A Squared: September 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Happening (and Eating) Recently

How is it Monday again and how is it already the last day of September? 2013 has zipped by crazy quickly and with as much as we have on our calendar for next year (already), 2014 is sure to fly by before I know it too.

The last week was super busy and the next one is set to be even busier. I'm currently packing and prepping for a trip to the east coast this week. I'll be doing some work in the Boston suburbs and then spending some quality time in Rhode Island with my parents and sisters.

Here's what else has been happening-- and specifically, what we have been eating lately...


Last week, Kit from The Kittchen and Erin from Color Me Styled hosted a fabulous happy hour for Chicago bloggers at The Goddess & Grocer. The turnout was great and it was so fun to meet some of the girls (and guys) behind my favorite blogs and Twitter feeds like Living's As Easy As 312. Thanks so much for organizing a great night, girls!

Alex and I broke out the bubbly and had a fabulous dinner at The Bedford in Wicker Park to celebrate some promising professional developments. I'll be telling you more about dinner at The Bedford another time, but in the meantime... cheers!

The vault at The Bedford

We hadn't stopped into the French Market in a long time, but after Alex's long run on Saturday (he's in the home stretch of training for the Chicago Marathon in a couple weeks) he came home craving a lobster roll, which is funny because we had actually just eaten lobster rolls a few days earlier. Alex's post-run cravings crack me up. He's like a pregnant woman.

So, I indulged him and we took a walk over to the Chicago French Market. Alex got his lobster roll at the new Da Lobsta stall there. One lobster roll a week is enough for me (and coincidentally, our earlier lobster roll meal was at Da Lobsta's Gold Coast location), so I wandered over to Saigon Sisters to try one of their famous banh mi sandwiches. I have been to their sit down restaurant before, but the French Market stall is where it all began. I tried The Hen House banh mi, which was delicious and spicy with chicken, lemongrass, ginger, mint, lime, mayo, crushed peanut, and chiles. 

On our way out, Alex wanted to stop at Lavazza Expression to grab a pint of straciatella gelato to go. I noticed that they were serving pumpkin pie gelato and being a huge pumpkin-flavored anything lover, I jumped on a cup of that. It was so delicious!

I got such a fun Klout Perk in the mail: Assorted Real Techniques makeup brushes. Amazing! My makeup bag was in dire need of a makeover, so this was perfect.

And finally, let's talk about Sunday brunch. Alex and I made our second visit to Siena Tavern and, as expected, brunch was just as delicious as dinner.

Alex always goes rogue when ordering brunch and rarely gets a breakfast-y item. This brunch was no exception and he ordered a pepperoni pizza. Although seeing how yummy it looks (above), can you blame him? And he has a few slices to take for lunch today... jealous!

 I ordered the artichoke omelet and just look at how pretty and perfect it is. I didn't even want to slice into it! And I am calling it right now: the "sticky potatoes" that come on the side of the omelet are the best breakfast potatoes I have had in Chicago. They are a perfect combination of soft and crispy, dusted with Parmesan and rosemary. They were perfect.

We also saw a bag of the bomboloni go by and we knew we needed an order of those. They are soft, warm, and sugary donuts served with a variety of dipping sauces: whisky-caramel, chocolate hazelnut, raspberry chianti, and vanilla. They were super sweet and rich, so sharing a plate with someone else is the perfect way to enjoy them. But really, they are basically heaven on a plate.

Have a great week!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Finds: [Lightend Up] Twice-Baked Potatoes

I have such fond memories of twice-baked potatoes. They're a bit more work than your typical baked potato, so my mom only made these on special occasions-- like with Christmas dinner or for my dad's birthday. They're a bit of a throwback dish, but for sure the ultimate comfort food: potatoes, sour cream, and cheese. You can't really beat that combination, right?

I think I have only attempted a twice-baked potato maybe once. Generally, I try to avoid them since that potato, sour cream, and cheese trifecta is both delicious, but also really fattening. Well, I was flipping through a new cookbook that my sister gave me for my birthday and came across a recipe for twice-baked potatoes and decided it was time to revisit them. I was feeling inspired this time around because the recipe came from America's Test Kitchen's Comfort Food Makeovers: All Your Favorites Made Lighter. That's right, folks: lighter twice-baked potatoes!

Spoiler alert: These are delicious! They are still super rich, big on flavor, and the outside is crispy with a creamy inside. And the filling kind of tastes like baked potato soup. Also, I always wondered how steakhouses got that prefectly crispy skin on the outside of the baked potato (which I can enver acheive at home). This recipe cleared that up for me and the skins were crsipy and delicious.

I halved the recipe-- using 2 potatoes-- but these are so rich that each of us only ate one half. So, now I have a great lunch packed for today too. Serve these as a side dish for your next special occasion or just on a regular weeknight like we did along with grilled pork tenderloin and broccoli.


  • 4 [8-oz.] Russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 tsp. canola oil *I used light olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and middle positions and heat oven to 400 degrees. Rub potatoes with oil and place directly on the upper rack. Bake until skins are crisp and deep brown and a fork glides easily through flesh, about 1 hour, flipping them over halfway through baking.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl.

Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a wire rack. Transfer baked potatoes to rack and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise, through the narrow side, so the halved potato lies flat. Carefully scoop flesh from each potato half into medium bowl, leaving 1/4-inch thickness of flesh in each shell. Mash potato flesh until smooth, then stir in 1/2 cup cheddar, sour cream, milk, mustard, cooked onion mixture, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Spoon mixture into potato shells, mounding it slightly at center. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheddar.

Bake potatoes on middle rack until shells are crisp and cheese is melted and spotty brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

City Walk #27: Andersonville

Let me begin this post with a little venting. I would have shared this post with you sooner, but after writing half and saving it I came back to finish it and-- poof! It was gone. So, here we are again...

Recently on a quiet weekend morning, Alex and I decided to head up to the Andersonville neighborhood for a City Walk. It's an area we have been to a handful of times, but one that I haven't really explored... if that makes sense? We have been to Andersonville for the Midsommarfest street festival and several times to have dinner at our friend Tony's place. We have never taken the time to just explore though, so it was fun to get to know a nieghborhood that is just far away from us enough to be pretty foreign.

For you non-Chicagoans, Andersonville is an eclectic neighborhood. It is packed with cute cafes, furniture shops, and a few great bars like Marty's (for martinis) and the Hopleaf (known for their wide selection of both mainstream and obscure beers). To locals it is known as a neighborhood rooted in Swedish immigrant heritage that has become the unofficial hub for the city's lesbian community. Only in Chicago, right?

The Walk began at 5205 N. Clark St. [1] and like so many Walks before it, the first stop was gone. The City Walk deck told us to look out for Laundre, an upscale men's clothing store. Sounds cool, right? Well, it is no more and a nail salon called Palette was there in its place.

The next stop was one of the main reasons that Alex and I ventured up to Andersonville on this sleepy morning: Ann Sather [2]. Ann Sather restaurants are an institution in Chicago and I am embarrassed to say that this was our first visit to one! After dining there, I am not sure what we were waiting for. Ann Sather is cafe specializing in Swedish cuisine. You see a lot of meatballs, lingonberries, potato pancakes, and pastries on the menu here, but their signature item is the cinnamon roll.

Alex and I both ordered breakfast wraps here and they were really tasty and satisfying. Mine included eggs, cheese, and avocado with a super spicy homemade salsa on the side. Are you ready to hear the best part? Each breakfast entree comes with your choice of two sides-- one of those choices is not one, but two of their homemade cinnamon rolls! And they are so good. They are served warm with a generous amount of icing and the servers bring them out before your entree arrives, so you get an enormous cinnamon roll "appetizer" to fill you up even before you get your actual meal. The prices here are really reasonable, the cinnamon rolls are amazing, and if you're looking to visit the original Ann Sather (this one in Andersonville!) do it ASAP because it is closing at the end of this year. Rest assured though, they have 3 other locations throughout the city so you can always feed your pastry craving.
Ann Sather Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Right next door to Swedish-inspired restaurant Ann Sather is the Swedish-American Museum [2]. This museum celebrates the heritage and history of Swedes in America and has a pretty vast museum store that looked like a lot of fun. Did I mention that we were in Andersonville on Labor Day so several of the stops on this Walk (including the Museum) were closed for business that day? Well, they were. So enjoy all these facade photos because that's basically all I've got!

The fourth stop on our Walk was a great furniture store called Scout [4]. It was closed that day too, but we have poked around with Tony before and it is a really fun place. They specialize in a unique assortment of both new and antique items for the home.

Further up Clark Street we approached our fifth stop: Women and Children First [5]. This hippie bookstore specializes in feminist literature and is one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Totally fitting for the Andersonville neighborhood, right?

Stop #6 is another one of those long gone establishments... the City Walk card described 5247 N. Clark St. [6] as Wikstrom's, a cafe specializing in Old World Scandinavian treats. From the sound of it, I wish it were still there! In its place, we discovered the Andersonville Galleria, an innovative gallery and market space that features a variety of art, jewelery, and apparel created by local artisans.

Following that, we turned the corner and headed just a block down Berwyn to find our seventh stop on the Walk. Tulip [7] is an Andersonville institution. And it's a sex shop, or as they like to describe it "an intimate toy gallery." I don't think we need to venture any further into a discussion about this establishment!

Our eighth stop was supposed to be a gourmet deli called Urban Epicure at 1512 W. Berwyn [8]. In its place we found Ranalli's of Andersonville, a Chicago area pizzeria. It smelled so good!

The next two stops were all about sweet treats. The first was Kopi - A Traveler's Cafe [9]. This eclectic restaurant specializes in European-style cafe fare and bakery favorites.

I was so disappointed that our final stop on the Walk was closed when we have arrived. We have walked or driven past a few times on prior trips to Andersonville, but it has always been at night when it wasn't open. It's the Swedish Bakery [10] and I am dying to step inside! Check out their amazing array of traditional Swedish cookies, cakes, and pastries on their website.

And last but not least, a stop that wasn't on the City Walk, but that is definitely worth a visit. Urban Orchard is an adorable little boutique grocery store right in Clark Street in Andersonville. They have a cute little cafe counter in the back and shelves stocked with locally sourced produce, high end prepared food products, and craft beers. I had a great time perusing this place and could drop some serious money here if I lived a little closer. Stop in the next time you're in Andersonville!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Prosciutto, Fig & Caramelized Onion White Pizza

Pizza night is a favorite in our house-- especially on the weekends. We try to have one date night out each weekend, but also try to cook a dinner at home (usually with wine and a movie) on the other night so that we can keep our budget in check. I don't know about you though, but on a weekend night a 'typical' dinner just doesn't cut it for me. I don't want to eat the same thing that I would make after a busy workday on a Saturday evening. I want something more fun. This time it was pizza.

I had some dried figs in my pantry that I have been anxious to use up, but wasn't exactly sure how to do so. Then I remembered how well fruit pairs with salty prosciutto and ta-dah! this pizza recipe was born. In addition to sweet figs and salty prosciutto, I added caramelized onions and fresh thyme to the mix along with one of my favorite pizza cheeses: Fontinella. Fontinella melts really well and has a great strong flavor. Think melting quality of mozzarella with the pungent flavor of Parmesan.

It's not your run of the mill pepperoni pizza, but the result is truly delicious. Paired with a simple arugula salad and a glass of wine it's the perfect dinner for date night at home. And I've been eating the leftovers for lunch all week!

  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 medium Vidalia onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • Salt
  • cornmeal
  • 1 pre-made pizza crust
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz. Fontinella, grated
  • 2 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 8-10 dried figs, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds *I'm sure fresh would work well too!
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

 Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add butter. Once melted, add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove onions from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet and place pizza crust on top. Lightly brush the top of the crust with olive oil. Sprinkle about 3/4 of the cheese evenly over the crust leaving about a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Layer the prosciutto evenly over the cheese and then follow with the onions, using as much or as little as you prefer. *I used all of the onions because we are big fans, but a little of these go a long way so you can certainly use less.

Sprinkle remain cheese over the top and then place flig slices evenly over that layer of cheese. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and bake for 15-18 minutes until cheese is melted and begins to brown.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dinner by PeachDish

The kind folks at PeachDish recently gave me an opportunity to try out their meal delivery service and-- always up for a culinary adventure-- I happily obliged.

The premise is pretty simple: You sign up for a subscription, pay $20 a week, and each week PeachDish will ship you all of the ingredients you need to create a 3 course meal for two. One of my favorite parts of this whole program is the element of surprise. I'm a planner and I plan all of my meals out each week before I do my grocery shopping. As you can imagine, the menu planning process can get a little monotonous and sometimes I just run out of creative ideas. It was great to know that PeachDish would take care of it for one night of my week and not knowing what kind of meal was coming my way was a lot of fun!

When my PeachDish package arrived I was pretty excited to tear it open and see what Alex and I would be having for dinner that evening. The package was super organized: each ingredient was labeled and in its own pre-portioned package.

On the menu for us this week: A caprese salad, lamb sausage & potatoes, and lemon-sugar crepes. I love a caprese salad, but it's not something I often prepare at home (especially to prepare a roasted caprese, as the recipe suggested) so that was a fun treat. And merguez sausage is something that would never even occur to me to buy or eat, but Alex and I both enjoyed it. It was fun to step outside our food comfort zone!

The package of ingredients arrives accompanied by a guide that includes the recipe, instructions, and tips for preparing the meal. I appreciated how simple the preparation was for each of the courses and also how easy the instructions were-- you don't have to be a pro in the kitchen to whip up this meal at all.

Fear not, cooking novices! If you require a little bit of extra help, the PeachDish website is updated each week with a step-by-step instructional video for that week's recipes starring Chef Tina too.

And all of that said, the meal was really good! I have to admit that I'm picky when it comes to my ingredients so I was skeptical, but pleasantly surprised. The produce was fresh, the ingredients were quality, and I really appreciated that the meal was light and healthy, but still very satisfying.

Whether you're looking to experiment in the kitchen with some fun and new ingredients or you'd just like the convenience of having someone do the meal planning and shopping for you, PeachDish is a great (and affordable) option for you. Enjoy!

*Editor's Note: This meal was provided to me by PeachDish at no cost, however all of the opinions expressed here are my own. Thanks again, PeachDish!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Weekend Updates & Chicago Food Social

Hope you all had a fabulous weekend!

The weather in Chicago at the end of last week was warm and balmy and it was starting to look like we were going to have an Indian Summer. By Friday night, things cooled down and it ended up being one of those perfect cool and sunny fall weekends here. I love it. This kind of weather makes me feel energized and like I can go all day and get a million things done. The best part was that I actually did get a lot done around the house-- a little fall cleaning/organizing/purging-- and we also had a few fun things on the docket this weekend too...

... Like a Friday date night at Porkchop in the West Loop. I'll tell you more about the food later, but here's a sneak peek at our cocktails: A Memphis Mule for him (A Moscow Mule - Vodka + Whiskey) and a Not Your Momma's Apple Pie for me (Apple vodka, St. Germain, housemade cinnamon syrup & champagne).

Check out this amazing sunset we saw walking down Randolph Street toward Porkchop. Fall in Chicago is just lovely.

I made a batch of Pumpkin Spice Puppy Chow (and threw in my guilty pleasure Mellowcreme Pumpkins!) on Saturday. It's yummy and was my first experience with Biscoff a.k.a. Cookie Butter. Yum! Check out the recipe here from one of my favorite food blogs Gimme Some Oven.

On Saturday afternoon Alex and I walked up to Kendall College for the Chicago Food Social, a small neighborhood festival dedicated to my favorite thing: food!

Alex placing an order at the Two Italians food truck

There were a handful of food trucks and a few Chicago restaurants in attendance in addition to musical entertainment and cooking demonstrations. This was really fun for us because neither of us works in an area frequented by food trucks, so we were super excited to check out all of the trucks we hear so much about! We decided to head over after working out so that we had plenty of room to sample lots of good stuff...

... like a delicious (and huge!) spinach and ricotta stuffed arancini from Two Italians food truck. They were serving up great Italian favorites and were one of the busiest trucks we saw there. Alex got an enormous slice of pepperoni pizza that he devoured pretty quickly (and ordered quite seriously as you'll note in the photo above).

... A tender BBQ brisket slider with a side of mac and cheese from the Husky Hog BBQ Truck.

Alex is a bit of a barbecue snob and was a big fan of this truck! They were serving a huge variety of barbecue here: pulled pork, chicken, brisket, and almost a dozen different sides. Impressive!

Last-- but not least-- we needed something sweet! Puffs of Doom was serving up huge homemade cream puffs and they were so delicious. They had several sweet ones on the menu and a few savory too-- like mac and cheese and loaded baked potato-- so cool!

On our way out, Alex and I both grabbed a cream puff: a honey apple goat cheese filled for me and a salted caramel hot chocolate (topped with marshmallow cream) for him. We weren't even that hungry after everything else we ate, but were able to polish these off completely on our way home. They were that good.

On Saturday we headed up to my friend Alexis's place for a little apartment warming party. As is usually the case with parties in our group, there was a lot of food involved.

Our gracious hostess for the evening.

My husband got silly with the props that Alexis put together for her party's photo booth.

And we got silly in a few and far between girls photo that night too. So much fun!

Have a great week!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Finds: Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

Happy Friday, readers!

I have a yummy fall dinner dish to share with you today courtesy of my old friend Giada De Laurentiis. This recipe comes from her Everyday Pasta cookbook and makes a really rich and satisfying vegetarian dinner. Three cheese, marinara sauce, and a variety of roasted vegetables make this dish rich and hearty-- the perfect thing to pop in the oven for a cozy dinner on this chilly fall weekend-- or if you are in Chicago, this somewhat warm weekend.

After making this recipe, I have a few notes to share with you too:

  • This recipe is ideal for feeding a crowd. I cut the recipe in half and it still made a TON of pasta. We ate it for dinner and then for multiple lunches afterward. It also stores and reheats very well.
  • I am not a fan of mushrooms, so I double the amount of zucchini in this recipe in place of the mushrooms and it turned out great. This recipe makes it really easy to sub in your favorite veggies as you wish.
  • I learned in making this recipe that I am not a fan of peas. Or rather, that I did not like them as a child, have not eaten them in several years, and after eating them in this pasta... well, I still don't like them. I will be leaving them out next time!


  • 2 red peppers, seeded, cored, and cut into 1-inch wide strips
  • 2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 cremini mushrooms, halved
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 Tbs. dry herbs de Provence
  • 1 lb. penne pasta *I used Barilla Whole Grain
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 cup fontina cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup smoked mozzarella, grated
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping, grated
  • 2 Tbs. butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and dried herbs. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, cheeses, peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix, until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan and butter pieces. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 25 minutes. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: River North Edition

The River North neighborhood of Chicago is one of the easiest ones in which to discover new or new to you restaurants. It seems like at every corner there is a new building going up or an old space turning over and making room for a new hotspot. Since we have been in Chicago we have always lived right on the outskirts of this neighborhood-- first to the east in Streeterville and now to the west in the West Loop. It's been nice to have a handful of great restaurants right outside my doorstep for the past few years. Here's a few of them that we have visited lately...

Zocalo Distrito Federale
River North

Zocalo is one of our longstanding favorite restaurants in this neighborhood. It's an upscale Mexican restaurant and tequila bar and the perfect place to go when I have a craving for good margaritas and spicy food. I usually switch up my entree order here depending on what I feel like that night, but the one constant for Alex and me is that we always order a guacamole trio to start our meal. It comes with three guacamoles: traditional, fruit, and spicy tomato rojo and is served with tortilla, plantain, and yuca chips. I could just eat this all night! Zocalo also recently revamped their menu for a more upscale vibe (as compared to their casual sister spot Taco Joint).*

Restaurant Beatrix
River North

Beatrix is the newest restaurant by Chicago's famed Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group and, like the majority of the others I have dined at, it was a great experience. Their menu includes trendy dishes from around the food world with a healthier twist. Great concept! We left the restaurant that night feeling like we had a lot to eat, but not feeling like we were weighed down by a super heavy meal. We started with their deviled eggs, which are filled with an egg yolk and potato salad filling. I'm not a huge fan of deviled eggs, but Alex devoured them. We also shared an order of the Kennebec fries, which were super tasty. They are served with garlic mayo and a fried egg on top, a combination that is always great. I ordered the chili & chocolate glazed salmon for an entree and absolutely loved it. The flavor was really bold, but perfect with the rich salmon. They serve it with salsa, a spicy vegetable slaw, and corn tortillas so you can even turn it into tacos if you want. One of my favorite parts of the menu though, is their cocktail selection. Beatrix has an inhouse juice bar where they create interesting fresh juice combinations. They have a handful of cocktails on the menu, but they also offer the option of adding the liquor of your choice to one of their fresh juices. I went that route and ordered a Blueberry & Basil Smash juice with a shot of vodka. It was so fresh and delicious-- I'd love to order it again or create a new combo with one of their other juices. I'd also point out that they have a counter where you can get coffee, juices, and some truly delicious looking pastries to go as well.
Beatrix on Urbanspoon

Hubbard Inn
River North

Hubbard Inn is a cool European-inspired tavern that serves upscale spins on pub food, small plates, and cocktails. The atmosphere of the restaurant is great-- it's dark with large wood tables, vintage inspired light fixtures and decor, and cute little outdoor patio where I recently had lunch with some colleagues. Hubbard Inn is a perfect spot for lunch in River North or for evening cocktails in a location that is both trendy and laidback-- a combo that is tough to find in this neighborhood of sceney bars and restaurants.

The food at Hubbard Inn is always good and one of my favorite things to order there is their spinach salad. It is served with seasonal fruit, fried goat cheese, and bacon vinaigrette. It's a simple salad, but the flavors are so good and it is a really substantial meal.

This last time around my friend and I decided to share two entrees (because how else can you sample multiple dishes without feeling like a little piggy?) and we opted for my signature salad and also the lobster roll. As you know, I am a skeptic when it comes to ordering lobster rolls outside of New England, so I was leery. I was pleasantly surprised by this one! It's more of a lobster salad, but the dressing wasn't too overpowering and the lobster was meaty and chunky. At the recommendation of our waitress, we opted for roasted Brussels sprouts on the side instead of sweet potato fries. They were yummy!
Hubbard Inn on Urbanspoon

Siena Tavern
River North

And last, but not least... Siena Tavern.

Where to begin? I asked Alex to take me here for my birthday dinner since I am a huge fan of Italian food and Top Chef. Siena Tavern is the brainchild of chef Fabio Viviani (of Top Chef fame) and the DineAmic Group, who is behind some of Chicago's hottest bars and restaurants. The restaurant is exactly what I expected it to be: It's loud, energetic, and really well designed like DineAmic's other bars, but the open pizza ovens, wine bar, and wood, brick, and chalkboard elements give it that warm Italian trattoria feel. I'm a fan.

And the food... oh my goodness, the food. We ordered SO much. And it was all SO good!  Let's talk about that.

We ordered a few things to share before our entrees. Normally I wouldn't advise you order so many appetizers for two people, but we there were so many good things to choose from that we had some serious difficulty narrowing it down. One thing you must order here is the Coccoli. They are basically savory donuts served with prosciutto, cheese, and truffle honey. From what I can see online (meaning, every blogger seems to share a photo of this dish), the coccoli definitely appear to be Siena's signature dish. They are a really unexpected combination of flavors and textures, but they work.

Siena Tavern also serves a variety of mozzarella cheeses paired with other ingredients that lend really interesting flavors and textures. We opted for the smoked mozzarella, which they served with local honeycomb, candied walnuts, grilled escarole, and toasts. I loved the smoky cheese with sweet nuts and honey. So delicious.

And seeing how much cheese and bread we had ordered, I also ordered the kale Caesar salad for good measure. So glad I did! It was actually one of the best things I ate there. I really loved it! It was topped with oven dried tomatoes, rosemary focaccia croutons, and the dressing had a delicious lemony flavor-- really perfect with the hearty kale.

Siena Tavern's menu features a variety of main course options: from heartier meat and seafood entrees to fresh pizzas to a selection of homemade pastas. Alex and I were on the same page that night and both opted for pastas-- probably because there were so many that looked so delicious! He ordered the short rib ravioli, which was served with a sweet and savory mushroom sauce. I was torn between a few dishes, but ultimately decided on the spaghetti with jumbo lump crab meat, tomatoes, and chili flakes in a creamy lemon sauce. It was so delicious-- the fresh lemony flavor with rich crab and cream sauce. It was perfect.

Oh, and as if we hadn't eaten enough... we ordered dessert. It was my birthday dinner, after all. Siena Tavern serves a wide selection of homemade gelati. Since we couldn't decide on just one, we ordered three. Of course. We sampled the hazelnut, salted caramel, and maple mascarpone. The salted caramel gelato was far and away my favorite, but they were all delicious-- and I would eat any of them again.
Siena Tavern on Urbanspoon

 *Editor's note: This Tuesday, September 17, 2013 Eater reported the Zocalo has closed its doors.

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