We shot this show to highlight the upcoming Chicago Gourmet. It’s a fabulous event, my favorite food event in the city, and Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno is such a sweet and lovely man. Check it out…
So, this is more of a picture post than the rest. Honestly, the reason is this: It would probably take me as long to write about all of this intricate food and our whole experience as it took to eat it. I’m pretty sure no one wants to read 5 hours worth of my writing. Don’t worry, I’ll give you little tidbits here and there, and you can hover your curser over the picture for the title of each course.
So here it is: Next, el Bulli
A frozen shot to start things off…
First 3 courses in snacks…
An inside out ham sandwich.
A liquid olive explosion: Olive juice inside a loosely gelatinous sphere, marinated in olive oil.
The first of 2 little vials of liquid that changed the flavor of the sparkling wine in order to pair better with the following courses.
Fried liquid chicken. Hmmm…
One of my fave courses: A sesame spongecake with miso sauce. It was soft and sponge and bouncy and had this crazy combo of salty umami-ness. Loved it.
Drink me: #2.
Smoke foam. So interesting it took several “bites” for me to decide if I liked it or not. I decided no. It was the favorite course of one of my dining companions. That tells you how strange and provocative it was.
The second foam in a row; this one was fabulous. At first it seemed one dimensional…ok, carrot foam. Lame. Then you discovered the amazingly complex coconut broth underneath and you (ok…I) wanted to take a bath in it. Delicious! Probably my other favorite course.
But this one was really good too. Calamari ravioli. No pasta involved. That super smooth casing is the calamari body. Very tender, flavorful and appealing to the eye.
Tomato ice with oregano…meh.
Hot crab aspic. Huh? How can aspic be hot? The gelatin should melt! These sneaky guys…
Cauliflower couscous with no couscous on the plate. This was a fun one to play with. So many accompaniments and flavor combinations to create!
Liquid potato tortilla. This one was provocative and delicious, as well, with at super silky mouthfeel.
This one actually looks more like a potato tortilla of the previous course but is composed mostly of mushrooms. There are a few crispy potatoes on the upper layer. Pinenuts, herbs and rabbit kidneys accompany. Yes, I said “rabbit kidneys”.
This was probably one of my least favorite (am I allowed to say that?). No one at our table finished this course. Over-salted and otherwise not that great (except for the beautiful brunoisette of “ratatouille” that crusted the fish). I guess the seashell pillow on which the plate was served deserves note.
This course was all about the flower but the eel and bone marrow that rest upon its leaf made it even more interesting.
Here’s the rest of that bunny…
This frozen gorgonzola sphere was more about the presentation and sensation for me. Plus, I like to play with my food so this was fun.
You can probably imagine how ridiculously rich a flan made from, say… foie gras might be. Yes, it was that ridiculously rich.
I could have been the only one at the table to like this “course” but the flavor matching game was so fun!
We weren’t left guessing how many we got right. And the winner is….
This was a crazy, cold-in-so-many-ways palate cleanser. A frozen ‘mint pond’…
…sprinkled with multiple mints, then broken.
The first ‘real dessert’ dessert after several transition courses of ‘somehow sweet yet somehow savory’ dishes. This is chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.
I’m not gonna lie- I can’t say much about the last few. This was about 4.5 hours and 25 courses in. Stick a fork in me… I’m done!
Farewell (/ get-the-hell-out-it’s-1AM).
But not without one last bite!
Seriously. Wow. I’m not even sure this should be referred to as “dinner”. It’s more of a captivating and artistic expression… that we get to eat! A truly fascinating experience.
Let me just start by saying that I can not say enough good things about Autre Monde… but I’m going to try. This place is AWESOME! Honestly. FABULOUS! Really. AMAZING! I absolutely LOVED it! Seriously. TDF! (There… how’d I do?)
An hour before we were supposed to leave to drag our asses out to Berwyn, I debated bailing, wondering if it could possibly be worth it considering all of the tasty restaurants that surround us right here in the city. Boy am I glad we stuck to our plan!
We were lucky enough to attend a tasting where we sampled soooo many amazing dishes. I am completely and thoroughly convinced that the good and kind people at Autre Monde can do no wrong.
We started at the most adorable bar for a couple of delicious and well put together cocktails. I was already excited just sitting there as the decor is something of a combination of a French bistro and country house. As we would soon find out, the food is somewhat of a reflection of that combination as well, but add Italy and Spain to the mix. Yes, please!
Our first taste was of a flatbread with Pancetta, Broccoli Rabe and Talleggio Cheese. Rich and fab.
I think I may have danced a little in my seat at the sight of the grilled octopus. I love grilled octopus. Especially when it’s made juicy with sweet little tomatoes, capers and EVOO. They call this version ‘L’Escala’ which is Spanish but I’m pretty sure both the French and the Italians do something pretty damn similar and equally as delicious.
I’m also a big fan of bitter stuff. Yes, people. Get over it. Bitter is good. This Grilled Winter Salad was simple and wonderful: bitter and acidic and salty. The salt factor came from the marinated white anchovy. ”Not your mother’s anchovy,” they say. Indeed, it is not!
In the top right corner of this picture was one of my most favorite, and surprising, tastes of the night. The house smoked mackerel pate almost made me fall over. I was surprised that I loved it so much since I’m not normally a smoked fish kinda girl. All rules out the window at Autre Monde. It was absolutely amazing.
With a little assistance from the professionals, the grilled fresh sardines were enjoyed around the table as well. They’re done in the style of ’agrodolce’ which means ‘sweet and sour’ but not in the sticky, orange, I-don’t-want-to-know-what’s-really-in-this-sauce sauce. It refers to the addition of sugar and vinegar in the onions. It’s topped with pinenuts and raisins. Very Siciliano.
And now the pasta. HEAVEN! And you all know what a completely unapologetic snob I am about pasta. Apparently, at least some of the Autre Monde peeps came from Spiaggia. I’ll take this pasta over Spiaggia’s any day. True statement. Perfect texture, perfect bite, super flavorful filling and sauce (ok… so it’s cheese and butter… hard to go wrong there). Wonderful.
The lasgane was equally good. It was very classically layered with Bolognese and bechamel and sprinkled with parm. I love it when simple is done perfectly. It’s kinda glorious.
Not that there was anything wrong with it, but you can have the pappardelle with tom sauce, mozz and arugula. I’ll take another tortellacci (did I mention that it had black truffle on it too? Oh yeah…).
As if that wasn’t enough (and it was), the lamb shank arrived. Smoked, then braised with tomato, this baby was (obviously) falling off the bone directly into a frighteningly creamy (mascarpone?) polenta. Slurp!
A couple of sides, too, of course! Chickpeas with spinach and lemon were a nice counter part to the richness of the previous few plates and I’m always a sucker for some big ol’ fat butter beans (they’re my fave bean ever).
Maybe my least favorite was the green beans with potatoes and smoked goat cheese. Hey, something had to be the least favorite! Not bad, but not drool-worthy.
Decadence continued with a pistacchio & caramel tart as well as a chocolate custard. Wow and wow.
Yes, I loved the place, the people and the food. This is the place I wish was near me. I love that the menu is so balanced. There are tons of fish, veg and meat options as well as charcuterie, cheese and other snacks. Not all of it fatty and heavy, in fact, I’d say it’s quite the opposite. Lots of real flavors and real flavor combinations unmasked by the cheater ingredients we so often see on menus these days (you know… bacon, pork belly, cream, butter, cheese). So impressive.
The Short Version (Out of 10)…
Overall impression: 10
Would I go back?
Wish I was headed there tonight! You should probably go soon.
All I can say is “OMG”. Eataly is ridiculous. Seriously. The place is massive and packed full of everything Italia. I don’t even know where to start. It must be the largest concentration of Italian import food goods, plus hand made stuff, plus specialty restaurants on the planet. I’m convinced. I was in hog heaven. Now if only those other bazillion people crammed in there would get out of my way!
It goes like this: Every specific section contains a grocery plus a restaurant and then there are little prepared foods take-out areas scattered about. So, you could go to the fish section and buy fresh fish to cook at home, or you could sit down at Pesce and order from the seafood dominant menu. Same with the produce. There’s a section of beautiful and interesting fruits and veggies but there’s also a counter with it’s own hot line serving all veggie dishes. There’s also a coffee bar and a gelato counter, whose line backs up to the line of people waiting at the panino counter. Plus, an entire restaurant dedicated to pasta and pizza, of course (I really wanted to go there!), and a bread counter selling a huge variety of breads I haven’t seen since I was in Italy last. And I haven’t even mentioned the salumi and cheese bar which contains an area where people are making fresh mozzarella in front of your eyes, which is next to the counter with whole legs of prosciutto and other beautiful cured things hanging above you. Oh, and there’s wine, and cookies, and preserves, and confections, and more pasta than you can shake a stick at (fresh and dried), and a rotisserie carving porcini rubbed prime rib to-go…. yeah, it’s pretty fabulous.
We went there to eat at Manzo. It’s the fine dining, meat driven restaurant (Manzo=Beef in Italian) headed up by Babbo’s ex-sous chef, Michael Toscano and his wife Caitlin, who happens to be a friend of mine from our days managing at Del Posto together. They are so lovely and great at what they do.
I didn’t tell Caitlin I was coming. I wanted to surprise her and see her in her new place. When I greeted her, she was shocked. She pointed at Michael who happened to be out of the kitchen for the moment. We hugged. Then I noticed who I was standing next to when I did. It was Mark Ladner, the chef at Del Posto who I’d worked with, and the Fat Man himself. I re-introduced myself (he couldn’t possibly remember lil’ ol’ me in the sea of people he employs) and he responded with, “I know who you are.” I’m sorry, what?! Mario Batali knows who I am? Even after a year of not seeing me around his restaurant? Holy crap. Then he continued with, “That’s some pretty big hair you’ve got going.” To which Ladner replied without hesitation, “Yeah, that’s kinda her shtick.” Haha! This cracked me up! Ladner was always making me stop in the kitchen so he could study my ‘do and try to figure out how I did it. Such characters! We chatted a bit more before I went to the table to indulge in what was about to come.
And there was plenty of it! Michael is so talented. He’d been thinking about and planning this menu for years. Caitlin was always telling me about the recipes he was testing at home and how he volunteered at the butcher shop in Chelsea Market on his days off… just to learn everything he possibly could. Such dedication.
Our spread was massive, as you might have guessed. Here’s what we started with:
Then we moved on to the Primi. Honestly, the texture of each one of these pastas is unrivaled to me in the US. Each different and perfect. Incredible. Michael, I want you secrets.
I’m glad they sent this little extra. It would’ve been a shame to miss!
Then a Secondo…
And with that they sent…
You’d think that was enough. There were only 4 of us, for crying out loud. But noooo…. Caitlin wouldn’t let us get away without dessert too!
Oh my gosh. By the end of it, we were stuffed! Such a wonderful dinner as I knew it would be! Thanks guys! See you on the next NYC weekend trip!
So here’s the run down on last Sunday’s Easter dinner. I’ll try to keep it short since there was a lot going on and this post has great potential to get out of control. In fact, there was so much going on, that we forgot to take pictures of most of the finished products so what you’ll see is mostly procedure. Just imagine that all the dishes looked beautiful in the end:).
|Grilling bread for bruschette|
|Mushrooms for the Bruschetta|
|Steaming Artichokes for the Egg Salad|
|Tomato & Mozz|
|Egg Salad with Artichoke|
|Not quite full (yet) appetizer table|
|Onions, peas, chicken stock, mint for pea soup|
|Peas in my Vitamix|
|Smooth-as-silk pea soup|
|Oh Crap! We forgot to take a picture!- Half eaten soup with crab salad.|
The vitamix makes this (or any other) soup soooo creamy you’d actually think there was cream in it. I made sure to tell the guests that there was, in fact, no cream, so that they’d feel good about eating the whole bowl. Honestly, the soup itself probably has about 80 calories in it and the crab doesn’t add much more. Yeah, I should make that more often. (See more low-cal Vitamix Juicer Recipes.)
|The beginning of pasta- flour, eggs, salt|
|Kneading the dough|
|A beautiful soft little belly of dough. Shhh… he’s resting.|
|Piping the Ricotta/Basil/Mint filling|
|Separating an egg|
|Adding the yolk to its nest|
|Covering the filling|
|Getting all the air out|
|Cutting the huge ravs|
|Pressing out air… again|
|Waiting for boiling water|
|Crisping prosciutto for rav garnish|
|A couple hours later… out of the oven|
|Lovely guests aka Easter peeps|
|The Manhattan Bar- He’s not just an excellent photographer!|