Retirement is Exhausting – Part Two

Retirement in our house means constant activity – diving head first into all the fun things that cross our path.

Last week, I told you about our adventures with Buddy and Bruce.

This time it’s all about food.

First Bites Bash 2016

First Bites Bash kicked off Restaurant Week in Chicago.

The Union Station Grand Concourse was transformed into a beautiful party setting with over 60 food tasting stations and a couple of dozen more spots serving beer, wine and spirits.

The food was the star of the show at this event.

This will come as a shock to many of you, but I’m not even going to talk about the wine.

First Bites 2016 Union Station

The 60+ stations featured restaurants from across Chicagoland, each serving a bite representing their culinary genre.

Most of what we tasted was amazing but a few bites really stood out.

In no particular order, here are the restaurants whose food we liked the best.

These are places you should put on your list when visiting the greatest food city in the country, Chicago.

May Street Steakhouse

May Street Steakhouse First Bites 2016

Cinnamon, chipotle and coconut Allen Brothers beef tenderloin fajitas

An unexpectedly delicious combination of flavors, each complementing the other without any one taking center stage.

May Street Steakhouse, 1146 West Cermak Road, Chicago.

Vermillion

Vermillion First Bites 2016

Quinoa chickpea Venezuelan arepa, mango slaw and a duo of mango-chipotle mole & chimichurri mint chutney

A brilliant depiction of this great restaurant’s Indian-Latin flair.

Vermillion, 10 West Hubbard Street, Chicago.

Bar Siena

Bar Siena First Bites 2016

Sweet corn ravioli, chiodini mushrooms, truffle butter

I’m a sucker for any dish that features sweet corn. This dish was both light and hearty. How is that possible?!

My darling goddaughter commented on my Instagram post that she had enjoyed this dish at the restaurant and gave it her double thumbs up endorsement.

Bar Siena, 832 West Randolph Street, Chicago.

Remington’s

Remington's First Bites Bash 2016

Lobster Deviled Egg

Lobster. Deviled. Egg.

Enough said.

Remington’s, 20 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse

Gibson's First Bites Bash 2016

USDA Gibson’s Prime Angus Beef Tartare

This one is for you, Katie Clooney.

I’m not generally drawn to tartare but this bite just looked so inviting. Bright, flavorful and served at the perfect temperature, Gibson’s beef tartare was a definite hit.

Gibson’s prides itself on being the only restaurant group with its own USDA certification.

“Our beef is breed specific, Black Angus, and raised on sustainable farms in the Upper Midwest. Our beef is corn fed for 120 days and aged for 40 days, providing maximum flavor and tenderness.” – via Gibson’s website

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse, 1028 North Rush Street, Chicago (plus several suburban locations).

South Branch

South Branch First Bites Bash 2016

PB&J – smoked pork belly, date jam, crumbled goat cheese, candied walnuts and micro celery

This dish was probably the winner for me. So whimsical and so very delicious. Truly tasted like PB&J – the best PB&J you’ve ever had.

South Branch, 100 South Wacker Drive, Chicago.

Bar Pastoral

Bar Pastoral is a fabulous little restaurant that happens to be in my sister-in-law, Kate’s neighborhood. In fact, just a few days before the First Bites Bash, Peter, Kate and I had dinner at Bar Pastoral.

Peter enjoyed the lamb meatballs with butternut squash tomato sauce and Zingerman’s cream cheese. That very same dish was served at Bar Pastoral’s station at First Bites Bash.

Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of this beautiful and yummy dish.

Bar Pastoral has a great wine list and offers an amazing selection of cheeses (there’s a cheese shop attached to the restaurant!).

Bar Pastorale Cheese Plate

We enjoyed this cheese plate at the restaurant. Each cheese was brilliantly paired with a jam or spread.

When you order the cheese plate at Bar Pastoral, my advice is to rely on the staff’s recommendations. The selection is vast. These folks know how to put together the perfect combination of flavors and textures.

The menu at Bar Pastoral offers a variety of dishes from mac and cheese to hanger steak and from charcuterie to salmon.

The perfect neighborhood bistro.

Bar Pastoral, 2947 North Broadway Street, Chicago.

These are just a few of the remarkable restaurants in our great city. For a complete list of the First Bites Bash participants check out Choose Chicago.

No one paid me to say this.

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Reality Meets Reality TV at RPM Italian

While home in Chicago I got together with my dear friend, Peggy, and her daughter, Monique, for an evening of fun in the city. Monique and her husband recently bought a condo in the River North neighborhood so we were taking a tour of their new home, enjoying a glass of wine and trying to figure out which fabulous neighborhood restaurant to walk to for dinner.

Monique ticked off a list of the places nearby. When she mentioned RPM I nearly jumped out of my seat. “WHAT?!?! YES!!! PLEASE!!!!!!”

RPM sign

One of my many worthwhile hobbies is watching reality TV. Generally I stick to Bravo programming but occasionally I branch out to other channels for something very, very special…like Giuliana & Bill. I love them. I love everything about them. I love their sense of humor, their dedication to family and I love how they fit together. I love baby Duke. So to have the opportunity to dine at their restaurant, RPM Italian, a place I watched develop from a kernel of an idea with Mama DePandi to a wildly popular Chicago dining hotspot, was beyond exciting.  Reality meets reality TV.

As we walked in the door we saw this sign.

RPM Video sign

Oh be still my heart! If only I could be so lucky as to be present during a night they were filming the show. Yes! You have my consent!

Alas, the sign was just a tease, a false promise of stardom. The night was not going to mark my debut on reality TV.

Probably for the best though since, in the midst of all the adorable young folks who had come straight from work, I wished I had dressed a little more “312” and not so “847”.

The restaurant did not have a reservation available until 10:30pm but we were determined. Clearly the reality TV gods wanted us to dine chez Giuliana & Bill because as soon as we walked in we spied 4 empty seats at a high top table in the bar area. Elbows flying we sped to the seats and claimed our spot. Let me just say that high top tables and, more specifically the chairs at these tables, are made for the young or the super tall. It took me a full minute and a half to hop my high chair up to the table. Very smooth. Very graceful.

I had a hard time concentrating on the menu because I was just so darn tickled to be in the restaurant of my dear (reality TV show) friends. Monique was quite amused by my incessant giggling. But I finally focused on the important task at hand and helped choose some small plate selections.

We started with burrata and Michigan cherries. I’ve never turned down a dish featuring this creamy, melt-in-your-mouth cheese. It did not disappoint!

We complemented that with a generous platter of prosciutto and bread.

But the star of the first course was the fried olives. Fried olives you say? Yes, fried olives…with sausage and mozzarella. Holy Moley! They were delicious. Of course almost anything is delicious when fried. But this combo was like – and I mean this in the best possible way – the most spectacular bite of green olive pizza EVER! This dish cost a mere $5. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to get several orders to dump into my purse for a little midnight snack. They were that good.

fried olives

For our main course we split two small plates: truffled gnocchi with ham and peas and short rib tagliatelle Bolognese. It was the perfect amount of food and was so tasty that we ate it before I remembered to take a picture. Sorry, my bad.

Monique’s sweet husband Neil joined us after a long day in the office and after we had polished off most of what we had ordered.  I offered to get another couple plates of the fried olives – taking one for the team.

Fortunately we saved a teeny, tiny bit of room for dessert. I’m pretty powerless over anything caramel so was instantly drawn to the chocolate budino with caramel sauce and cocoa nibs. It was as good as it sounds. We also enjoyed the Tartufo – a hazelnut gelato with a chocolate shell.

The Melman family has developed many fine restaurants in Chicago over the years. Joining with Chef Partner Doug Psaltis and the oh so fabulous Giuliana and Bill Rancic, they have added RPM Italian to their list of successes.  We had a wonderful evening among dear friends enjoying great food in a beautiful restaurant.

A perfect night even if I didn’t get to have my reality TV debut. Next time. For sure.

cheers at RPM

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Separate Checks?

Girls trip to Napa 069

I love eating. I love my friends.

A+B=Dining Out

So let’s say you make a date, pick a restaurant and head out for an evening of fun.

Do you worry about how the check will be split? I guess “worry” is not the right word but I certainly think about the equity of the bill when I order.  I really, truly believe that it all works out in the end – this time my share might be more, next time you might order a second glass of wine – but in the long run, especially with people you see often, it works out. I’m usually in favor of just splitting a bill evenly…make the math simple, round up and give a bigger tip.

But not always.

What happens if someone in your group never drinks? Or someone ALWAYS gets an appetizer, main course and dessert?

What do you do?  Nothing puts a damper on the end of a fabulous evening like bickering over who hasn’t kicked in their fair share.  Usually everyone figures out their share including tax and tip pretty generously. But sometimes, after all the money is collected, you are still short. Recently I was out for breakfast with the Newcomers group. Afterwards I found out that the person collecting the money had to pitch in an extra $10 to make up for the shortage! I’m sure someone (or several people) just made a simple mistake.  But the result was that one person’s coffee and toast cost her $18. And this was not Paris or New York City.

Many restaurants have a policy forbidding separate checks. Haven’t you seen a waiter cringe as he approaches a table of women?  You just know he’s thinking, “No! No! Why me!?!?”

I have to give a shout out to two restaurants I’ve recently visited for managing this situation so that the end of our evening was simple and smooth.  No buzz kill.

I joined a group of 15 women at Flight Wine Bar in Glenview, Illinois. (YIKES!!! MAYDAY!! Maybe it is just me but I started worrying about the stupid bill before I took my first sip of wine!) This wonderful restaurant serves small plates, large plates, salads, daily specials, fancy cocktails, every day cocktails, and wine in half-glass, full glass and flights.  Lots and lots of options, lots and lots of combinations.  At the end of the night our brilliant saint of a waiter, without being asked to do so,  brought us each a bill including tax and gratuity.  And he got every single person’s order correct.  It was magical! I had not seen many of these women for months and it was so nice to pay my exact share then, hug hug, kiss kiss, depart the restaurant still glowing from the warmth and love of the group.

Last Friday, Peter and I enjoyed dinner with three other couples at The Wine Vault in San Diego.  If you like food and you like wine and you are in San Diego you MUST check this place out.  They feature occasional wine maker dinners led by a member of a winery’s staff, serving a multi-course meal paired with wines from the featured winery.  On Friday nights they offer a 3 course meal (generally a few choices for each course) for $20 with wine pairing available for an additional $15.  On Saturday night it is a 5 course meal with optional wine pairing for a bit more.   Everyone had dinner and the wine pairing, we each got to order whatever we wanted for each course and EVERYONE’S share of the bill was exactly the same.  Easy.Mental.Math.  Bliss!

There is probably no universal answer to this situation. I just need to take a breath and remember to celebrate the friends I am with and the meal I am enjoying.  And let someone else do the math.

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