Friday, November 20, 2009

Pizzeria Nella


We were fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-opening party at Pizzeria Nella last night. The noise level in the place is either energetic if you are in a lively mood or too loud if you are trying to have a serious conversation. Could have been the crowd but more likely than not it is the open room design, multiple TV screens, piped in music and lack of any fabric anywhere contributing to the noise level.

It's a very pleasing looking space with large pictures of Nella working pizza dough balls into shape across the north wall. A large bar with two TV monitors above frames the south wall. In the southeast corner is the volcanic stone oven and pizza prep station. A well placed and well lit mirror above the station allows diners from almost any point in the dining room to check in on the pizza making action.

The food was very good. Antipasti were exactly as they are intended to be - very appetizing and a nice prelude to the pizza. The warm melanzane (eggplant) had deep, rich flavors of tomato and garlic without overpowering the delicate flavor of the eggplant. An Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) was light and cool with flavors of the sea. A Caprese Salad featured silky smooth coins of mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) large fresh basil leaves and red-ripe tomato halves. The marinated salmon was tender and moist, albeit just a bit fishy.

On to the main star, the pizza. Moderately thin crust dough - soft and crisp at the same time with great flavor. This is Neapolitan Pizza - not cracker thin dough if you are used to that so don't expect it. The edges have some crispness and dark patches from the oven but as you near the center of the pizza the dough is floppy and moist.

The toppings are fresh and of high quality - the prosciutto had all of the expected nuttiness and was not overly salty as many prosciuttos can be. The rucola (arugula) was tender and with a nice peppery bite.

A must is the stuffed pizza - the Vesuvio - a marvelous volcanic shaped pizza with top and bottom crust and a smudge of tomato sauce in the center that resembles hot flowing lava. The filling included mushrooms, prosciutto cotto (ham) and more - well worth the $17.99 price as it easily feeds two.

All in all this place is sure to be a hit. We’ll be back and are quite willing to pay for our next meal there.

(Note: these photos were cut and pasted from their website and are the same shots shown on the restaurant wall.)

2423 N. Clark
Chicago, IL 60614

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Counter - Build Your Own Burger

Visited a very interesting burger concept last week - The Counter - at 666 W. Diversey Pkwy in Chicago. It had that cool steel and bright airy feel like a Chipotle although here they do offer well-trained table servers to take care of you. Soft drinks and tea glasses are large and include free refills. They also offer beer and wine.

The menu is a nice mix of finger foods, salads and sandwiches - burgers from veggie to beef to turkey to lamb and grilled chicken breast sandwiches. The 50/50 mix of parmesan garlic fries and sweet potato fries was a very generous portion of thin and crisp fries with a tasty yet subtle seasoning.

You get four toppings, 1 cheese, 2 sauces and can have your protein on a bun or in a bowl on salad greens. Topping choices include the standard fare plus some not so usual items such as shredded carrots, dilled cranberries, fried or hard-boiled eggs, herbed goat cheese spread, roasted chilis, horseradish cheddar, avocados, caramelized onion marmalade and red relish to name just a few.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vie - 5 Course Iron Chef Dinner - Secret Ingredient - Pheasant!

Here's the review of our dinner at Vie in Western Springs on Tuesday, 11/3/09 from the Open Table site:

We attended the Iron Chef dinner (5 courses of pheasant) and it was excellent. The courses were small enough so that no one was too full after five courses, a sorbet and dessert. We recommend he keep the house smoked pheasant breast and scotch egg on the menu. The consomme portion was a bit small and the plate not warm enough so the consomme cooled off too quickly. The service was wonderful - attentive but not bothersome, water was always filled, wine was poured etc. The front room is quite cold - they need to work on insulating the windows a bit. This was November 3 - I can't imagine how cold (unbearable) it must be in the winter. We were even seated next to the gas fireplace and it was still chilly. We look forward to returning!

Special Features:
Fit for Foodies, Good for Groups, Neighborhood Gem, Romantic, Special Occasion

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cuban Black Beans and Rice - Authentic Recipe

Ran across this delicious black beans and rice meal a few months ago and had to share the website for all you Cuban food lovers who might want to give them a try. They are easy to prepare - just open a few cans of beans, mix in a jar of sauteed seasoning mix (sofrito) and heat through. Serve over steamed white rice for an authentic tasting Cuban staple without all of the hassle. The website is

My family makes homemade black beans and rice for every holiday meal - it takes hours to soak the beans, slow cook them, make the sauteed seasoning mix (sofrito) and then cook them together again for hours while all of the flavors meld. With these Old Havana Foods products we can enjoy black beans and rice on any night in just a few minutes.

I think their sofrito might be able to be used in other Cuban dishes like Arroz con Pollo, Picadillo or Seafood Paella. When I get a chance to try the sofrito in a few recipes I'll report back.