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Posts tagged “Pasta

Chi-Town Pt.1

I’ve been in Chicago for work this past week.  Well…to be more precise, I was staying in downtown Chicago, but working in Hammond, Indiana. We have eaten a LOT while in Chicago and Hammond, so I think I’ll narrow it down to the places of our best meals:

Chop House

The lobster bisque at the Chop House.  It was the best version I had during the trip (and I tried 2 others while I was here) with the right amount of cream to stock, and good chunks of lobster meat.  My only criticism was that the portion was much too small for something so delicious.  I wanted to lick the bowl clean!

Jack Binion’s (Horseshoe Hammond)

The bread plate at this steakhouse was the highlight of the meal, being that I don’t eat beef and the seafood was only sub-par.  I loved the bread plate because of the variety and freshness of the choices.  There was raisin bread, lavash, onion-feta focaccia, and sourdough, along with warm temperature butter.  It was perfect and I would have been happy with just this plate.

Rosebud

Parpadelle with sausage in a tomato sauce.  The pasta was cooked a little overcooked but quite honestly, we were all so hungry that night that everything tasted amazing.  In retrospect, it was not as good as the pasta I had at Bencotto last week.

However, I also had an order of cannoli to go and found to my surprise that the order came with TWO huge cannolis.  These were actually pretty good and best part was that it was piped to order.  My greatest criteria for cannolis.  The ricotta filling was a little grainy, but it was not overly sweet.  I’d give the cannolis a 6.5/10 (for reference, I’d give Solunto’s cannolis a score of 9/10).

Peninsula: The Lobby

I had talked my colleagues into joining me in my darkness and sin…or better known as chocolate.  Loads and loads of chocolate.  I present to you: the chocolate buffet of the hotel Peninsula’s The Lobby.  Of course, we ate dinner first there and I had a light salad, but that was really just to make sure I didn’t only have sugar in my system for that night.  Oh my word…it was an endless selection of dessert confections that surrounded the center table.  It was so delicious and even as I think about it while typing this, I am craving chocolate.  The desserts (I can’t remember all the varieties I had) were all scrumptious!  There were cakes, brownies, cookies, mousses, puddings, and pies.  My favorites was a dark chocolate crunch cake (first plate, top left) and surprisingly…the white chocolate banana dome (second plate, top right).

This is just the first post of two and probably the best to come!

Chop House
60 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60654

Jack Binion’s Steakhouse
777 Casino Center Dr
Hammond, IN 46320

Rosebud
720 N Rush St
Chicago, IL 60611

Peninsula: The Lobby
108 E Superior St
Chicago, IL 60611

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Fresh Pasta…Bellissimo!

While working at my downtown client, my senior KMF emailed me asking if I’d had any lunch plans and I didn’t since I only planned on eating my usual salad at my desk.  Also, a new staff had started with me (LB – she loves food just as much as I do) and she had never met KMF, so it was a perfect time for them to meet and for me to catch up with her.  KMF suggested in going somewhere in Little Italy and I immediately suggested Bencotto as I have wanted to go for some time now.

When we got there, it was quite early lunch at 11:35-ish (but in our line of work, it is the standard lunching hour) so the place was empty.  We were the first customers and had our choice of seating.  Our table inside was right by the window of the beautiful open space.  I love the design of the restaurant.  Imagine being in a glass box, which is pretty much how the restaurant is set up.  There is patio seating as well as a smaller second level with more tables.  A bar stretches across the back wall of the restaurant and I noticed a beautiful red slicer which undoubtedly is for slicing all the different cured meats.

The waiter was your typical Italian accent man who was somewhat flirty (considering we were a bunch of gals with no men in sight with us).  He handed us the menu along with a smaller menu of specials which included some season dishes.  However, I came here with one thing in mind: pasta!

I had read online that they make their pasta in-house daily and during my research, many have commented on the delicious pasta.  There are so few places that make their own fresh pasta daily and it truly does taste different.  True, there are great artisan pastas that can be bought, but there is nothing that can outshine fresh pasta.  The taste, texture, and pull are all different.

Bencotto offers some “pre-made” pasta dishes and also a “build your own” entrees.  You get the choice of sauce and cut of pasta (cut, filled, and gnocchi). KMF, LB, and I all ordered the pasta:

KMF ordered the pappardelle (wide cut fettuccine) with the Bencotto sauce (a pink sauce with bacon).  This was actually my favorite sauce out of all the 3 dishes.  I like the lightness of the pink sauce and of course, everything tastes better with bacon!

LB had the spinach ricotta ravioli in the arrabbiata sauce (spicy marinara).  I tried half a ravioli and gosh darn it…I wanted more!  The ricotta cheese mixture was well balanced, not overly cheesy and addictive.  These raviolis were huge, but one drawback was that it was a little cold.  We all thought it would be even better if they were a little hotter.

For myself, I had the tagliatelle with the salsiccia sauce (spicy marinara with sausage).  I loved their Italian sausage, they were so delicious with lots of spices and my favorite – fennel.  If I could only have the sausage from this dish and put it into the Bencotto sauce, it would be the ultimate dish.

The 3 different combination of pasta dishes we ended up ordering were all delicious and we each loved something from each.  The pastas were cooked perfectly and really let the freshness shine.  The sauces were wonderful complements to the pasta but I think when it really came down to it, the pasta were the big, bright stars.

While leaving, we saw another table with orders of the salads and some other dishes that looked equally scrumptious.  Bencotto, you have my heart formed from something as simple as a flour, egg, and water mixture.  When I need my pasta fix or find myself in Little Italy, I will definitely be back here for more.

Bencotto
750 W Fir St.
San Diego, CA 92101


New York, New York – part 1

This trip was actually made back in April and while going through my picture files, I realized that it’s been already 5 months since I was there!  I can’t believe how time flies!  As I didn’t have any spectacular meal during the week, I decided to use an archive folder for this Sunday’s post!  Now, CP and I were in the City for 5 days and it was my first time there so naturally I wanted to eat EVERYTHING. Alas, my stomach can only take so much food and that is why I hand picked a few places that I MUST have. Among them was Otto.

I had read about this place forever and I wanted to try it!  I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking:

The “ticket” we got while we waited for our table.  I loved the train schedule board that indicates when your table’s ready.  A much better way for waiting on a table than the vibrating coasters.  Once we were seated, I had the hardest time deciding on what to get as I was not starving, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from sampling everything!

We started off with the Cauliflower “alla Siciliana” antipasti.  I remembered how deliciously seasoned the cauliflowers were and how I thought I could just make a meal out of this!  Along with…

A simple chopped romaine and red onion salad, simply dressed in a peppery vinaigrette.  All of it was light and perfect after a long day of exploring.

For the main course, I ordered the lasagnette with braised pork shoulder in a tomato sauce.  The pasta was cooked al dente, there were huge chunks of pork shoulders, and the sauce helped tie everything together.

CP ordered the rigatoni with escarole and sweet Italian sausage, tossed with a olive oil and garlic.  However, being the ever perspective person that I was, I knew the minute the plate came to CP’s side, he immediately was disappointed.  You see, CP prefers his pasta dishes to come with sauce, usually of the red variety and none other.  Thus, I knew this very well and without even asking if he liked it after his first couple of bites, I suggested that we switch cause I really liked his dish.  I liked both, but I knew that CP would like mine more so I traded.  I didn’t mind since his dish was actually more in tune with my tastes.  It was a win-win situation!

To wrap up the evening, we finished off with an order of gelato: hazelnut stracciatella and the coveted OLIVE OIL!!!  My word, let me tell you…once I tried olive oil gelato, it has officially become my favorite gelato flavor ever.  The nuttiness, sweet, creamy concoction is just frozen perfection!

CP made a good point while on this trip: I don’t ever travel without a food agenda or motivation.  Every move I make while traveling tends to circle around food and this is very true.  I discover a city not only through its landmarks and history, but their food as well.  Food is so deeply ingrain with every culture and given the fact that I grew up with food being always a focal point for celebrations and quality time spent with loved ones…is it such a surprise?

Eat on my friends!

OTTO
One Fifth Ave.
New York City, NY 10003


Celebration at 1500 Ocean

This weekend was CP’s birthday and I wanted to plan something nice for him.  Last year, the Padres were in town and so that was a no brainer birthday plan for a loyal Padres fan.  However, the boys were away in Arizona this year and I could not do a road trip game with him due to work travel (in fact, I’m writing this post as I am en route to Oklahoma City).  What to do…what to do?…

My brilliant plan came together over the course of a few weeks a couple months ago.  I got us tickets for a 2-hour San Diego Harbor Excursion that took us all around the San Diego bay.  When I bought the tickets, I really had hoped that CP had never gone on one of these cruises.  Like many locals, we rarely actually do any of the touristy things unless we run out of daily things to do. 🙂


The cruise ended up being a really fun thing to do and we got to see part of the harbor that we have never seen before.  Areas included the far industrial San Diego, naval bases, and ship yards.  We also saw fairly familiar sights such as the Convention Center, Coronado Island, and Point Loma.  The weather was beautiful and not a cloud in sight!  (I was freaking out in the morning when I woke up to thick clouds.  I was trying to come up with a backup plan as I was doing my squats and dead-lifts at the gym, but thank goodness none was needed.)

After our nice cruise around the ocean front, we headed over the Coronado Bridge over to the Hotel del Coronado for dinner.  I tried my best to keep the location a secret from CP until we ended up right in front of the restaurant – 1500 Ocean.

Each time I have walked by the restaurant while visiting Hotel del or beach, I wanted to try the place.  1500 Ocean has been on my list of places to eat for a long time, but I wanted a special occasion to come here (it’s not exactly the cheapest place to dine).  What better time than to celebrate my sweetie’s birthday?!  So when I decided on the Harbor cruise, I immediately knew where I wanted to take him for dinner.  I made reservations about a month ahead and noted when I did that this was for his birthday.

We were seated immediately when we arrived at our reservation time (7:15pm) and the place was already pretty bustling.  Our table was out in the patio area with this gorgeous view of the ocean.

Honestly…how can you beat a table side view like this?!  It was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t have asked for a better setting.

A bread cloth basket was brought to the table with room temperature butter.  Nestled in the cleverly folded cloth were little sourdough spears (as I had dubbed them.  CP mentioned other names too like ‘sourdough cigars’ and ‘sourdough blunts’…which is an accurate description of the bread shape).  The bread was good, but I prefer it when restaurants serve hot bread.

Then a waiter came with a little plated amuse bouche of shaved melon and squid.  I was initially hesitant at the combination and was not sure if it would work in my mind.  However, I decided to put away that hesitation and at the moment, I placed my entire trust in the chef’s hands.  When I placed the fruit and squid into my mouth, I was surprised how good the combination tasted in my mouth.  The cantaloupe had a mild sweetness and contrasted to the briny squid.  I also tasted a citrus of lemons that cut through some of that brine and it all just worked.  What a good start!

The restaurant offers a tasting menu that you can build your 4-course meal from their entire menu for a set price.  This is actually a great option to get a tasting of everything on their menu and is a great deal considering the entrees averaged about $35 a plate.  I wanted to do this and was able to talk CP into it as well, so onward to the food!!

Our appetizer (we both chose the same) was the Hiramasa Crudo.  Thinly sliced sashimi grade yellowtail topped with diced plum, baby fennel, pistachio, basil, and espelette peppers.  CP really enjoyed this, as did I.  The fish was so fresh and I am all about unadulterated fish, but once again the chef was able to mingle the flavors together and enhancing the overall taste of the dish.

Next came the Saffron Spaghetti (once again, CP had to have it as did I).  The pasta for starters did not resemble “spaghetti” the traditional way and looked more like linguine.  Not that I’m complaining as linguine is one my preferred and favorite pastas.  I did not get the chance to ask if the pasta was made in-house or bought, but it was cooked al dente and delicious.  What really made this dish stand out were the CHUNKS of Maine lobster and I really mean chunks.  Look at the picture above!  About 45-50% of the dish was composed of the lobster (hidden underneath the bottarga crumbs).  Succulent and sweet, it was amazing with the thick, spicy tomato broth that had little bits of corn kernels.  I could eat a whole BOWL of this dish!

For my main entrée, I chose the Diver Scallops with summer squash, crispy prosciutto, sun-gold tomatoes.  Three lightly seared scallops sat on top of a zucchini puree, surrounded by halved tomatoes and sliced squash, and topped with fried bits of prosciutto.  See, this is why I can never steer away from the scallops whenever it appears on the menu especially at a restaurant like 1500 Ocean where they specialize in seafood.  The scallops were not overcooked (a TERRIBLE thing to do to these beauties) and they were so fresh that there was not even a whiff of the “seafood smell”.  They were sweet, tender, and just melt in your mouth AWESOME (I revert back to being a child when I get excited)!  I particularly enjoyed the little fried bits of prosciutto because who doesn’t love a little fried bacon??

CP ordered the White Sea Bass for his entrée.  The fish was filleted with the skin still on and seared till the skin crisped up.  The sea bass sat on top of a bed of black quinoa and ‘nduja (spicy pork sauage) cooked with mussel broth, and was topped off with a little ceviche of calamari.  Visually, the dish was stunning and I enjoyed the spicy mussel broth most of all.  I also tried a little bit of the fish and I think it may have been slightly over cooked (maybe due to the searing of the skin which can cause dryness to fish).   However, the flavors all worked together and CP enjoyed his dish which was all that counts for me.

To wrap up our 4-course meal, we each got to choose a dessert and shared:

The Brown Butter Cake sat on top of the toasted almond semifreddo, surrounded by strawberry port sauce, fresh berries, and was topped with sugar twill.  The cake was moist in the center and crunchy on the outside.  It was very heavy tasting and I was glad that it came with all the fresh berries and mint.

The ‘Cookies and Crème’ was my favorite of the 2 desserts.  It came with a trio of the daily ice cream selections which were Vanilla, Caramel, and Cinnamon for that day.  Each scoop was on top of a cookie crumbles and 2 cookies were nestled in between the ice cream scoops – chocolate chip and chocolate.  The ice creams were nice, creamy, and fresh (I can’t stand old ice cream where it has begun crystallizing).  My favorite flavor was the cinnamon and I would highly recommend this dessert if you come.

Since I did mention in my reservation that it was CP’s birthday, the restaurant gave us a complementary dessert plate and a little card too!  I thought that this was really nice and I didn’t even have to ask for it.  Actually, I forgot to mention that when our waiter came to greet us in the beginning of the meal, he wished CP a Happy Birthday too.  Now that is what I call good service!

The little dessert plate had a mini chocolate chip cookie, butter cookie, a scoop of sorbet, and more fresh berries.  What was so fun about this was the candle.  It was a trick candle that just did NOT want to give up.  CP blew it out multiple times, but it kept relighting itself and even I tried helping to get it out.  The candle burned all the wax until it was nothing but a small pool of blue wax and charred wick.  We couldn’t stop laughing at how amazingly resilient the candle was.

We had a wonderful dinner and the service at 1500 Ocean was impeccable.  From the view, servers, food, and ambience, it is a great place for a special occasion or for a romantic meal.  Although I won’t be coming here often, I will definitely consider 1500 whenever I need a setting for celebrations of all sorts.

1500 Ocean
(inside Hotel del Coronado)
1500 Orange Avenue
Coronado, CA 92118


A trip down memory lane

It has been so long since I have: 1. Logged into my account to WRITE something, 2. seriously considered putting up a post, and 3. actually logging in and writing a real post.

I have failed tremendously as a blogger.  As such, I hereby consider myself an n00b once again in the food blogging world.  Please be nice to me.

A year has come and gone as it always does.  However, this year I do not have a big trip to look forward to.  For the past 2 years, I have made a summer trip overseas to Europe on both occasions.  My first trip was back in the summer of 2008.  The trip was my graduation present to myself and also, my last real BIG trip before I started my career (aka being an adult).

In 2008, I made my first trip off of the North American continent since I was like 4 or 5 years old?  I don’t even remember the last time I set foot off of this continent because I was so young.  On top of that, I was setting out on my 25-day excursion on my OWN.  Well…technically, I wasn’t completely by myself since I was joining a tour group.

For 25-days, I let the good people of Contiki decide where I should be, where I would be staying, and where I would be exploring in general.  My gosh…25 days of non-stop traveling, carrying my 45 pound luggage on my own (I would get a little help occasionally) and going around foreign countries with little to no knowledge of the native tongue.  However, it was one HELL of an adventure!

I don’t even know where to start to describe my very first trip to Europe.  So instead, I’ll give a reader’s digest version and let the food pictures document my trip!

During my 2008 trip, I visited the following countries and cities:

  • UK – London
  • France – Paris, Beaujolais Wine Region, French Riviera, Nice
  • Monaco
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Italy – Verona, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Pompeii
  • Greece – Corfu, Athens

These were the main cities we had visited during our trek through Europe.  There were other cities that we had made stops in between our destinations, but they have since been lost on me.  However, as you can see here, I had my wide range of sights, sounds, and cuisines!

Please do keep a few things in mind:

  • I had just graduated and left my part-time job about 2 months before the trip and I had spent majority of my savings on the trip.
  • My choices were limited at times and thus, I ate a lot of bread and anything to keep me from starving.
  • Yes, I did more than just gelato (you will see a lot of it).  However, when I was in Italy, it was the end of June and the heat plus humidity was KILLING me.  All I wanted during the day time was gelato and ice cold water.  That’s all I needed honestly.

For the record: I was well fed and never did I once go hungry for long.  And I am sure there’s the question of weight gain.  The honest answer is I had no idea.  I stayed away from the scale after my trip and the whole summer for that matter because you know what?  I was about to start my working life and I was going to have as much fun as I possibly could in those two and half months!

Let the reminiscing begin!!

London, UK:

Chicken Tikka Masala with naan

Sandwiches from Harrod's

Dessert from Harrod's - a pistachio cake with strawberries

Paris, France:

One of MANY baguette sandwiches I had, but they are so yummy!

Laudree...I squealed in delight just thinking about this place

My precious!!! These beautiful macaroons were amazing and well worth the money.

Delicious pizzas/cheese foccaias from a little bakery. A cheese (back) and a proscuitto & goat cheese (front)

Look at the stack of Nutella

Nutella, banana, coco crepe - best combination ever

Duck a l'Orange

Beaujolais Wine Region:

Wine tasting

Bruschetta

Roasted chicken with vegetables

Tiramisu-like dessert...still was really good

Barcelona, Spain:

The amazing market right off of La Rambla – La Boqueria

Falafel sandwich with seasoned califlower from Maoz

Garlic Bruschetta

Traditional Paella...the pan was bigger than a tire rim!

French Riveria, Nice, Monaco:

Lasagna and salad

Prosciutto & Goat Cheese Salad

Sangria

A different goat cheese and prosciutto salad

They killed smurffs to make this cold, creamy, blue concoction

No smurfs for me, only Fig gelato!

Venice, Italy:

One of my favorite surprise flavors!

Pisa & Florence, Italy:

Best fettuccini alfrado I've ever encountered! Nothing like that the States make.

Eggplanet pizza

Gelato MOUNDS...get in my belly!!

At a group dinner in a little restaurant where we were crammed into a little basement dining hall.

Cold cuts

2 types of bruschetta: white bean and tomato paste.

Pasta course

Roasted chicken

Rome, Italy:

Eggplanet Parmesan

Yes, more gelato because I needed it to function.

Ham and cheese sandwich

Corfu & Athens, Greece:

Chicken plate with pita and fries

Kataifi - honey drenched dessert. Much too sweet even for me

Misc Snacks throughout the trip:

I still think about these amazing Paprika Pringles...I only wish they had these in the US

My goodness...the amazing little Bacetti. Chopped hazelnuts mixed in a smooth ganache, topped with a whole hazelnut and enrobed in dark chocolate.

Really cute snack - a wafer shaped like a hippo, filled with hazelnut (or chocolate) cream and chocolate dipped and covered with crunchies.