A Squared: January 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Dining Out in North Center

I love the North Center neighborhood. Located on the north side of the city, North Center is a quiet, but bustling neighborhood filled with cute houses, fun neighborhood shops, and a surprisingly good restaurant scene. Alex and I first discovered the neighborhood a few years ago when his work was taking him up to Sola pretty frequently. Now that we live in the West Lakeview/Roscoe Village area, we are just south of this neighborhood and in walking distance of this charming area and all of the great food it boasts. Today, I want to tell you about two dining gems that make a trip to North Center totally worth it:

North Center

Browntrout has been on my 'to try' list for forever and I finally had the opportunity to dine there when my girlfriends and I decided to venture into North Center for our regular girls' dinner. Browntrout is a cozy little restaurant that only seats about 70 people including their little bar. The service is great-- super friendly, relaxed, and helpful-- and the menu is made up of local seasonal ingredients combined to create really interesting dishes. I loved this restaurant because it was cozy enough for a date night, relaxed enough for dinner with the family (there were a handful of kids with adventurous palates there that night), and the perfect location for us to share a few dishes and catch up on girl talk.

We started our dinner with a pair of really delicious seasonal salads. The first is a shaved black kale salad topped with crispy parmesan frico, shaved Brussels sprouts, fried shallots, pickled cranberries, pecans, tossed in a chile apple cider vinaigrette. The flavors were bold and tangy with a little hint of heat. The second salad we tried was my favorite of the two: butternut squash was shaved thin and pickled, topped with candied sunflower & pumpkin seeds, shaved parmesan, sherry maple ginger vinaigrette, and finished off with sage and creamy cheese. The pickled squash was wonderful and gave the salad a slaw-like taste and feel.

We each ordered an entree and sampled them between the three of us. The menu here changes so frequently based on what's available locally that even in the few weeks since dining here, the offerings have already changed a bit. So, pardon my memory! Parisienne gnocchi was by far the biggest hit at our table. Tender gnocchi was served with pumpkin puree, roasted Brussels sprouts spiced cauliflower served in a delicious and flavorful reduction.

We also tried the perfectly grilled local lake trout roulade served with crispy pancetta and shaved caramelized broccoli salad and pea tendrils over creamy orzo.

And our last entree of choice was the Walleye pike served with sous-vide chioggia beets, roasted Brussels sprouts, pea tendrils, and cauliflower with a little beurre blanc.

And we didn't forget about dessert! The three of us shared two of Browntrout's featured desserts of the evening. The first was a citrus scented Paw-Paw ice cream sundae, which our waiter described as tasting 'like Froot Loops' so we had to try it. This sweet and fruity ice cream was served with fresh ground cherries (which look almost like a tomatillo), sunflower seed crumble, and caramel sauce.

We also tried a delicious parfait, which was my favorite of the two.  Fresh vanilla custard was layered with seedling tart cherry, cherry jam, a pecan maple crumble, and fresh whipped cream. It was light, a little sweet and a little tart, and the perfect sweet ending to a really great meal!
Browntrout on Urbanspoon

North Center

Sola is an old favorite of Alex's and mine. We dined here for the first time several years ago and I am pretty sure it was the first time I'd ever ventured this far north on the brown line, but the food is well worth it. Sola's chef Carol Wallack brings her love of Hawaii to the menu at Sola, combining Hawaiian flavors with Midwestern ingredients for a menu that is truly unique to the Chicago food scene. Now that we live closer to Sola (a nice long walk away in good weather) we have been dining here more frequently and I have been reminded of how much I like this place!

Alex and I recently walked over to Sola for a low key date night and started with a highly recommend, but new to us appetizer: the kalua pork. We were both blown away by how delicious this dish was-- and that we had never thought to order it before! A thick slice of banana bread is topped with smoky pork slow cooked until fork tender. They top it all off with a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce and crispy onions... it's basically heaven.

Alex totally surprised me with his entree choice (as my money was on the wagyu burger or short ribs) and he ordered the light and flavorful soba noodles. This dish was chock full of delicious ingredients like apples, napa cabbage, carrot,thinly shaved butternut squash, cilantro, mint, thai basil, and roasted peanuts in a soy lime sweet chili vinaigrette. These noodles had great bold Asian flavor and were surprisingly filling for a vegetarian dish.

I decided to order off of Sola's nightly special menu because a seafood dish there caught my eye. The filet of Opah (Hawaiian Moonfish) was perfectly seared and crispy on the outside. It was served with a side of parsnip-ginger risotto, delicious pickled shishito peppers, and was topped with thinly shaved and lightly dressed butternut squash and red onion slaw. A spicy Thai chili vinaigrette was drizzled around the plate to add a little kick of heat. This was such a nice light and fresh tasting dish that still felt appropriate for a chilly winter's night.

Back on our Sola kick, we brought my parents and sister back here for brunch during their visit to Chicago a few weeks later. We started by sharing an order of malasadas, a warm and sugar-coated Portuguese donut. Sola serves them with warm chocolate and a raspberry coulis for dipping. These are so addictive and the order is huge, so sharing them with the table is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a malasada (or two) and to still have room for an entree.

While Alex usually orders something sweet here like pancakes, I'm a big fan of the savory brunch dishes at Sola. My dad and I both ordered the brunch special that day: An overstuffed breakfast wrap filled with Sola's delicious kalua pork, scrambled egg, guacamole, and arugula. It was topped with a fresh and spicy pico de gallo. This wrap was probably big enough to share between two people, but it was so delicious (that pork could make anything taste amazing) that I had no trouble polishing most of it off.

I also stole a few bites of my mom's brunch because it just looked so good. The huevos benedictos consist of a huge slab of sweet cornbread topped with spicy Mexican chorizo, poached eggs, and a salsa hollandaise sauce. This southwestern take on classic eggs Benedict was really decadent and the flavors were perfect. Oh, and can we talk about those hashbrowns? They are simple and delicious at Sola and worth ordering if your entree doesn't come with them already.
Sola on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blueberry Banana Buttermilk Pancakes

It's National Blueberry Pancake Day!

Yes, that's an actual thing and I could not be happier about it. Today, I'm partnering with Driscoll's to share the perfect recipe for celebrating this delicious holiday!

Pancakes are one of my favorite weekend breakfasts. They remind me of growing up and being home with my family when my parents would whip up a triple batch (there were a lot of us, after all) and we'd all sit around the table laughing and eating together on a lazy Sunday morning.

And while I love pancakes in general, I really love blueberry pancakes-- the pop of tart sweetness makes a normal pancake extra special. And the recipe I am sharing with you today is super special: blueberry banana buttermilk pancakes are moist, fluffy, and full of fruit flavor. Buttermilk pancakes are a no brainer, but I love to fold in mashed ripe bananas. They add a great consistency to the pancakes, a subtle banana flavor, and they eliminate the need for extra sugar in the batter. So, between antioxidant rich blueberries, potassium-filled bananas, and the elimination of added sugar you could almost call these pancakes "healthy." Right?

Healthy or not, blueberry pancakes are the perfect breakfast for whipping up to share with your friends and family. It's a comforting and classic breakfast that's definitely a crowd pleaser.

For serving, I highly recommend that you top these pancakes with fresh blueberries. Plump fresh blueberries provide a fun textural difference to the warm and super sweet cooked berries inside the pancakes. And these Driscoll's berries are beautiful, so who wouldn't want to eat a plate full of these pancakes?


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • Cooking spray or butter, for cooking
  • Additional blueberries, sliced bananas, maple syrup, butter for serving

In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the beaten egg, buttermilk, oil, and bananas. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. The batter may be lumpy, but don't overmix it.

Fold in blueberries until evenly distributed.

Lightly grease a large nonstick pan and heat over medium heat. Drop 1/4 cup pancake batter and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the batter begins to bubble and the bottom is golden brown. Flip the pancakes and continue to cook until the edges are dry and the second side is golden brown as well.

Serve warm and top with blueberries, sliced bananas, maple syrup, or butter.

Editor's Note: This post was sponsored by Driscoll's. As always, the opinions expressed herein are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Liebster Award

So, this is fun: Recently, the super sweet Danielle from the blog Chicago Collective nominated A Squared for the Liebster Award. The Liebster is a fun little award given to bloggers by other bloggers and a great way to recognize great blogs, get introduced to new blogs, and to get to know your favorite bloggers better. I was so flattered by her nomination and excited to stray from my regularly scheduled posts for something a little different today. So, here goes...

1. If you could wear a nail polish color for life, what would the color be? This is a funny question for me because I have been an anxious nail biter for about as long as I have had teeth, so I rarely have painted nails... if I had to pick though, I am definitely partial to Essie - Master Plan. All about gray polish!

2. Who/What is your fashion inspiration? My overall personal style is simple and classic, but with some drama in the details like chunky jewelery or a bold pop of color. My inspiration comes from timeless designers like Ralph Lauren, the structured shapes and patterns of the 1960s (I am all about a shift dress), and Jackie-- the Onassis, not Kennedy years.


3. What is the passion behind your blog? Food! I love to eat it, to make it, and to share it with the people I love. Though the blog started as a way to keep friends and family in the know on what's happening in our lives, the posts that I really loved writing were the recipe posts and the updates on our adventures in Chicago-- and that's how the blog naturally evolved into what it is today.

4. What was your biggest accomplishment of 2014? My biggest accomplishment of last year had nothing to do with my blog, but it was huge and worth mentioning. In June of 2014 my husband and I bought our first home. It's something we have been talking/dreaming about since shortly after we moved to Chicago and way before we were even married so it's been a long time coming. And after a wedding and years of layoffs and career/financial uncertainty, it felt like a really huge accomplishment.

5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Right here in my new[ish] condo, of course. Although this time of year in Chicago does make me wonder if living somewhere that's more temperate all year round (like northern California or the Carolinas) might be where it's at.

6. Favorite song at the moment? "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran. I just can't get it out of my head.

7. Flats or Heels? Honestly, flats. I love to break out my heels occasionally, but I am a flats girl and I own tons of them: ballet flats, boat shoes, driving mocs... I own them all. I'm on the go a lot and walking a puppy and I just can't do all of that successfully in heels.

8. Who would you most like to see in a concert front row? Right now it's a toss up between Billy Joel down the street at Wrigley Field or Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at Ravinia.

9. If you could relive any moment in your life, which would you choose? Reliving my wedding day is probably the most obvious choice-- and it was wonderful, so I would relive it every day too. I would also love to relive any of the moments of the semester I spent abroad in Italy. I definitely didn't appreciate it as much as I could have as a 21-year old college student. I'd make the most of it if I could relive it again. 

10. How did you come up with your blog name? A Squared originally began shortly after my wedding as a way to keep far away friends and family updated on what was happening in our lives. A Squared was a play on our names-- Anne and Alex. It doesn't truly apply anymore, but I would have a hard time parting with the name now that this blog is 3 years old!

11. Blog goals for 2015? To continue making A Squared better by creating more thoughtful content, taking better photos, and partnering with reputable bloggers and brands. I'm excited for what the future holds for this blog!

I now nominate:
  1. Katie from Live Half Full
  2. Erin from Color Me Styled
  3. Amanda from The Ghost Guest
  4. Rachel from An Eventful Life
  5. Sara from Project Soiree
  6. Christina from Chritiques
  7. Lauren from Lake Shore Lady
  8. Paige from Tomatoes for Cucumbers 
  9. Sapna from The Vegetarian Tourist
  10. Lauren from I Had a Big Lunch

And my questions for these ladies are...

1. If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
2. If you could lunch with any 3 ladies-- alive or dead-- who would they be?
3. What inspired you to begin blogging?
4. What was your biggest accomplishment of 2014?
5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
6. Favorite song at the moment?
7. Chocolate or vanilla?
8. What was the best restaurant you visited in 2014?
9. If you could relive any moment in your life, which would you choose?
10. How did you come up with your blog name?
11. Blog goals for 2015?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Italian Mac & Cheese with Chicken Sausage, Onions & Sun Dried Tomatoes

This Italian version of mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food-- creamy inside, crunchy on top, cheesy, and packed with flavorful add-ins that give it some elevated Italian flair.

Last week I rounded up a few great recipes to serve if you're planning on hosting a Super Bowl party this weekend. Today I have one last new recipe to add to the bunch-- and this a good one! I love a good mac and cheese and a big batch of it is the perfect cheesy food to serve to a crowd of game watchers. And it's perfect for making ahead too! Make and bake it a day or two before the big game and then just pop it into the oven to warm up and serve to your guests.

In this version, three deliciously different Italian cheeses -- nutty Parmesan, creamy fontina, and funky Gorgonzola-- are melted together into a perfect cheesy sauce. That sauce is combined with tons of freshly cooked pasta, diced Italian chicken sausage, sweet caramelized onions, and tangy sun dried tomatoes. That mixture is topped with an herbed panko and cheese combination to create a flavorful crunchy crust. All of that together = mac and cheese perfection.

As I mentioned previously, this decadent dish is a great addition to your Super Bowl spread. This is also a great dish to make for sharing too. One of my girlfriends just had a baby-- okay, "just" is not totally accurate as she gave birth at the end of October and it has taken me this long to finally make it over to see her and meet her adorable son-- and she's a big mac and cheese lover. So, I brought a pan of Italian mac & cheese with me to visit so that she'll have a dinner ready to come home to now that she's heading back to work. This is an easy and impressive dish to bring to any new mom or other friend in need of a convenient dinner.

This recipe will easily fit an 9X13 baking dish. I split it up and made one 8x8 pan for my friends and an additional smaller casserole for us to enjoy too. This would also be perfect divided among individual crocks as well.


  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 Italian chicken sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 lb. tubular short cut pasta *I used Barilla Cellantini
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth, plus more (1-2 cups additional) for deglazing
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • 2 cups grated fontina, divided
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, divided
  • 1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
  • 1/2 Tbs. dry parsley
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1/2 tsp. dry Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish (or a combination of smaller baking dishes, if you choose).

Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot. Drain, but do not rinse and set aside.

Heat 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally. If onions begin sticking to the pan or browning too quickly, reduce heat to medium low and add a little chicken broth to the pan. Continue this process for about 30 minutes until onions are golden and very soft.

Add the chicken sausage and red pepper flakes to the pan and saute for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently. When sausage is browned, remove from heat and stir in sun dried tomatoes.

In the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, whisk together milk, broth, and flour. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes, whisking frequently until the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from heat and stir in 1 3/4 cups fontina, 1/2 cup Parmesan, Gorgonzola, and parsley.

Stir until smooth and combined. Fold in cooked pasta until coated evenly with the cheese sauce. Add the sausage, onion, and tomato mixture and fold until just combined. Pour into a prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, fontina, Parmesan, panko, and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine and the sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture in the baking dish.

Bale for 20 minutes and until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

10 Tasty Foods to Serve on Super Bowl Sunday

#1 Go Pats!

#2 Truth: I don't really care about watching the Super Bowl-- I just cheer for the Pats because of my east coast roots. What I DO care about is game day snacks... because they are the best.

With that in mind, I rounded up 10 of my favorite recipes perfect for hosting a Super Bowl party or for taking to a game watching party-- with a little A Squared flair, of course. These dishes aren't your typical Buffalo wings or greasy nachos, but most do incorporate the most important ingredients in game watching foods: cheese, carbs, dips, and bacon. Give them a try for this coming Super Bowl Sunday!

1. Bacon-Wrapped Dates 

2. Cheesy Pizza Pull Apart Bread 

3. Mom's Artichoke Dip  

4. Grilled Zucchini & Herbed Goat Cheese Crostini 

5. Lemony Dill Dip

6. Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Pork Tacos     

7. Baked Rosemary, Thyme & Parmesan Potato Chips

8. Sweet & Spicy Butternut Squash White Pizza 

9. Spicy Two Bean Chili 

10. French Onion Cheeseburgers    


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Mushroom & Leek Farrotto

Farro is one of my new food obsessions. Like Brussels sprouts and beets before it, my food obsessions are not normal (I mean, why not Nutella?), but there is something so tasty and satisfying about farro that I can't get enough of it right now.

If you're not super familiar with farro-- which I wasn't until very recently-- it's an ancient grain used frequently in Italian cooking. It resembles brown rice and when cooked, it has a great nutty flavor and chewy texture. It can be boiled and served like rice or pasta or prepared risotto-style-- slow cooked while stirring in broth to create a rich and creamy texture. And that was exactly what I did here.

For a recent girls' night, I decided to make a healthier post-holiday meal since we were all feeling a bit sluggish. I decided we'd go vegetarian for the night and this mushroom & leek farrotto was the perfect entree for filling us up without any meat. The mushrooms in this dish pair so nicely with farro because they both have that earthy umami quality about them. I also added leeks here because I like that they have a fragrant onion-y flavor, but they hold their texture through the cooking process a bit longer than onions or shallots. A little fresh thyme and grated Parmesan pulls this delicious meatless meal together.

This is a fabulous meatless entree, but it would also be a perfect savory side dish for chicken or pork too.


  • 4 cups vegetable stock 
  • 1 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup white wine, divided
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced into 1/2-inch rings (only the white and light green parts. Discard the tough dark green tops)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup pearled farro
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a medium saucepan, bring broth just to a simmer. Cover and keep hot over medium low heat until you are ready to use it.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 Tbs. each butter and oil. Add mushrooms and thyme to the pan along with 1/4 cup of wine and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the mushrooms have softened and most of the liquid has evaporated, transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add remaining olive oil and the butter to the pan and adjust heat to medium. Add the leeks  and saute until tender (not brown), about 5 minutes. Add the farro and stir to coat. Pour in the remaining 1/2 cup of wine and simmer, stirring until it has almost completely evaporated, approximately 3 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir constantly until the broth has almost completely absorbed, for 2-3 minutes. Continue stirring the farro and repeat the process of adding 1/2 cup broth at a time. Allow each 1/2 cup of broth to absorb before adding the next. Pour in the last 1/2 cup of broth along with the sauteed mushroom mixture and continue stirring to cook until the farro is chewy and firm.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowls and serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dining at The Fontainebleau, Miami Beach

It was a whirlwind last quarter of 2014 and I feel like I'm finally just catching my breath now. In looking back, I never got around to telling you about my end of year travel. In December my company hosted a meeting in Miami and I had the privilege of staying at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. This gorgeous hotel originally opened in the 1950's and while it has been recently renovated, it still has that glamorous 1950s feel. The rooms are beautiful, the views are breathtaking, and the restaurants, of course, were nothing short of amazing.

While I may have been there for a board meeting, my short visit to the Fontainebleau ended up being quite the foodie experience. We dined at several of the resort restaurants, got a behind the scenes tour of the hotel's dining program, and even a hands on dim sum making lesson. It was an amazing visit and if you ever get the chance to visit The Fontainebleau (and I hope you do), here's a rundown of my dining experience:

La Cote
My first meal at The Fontainebleau was a quick lunch al fresco at La Cote. La Cote is a casual outdoor restaurant located directly between the expansive pool and the beach, so it's the perfect place for a little refreshment break while you're spending your time at either. I enjoyed a Caesar salad with a combination of radicchio and romaine, tangy Caesar dressing, and topped with huge grilled prawns. I did not, however, enjoy the local wildlife at La Cote. If you're not a fan of birds you may opt for another restaurant at the resort because they are all over La Cote and also very brave!
La Côte on Urbanspoon

Michael Mina 74
Michael Mina is an award-winning chef and Michael Mina 74 is a high end American bistro concept he created exclusively for The Fontainebleau. The menu is a unique fusion of upscale American dishes and global cuisine. The downstairs location feels cozy, but the rolling seafood cart is just one of many touches that makes dining here feel like a special experience. Because I dined here with a large group, we had the opportunity to sample several items on the menu. I don't think there was one that I disliked, but there were definitely a few standout dishes for me:

Florida Snapper: Perfectly cooked fish served over crispy shrimp rice cakes made to mimic fried rice in a super flavorful and rich curry broth with touch of sweet pineapple. The flavors here were so vibrant and worked so nicely with the fresh fish. It felt like the perfect dish to eat on our first night in south Florida.

72 Hour Moroccan Shortrib: I love a good shortrib and this one was perfectly cooked to fork tender. Served with thinly shredded Moroccan-roasted carrots and Vadouvan couscous, this dish had that amazing bold and warm Middle Eastern flavor unique.

Lobster Cavatelli: Last, but definitely not least, this one was by far my favorite. Sizable chunks of fresh lobster was served over cavatelli pasta tossed in a creamy and flavorful lemon beurre blanc with chervil and poppy seeds. The sauce was rich, but the lemon and chervil gave it such a bright fresh flavor.
Michael Mina 74 on Urbanspoon

Hakkasan is a AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant with a super chic atmosphere and by far, the best Chinese food I have ever eaten. Our dining experience at Hakkasan was particularly special because we began our meal in the kitchen with their chefs for a hands on lesson in dim sum making. It was definitely one of the coolest foodie experiences I have ever taken part in and these chefs were amazing-- whipping out dozens of perfectly formed dim sum in minutes while the rest of us struggled to make one or two. The chefs then steamed it all up and the dim sum was served as a part of a huge Chinese feast that we enjoyed for lunch.

We made two different kinds of dim sum during our lesson: Scallops shui mai-- wonton skins stuffed with a seasoned shrimp mixture, topped with a thinly sliced scallop, and then steamed. The second was a a wheat and potato "skin" stuffed with Chinese chives and seasoned shrimp. It looks like a little pouch and the top is tied off with a thinly sliced carrot before steaming. I could have made a meal totally out of their delicious dim sum. The little bites that we prepared were served alongside Hakkasan's other signature steamed dim sum offering, the pork shui mai.

Other highlights of the meal-- which is tough to narrow down because we ate SO much here-- included the tender stir-fried prawn with lettuce root, dried shrimp and sweet walnuts and the super flavorful black pepper beef tenderloin served with crisp bright bell peppers.

And I can't believe I didn't get a photo of it, but the traditional roasted half Peking duck is not to be missed! It was carved tableside and served with sliced cucumber, a sweet and savory hoisin sauce, and super thin pancakes for serving. Ordering this duck is an experience, to say the least. But the flavor is great and the skin was perfectly crisp. It is not to be missed!
Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

I have now had the good fortune (thanks to my job) of dining at Scarpetta twice-- first at The Cosmpolitan in Las Vegas a few years ago, and now at The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. This upscale AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant features a rustic yet modern Italian menu and is the brainchild of James Beard award winning celebrity chef Scott Conant. The restaurant is super luxe with gorgeous views of the hotel's poolscape from the glass walls that surround the exterior dining area. The beautiful setting combined with Chef Conant's inspired Italian menu makes for a fabulous dining experience. This was another meal where we sampled several options from the menu. Here are a few of my favorite offerings:

Burrata: I always love burrata, but this preparation-- a reinvented caprese salad-- was really special. Creamy burrata was served alongside fresh heirloom tomatoes and a fragrant baby basil and arugula salad. The whole thing was drizzled with a flavorful broccoli rabe pesto.

Spaghetti: So simple, yet so delicious. Housemade spaghetti with a fresh tomato basil sauce seems like a no brainer, but done right it can be really special. Everything here was so well done that I could have had a bowl of this and been completely happy with my dinner.

Duck & Foie Gras Ravioli: Quite the opposite of the simple spaghetti, this homemade ravioli was complex and decadent. A rich duck and foie filling was stuffed into small tender half-moon shaped ravioli and tossed in an equally rich and flavorful marsala reduction. This pasta was really special and not like anything else you'll try at a run of the mill Italian restaurant.
Scarpetta on Urbanspoon

After a few days of eating a lot cheese, foie, and duck (see above) I was ready for something a little lighter at our last meal in Miami. We stopped into Vida, one The Fontainebleau's more casual eateries for lunch before heading to the airport. Vida is described as an American Brasserie and it's the perfect place for a good sandwich or salad when you want a sit down meal that's not super fancy like you'll find at one of the resort's Signature Restaurants-- just note that service is a bit slow, so don't sit dow here if you're in a time crunch. This quinoa salad with grilled chicken, fennel (which I don't usually enjoy, but I liked this woody charred version), zucchini, mushroom, avocado, confit tomatoes, and salsa verde was fresh, light, and satisfying-- exactly when I wanted!
Vida on Urbanspoon

Another item to note about dining at The Fontainebleau is that they have a truly impressive dining program. After our big lunch at Hakkasan we had the opportunity to tour the underbelly of the hotel, which doesn't sound nearly as interesting as it actually was. The Fontainebleau's Executive Chef Thomas Connell led the tour and gave us great insights into what makes this hotel's dining program different from all the rest.

One of the things that makes this program so unique is that all of the food and beverages served at each of the hotel's restaurants and in their catering program is sourced from one location within the hotel-- right in the underbelly we were touring. Chef Connell's team manages all of the inventory, coordinates with the kitchen staff at each restaurant, and the hotel even has its own fishing boat-- helping to promote the Fontainebleau's "ocean to table" seafood program. BleauFish provides almost all of the 500 lbs. of seafood that the hotel serves each day and the live catches are housed in salt water tanks that are each temperature-controlled for the species of seafood they house. That's some seriously fresh seafood.

The hotel also employs professional chocolatiers and pastry chefs who create the highest quality confections, like the hotel's signature bowtie brownie. These treats including delicious truffles, French macarons, cakes, tarts, and freshly made gelato are all available in Chez BonBon, the hotel's cafe and confection shop.

We had the opportunity to sample several of the hotel's truffles and a few gelato flavors too. One of my favorites was the exotic white chocolate truffle with fruit filling and a toasted coconut exterior. And I love all gelato, but since we were there around the holidays they were serving a festive peppermint bark variety that I had to try... and it was delicious!

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dining at The Fontainebleau, but what an amazing place for food-- and for a fabulous travel experience too!

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