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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Quay Restaurant – riverside dining and drinks

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Quay restaurantYou walk in from the busy street, up a few stairs to the front bar of Quay Restaurant and Lounge. Nice sports bar atmosphere with dozens of televisions in case you get bored or want to watch a game with friends. But if you’re not into that, all the passersby on their way to Navy Pier keep the sidewalk view lively on weekends.

Décor is clean and modern, and then you notice a striking feature—a seemingly endless wall sculpted in wavy ridges that lines the entire left side of the restaurant. Despite occasional interruptions where another texture like, say, a rough-hewn wood beam, breaks the line, the wall carries your eye from the front bar all the way to the mirror at the end of the passage that makes the wall seem even longer.

We asked for the room with a view, so our host led us down the long hall to the quay-side lounge. On the way we passed the dining room. It was low-key with warm subtle lighting emanating from great columns enclosed with diffusing material that looked like bronze-y capiz shell. Tables were arranged with generous space between them, and the atmosphere looked quiet and casually elegant.

Later we noticed a shell theme in the bathroom, too, where floors are inlaid with iridescent white shell-looking tiles—a unique look that, combined with the row of stainless steel sinks lining a mirrored wall, makes you feel you’re in an elegant hotel powder room rather than a restaurant bathroom.

The quay-side lounge sits across the width of the restaurant, looking out onto trees lining a small branch of the Chicago River, and has its own bar. It reminded me of someone’s modern but comfortable back porch—bright with sunlight and airy with open windows (it was one of those gorgeous late-summer days in Chicago). The window view is lined with tables for two, and along the wall are several cozy bright-orange couch-and-table setups that seat two to six people. One of Chicago’s popular architectural boat tours has its landing right at the foot of stairs that come out the back of Quay’s lounge. While we lunched we watched the boat fill up, take off, and return.

In the spirit of coziness we sat in a couch nook. The drink list has a nice selection of decently priced reds and whites, some good ones by the glass, as well as beers and liquors to satisfy almost any taste. The bottle of the Santa Margherita, Alto Pinot Grigio we ordered was beautifully chilled; it tasted of the joys of a warm summer day.

Our waitperson worked hard at opening the bottle using the waiter’s corkscrew—it looked like she might not make it so I suggested she set it down on the couch to steady it. She said, no, we have to learn to do it this way; I practice on all my friends! That was the kind of friendly, relaxed attitude of everyone in the restaurant; yet we got totally professional service throughout our visit.

We trusted our server’s recommendations for appetizers and were not disappointed. We shared an order of the mussels steamed in Chicago’s own 312 Ale—dark, rich broth with lemongrass and chives that we couldn’t get enough of. We dipped the several kinds of bread in it and then asked to keep it on the table to dip our potatoes and more bread in during our meal. The roasted beet salad was simple and good—the light, white vinaigrette dressing went very well with the bitterness of the watercress and arugula and the sweetness of the red onion and beets.

My companion ordered the salmon with smoky beans, bacon and rapini (also known as broccoli rabe or broccolini). The salmon was perfectly cooked; the beans salty and flavorful, a surprisingly nice combination, and the deep green crisp-cooked vegetable had a bitter touch that complimented the richness of the beans.

I ordered the Seafood BLT—it sounded so original. And it was. A generous mixture of little shrimps and scallop and crab chunks, dressed with a pink roasted red pepper mayo that tasted deliciously homemade, was served with bacon on thick slices of toasted brioche. Num. It came with a massive portion of nicely browned though slightly dry French fries that I couldn’t finish. In fact I couldn’t eat all the sandwich either. So I asked for a doggie bag—and ate the remainder for dinner that night.

Since we’d heard that Quay had a fabulous pastry chef, we opted for dessert. After our server gave us a lively and enthusiastic description of each option, we selected the goat cheese cream cheesecake and the Banana Tres Leche cake. My friend enjoyed the dense cake soaked in custard, topped with whipped cream and served with roasted pineapple and a light caramel sauce. But it couldn’t compare to my dessert.

It’s hard to describe how delicious that goat cheese item was—the goat cheese mixture sat in a perfectly rounded mold atop a wafer thin slice of what I think was white chocolate, with homemade peach jam smeared out from one edge in the nouveau cuisine approach to presentation and a line of peach jam topped with almond crumble out from the other edge. Light yet rich, sweet and tart, smooth and crunchy—a feast of contrasting textures and flavors that I will go back for. I secretly wanted to lick my plate clean like I used to do with ice cream when I was a little kid. The baklava straw topping it and the dark Rainier cherries on the side almost seemed like afterthoughts. The dish was a masterpiece even without them.

By the way, the descriptions for each item on the Quay menu are unusually helpful—unlike many menus that leave you wondering what they really mean. And we appreciated the extra “color” our server supplied in her explanations.

Address: 465 E. Illinois. Look for the elegant black awning out on Illinois—Quay is located in the huge red brick building known as the River East Arts Center.

Phone: 312.981.8400,  Email: info@quaychicago.com

Parking: Across the street underground and Quay will validate your ticket so you’ll pay only $10 (for up to four hours).

CTA/walk:  Half a mile from Michigan or catch the CTA bus 29 at Illinois to Navy Pier.

This place is definitely worth a trip—if for the goat cheese cream cheesecake alone!

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Domaine Carnernos sparkling American wines top the charts

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Eileen CraneEileen Crane’s ordinary conversation is sprinkled liberally with interesting stories and lots of facts about fine wines and the foods that go with them, including fresh oysters, double- and triple-cream cheeses, and many more culinary delights. And that’s probably because she’s a graduate of Culinary Institute of America and the President and Chief Winemaker at the Domaine Carneros estate. Domaine Carneros is the winery for which she was hand-picked by Claude Taittinger to build and lead the American home of his French Champagne Taittinger dynasty.

Eileen and her group met for lunch at a downtown Chicago restaurant known for its fabulous seafood, GT Fish & Oyster. The place’s smart, sophisticated design made a great backdrop for enjoying the latest vintages from the winery.

Sipping the Brut Vintage Cuvee 2008, Eileen tells the story of a time a few years ago when she first learned about the International Wines for Oysters Competition. Held each year at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, DC. the contest seemed a perfectly natural place for her to enter that year’s Domaine Carneros Brut. Eileen wasn’t surprised when it ended up winning, hands down, over several hundred competitors from more than a dozen countries around the world.

Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage Cuvee, made using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, is the estate’s signature wine. It’s aged three years and is perfect to serve when it’s released but is also designed to increase in complexity as it ages. The latest 2008 vintage surprises and delights your taste buds—extraordinarily elegant and well-balanced with a long, luscious finish. It makes a fabulous sipping wine and also goes beautifully with lots of foods: fresh oysters, shellfish, fish, rich cheeses, poultry and a variety of cuisine styles. Loved drinking it with GT’s deliciously fresh oysters and their Crudos, a small collection of fish and seafood items prepared with unique flavors and sauces and served on a giant block of natural wood.

All Domaine Carneros wines are not just superbly crafted; they’re also certified organic and DC is the only California winery to achieve that distinction for all its wines. When asked about the effects of the recent drought, Eileen said California escaped drought altogether and none of their vines suffered. In fact, she said, “We need agricultural workers, so maybe the places that have no work for workers because of drought could send those folks to California.”

Sparkling wines are growing in popularity in the U.S. But in the 1700s it was a brand new thing in France. “Madame Pompadour introduced sparkling wines to the court. She turned Louis XV on to them. She is believed to have said, ‘Champagne is the only wine a woman can drink and still remain beautiful.’ You must have an advocate like that in order to get a new product introduced and accepted in the market.”

Profoundly grateful to the long-ago intervention of Madame Pompadour, guests let Eileen pour from the latest version of DC’s greatest star wine, Le Reve. French for “The Dream”, the Le Reve 2006 vintage is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes using the traditional method Champagne and then aged in the bottle, on the lees, for five and a half years. This one, the 15th vintage in their long line of fine Blanc de Blancs, is also made to age beautifully. Some of the aromas you’ll notice include buttery, yeasty brioche, white flowers, fruit and more. The palate caresses with crème brulee and toasted almond and notes of white fruit. And you’ll love the long silky finish.

Eileen explained that this vintage needed only a small amount of dosage (a traditional sugar and wine mix added to balance sparkling wines) to reach perfection. Her guests explored the taste of East vs. West coast oysters—and came out firmly divided—but voted unanimously and joyfully that Le Reve made a perfectly beautiful accompaniment.

Taittinger told her when he recruited her in 1987 that he wanted to create America’s best Blanc de Blancs. She remembers fondly when she tasted the first Le Reve vintage in a social situation. She vividly recalls feeling stunned at how beautiful it was. “Ah, so this is how it tastes!” she said to herself. After spending all those years and months babysitting the grapes, the juice, and the wine in the lab, the experience of tasting it in a social situation opened her eyes to the splendor of her creation.

In fact, that Le Reve vintage was so spectacular that owner Claude Taittinger opted to serve it at his millennium party at his hotels in Paris-an American sparkling wine!

Eileen made a point of saying that Le Reve is a special-occasion wine for her, too, not just for the buying public. She says you don’t have to drink the whole bottle at once—and recommends using a closure suitable for fine sparkling wines. You don’t need to pay a lot—try this champagne wine stopper from Crate & Barrel. She said she and her husband have sometimes toasted with a single glass of Le Reve and then, after stoppering and refrigerating the remainder, gone off to enjoy a week’s vacation. They then happily returned and enjoyed a welcome-home toast from that same bottle of Le Reve, still elegant, perfectly balanced and beautifully bubbly.

Eileen tells another cool story about how in France all the winemakers have dressing rooms designed into their wineries. She said Taittinger suggested she include these in her design for Domaine Carneros. But when she asked and was told what they were for, she insisted they be taken out of the design. Apparently, in France it is important for workers to arrive in suits to show that they are doing a professional job. She told him it doesn’t work that way in America. So they took the dressing rooms out and put in an employee break room instead.

Domaine Carneros is known for its award-winning sparkling wines, but they also use some of their grapes to create a small quantity of 100% Pinot Noir vintage. Their latest, the 2010, has aromas of cherry and pomegranate with hints of herbs like clove and sandalwood and goes fabulously with foods like beef and poultry, pork and salmon.

To go with the main courses, Eileen poured glasses of the 2010 Pinot Noir—a velvety smooth wine, perfectly balanced after being aged 10 months in oak barrels and then 8 months in the bottle. Despite less than ideal growing conditions in 2010, this vintage was carefully nurtured to deliver “expressive aromas, fresh and well-defined flavors, and a bright, balancing acidity.” I loved its beautifully blended, silky taste, and everyone agreed it worked wonderfully with some of GT Fish & Oyster’s lunch items—their delightful fish and chips, tomato-sauced mussels, fish tacos, and excellent crab cakes (see pictures).

Next Eileen next poured her guests flutes of DC’s Brut Rosé Cuvee de la Pompadour. She says she loves the wild strawberry and peachy nose of the rose and confesses to happily drinking this wine all summer. This beautifully dry, silky textured, delicate salmon-colored sparkling wine bears absolutely no resemblance to what some older folks may remember of early American rosé wines. Surprise and delight yourself with a bottle of this gem—lovely as an aperitif or paired with duck, salmon and fresh berries-and with desserts.

It went very nicely indeed with GT’s fabulous Salted Caramel Tart, served topped with an egg-shaped mound of Chantilly whipped cream-a dessert worth traveling for. A beautiful wine, eminently suitable to welcome guests or to accompany fine fare.

La Reve is less than 1% of their production. Rosé is 5%. Pinot Noir 22%. Their total production is 55,000-considered a very small winery. But Eileen says they are a very friendly winery with a big visitor center. If you’re going to the area, come in and enjoy the cheese plate with some of their wines. The place is gorgeous-literally a castle-styled mansion that’s patterned after the Taittinger chateau.

Eileen says there’s an old saying: “When you get married, the first wine that should be in your mouth should be a sparkling champagne.” I like that—and hey, you don’t have to be getting married to live by it.

Ask your favorite wine supplier to order you some, or if you’re out and about in Chicago, look for Domaine Carneros wines at the following fine restaurants:

RL Restaurant (Ralph Lauren, 115 E Chicago Ave, 3124751100

Sixteen at Trump International Hotel, 401 N Wabash Ave, 3120588800
Pops for Champagne, 601-605 N State, 3122667677
Ki Kis Bistro, 900 N Franklin St, 3123355454
III Forks, 333 E Benton Place St, 3129384303
Mon Ami Gabi, 2300 N Lincoln Park W, 7733488886
Gemini Bistro, 2075 N Lincoln, 7735252522
Mastros Restaurant, 520 N Dearborn St, 3125215100
Hugo’s, 1024 N Rush St, 3129889021
GT Fish & Oyster, 531 N Wells St, 3129293501
Gibson’s Steak House, 1028 N Rush St, 3122668999
RPM Italian, 52 W Illinois St, 3122221988

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How to do a rum tasting – plus top 7 rums

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WMT Interior 1Did you know how varied and complex rum can be? I had just begun to learn this from a small rum tasting session at The WeatherMark Tavern, 1503 S. Michigan. Check out their flyer listing 40 types of rums and describing the amazing flavors you’ll find in various rums.

Then recently I continued my education with some folks from RumForAll. They conducted an educational session at Carmichael’s Chicago Steak House , 1052 W. Monroe, for local bartenders, restaurateurs and press. It’s weird to walk in and see nearly 30 glasses set up for each person!

I didn’t realize that rums are awarded points just like wines. Who knew how complex and fascinating the flavors can be in a rum?

How to do a rum tasting

I learned that tasting rum is similar to tasting wine but slightly different. First, we were instructed to swirl the rum around and stick our noses into the glass to capture the aromas. The RumforAll people had us guess what we detected – a few folks guessed right some of the time. You’ll be surprised when you read some of my notes below at the range of aromas and flavors in these different distillations.

Next, they said, take a tiny sip and rinse it around in your mouth. This prepares your tongue and palate for the full experience. Then you take another sip and let it flow slowly around your mouth. Notice the flavors when it first hits your tongue and then when it gets further back in your mouth and then after you swallow. Like fine wines, some rums can have a long finish that keeps on giving.

Our next step was to guess the brand and the country of origin. A few of the more experienced bartenders in attendance were miraculously accurate on naming the brands. Then the facilitators revealed the correct information for each brand on the screen.

We were moving along at a fairly quick pace so my notes are brief, and the aromas and flavors get a little jumbled together. But I hope the below is a good start for you to begin appreciating the joys of rum as a mixer, a straight drink, or an after-dinner treat. There are a few tips on serving, too, here and there in the notes.

Enjoy!

Standout rums from my tasting:

1. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusive – root beer, brown sugar, honey – dessert in a glass

2. Ron Abuelo 7 year old – light aroma, very complex taste, spices, butter, estate-grown, molasses-based, Panama

3. Appleton Estate Reserve – 95 pts, brown butter, acid finish, black tea, 8 yr blend of both pot and column stills, good for cocktails, swap for cognac in a Sidecar

4. Bacardi 8 – 94 pts, prune, 8 yrs in American oak

5. Don Q Gran Anejo – 93 pts, butterscotch, aged 3-12, bananas foster nose

6. Cruzan Estate Dark – Christmas spices, dark cocoa, woodiness, bourbon oak, highly distilled, Virgin Islands – just coming back to the U.S.

7. Shellback Silver Rum – sweet, vanilla; they also make Spiced Rum

Other interesting rums we tried:

Zacapa Rum 23 Solera – woody, fresh barrels, aged 6-23 in barrels that held bourbon and sherry, Guatemala

10 Cane Rum – mixed production, molasses on back tongue, Trinidad & Tobago

Banks 7 Golden Age – musty, nuts, forest, blend of 23 rums from 7 places

Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole – fruit, spice, vegetal, dates, nutmeg, grassy, salt on back of tongue, serve with one cube and lime or coconut water)

Brugel Especial – extra dry, for mixing or alone with a twist, Dominican Republic

 

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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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Lovin' how Chicago does it!