Tag Archives: wine

Dining in Italy

Italian fare is one of the most influential and beloved cuisines worldwide, including — and especially — the place I call home. New Jersey is a haven for Italian-Americans (insert “Jersey Shore” cracks here), and I grew up dining at sublime local Italian restaurants. My trip to Italy was a chance to taste dishes I’ve enjoyed for years in family-run restaurants and my friends’ homes, back where they all originated.

Between bites of our first meal in Italy, my family and I recognized the genius of the country’s homeland cooking. It’s all about simple, focused dishes comprised of quality of ingredients, and that makes a world (or country?) of difference. The tomatoes were impossibly sweet, the olive oil pungent in the best way possible and the pasta always cooked to al dente perfection.

Since a trip through Italy is as much a culinary experience as a sightseeing tour, I compiled a photo log of bites I just could not get over, spanning every course of a meal. I must admit one of my favorites is not included below, and it was the classic Roman carbonara dish at a place in Trastevere. I somehow failed to photograph the plate and get the name of the restaurant, (Double failure! There’s no excuse, really, but we had been walking forever and the Spain-Portugal World Cup game was on….) but here is an image from the restaurant’s packed outdoor seating area. If by chance you recognize it, please let me know!

 

Mystery restaurant in Trastevere, Rome, by Karina for TKGO

 

Bruschetta (and penne with marinara sauce) at La Pallotta in Assisi

There’s really nothing more to this dish than what you can discern in the picture, but it was delicious. It tasted as though it had been thoughtfully and carefully prepared, from when the ingredients were selected to the moment it was plated.

 

Bruschetta (olive tapenade, tomato and olive oil) at La Pallotta, by Karina for TKGO

 

Similarly, the penne with marinara sauce my sister ordered didn’t look like much, but we all spent the meal grabbing bites. If this dish tasted everywhere else like it did at La Pallotta, the world would be a more delectable place.

 

Penne with marinara sauce at La Pallotta, by Karina for TKGO. (My sister had already started eating before I snapped the photo, hence why the place is a little messy.)

 

Greek Salad at Cul de Sac in Rome

I know I went for a Greek salad in Italy, but I needed something other than pasta for lunch on a hot day in Rome, and I am still glad I didn’t guilt myself out of this decision. (Also, I was sure to order an Italian white wine to accompany it.) The feta cheese was unparalleled, and it combined with sweet and crisp tomatoes, red onions, kalmata olives and cucumbers and drizzled with olive oil was exactly what I was craving.

 

Greek salad at Cul de Sac, by Karina for TKGO. Also pictured: my father's baked pasta dish

 

Prosciutto and Melon at Osteria de’Benci in Florence

Peanut butter and jelly might be the most celebrated of unlikely food combinations, but it really should be prosciutto and melon. The juicy sweetness of the melon and drier, more savory taste of prosciutto strike an ideal, mouthwatering balance. We took to ordering this classic and unfailingly divine Italian appetizer at least once a day, but at Osteria de’Benci it was best. Both the melon and prosciutto melted in our mouths.

 

Prosciutto and melon at Osteria de'Benci, by Karina for TKGO

 

Also of note: Osteria de’Benci’s “drunken spaghetti,” is a dish you won’t see everywhere and will want to try, even if it looks like brains in this photo. It’s al dente spaghetti soaked in red wine.

 

Drunken spaghetti at Osteria de'Benci, by Karina for TKGO

 

Pizza at Pizzeria Aurora in Sorrento

My dad described the slivers of parmesan cheese on top as “cheese from the gods.” The thinly sliced prosciutto also was a godsend, and the hearty crusty was cooked crisp in a brick oven. If you find yourself in Sorrento and wanting to try it (do it!), it’s the only pizza on the menu that says it’s folded over.

 

Pizza at Pizzeria Aurora, by Karina for TKGO

 

Truffle Pasta (Trofie Tartufo) at Maccheroni in Rome

Trofie is small pasta twists, and its folds scooped up perfect amounts of the creamy and slightly earthy tartufo — black truffle — sauce. It is rich, so you probably won’t finish your plate. I say, use it to barter for bites of other people’s dishes, because everything we tried here was ambrosial.

 

Truffle pasta, by Karina for TKGO

 

Also of note: We ordered a plate of ravioli with pumpkin flowers at the suggestion of our waiter (who, as we learned, carried a photo of the captain of his favorite Italian soccer team in his wallet, but not his girlfriend) to share at the start of our meal and it was gone in record time. I highly recommend it, as well as the meatballs, which were succulent and far from any of the bready concoctions par for the course over here in the States.

 

Meatballs at Maccheroni, by Karina for TKGO

 

Gelato at Il Gelato di San Crispino in Rome

This place is super close to the Trevi Fountain, so you really have no excuse not to go — and trust me, you want to. The superb gelato served here is devoid of anything artificial, and the fresh taste of every flavor proves it. My surprise favorite was chocolate meringue, but the family’s unanimous winner was strawberry. We were so crazy about that one flavor we returned two days in a row to have it.

 

Rum/chocolate and strawberry at Il Gelato di San Crispino, by Karina for TKGO. Sadly, my camera was unable to capture the delicious beauty of the gelato.

 

Karina for TKGO

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Drinking Wine Like Grown-Ups

For the past couple of months, we’ve been touring the world of wine. We signed up for the weekly, introductory Wine Appreciation “mini course” at Northwestern University’s student center to start drinking wine like adults instead of college kids. Below is a regional run-through of what we learned, as well as descriptions of some of our favorite bottles, most of which cost under $15. This is by no means an exhaustive tour, but you have to start somewhere!

The Basics

  • Hold the glass by the stem so your hand doesn’t warm the wine.
  • White wines in this price range are better when younger (more recently bottled).
  • The term “estate bottled” means the grapes are grown and bottled by the same vineyard. This ensures quality.
  • Reserve (or reserva) means the producers kept it back a year or so to age before distributing it. Drink them right away; there’s no need for extra aging.
  • Gewurztraminer is the current trendy choice in white wine. It’s hearty and aromatic, and is one of the rare few that goes well with Asian cuisines (BYOB, anyone?).

 

Sparkling and dessert wines at Wine Appreciation, by Karina for TKGO

 

United States: West Coast
Chardonnay is the most popular grape in America. Pinot noir originated in Burgundy, France, but also grows well in Santa Barbara.
  • Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2008
  • Bonterra Mendocino County 2008
  • Turn Four Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Washington
France
You won’t be able to discern the varietal (or type of grape) from the label, which is a departure from wine labeling in the rest of the world. What’s important in France is where the grapes grew and the wine was bottled. French people themselves tend to drink wines from the Loire Valley.
  • Muscadet Henri Poiron 2008, Loire Valley
  • Cotes du Rhone Jean-Luc Colombo 2007
South America
Chilean and Argentine wines are famously delicious and easy on the pocketbook. Malbec is a varietal used in blends all over the world, but Argentina is the only producer to bottle it alone.
  • Santa Ema Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Reserve, Maipo Valley, Chile
  • Terrazas Malbec, 2008 Argentina
Australia and New Zealand
Chiraz is the national grape of Australia. Though rieslings are often German, New Zealand makes some rieslings to reckon with.
  • Yard Dog White Blend 2008 Australia
Sparkling/Dessert Wines:
Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Anything fizzy made elsewhere is just called sparkling wine. In order from dry to sweetest, the classifications are brut nature, brut, extra dry, sec/dry, demi-sec and doux. Brut is most common, and it’s typically 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay.
  • Method Champenoise Gruet Blanc de Noirs
  • Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Champagne Brut

Grab some bottles and start tasting. Cheers!

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Partying in Pilsen Art Galleries

We took advantage of the free shuttles Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art was sponsoring to Halsted Street in Pilsen for November’s Second Friday to check out the art gallery scene last week. We’ve ranked a few of our favorites for you. Check it out and visit one tonight!

6. Concrete Age Artworks, 1932 S. Halsted St., 312-226-3542. This gallery focuses on innovative home furniture. Most is made of concrete (as evidenced by the name of the place) and fashioned in modern designs. We love the slate-colored kitchen sinks and the sleek angles of all the designs.

5. Chicago Art Department, 1837 S. Halsted St., 312-226-8601. One word can describe this place: packed. And with free wine in the back, what else could we expect? In the current exhibit, 14 artists answered the question: What does $200 mean to you? The resulting artwork is as diverse as Pilsen, representing everything from new jeans to intangible moments. See the exhibit online here.

4. Alexander J. Fedirko, 1932 S. Halsted St. #206, 313-550-2519. The detailed work on this second-floor gallery merits a good, hard look. Don’t miss the floor-to-ceiling portrait of all the U.S. presidents in black and white. The one piece you can’t leave without seeing is the artist’s 2009 rendition of the view from atop the Sears Tower, done in four black and white oil paintings suspended from the ceiling, corner to corner, to form an enclosed space you can step inside.

3. Vespine Gallery, 1907 S. Halsted St. The paper here is not whatever’s sitting in your printer. Coffee table books of handmade cardboard-thick white sheets illustrate species of whale in shimmering dark blue lines on a table toward the back (right next to the most delicious homemade hot chocolate we’ve ever gotten for free). In the front, vibrant red and creme-spotted mushrooms pop out of the wall (the mushroom cap is a book with the cover facing outward and the pages posing as a mushroom’s gills.


2. Artpentry, 1827 S. Halsted St., 312-624-8687. This is by far one of the coolest galleries we’ve seen. In one corner, you’ll find a pile of old school speaker boxes, rewired to plug into your iPod or other headphone jack (and the sound quality is great!) called the Gentleman’s Boombox. In the other corner, artist Floyd A. Davis IV screenprints t-shirts, and in another he’s hung geometric sketches. Davis may just be one of the more interesting people we met that night.

 

The Gentleman's Boombox

 

 

Listen here to Davis’ interview with TKGO where he discusses how he’s a “Renaissance Man” and  the origin of his Gentleman’s Boombox. (The audio can play on iTunes.)

1. Studio 101 Gallery, 1932 S. Halsted St. #101, 312-624-8291. We rank this number 1 not because it’s the best gallery, but because it’s the most fun! The current exhibit is an iPhone photo exhibit, with photos taken by artists from their iPhones. The art/technology fusion continued as Twitter feeds (#iphoneshow) were projected onto the ceiling, allowing guests to post notes that could be seen throughout the studio. Chalkboard paint on the wall also encouraged guests to participate (as did the Tecate in the back of the room). With techno and trance beats running through the speakers, this place turned into a party fast! Great way to end the Friday night art gallery tour, if you ask us.

 

#iphoneshow!

 

TKGO gallery hopping

 

 

Tara and Karina for TKGO