Category Archives: Italian food

Book reviews: 3 health-smart and delicious cookbooks

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I love to cook. I love to eat good food. As age has begun creeping up, my granddaughter’s growing older, and I keep learning more, I find myself thinking more and more about the nutrition in the things we eat. I happen to be lucky enough to love vegetables, which many people don’t – including most kids – so it’s not hard for me to get my big doses of vitamins with pure vegetables like tomatoes (according to my Fitbit food tracker, they are the #1 food I consume across all meals every day of the week), orange squashes, romaine, kale and spinach, to name a few. But that just doesn’t work for a lot of folks – some of whom may also have physical conditions that require special consideration in their meal planning.
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Below are three books I’ve recently been asked to review, and I gotta tell you, these are all three excellent books for eating delicious and nutritious foods every day of your life – one addresses stomach issues, another diabetes, and the third is about just plain wonderful recipes that also give you tons of extra nutrients. Five stars for all three.
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    1. pH Balance for GI difficulties
      pH Balance for GI difficulties

      The pH Balance Health & Diet Guide for GERD, IBS & IBD: Practical Solutions, Diet Management and 175 Recipes, by Dr. Fraser Smith BA, ND, Susan Hannah BA, BScH, and Dr. Daniel Richardson BS, MSc, PhD, DAANC, CNC. This is a carefully researched guide to helping people with certain disruptive gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. It gives the science behind the digestive system and detailed explanations about how highly processed foods acidify your system, as does a diet high in meat, dairy and sugar. Here are a few of the questions the book answers: Why acidity can contribute to illness in most body systems; why the Western diet is so poorly balanced for pH; and what you can do about it.

      For some people, the initial explanatory section and the many boxes giving more science may be too much information. But if you are suffering from a GI disorder, you want relief. And the suggestions for balancing your system make sense; the recipes are clear and uncomplicated. Plus, we think you’re going to just plain like the food. Check out the recipe for Crispy Coated Veggie Snacks (p. 195) that has you dip zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc. in yogurt, then breadcrumbs and bake. You can make your own Multi-Seed Energy Bars (p 194) with quinoa, sunflower and sesame seeds and puffed rice or millet with sweeteners like natural cane sugar or brown sugar and pure maple syrup or brown rice syrup. Orange French Toast (p. 179) uses orange juice and optional orange liqueur in the soak mix plus an Orange Marmalade Sauce with honey and orange liqueur (or not). Mmm. Don’t you want a piece right now?  Paperback on Amazon ~$21.
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    2. Whole Cooking for diabetics and other food lovers
      Whole Cooking for diabetics and other food lovers

      Whole Cooking and Nutrition: An Everyday Superfoods Approach to Planning, Cooking and Eating with Diabetes by Katie Cavuto. Thorough, user-friendly science and recipes for diabetics and anybody else who appreciates delicious foods that happen to be healthy, too. The author’s Italian, so there are some wonderful recipes that feature those full-flavor ethnic secrets. She offers a whole section on how to make your own way-healthier versions of pantry staples like tomato sauces, applesauce, nut milks, spice blends and other special dressings and spice-up-your-dishes condiments. Think: Everyday Roasted Garlic (p. 64) which she says you can spread on crackers, whisk into dressings, sauces and dips and swap out for fresh garlic in soups and baked dishes. You simply bake it with olive oil, squeeze out the cooked cloves, cover with a bit of oil and keep in the fridge for two weeks. You’ll feel virtuous for the nutrition and happy with the taste. Plus she gives a great recipe for using it: Garlicky Grilled Pork Chops with Navy Beans (p. 214) that also includes fresh lemon juice, lemon and orange zest, her Herb Oil (p. 60), parsley, canned navy beans and her Olive Tapenade (p. 113).

      The Sweet Potato Oats (p. 96) breakfast dish amps up the nutrition of a bowl of oatmeal with the addition of almond milk and sweet potato puree (you can use canned) and is seasoned with vanilla, cinnamon and maple syrup. The Chicken Sausage and Lentil Soup (p. 184) with Swiss chard, seasoned with thyme and fennel seeds, is her Italian family’s lower-fat version of a classic.

      Cavuto’s vegetable sides and mains offer some unique ways to put life into potatoes, red pappers, spaghetti squash (with walnut arugula pesto!) and more. Think about Roasted Cabbage “Steaks” with Vinaigrette (p. 150) – thick center cuts basted with vinaigrette and baked. The recipe for Roasted Green Beans with Smoked Paprika (p. 137) introduces a brilliantly easy way of seasoning and then cooking them in a very hot oven and dressing with a bit of fresh orange juice. All simple and delicious. Each recipe also gives full nutrition info plus the diabetic exchanges. Kindle $8, paperback $13 on Amazon.

    3. Get more nutrition and flavor in your food
      Get more nutrition and flavor in your food

      Sneaky Blends: Supercharge Your Health with more than 100 Recipes Using the Power of Purees, by Missy Chase Lapine, The New York Times Bestselling Author of The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals. This and her other books are based on a brilliant idea: that you can add bales of nutrition – and serious extra flavor – to almost any recipe by using a super-nutritious puree of vegetables and/or fruits as one of the ingredients in a recipe. And she proves it with recipes for everything from appetizers, dips, salads and soups to entrees and desserts.

      I gave up eating pancakes a couple of decades ago when I discovered they left me starving an hour after I’d eat them. But my 9-year-old granddaughter loves pancakes – and generally eats the usual ones that are nothing but a load of empty calories and carbs. Lapine puts her Cinnamon Oat Protein Pancakes recipe (p. 123) on nutritional steroids by including 1/4 cup of Carrot-Sweet Potato “Base Blend,” (p. 86) some oatmeal and a couple of scoops of vanilla protein powder into the batter that’s also made with ricotta cheese, cinnamon, vanilla, and a tablespoon of maple syrup (yes, in the batter). I’m telling you, I can’t wait to make these even for myself.

      Lest you freak out about the whole “base blend” concept – which seems to imply a bunch of extra work – Lapine gives ideas to substitute in a pinch (for example, baby food), though she points out that the original purees (most of which sound fairly simple to make like spinach-blueberry) are superior in nutrition and flavor. The idea is to combine a vegetable and fruit (2 veggies in the case of sweet-potato/carrot) and puree them together. She recommends using time-saving frozen versions of many veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash (for this last, she also gives a smart and easy new way to prepare). Adding purees to original salad dressing recipes, she says, ups the nutrition sufficiently that you “don’t have to eat your weight in greens to get your daily allowance.” {smile!} Check out her All Hail Eggless Caesar Dressing (p. 182, uses her Cauliflower Base Blend) on raw kale with grated hard-boiled eggs. Or her Raspberry-Beet Vinaigrette (p. 187) on arugula with goat cheese. Kindle $15, paperback $13 on Amazon.

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Examiner.com shuts down after 8 years – but never fear

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After eight years, Examiner.com, one of the biggest online citizen journalist websites with 47 million unique visitors each month, has shut down operations.

Whatever else happens, links from hundreds of thousands of articles and photographs will be broken. Thousands of Twitter feeds will suddenly look like bomb-ravaged fields – littered with empty craters (photos) and dead bodies (links). [Update: 7/26/16 Instead of leaving thousands of dead links in all social media platforms, Examiner.com has chosen instead to insert links to its own new entertainment portal. It’s probably legal, but it’s a shabby thing to embarrass your long-term, loyal contributors by making their links no longer go where they were meant to.]

So if you were a subscriber to our blog columns on Examiner.com, fear not. Now you can re-subscribe to that content at ChicagoRestaurantExaminer.com or ChicagoLadyBoomerExaminer.com.

In case you’d like to re-link to one or more of the pieces of content you found there, we’re working diligently to get all the articles from those two columns re-published on the new sites.

Contact us via the form below if you have questions or would like to be notified when a specific post is uploaded to the new sites. Thanks for reading!

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Sapori Trattoria – a Lincoln Park/Lakeview gem

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It’s a pleasure to dine at a restaurant where the food, the service and the ambiance come together seamlessly to make a memorable evening. And that’s just what happened recently at Sapori Trattoria, 2701 N. Halsted, close to the border of Lincoln Park and Lakeview. Our party of four arrived at 5 pm for an early dinner and were delighted to feel immediately warm and welcome on a cold Saturday night.

Needing time to study the many Italian-named dishes on the menu, a couple of us found the house Cabernet Sauvignon (Fox Brook 2005) was quite good and made a nice pre-dinner cocktail at a very reasonable $6.50 a glass.

Besides the regular menu items you can find online, the evening’s menu carried an entire column full of “Featured Items” from starters to multiple pasta entrees (including the pumpkin ravioli one of us ultimately ordered), and a number of meat dishes (including Vitello Osso Bucco and the Duck Leg Confit).

Shortly after we sat down, a tray of bread arrived – excellent flavor, with moist crumb and crispy crust. I’d noticed a small bottle of olive oil and a dish of grated fresh Parmesan cheese, but when I (a die-hard butter fan) asked for some, a dish promptly arrived with two large, cold, unsalted slabs thereof. A heaven-sent version of my go-to restaurant indulgence!

We shared one order of bruschetta ($6.95) around the table. A generous portion of homemade mozzarella cheese – freshly made, light and tender – was surrounded by shavings of prosciutto and chunks of marinated tomato on toasted slices of that lusty, crusty Italian bread. Another person ordered the Caesar salad – a plateful of crisp, crunchy romaine and some very good homemade croutons, all lightly coated with owner/Executive Chef Antonio Barbanente’s own delicately seasoned dressing – delicious but perhaps slightly overpriced for the quantity at $7.95.

It was rough going choosing our main courses; almost everything on the menu had its appeal. Ted, our server, answered our many questions – including whether the pasta is house-made (it is, except penne). He patiently explained the differences in various dishes and told us which were the most popular.

We finally settled on our selections. The Maple Leaf Farms Duck Leg ($25.95) was a classic duck confit preparation – salt-cured for two days and slow-roasted in its own fat, served with sweet potato strings and 48-hour duck gravy. The Cappellacci di Zucca ($21.99), pumpkin-stuffed ravioli in a burnt butter sauce with butternut squash, sage and pine nuts, was declared a winner. Vitello Paesana ($26.99), tender veal scallopini sauteed with artichokes and cherry tomatoes in a savory delicate wine sauce, was a hit, too. We all approved our samples from a side of homemade pasta – oil and garlic caressing every noodle in a nest of rich-tasting, homemade egg-dough linguine.

My entree was a huge chunk of perfectly pan-seared Chilean sea bass ($28.99) served in an aromatic sauce with lightly steamed fresh spinach, finished with roasted tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, and beautifully tender-inside, lightly crispy-on-the-edges chunks of roasted potato. Potatoes are another of the items by which I judge a restaurant – for example, undercooked is a disaster – and these more than passed muster. The only off note was finding a couple of gristly pieces underneath the fish. Homemade pasta with seafood? I simply had to try some. Ted graciously accommodated my request for half an order of Spaghetti alla Scoglio ($23.99). This lovely dish consisted of a generous helping of seasoned seafood (clam, mussel, shrimp and scallop), cooked juste á point and served on a bed of homemade egg spaghetti. The spaghetti was delicious on its own, but it was also enveloped in a mellow and flavorful sauce – the menu says the pasta is “sautéed in marinara.” Okay. The best marinara I remember tasting in a long time. And since I feel the same way after having eaten the leftovers for breakfast, I know it wasn’t just the wine and the company that made it taste so good!

Ambiance is wonderful at Sapori. I’m a sucker for tiny white lights, and here, just the right number of these Italian standbys pinpoint the overall subtle lighting (notice how dark all the pics are!). The place is built into what must have originally been someone’s home – certainly not a restaurant. Outside the small main dining area – which has two levels, thus adding to the sense of coziness and privacy – you’ll encounter a charming rabbit warren of hallways and small rooms tucked away in cozy corners, with extra doors in surprising places. A tiny bar graces the main dining area off the street entrance, and dinner is also served in what is probably another honeycomb of rooms we didn’t go up to see on the second floor. Ted said total capacity is about 250 – a surprise, given the intimate feel of the place, although a regular diner there tells me the noise level gets uncomfortably high at prime times.

Service was friendly, warm and professional. When one of our party complained to Ted after a first taste that the salt-cured duck was too salty, he apologized for not having explained the best process for consuming this dish – interspersing bites with the sweet potato accompaniment. He acknowledged he should have given this advice upon delivering the plate. Then, a minute after Ted left, the maitre d’ arrived to also apologize and offer to replace the dish with something else. Hard to ask for more than that. Later in the evening Chef Antonio came to our table and smiled as we expressed our enthusiasm.

The tiramisu dessert ($6.99) had a decidedly light touch. Crowned with a foam of whipped cream, the ladyfinger layers were lusciously fluffy. Delicious indeed, though I usually like mine a bit heavier – more custard and a tad more rum-coffee flavoring. Panna cotta ($6.99) was super-rich with cream and chocolate-hazelnut flavor. Though I didn’t love the slightly gelatin-y mouth feel of the dish, the drizzle of thin, dark chocolatey sauce on top was a definite enhancement.

Open every day at 4:30, Sapori Trattoria has been here since 2001. Where the heck have I been?

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Antinori embraces Cabernet Sauvignon for Italian wines

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The Antinori family believes in tradition – and innovation, too. They introduced the Cabernet grape to Italy, in a spot where many other grape varieties can’t grow, and began experimenting with blending Cabernet with Italian grapes. The resulting wines have been exceptional, and now they are spreading the word.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia and Niccolo share their passion for Antinori wines

She’s tall and slender, full of energy, and passionate about her mission. She is Alessia, the youngest daughter in the Antinori vintner family – the winemaker who travels the world alone and with her father, Marchesi. The family is the 26th generation to grow wines in Italy and now in Napa Valley. Together they imbibe lessons from cultures on several continents, the better to enrich their own winemaking wisdom. Alessia and her two sisters work closely with their father to manage the three Antinori wine estates in Italy and in America.

Alessia’s shoulder length, softly wavy brown hair moves in time to her graceful arm movements as she nods to emphasize her words. She is introducing five of the Antinori wines to a group of 60 people in Chicago. The Antinori wines being introduced are all made with some percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, for that is the theme of the evening: The Antinori Family’s Fascination with Cabernet around the World. Each wine has a subtle complexity along with delicacy and elegance in its blending. Several of them (see list below) are extraordinarily subtle and refined on the palate, especially the only-made-in-exceptional-years 2011 Solaia Toscana, made from grapes grown in a small southwest-facing vineyard next to their Tignanello vineyard in the Chianti Classico area of Italy.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Only in exceptional years – Solaia Toscana

As Niccolo Maltinti, U.S. Commercial Director and Brand Ambassador, said about this Solaia, “This is not a Sophia-Loren-type wine. It’s one of the most elegant wines, but with a backbone. You want to spend time with it and discover it slowly.” He said the poor, rocky soil here, “makes Cabernet Sauvignon grapes speak with an Italian accent.”

Alessia speaks warmly about the commitment to quality and the passion with which her family has been making wines for 600 years. She says these family values are transmitted seamlessly from generation to generation. Since her great-grandmother was American, her family has always felt a pull towards the United States – so it only made sense when her father visited Napa Valley that he would fall in love. He promptly bought 500 acres, built himself a home (an American style home built by an Italian architect) and went to work creating their estate vineyards.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Coco Pazzo’s fabulous venison ravioli with black truffle and wine reduction

The Cabernet event, held in the Florentine Room of the J.W. Marriott Chicago, paired a number of Antinori wines with fabulous Italian food creations, among them osso bucco with saffron risotto, braised lamb lasagna, and from Coco Pazzo, handmade venison ravioli with black truffle and wine reduction.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia’s – and my! – favorite il Bruciato

Alessia gives away her secret – the wine she drinks every day at home is their il Bruciato, a full-bodied red made of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Syrah. It’s wonderfully red and deep and pairs perfectly with many types of foods. And I was pleased to learn that the wine I liked so much that evening – and had to go back for more of – turned out to be her favorite, il Bruciato.

Barry Devine, the wine manager at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Lincolnshire, said he already carries several Antinori estate wines. He considers “Guado al Tasso Il Bruciato, the second label of the winery, and the Tormaresca Neprica (a blend of Negroamaro, Primativo, and Cabernet Sauvignon) fine examples of elegant wines at great value.” He said another great wine and great value is their Villa Antinori Toscana (Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah blend). In addition to being “great values, these wines are good representatives of their respective areas,” Barry said, and generally score in the 90 point range in respected wine publications.

I asked Alessia a little about herself. She said realized when she was a teenager that she had a choice of where to go in life. Her father never forced her to go into the business, she said. But when she asked her father if she should go for art history or go to Milan to learn winemaking, he unhesitatingly said, “Go to Milan!” Though she knows she could have done something else, she loves the profession she has committed her life to.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia, sharing her enthusiasm

When asked if it was unusual today for women to be winemakers, she said, “No, not today. But 20 years ago when I started, I was one of only two women in a class with 30 guys.“

She spoke of how being a family-owned winery makes a difference. I asked her to elaborate. “How our family succeeded – it takes humility, open-mindedness, culture, passion, and curiosity. With the family transmitting the culture and commitment from generation to generation, it assures a continuing sense of responsibility. Otherwise people change, and they don’t have the same commitment.” She spoke of how pleasant it is to be involved with nature. “It took 26 generations to build this company,” she said. “It can take only one moment to destroy it. Everything depends on how you behave, how you transmit the values and ideals to the future generations.“ These values are natural in a family-owned wine business, said Alessia, but they must be tended constantly. “When I speak at events like this, that’s how I show my passion.”

On promoting their wines: “My father was a pioneer in the 1970s in discovering new areas, and in Italy we went to other cities to bring our wines and to promote wine drinking in general.” About traveling alone to India and Asia she said, “It was very challenging. I learned about their traditions, culture – very similar to ours – their religious commitments, history, and ancient culture. Also, no one knew me; I could be myself as a person.”

What about here in the US? “I learned about the huge market potential of the U.S., and that everyone focuses on the main cities. In the 50s and 60s it was more about whiskey and beer in the US. There is a huge revolution here, enormous. In Napa Valley we learned a great deal about using Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.”

Alessia’s favorite everyday Antinori wine, il Bruciato, is available at Binny’s and sold in Eataly by the glass.

Antinori Cabernet wines:

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Creative cuisine at Ceres Table

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Update: Ceres Table is now located at 3124 N. Broadway Street.

Ceres TableCeres Table, 4882 North Clark Street, is located in a modern new building that sits across the street from some very quiet neighbors—a cemetery. It was raining the night we went so we couldn’t take advantage of their charming outdoor sidewalk space lit with tiny white lights on the tree growing through the sidewalk.

It’s off the beaten path for sure. Who knew that a truly gourmet Italian restaurant could be found in a far north corridor of Chicago? But since I’d already been impressed with the creative specials at Ceres Table, when a colleague reported having had an exceptional dining experience I was very pleased to get there for dinner one evening.

The décor is austere. Nice materials in clean lines, with no tablecloths or curtains—perhaps designed to help diners focus on the food. As the menu tells us, Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest (and also of mother love), was reputedly born in Sicily, like Giuseppe Scurato, the owner and chef at Ceres Table. We were happy to meet the chef very briefly after our hostess/server had seated us.

The menu here is clearly a reflection of its chef’s inspirations. Just a single example of an appetizer—squash blossoms, battered and fried and stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies—lets you know you’re not dealing with a typical red-sauce Italian restaurant. How about saffron rice balls stuffed with braised goat, peas and taleggio cheese? A strictly Italian cheese made using a technique called smear ripening—a unique method also used with a French favorite of mine, port du salut—I find just reading about taleggio cheese makes me want to go back and try that appetizer. And that’s true of any number of other unique dishes we didn’t have a chance to try that night.

We are assuredly not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Our server explained the menu—appetizers on the left, main courses on the right. Partway down the left side I found my appetizer of choice: shrimp crudo, made with laughing bird shrimp (environmentally friendly crustaceans recommended in a NY Times article) marinated—rather like a ceviche—in a citrus vinaigrette with clementines, hot peppers, celery leaves and fennel. The dish was served down the center of a beautiful rectangular plate and was deliciously refreshing.

My companion started with the seafood salad, a mixture of unique fruits of the sea that were cooked just until firm, not toughened, and included shrimp, mussels, claims, seppia (cuttlefish—a favorite in Italy), and baby octopus, all seasoned with parsley pesto and lemon. This dish is all about the seafood, so the seasoning definitely takes a subordinate place. We ordered a Malbec from Argentina that was decently priced and very good, though perhaps a little heavy for the dishes we chose.

Our main courses arrived in good time. But we were surprised, while waiting, to hear our server describing to the table next to us some specials of the evening that we hadn’t heard about, including fresh green beans which I’d have loved to try had I known. As we hadn’t felt particularly welcomed when we first arrived, this extra omission made us feel a little left out. Yet my companion, who’d eaten here a few weeks previously, reported having had excellent and attentive service, so your experience may depend on the night you go.

My friend ordered the grilled quail which came marinated and grilled. The quail—with those little tiny bones!—was tasty but a touch overdone. She really enjoyed the small serving of panzanella salad—a salad made out of bread!—that came with it.

My main course, the seafood mixed grill, was a standout. A generous slab of meaty swordfish had an ever-so-slightly rubbery texture but great taste. The accompanying seppia and gulf prawns were delightfully seasoned, had a bit of spice, and were perfectly cooked. The sambuca roasted potato slices were positively mouth-watering. The frisee (chicory) leaves on top made a just-right, crunchy-bitter complement to the succulent seafood and potatoes. The chef came out to check on us during our main courses—I only hope someday he’ll share how he prepares this dish!

We were excited about the dessert menu and had a hard time choosing. My friend, a die-hard devotee of raspberries and chocolate, chose the ice cream sandwich. Described as chocolate cookies and raspberry ice cream with hot fudge and chocolate chips, the two dainty sandwiches were filled with vanilla ice cream with real raspberries. Everything tasted good, but the chocolate cookies were frozen almost too hard to cut through. The suggested pairing of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene was a perfect complement.

When I saw “corn cake” on the menu my curiosity got the better of me. I’ve always loved good corn bread that was a little sweet, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong with this. The corn cake was, indeed, sweet but also meltingly tender, rich and fine-crumbed. It was served with dribbles of cilantro oil—a taste I thought might be overwhelming but was instead very subtle—and with several puffs of caramel popcorn tossed on the plate. Very original. I enjoyed every bite and scraped the plate to get the last taste. The suggested pairing of Niepoort 20-year-old port put the whole experience over the top.

  1. Examiner.com, Barbara Payne, http://www.examiner.com/lady-boomer-in-chicago/indulge-yourself-at-ceres-table-restaurant
  2. Wikipedia, Taleggio cheese, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taleggio_cheese
  3. New York Times, Florence Fabricant, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/dining/11shrimp.html
  4. Wikipedia, Cuttlefish, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuttlefish
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Giordano’s on Rush – real-deal Italian fare

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giordano_pastaGiordano’s downtown, 730 N. Rush, sits on a swanky corner with neighbors, the Peninsula Hotel and RoseBud on Rush. Giordano’s acquits itself proudly in the American tradition of reliably better-than-good, red-sauce Italian fare served in comfortable surroundings.

High ceilings and warm dark-wood paneling feel spacious yet welcoming. A cozy bar sits off to one side in front. Large windows let in plenty of light, even on a gray day like ours started out. Red-checked vinyl tablecloths and generously sized padded booths reinforce the comfy, casual feel. We were there on a weekday at high noon, yet we never felt crowded or rushed.

I was eager to try the calamari appetizer–always a good test of a kitchen. Served in a portion big enough for lunch all by itself, it was battered—like a slightly heavier tempura-type coating—rather than breaded. We got a big pile of the circle pieces topped by a small pile of crispy tentacles, all deep-fried to just a hint of chewiness. I loved the cocktail sauce and lemon, and my companion’s request for marinara brought a whole bowl of steaming sauce. Between us we made short work of the plate.

Service was friendly and competent without being too much. I especially appreciated the server’s careful explanation of how much time each dish would take to bring to the table. In fact, we even changed our individual stuffed pizza order – removed the spinach from it – because she said the dish could take quite a bit longer with any additional filling. Not sure how long lightning-fast-cooking fresh spinach would actually have taken, but happily, the amended order arrived safely within the promised time.

In the matter of timing, Giordano’s takes a page out of the airlines book on setting customer expectations. Being in this prime section of downtown, they undoubtedly get a boatload of people on the clock for lunch and tourists eager to get back to shopping, and some of their prepared-to-order dishes take longer than most people would expect.

For those of you too young to remember, a few decades ago the airlines were constantly being criticized for late arrivals. One day they all got together and said, hey, why don’t we just say we’re going to arrive later? It worked like a charm. People began setting their schedules based on the new, later, stated arrival time, and complaints practically disappeared. These days customers get the occasional thrill of saying, “My plane is getting in early.” Smart thinking, Giordano’s.

My friend ordered his dish of Fettuccini Torino (named after the brother founders’ mother’s birthplace in Italy) with shrimp, and it came with choice of soup or salad, and butter with a loaf of crispy Italian bread. He opted for the green, and the server brought out a generous plateful of just-picked-looking salad at the same time we got our order of individual stuffed pizza. Mmmm. Our order featured a layer of fresh-tasting (as opposed to long-simmered), light, flavorful tomato sauce with just enough garlic atop a generous blob of sweet melty cheese—the website says the cheese includes ricotta, according to the 200-year-old double-crust pizza recipe from a long line of great-grandmoms. Our order was laced with mild Italian sausage and cradled in a not-too-thick, not-too-thin crusty dough bowl. I’ve been a fan of stuffed pizza from The Art of Pizza for the past couple of years, but Giordano’s gives this Chicago standby a different and delightful treatment. I’ll definitely try this for delivery at home next time.

By now the sun had come out and brightened the place without ruining the cozy feeling—an accomplishment in the game of ambiance. And by then my friend was ready to let me taste his fettuccini—tender, nicely cooked shrimp and noodles bathed in a creamy, just-peppery-enough Alfredo sauce. It tasted like they may have used a little non-traditional starch to thicken the sauce, but it was tasty anyway. With the plethora of flavors I was trying, I didn’t think to try the shaker jar of grated cheese sitting in the little “condiment house” on the table to see if it would give the sauce an extra nuance of flavor.

Several pasta dishes on the menu are available in lighter portion sizes. A good thing, too. Because everything here seems to be very generously sized, including the serving of French fries I got with my Hot Chicken Ranch sandwich. I consider French fries another test-though simpler of course—of a kitchen’s prowess. Giordano’s does a nice job—crisp, slightly brown edges, tender inside, not greasy but with just enough salt and crunch to satisfy that I-need-fried-potatoes urge. The sandwich came on the same crispy bread their Italian beef comes on—extra thin crust, light puffy dough inside. It enfolded tender chunks of chicken breast layered with lettuce, red onion and melted provolone. Very tasty even without the ranch dressing I asked for on the side. I saved a big piece of that sandwich and loved it again, straight out of the take-home box, for dinner.

You’ll find a lot of Italian and American standards among the appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas, and sandwiches on Giordano’s menu. The desserts alone seem worth another trip sometime—tiramisu, cheese cake, and cannoli in addition to ice cream and chocolate cake. Pizzas come stuffed or thin crust in several sizes with lots of topping choices. The pasta choices make you feel you’ve got serious dining options–Chicken Oreganato, baked mostaccioli, eggplant parmesan and that Fettuccini Torino–as well as time-honored spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce.

If you’re like me, you cannot imagine eating pasta or pizza without wine. They don’t mention it on the menu, but fear not–you can enjoy adult beverages with your hearty meal.

Giordano’s has locations all over the Chicago area. A lot of them deliver, too, in their local areas. If you haven’t already, give your local G’s a chance to entertain your tastebuds. For more information and all the locations, visit their website, http://www.giordanos.com/.

1. The Peninsula Hotel, home page

2. RoseBud on Rush, home page

3. Giordano’s, About Us

4. Various reviewers, Yelp, The Art of Pizza reviews

5. Giordano’s, Menu

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