Briciola

I’ve been doing a lot of solo dining on the interview trail lately. And I have adopted the mentality that if I am traveling alone, I will have to eat alone anyway. So, why shouldn’t I have good food in a restaurant instead of grubhub in my Airbnb? I’ve gotten really good at saying, ‘table for one please’ with enough confidence that they forget to think it’s weird that I didn’t ask if there is a bar with open seating. And stay tuned, I think I will do a post with restaurant highlights across America from the interview trail. However, this post is from a recent break in Chicago where I didn’t have to use my new table-for-one skills.

The Place: Briciola The Neighborhood: West Town/Ukrainian Village

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I generally feel like I can make pasta, why do I need to eat it at a restaurant? But Briciola taught me why. The name literally means bread crumbs, probably to warn you that you will want to lick all the crumbs off of your plate. The menu is full of Italian classics with a nod to the historical integrity of the dishes, but enough imagination that you have not had these dishes done this way before. The Calamari in Guazzetto is in a spicy tomato sauce that my taste buds wanted to swim in. They had to settle for me using the calamari and garlic crustini as sauce receptacles. Next, the pasta. I had the Tagliatelle Alla Veneziana, which was not tagliatelle at all. It was black linguini in a creamy saffron brandy sauce with shrimp and bay scallops. It was delicious. The kind of delicious that comes from fresh pasta.  My dinner companion had lamb shank with polenta cakes, which was also awesome (but not as good as mine)! oI was too full for dessert, but looked at the menu anyway -mostly as a formality because I LOVE tiramisu. Also as some encouragement for my brain to send my stomach good vibes to make room. I gotta put that mind body connection to good use. The tiramisu was perfection -fluffy, creamy and not soggy.

The last thing to know about Briciola is that it is BYOB! What is better than that? Make sure you make a rezzy! It is super cute (kinda date-y), but does not seat too many tables. I also hear they have an awesome patio. Looks like someone will have to go back with me when the weather warms up!

Eataly Chicago

This is one of the few places that has lived up to to its hype -probably because it is the work of food and restaurant geniuses Mario Batali, Lydia and Joe Bastianich’s and Oscar Farinetti. Anyone who can confidently wear orange Crocs and socks like Mario Batali must be able to back it up with something. In Batali’s case, it is food that will knock your Crocs off… Too cheesy?

The Place: Eataly Chicago; 43 E. Ohio, Chicago, IL

Butternut Squash Ravioli
Butternut Squash Ravioli

Eataly is a 62,000 square foot restaurant emporium, with sit-down restaurant stations, multiple wine bars, a microbrewery, a Nutella bar and even groceries. The restaurant stations include, fish, pizza and pasta, meat, veggies and a separate Batali-Bastianich restaurant: Baffo.

The food is simple and Italian with just a few high quality ingredients. The fish station has trout that will literally melt like butter in your mouth. The grilled octopus with mussels and squid in olive oil, lemon, white wine and garlic reminded me of meals I had on the Venetian islands.

Mussels, Squid and Octopus
Mussels, Squid and Octopus

The pasta and pizza station has the longest wait, but once you are in, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The butternut squash ravioli was incredible and the Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo is like something out of an Italian dream. They make the tagliatelle in house and top with with braised short rib ragu, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.

Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo
Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo

The Bastianich family owns multiple vineyards in Italy so, the wine is just as good as the food. You can order a glass of wine and walk around and wait for a table at one of the food stations. Or you can grab a snack like focaccia the size of a slice of deep dish. The microbrewery has a bar-style sit down area where you can grab an appetizer as well.

After all of that wine and pasta save room for Nutella. You can’t miss the Nutella station on your way out (or in). They have crepes and Nutella pastries. Or, if Nutella is not your thing (ew who are you?) there is also a gelato station, which I would assume is good too.

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Some things to consider: Eataly is busy! It is like a tourist attraction, but one real Chicagoans aren’t tired of yet. It has been so popular that Chicago ate it out of food during its first week. Eataly chose to close for a day to regroup. I definitely know people who went 3 or 4 times that week (maybe me too). Good work Chicago! But stop in anyway for a snack or a crepe at least if you don’t want to wait!

For more information: http://www.eataly.com/eataly-chicago/

Go let Eataly knock your (orange) Crocs off! …Still cheesy?

Vivo

One of the best things about Chicago is the abundance of Italian restaurants. They generally fall into two categories: grandma’s Italian comfort food and fine Italian dining. Taylor street is home to many of the greats, but there are plenty of noteworthy Italian restaurants sprinkled around the city. This upscale rustic restaurant is nestled among a pocket of gems right in Fulton Market just across from Girl and the Goat.

The Place: Vivo; 838 W. Randolph St. Chicago, IL

Private converted elevator shaft table.
Private converted elevator shaft table.

Vivo is quite the romantic setting. Exposed brick walls are lined with bottles of wine. It is small, quaint and cozy, but feels glamorous. This is the place to take someone you want to impress. Especially if that someone is familiar with the Taylor Street scene. Some Chicagoans really think there is no Italian outside of Little Italy, but Vivo proves that is just not true. If you want to be the ultimate romantic, try to reserve the single private table at the top of the converted elevator shaft. You will be among the ranks of Oprah and Michael Jordan who have dined in this exclusive spot. I have no idea how far in advance you would have to make that reservation, so plan ahead if you are the grand-romantic-gesture type. If you are planning a proposal, make sure she will say yes, because there are no words for the awkward situation you would be in stuck up there all alone.4TFsciio4fhJnL-640m

Okay the food. Vivo means alive or living and the food will definitely make you glad you are alive. Get the bread and oil service. It is probably the best one I have ever had. And I have been very loyal to Francesca’s on that one until now. Also, pay attention to their specials. I thought I knew what I wanted until I heard the specials and then I wanted all of the specials too! I ended up with a seasonal risotto with sea scallops served in a pumpkin! Aesthetic touches always make food taste better, but I think it would have been just as amazing in a normal bowl. The Linguini alla Polpa di Granchino, black linguini with crab meat in a spicy peperoncini sauce, was also amazing. I definitely want to go back and try the gnocchi in parmesan cream and black truffle sauce. We were too full for dessert, which I definitely regret. When I go back, I will be ordering dessert first.vivo1

The wine menu is extensive as it should be, because I thought this place was called Vino for the three or four weeks before I tried to make a reservation. Our server helped us pick out a great chianti. They also have a pretty good prosecco and import a sizable selection of beers from Italy. I highly recommend waiting for your table at their bar.

Some things to consider: While Italian cooking generally brings large groups together, a smaller more intimate meal is the way to go at Vivo. I don’t think they could accommodate more than 6 people in one party very well. Also, since it is small, your reservation time might be more of a ballpark until the people before you leave. Definitely make a reservation though.

For more information: http://www.vivo-chicago.com/homepage-2

Happy Living!