but generous dollop of whipped cream. It might not have looked like much, but man, was it good. The chocolate was not as airy as other mousse desserts I’ve had but instead was thicker, richer, the perfect dessert to share. The whipped cream, which tasted home made, was only subtle in its sweetness, perfect for the chocolate to shine through in all its delicious glory.

I’ve been there a couple of times now and every time I go, I start thinking about when I can go back again. I want to spend whole afternoons there in my new spot, washing down croques with fresh lemonade, letting the day slip into night while I sit snug as Goldilocks taking a nap in a bear’s bed.

Buvette on Urbanspoon

A meatloaf change of heart

I can count the foods I don’t like on one hand: lentil soup, cow’s tongue, boiled peanuts and meatloaf.  Try as I might, I just can’t come around to these. Their smell, texture, taste.  Just none of it. Which is why yesterday when the beau and I stood in front of the menu at Fredi Sandwich Bar near Union Square and he ordered a meatloaf sandwich, I turned with a face of disgust, bordering on betrayal.

“Meatloaf?” I groaned. “Really? Ick. Why’d you order that?”

But when our sandwiches came out, my three cheese-bacon-and-plum-tomato-on-focaccia next to his fat meatloaf on ciabatta, I couldn’t help it. I had to try it. It just looked so good.

Seeing meatloaf in a whole new and delicious light

So putting my meatloaf prejudice aside, I bit into half off the warm bread and one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve had in recent memory. Sensory overload in the best way. Meatloaf like I’d never experienced it before. Soft, flavorful meat, so juicy it had runaway drops streaking through my fingers and down my arms. This was not the grayish brown loaf of goopy, gravy covered, dry meat I’d seen in the past. This was something wholly different. Sure, the sharp tang of the cheddar, the slight bite of spicy mustard and roasted peppers and onions on that warm, doughy and slightly crunchy bread helped make this delicious, but really the star of the sandwich, was far and away the meatloaf. Continue reading

Sister, sister

DNA is about where the similarities end between my sister and me.  She’s loud and sassy. I’m quiet and sarcastic. She says I dress like Mr. Rogers. I say she dresses like a hoochie. She drives fast with the music up and the windows down. I prefer to walk.

We speak differently, live in different states, have different hobbies, listen to different music, date different types of guys, and don’t even look alike, if you ask me. (Further supporting my theory that I am, in fact, adopted.)

And now, because life’s dealt her a particularly bad hand, we don’t even eat the same. Because of a serious health problem she’s developed in recent years, my sister— brace yourself cause it’s ugly —is on a sugar-free, fat-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan diet.

I kid you not, folks. My heart breaks a thousand times for her. No sugar, fat, wheat or dairy. That leaves what, air??

This presented major food problems for my visit to Miami. We’d be going to eat but where the heck could we both go?

“Don’t worry,” she said drearily. ” I can usually find white rice and grilled chicken on any menu.”

Uhm. No. Not happening. Not on my watch.

I turned to my vegan and vegetarian friends in Miami, and found just the place: Metro Organic Bistro.

With the beau and our mother also with us, we set out for the design district eatery that boasted lots of fresh, organic, healthy and vegetarian friendly options.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit skeptical. I can’t help it. It’s the sugar-crazed, fat-loving carnivore in me. But Metro Organic Bistro, I’m happy to say, completely floored me. If this is what being super healthy was like, sign. Me. UP.

Dinner went like this:

Entree 1: my mom’s

My mom ordered the braised chicken (free range and natural, thank you very much) with truffled polenta and organic green beans. The polenta wasn’t as creamy as I like it, but the truffle flavor made it buttery and smooth.

Entree 2: my sister’s (not vegan)

My sister ordered the tuna Nicoise, though not a vegan option (hey, she’s new to the game). Fat, juicy hunks of yellowfish tuna came on a bed of organic greens, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, boiled eggs, onions, Nicoise olives and anchovies. She doesn’t like anchovies but I do, so guess where those little guys wound up?

Entree 3: Mine

I went for the Mahi-Mahi, a tender, juicy, lemony, grilled (and wild caught) steak topped with shaved fennel and watercress, topped with a zesty cilantro drizzle. Everything was organic, but more than that, everything was vibrant, colorful and crazy delicious.

Entree 4: the non-De Angelis at the table

Last but not least was Flaneur’s. He opted for one of the specials not listed on the menu: a plump and wonderfully juicy and smooth piece of salmon, so perfect it seemed to just melt on your tongue. Underneath it was a mound of red quinoa and broccoli florets, to lend it an earthy, veggie goodness.

Dessert 1

And because no meal, healthy or otherwise, is every complete without dessert, we got two to share amongst the four of us, though I’m pretty sure the boy and I did most of the damage. First was the chocolate bouchon a la mode, a warm chocolate lava-cake paired with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with some of the fattest blackberries I’ve ever seen. When the gooey, warm chocolate inside poured out, it was like dying and going to healthy food heaven.

Dessert 2

Our other dessert was another special not on the menu: a fig tart with mascarpone and more juicy blackberries. The tart was sweet and nutty, with a taste reminiscent of roasted chestnuts, and fat little chunks of figs throughout. Being the fig-fiend that I am, this was perfect.

In the end, there was no pork belly or lard, nothing deep fried or oozing with cheese, but everything was delicious, clean and healthy. And that’s something my sister and I, different as we are, both agreed on.

Pasta perfection

 


Spaghetti alla vigliacca

 

Everything happens for a reason. However, I did not purposely leave the dress I was supposed to wear to the wedding hanging in the closet at my boyfriend’s house so that we would have a reason to go back to Florence and then have lunch while we were there. Really. I didn’t. It just worked out that way.

So there we were, driving back toward Florence from Lucca. Yes, we needed to time everything so that we could be back in time to get ready for the wedding but there were other pressing matters at hand.

“So, uh, where should we eat lunch?”

Deciding that we would rather avoid the nightmare that is driving and parking in the center of Florence, we instead opted for a place just outside of the center, i.e. where I’d be sure to be the only American around.

We had been to Caffe Dogali before, usually on lazy weekend afternoons when we’d wake up late with growling stomachs. It’s a small osteria and bar near the stadium, part tobacco shop and sandwich counter inside with a small dining room in the back and a little square of outdoor seating in the front.

Though lots of people around us (namely awkward looking Italian teens with identical shoes and bad hair) were eating delicious looking panini made with giant pieces of gold-colored focaccia, we both wanted pasta. Continue reading

Forget chicken soup for the soul…

For about three days last week the weather was beautiful: cool, crisp and sunny with bright blue skies and all the signs that spring was finally here.

And then it got cold again. So even though it’s technically spring, since the weather is rainy and chilly, I thought it was a good time to squeeze in one more meal I associate with winter and crappy weather: pappa al pomodoro. A traditional Tuscan dish based on the idea of not letting any food go to waste, pappa al pomodoro is a chunky tomato and bread soup. Thick and  pleasantly filling (without being too heavy), it’s the perfect thing to eat on nasty days when you just want to feel cozy and warm.

Flaneur had never actually made it before but when I looked up a few recipes they all seemed easy enough.

First things first, we gathered the ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, stale loaf of bread (In Italy this would’ve been the traditional unsalted, Tuscan table bread. We tried to get something close, and then let it get hard as a rock.), vegetable broth, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The ingredients

Next, we poured some olive oil into a pot, threw a few garlic cloves in (whole, not diced) and let them simmer and brown a little. Once they started to look golden,  we threw in the tomatoes (diced into fat chunks), basil and a good amount of pepper (for a little kick) and let it all stew for about 10 minutes.

Tossing everything together

After everything seemed to mix together into a soupy consistency, we poured in the vegetable broth and let it come to a boil, then let it cook for  another five minutes.

Simmering in the pot

Next we threw in the chopped stale bread and let it cook for another five or ten minutes. Our bread was really hard on the outside but still a bit soft and spongy on the inside, so it soaked up a lot of the liquid, but a bit of water thrown in got it back to a good consistency.

Adding the bread

Finally, we added a little bit of salt, poured it into bowls and garnished with fresh basil and there you have it: a delicious, heart-and-belly warming meal to hold you over till better weather!

Eat up!

UPDATE: After much discussion with my in-house Italian, I wanted to clarify that pappa al pomodoro is not specifically a “winter” dish. Italians eat this any time of year and one thing I read even said it was a quintessential summer food. This is strictly my opinion, but I can’t imagine eating something like this in say August, when it’s 95 degrees outside and you don’t have air conditioning (which none of the Italian apartments I lived in had). Flaneur says you can eat it cold but I think part of what makes this dish great is  eating it hot, and having that fuzzy feeling of being warmed from the inside out.