Chicago Trip Recap, Part 4: Eataly

It’s been a while since my last post on Chicago, but there’s still a lot of stuff that I haven’t posted about yet! We had several wonderful Italian meals in the Windy City – there is certainly an Italian heritage to the city, and it’s reflected in the food.

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One of the things that I was really excited about trying was Eataly, which is an Italian food market. The first one in the US was in New York, and the Chicago one followed soon after. Inside the market, they sell everything from cookware to sauces and pasta to fresh produce and meats.

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There was a Nutella bar! We didn’t get anything from there, though – we chose something else for dessert (you’ll see later!). 

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There’s a butcher shop, a seafood shop, a cheese counter, and more…

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Butternut Squash Pesto Pasta

Today’s post is brought to you by Melissa’s Produce! I was sent a free box of produce from Melissa’s, and asked to create a recipe using ingredients in the box. The box consisted of classic “fall” produce: butternut squash, potatoes, cranberries, fava beans, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, pine nuts, cranberries, pearl onions, shallots… I’m relatively new to the world of cooking with beans, so I decided to set those aside for future recipes, and when I saw the pine nuts, I knew that I had to make a pesto. And then I thought… how would butternut squash pair with a pesto sauce? Well, there was only one way to find out.

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I browned some Italian sausage, along with shallots that I received in the produce box, and used the rendered sausage fat to soften and cook the butternut squash. In the meantime, I also whipped up a quick pesto sauce with some fresh basil, plenty of the pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil.

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The butternut squash’s sweetness offset the salty Italian sausage perfectly! I went easy on the pesto sauce so as to not overpower the flavors of the squash, and it was just enough to bring out an extra “fresh” flavor. I also tossed in some whole pine nuts, for some extra depth and to give this dish a more autumn-y feeling.

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This was a super fun produce challenge for me, since I’m learning to come out of my comfort zone and try out some different flavor combinations. Did I mention that there are several other bloggers participating in this Melissa’s Produce Challenge, too? Check out all of their posts, linked below!

Disclaimer: I was sent a complimentary box of produce from Melissa’s to create my own recipe. All writings and opinions are my own.


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Solare Ristorante – Restaurant Week

San Diego Restaurant Week is upon us again! From September 21 through 26, you can enjoy a two-course lunch or three-course dinner at over 200 restaurants in San Diego, with lunch priced at $10, $15, or $20, and dinner priced at $25, $35, and $45. S and I have visited several restaurants during SDRW over the past few years, and this year, we were fortunate enough to be invited to try out Solare Ristorante, a cute little Italian restaurant in Liberty Station.

Solare Ristorante 

Solare is offering a $20 lunch and $35 dinner, with some additional items that you can add on for extra. S and I love Italian food, so we were pretty excited to visit.

Blushing Lady martini

Blushing Lady martini [$9]

I chose a martini, per our waiter’s recommendation. This is made with vodka and grapefruit and pomegranate juices, with a grapefruit rind. S said that it tasted like juice, but I enjoyed it, hehe.

Housemade focaccia

House-made focaccia

Shortly after being seated, we got a bowl of house-made focaccia bread, along with olive oil for dipping. S loved this focaccia and said that it was full of umami. He has never, ever made such a “foodie” comment before so I am documenting this historic moment here! The bread was indeed quite good, and we ate way too many pieces of it before realizing that we had a big meal ahead of us.

There were four items in the “Options for Sharing” section of the menu, which were basically little appetizers or sides that you could add on for an extra charge. S and I decided to try a couple of them, since they sounded pretty good!

Kobe Meatballs

Kobe Meatballs: vintage hand-made American Kobe beef meatballs, served with sautéed rainbow chard and pecorino Crotonese [$14] 

The Kobe meatballs were really yummy and flavorful – I loved the melted pecorino on top, and the sauce that accompanied it – especially the sautéed rainbow chard. It was quite an elevated version of the classic meatball with tomato sauce. 

Arancini

Arancini: classic Sicilian crispy rice balls with beef, pork, and veal ragù, sweet peas, and mozzarella [$9]

Arancini inside

Arancini inside

The best way that I can describe arancini is like a hush puppy, but with rice instead of cornmeal. I’ve never had it before and loved it here! I really enjoyed the flavor of the crispy exterior, which was like toasted rice. I could have eaten all of these without the accompanying ragù – the sauce was good, but the rice balls were truly the star. After eating one, I told S that I like these even more than hush puppies, and he was quite impressed since he knows how much I adore hush puppies, haha.

After those two “snacks,” our appetizers arrived…

Zuppa di Funghi

Zuppa di Funghi – Mushroom bisque: maitake, shiitake, and porcini mushrooms infused with thyme and served with black truffle butter

I was initially worried that S wouldn’t like the soup, since it had shiitake mushrooms in it, but he ended up loving it. I guess the creaminess of the bisque and the truffle butter offset the shiitake taste that he doesn’t like. Also, I’m guessing that the restaurant used fresh instead of dried shiitake, which actually has a pretty different taste. Anyway, we liked this soup a lot – but we’re easy to please, as long as there’s truffles, haha.

Burrata e Prugne

Burrata e Prugne: Gioia cheese burrata served with Regier Family Farms plums, grilled asparagus, house-made balsamic pearls, and fresh basil

Burrata e Prugne

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Villa Capri Italian Kitchen

A while back, S and I decided to have a date night somewhere close by (as in, UTC area). We wanted to try something new, and he suggested Villa Capri Italian Kitchen, in the Towne Centre Drive plaza. I was craving Italian food, so we decided to check it out.

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This was a spur-of-the-moment thing, so we didn’t have reservations or anything. I was initially worried that we’d have to wait, but luckily there were a few tables open. 

Complimentary bread

Complimentary bread

We started out with a basket of warm bread, which we enjoyed!

The menu was actually quite extensive, consisting of appetizers, salads, pizzas, pastas, and entrées. S and I decided to try one pasta and one entrée.

By the way, I have to apologize for the quality of the photos here. I’m trying out a new lens, but it doesn’t seem to do so well in lower-light conditions.

Penne Villa Capri: penne pasta with Italian sausage, bell peppers, and onion in a pink tomato sauce [$14]

Penne Villa Capri: penne pasta with Italian sausage, bell peppers, and onion in a pink tomato sauce [$14]

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[Recipe] Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

I’m a huge fan of quick and easy weeknight dinners – S and I usually get home around 7PM and are starving, so I try to whip up something quick if we’re eating in. Pasta is one of my go-to meals since it’s simple, and S loves it. I’ve made spaghetti with meat sauce so many times, and today I’m finally sharing my recipe.

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To be honest, I think everyone has his or her own version of spaghetti with meat sauce, and mine is by no means the best out there – but it’s quick and easy, and I think it’s pretty delicious.

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Do you have a favorite meat sauce recipe? Comment and let me know!

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Bella Vista Caffe

A while ago, I had lunch with the awesome Dennis of A Radiused Corner. I’ve wanted to meet him for quite a long time, since I’ve always found his blog really interesting and informative – before visiting his blog, I actually knew nothing about the different varieties of ramen, and now I can’t say I know much more, but I’ve really learned a lot from Dennis’ blog. He is currently doing an awesome series called “Everyday Bentos,” in which he documents the packed lunches of “everyday folks” – from salon hairstylists to homeopathic practitioners. It’s quite a creative project and a bit different from what many other food blogs feature. So, go check it out! :D

Anyway, we decided to visit Bella Vista Caffe, which is located on the premises of Sanford Consortium. It was relatively close to where both of us worked, and it had a really nice view and patio seating.

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Unfortunately I arrived a bit late, so we waited a while in line for the ordering counter. That gave us plenty of time to chat and make our decisions for what to eat, though! Hehe. Dennis decided to try the leek & truffle quiche, one of their newer menu additions I’m guessing, and a side of their from-scratch mushroom soup.

Leek & Truffle Quiche with side salad

Leek & Truffle Quiche with side salad

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

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Piatti La Jolla

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated S’s birthday! He asked me to choose the restaurant, so I thought we could try out Piatti, a little Italian restaurant in La Jolla. I had been there once and thought the food was pretty good, and we gathered up some good friends for a little celebration.

The restaurant does take reservations, thankfully, but I had to provide a credit card and was told that I would be charged $100 for no-show. It was a bit intimidating, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they really would charge the money. Well, good thing I didn’t need to find out…

Parking in LJ is always a pain but luckily we got a spot right in front of the restaurant! I was so excited that we found parking that I forgot to take a photo of the restaurant. Whoops.

Well, I’ll start with the bread, then…

Complimentary bread

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I’ve heard ravings about the bread and balsamic sauce long before my first visit, and truly, all of the claims of deliciousness are justified. The bread is served warm in a cute metal basket, and there were several generous plates of the dipping sauce. The sauce is made up of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a mix of garlic, basil, and other herbs. It was so good! I’m pretty sure I finished an entire basket of bread on my own, thanks to that sauce.

We had a pretty big group of people, but I didn’t get to taste everyone’s food or take photos. I’ll just share a couple of dishes that my friends ordered…

Rolled Pasta with wild mushrooms, ricotta, spinach, and porcini mushroom sauce [$15.50]

Rolled Pasta with wild mushrooms, ricotta, spinach, and porcini mushroom sauce [$15.50]

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Ristorante Kaz

Ristorante Kaz is the sister restaurant of Izakaya Sakura, one of my favorite places on Convoy for weekend lunch. It serves Japanese-style pastas, and I’ve wanted to try it out ever since hearing about its opening. A couple of weeks ago, we finally made it there for lunch along with one of our friends.

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The restaurant has a sign now, unlike a previous time when I walked around this plaza twice and didn’t find the restaurant – I thought it wasn’t open yet and left in disappointment. Then, I found out that like Sakura, they just didn’t have a sign. Anyway… hooray, now you can actually find this place.

When we went around noon on a Saturday, it was absolutely deserted – usually a bad sign in my book. But I had read some pretty good reviews, so maybe not enough people knew about this place. The interior is almost exactly like Sakura’s but even smaller (and without the sushi bar, of course). There was a little chalkboard with menu specials, but we decided to go with the lunch prix-fixe, which starts at $12 with a basic salad, soup, and choice of pasta. There are upgrades to each item, for an additional fee.

(By the way, I could have sworn that I took a photo of the menu, but it somehow got lost in cyberspace.)

To start, we were given complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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We actually liked the warm, toasted bread so much that we asked for some more. I think the waitress was slightly amused that we enjoyed bread so much.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad

Instead of the house salad, I upgraded to the caprese salad for $2 extra. I love this dish, and Kaz did a pretty good job and had fresh ingredients. I thought it was quite a generous size, too.

Cabbage soup

Cabbage soup

I went with the soup of the day, which was a cabbage soup with salted pork. …

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[SD University City] Pasta at Lorna’s Italian Kitchen

First things first: I spent the weekend organizing my categories and tags, and I realized that upon updating, my Twitter feed (and possibly RSS feed?) was basically flooded with each update.  So, I apologize for the spam – but my tags and categories were driving me nuts!

Anyway, now that everything is organized (mwahaha), let’s move on to my dinner at Lorna’s Italian Kitchen.  Our friend E. recommended this to us, and since SK and I love pasta, we had to check it out.

This was definitely a family-style restaurant – nice and cozy, about 10 tables and a counter for take out.  (However, SK later told me that there was another whole section next door that also belonged to Lorna’s, so you could probably have large parties there, too.)  We were seated promptly, and the service was very friendly.

We started off with some warm, fluffy bread…

For my entree, I chose the Tagliatelle Bolognese – which, by the way, was the only one with a “spicy!” note in the description.  So of course I had to get it.

Tagliatelle Bolognese: fettuccini in cream sauce with sausage, ground beef, plum tomatoes, fresh garlic and oregano, $12.75

It wasn’t that spicy (even SK says so), but it sure was tasty.  The fettucini was cooked slightly past al dente, but I’m not very picky about that.  The tomato-cream sauce was packed full of flavor (thank you garlic!) but not too heavy, and the sausage and ground beef went really well with the sauce.  I would definitely love to try and imitate the recipe at home.

Ferni Pasta: penne pasta in a garlic cream sauce with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms and red peppers, $12.95

SK’s entree, the Ferni Pasta, was much creamier – it tasted sort of like alfredo sauce, but with lots of garlic, and you bet I’m going to start adding garlic to all my alfredo sauces from now on, because it just adds so much deliciousness.  Again, the pasta was slightly past al dente, and the chicken was very tender.  Another delicious pasta!

The bottom line?  I loved my dinner at this family-style restaurant.  The atmosphere is very warm, and the food is great and comes in large portions.  I would definitely recommend Lorna’s to any pasta lovers out there!

Lorna’s Italian Kitchen
3945 Governor Drive, San Diego, CA
(858) 452-0661

http://www.lornasitalian.com/

Hours:
Tue-Thu 11am-9pm; Fri 11am-10pm; Sat-Sun 4pm-9pm

[SD Pacific Beach] Pasta Espresso: fine pasta with mediocre sauce

I visited Pasta Espresso with SK and another pasta-lover friend.  Tucked away in PB, it had a sort of rustic charm to it, adding to my already-pretty-high expectations for this place based on friends’ and reviewer recommendations.

The menu is pretty simple: five different types of pastas, four different sauces.  You choose the combination ($8 for regular portion, $9.50 for a larger portion).

They actually ran out of the fire spirals, which was pretty disappointing to me since I was obviously the most interested in that one.

The three of us tried three different combos.  When they arrived, we were somewhat surprised – the sauce was meatless, and the portion was average~small.  There was also nothing charming about the plates used, which reminded me of cafeteria food.  I suppose I should have expected that the sauces were not made with meat – after all, there was a “ground turkey” sauce – but still, meat is a pretty important component for SK and me.

Red pepper fettucine with alfredo sauce

Least favorite of the three.  The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, but it lacked the nice red color that you’d expect from red pepper fettucine.  Even worse, the alfredo sauce was pretty bland – we all felt that there’s definitely much better alfredo out there (or even homemade).

Angel hair with pesto sauce

The pesto sauce was better than the alfredo, probably my favorite sauce of the three, but it was still nothing spectacular.  Again, the pasta was cooked nicely, but the dish did not impress me.

Spinach fettucine with marinara sauce

The spinach fettucine was actually a pretty green color and contrasted nicely with the red marinara sauce.  As the same with the previous two, they really do know how to make good pasta, but the sauce just tasted so generic that I couldn’t appreciate the meal the way I should have.

The bottom line?  If you’re into homemade pasta cooked to al dente perfection, and you don’t care about the sauce or meat?  Then you can check it out.  Otherwise, I’d say that Pastalini serves up a nice bowl of pasta, with a wide variety of sauces, meats, and veggies, and for a lower price.

Pasta Espresso
4480 Haines St., San Diego, CA
(858) 272-9448
http://pastaespressopb.com/

Hours
Mon-Sun 11:30am-9pm