Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

There is a dazzling museum, so very special, that I visited with my folks a few years ago on a lovely spring day. We fell upon it by chance while perusing an outdoor craft fair nearby and on a whim decided to step inside…

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The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst, IL has an incredible display of worked stone. Lapidary is an art where the cutting and polishing of stone and gemstones create something magnificent

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I’ve come to really adore small museums focusing on a particular theme, or part of history. It allows you to explore a topic in greater detail and gain a better appreciation for one subject. Look at all the different types of stone these little bottles are carved from! I wonder what was once kept inside each of them?

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There were lots of little scenes to view, with the characters all carved from stone. I was so delighted, and completely in awe of the artists that make such careful, thoughtful creations…

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Such delicate little baby birds of stone! I wonder how long it took to carve this precious family of robins? I can hear them singing the songs of spring, see them hopping around in the dirt in search of earthworms…

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These antique cameos are so wonderful! So much of stone crafting is using the natural colors and uniqueness of each stone to produce certain effects. For instance, these are made of agate (which have different layers of color). Each cameo is made from one piece of stone, cut so that the darker colors create the background while the white images come alive at the front!

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What divine detail in this rendering of The Last Supper, carved from ivory. I could never be a lapidary artist. How do they carve all those tiny little plates and hands without marring and chipping each one? They must be the most patient people on the planet…

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There are so many one of a kind pieces to admire in this museum. In spite of its modest size, you could find yourself spending quite a bit of time pondering each miniature display. I was absolutely amazed! I encourage you to visit this gem (pun intended), or to support one such local museum where you live. What wonders are out there to experience! Enjoy the adventure!

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

Last week, handsome asked if I’d be up for seeing Hamilton (the insanely popular musical showing in NYC and Chicago at present). Since its debut in 2015, Hamilton has had incredible success, winning many fine awards. Thus, tickets are difficult to get, and pricey too. My immediate reply was, “But won’t that be expensive?” Let’s just say there are some experiences worth the price of inflation!

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We started out the evening with a scenic ride on Lake Shore Drive. The lights heading into the city are beautiful at night. I love sitting cozily in the passenger seat. My partner said something quite true, “Chicago is a happening place. We’re lucky!” And we are, so many great cultural experiences to be had, and so much great food…

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We had a reservation at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. Guests find it a unique experience because this style of restaurant delivers cut after cut of tender, grilled meats, right to your tableside. As I don’t regularly consume meat, I did not partake. Fortunately, they have a spectacular salad bar!

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Papaya, fried yuca, marinated mushrooms, plantains, marinated vegetables, pear salad, potato salad, deliciously dressed greens…this was not your average salad bar!

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After such a filling, decadent meal, I found it incredulous that anyone would ever order dessert at Fogo. When my honey asked to see the menu (just to take a peek), I gasped. We then promptly ordered the caramelized pineapple and ate it all…

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We then hopped back in the car and zipped on over to the Private Bank Theatre (known as Broadway in Chicago). The energy outside of the theater was awesome! Ticket holders were excited, the camera lights were flashing, the Hamilton sign aglow. We joked about keeping our eyes peeled for celebrities with everything so abuzz. As we entered inside, I was as giddy as I always am upon entering the theater…

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…and then the show proceeded to knock our socks off from our front row seats upon the balcony. Being such a revered musical, I walked in with no idea of what to expect. I wondered how they would take the dry bit out of telling a complicated life story in America’s history. How would they make it as wonderfully entertaining as Broadway musicals tend to be? Yes, history is fascinating (I’m nuts about it). However, it can also be complicated and dry, hardly whimsical…

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Hamilton however, accomplished something very difficult. This musical took the complicated, and using perfectly timed movement & dance, unpretentious yet excellent costumes, a bare yet full-of-life stage, powerfully driven voices, extensive wit, a script beyond compare, and hip-hop…turned Alexander Hamilton’s life (1755-1804), this American statesman’s incredible story, into a palpable experience for us today…

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There is much more to be said about Hamilton, but I’ll leave that to those better versed in history, politics and musical theater. What I can say is, it’s a wonderful musical. If you get the chance, don’t throw away your shot at seeing this brilliant work!

Here’s to being thankful for the peace and freedoms I enjoy today. Here’s to thankfulness for my freedom of speech. Here’s praying for the same peace and freedoms for all…

A Night At The Museum

There are three places in the world that I deeply treasure in my heart. Venice, Italy. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI. And, The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. So when handsome and I received an unprecedentedly exciting invitation to an evening soiree at The Field, my mouth dropped open, my eyes grew sparkly, and my brain broke for approximately five whole minutes…

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Chicago was having a bit of a blizzard, but that didn’t stop us. It made the evening even more charming (especially because my date was driving while I yapped on, cozily in the passenger seat). I was delighted to see that we had valet right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum, and a white tent hovering over the grand stairs to keep guests covered from the wind and snow…

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After checking in our coats, we filed up marble stairs to the second floor, where hors d’oeuvres and beverages were passed on silver platters. The view was breathtaking, the holiday lights and enormous wreathes of greenery were hung festively, and jazzy music echoed all around. I had a perpetual grin on my face as my eyes darted around in every direction. The secrets within the museum halls were calling my name…

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It was an absolute privilege to amble through the exhibits at night, with the halls dim and the cases enchantingly lit, hardly bumping into another guest. It was like we had the whole museum to ourselves. The beautiful botany, the pinned insects, the dinosaurs, the ancient artifacts…I swoon, I die…actually I gasped, and giggled, and smiled and felt as merry as a lark…

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I whispered with the dinosaurs and my imagination went wild with prehistoric visions…

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I told Sue that she was pretty. 65 million years have nothing on her!

If you haven’t seen the incredible documentary about this T-Rex, titled Dinosaur 13, I entreat you to watch it immediately. The story was so moving that I cried. Yup. I secretly shed tears for a dinosaur. Sue’s story is truly amazing…

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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I love, love, love the bugs! In another life, I am an entomologist! Aren’t they fascinating?!

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This dude had some serious spine. I wonder if he suffered from back aches?

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And in my other, other life…I’d like to be a full-time scale models, replicas and diorama maker for museums! Tell me this beach scene doesn’t look real? The figures in the sand are no bigger than my pinky finger. Ahhhh! I’m nuts for dioramas!

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After adequately losing my mind with childlike excitement, we sat down to a delicious dinner. I very much enjoyed my salad of greens with blue cheese crumbles, crusty artisan bread, and mushroom risotto with asparagus. It was perfect…

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There were adorable little desserts too, tasting of egg-nog and peppermint. Miniature winks to the festive season! And after our sweet treats, we roamed the halls of the museum once more, and then ended the evening with much dancing…

If you ever have the chance to visit The Field, I hope that you will and will spend some time. This museum has an incredibly rich history, its roots taking hold with The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893). The Field Museum is truly magnificent, and offers so much learning. I will cherish it for all of my days!

Rainy Night Dining in The Cellar

A few weeks ago while traipsing through wet and cold on over to a restaurant we had considered dining at one evening, we passed the door of The Cellar. We paused to peek at the menu posted outside and handsome proposed that we try it out! How glad I am that we did, and how surprising and pleasant an impromptu change of plans can be…

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We started with an appetizer called Cauliflower Popcorn (curried rice-flour battered cauliflower served with blue cheese dipping sauce) and let us just say I have never been more willing to eat my vegetables! It was devoured before the thought of a photo could even enter my mind…

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My date ordered the Grilled Lamb Chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, apple mustard and lamb jus. I took a nibble and must say that the rich red sauce was out of a culinary dream! A winter dish to warm the bones and fortify the spirit…

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I indulged in the New England Lobster Roll served with lobster meat, mayo, green onions and truffled fries. Oh heavens, oh heavens! Amen! Hallelujah! The lobster appears to have more mayo than necessary, but it was actually perfect, balancing out the crispy bun and large, fresh chunks of lobster. This sort of dish isn’t common in these parts, so I was very happy!

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Our bellies full, we ambled back out into the chilly drizzle and on to the movies, arm in arm. It was the perfect date night. Especially thanks to The Cellar, which is absolutely one of the best kept secrets in town. The peaceful yet stylish atmosphere, the excellent service and delectable menu has just made it our new favorite!

Chip Snatching Seagulls!

Living on the shores of Lake Michigan, we have seagulls aplenty. I like the sound of their aerial calls (for the noise makes me feel like I live something of a ‘beachy’ life), but I get easily irritated with their squawks and screeches when they stalk the vicinity of my beach chair for scraps from my picnics!

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I took these photos as ambling pedestrians threw bits of food into the air for swarming, squawking gulls. I was able to get some unique shots. Wouldn’t it be something to be able to fly! I think gulls are such robust, beautiful birds…

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Gulls are seabirds, though they are not known to fly out to sea. They stay close to shore and have adapted most especially to humans (who they so enjoy being given, or snatching food from). Once as I finished a lunch, I placed my plastic bag of partially eaten chips down next to my chair in the sand. One particular gull would not leave me alone, stalking that bag of chips no matter how much I tried to shoo and chase it away (which became sort of embarrassing for me with so many other beach goers around). It would fly off a few yards, and then screech at me to high heavens with one eye always turned on that chip bag!

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However annoying, I find seagulls’ tenacity and cleverness to be interesting to watch. They are known to be highly intelligent, persistent birds, and I quite like their quickness and bravery…

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Once a set of mating gulls pair up, they are together for life. They lay their eggs (about three) in shallow nests of sand, moss or grasses upon the ground. Once the precious, fuzzy babies arrive, one of the parents remain with them at all times…

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Seagulls eat a great many things (dead or alive), be it creatures of the sea (fish and squid), or creatures on land (bugs and lizards). Sadly, they are even known to gobble up baby gulls from other nests (which may be why one parent is always hovering near their nestlings)…

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I have a particular love for researching the bits of nature I encounter, and try to learn something new as often as I can. What small thing can I take from gulls? Well, it certainly isn’t that one should squawk and screech until they obtain what they desire (that’s just bad manners)…

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One thing I can say is that the local gulls deserve respect for surviving these most brutal of icy and windy winters that Chicago frequently serves up. In fact, they deserve an all-you-can-eat buffet of potato chips for that! But jesting aside, I’m inspired by the way they carry themselves with a certain pride and strength as they look out over the waters, even though they never know whether the waves will be tumultuous or whether all will be calm…

Here’s wishing you more quiet waters than rowdy, but that you’ll have the strength to ride out whatever turbulence might come your way!

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

I have the good fortune to live just a few blocks from the beautiful shoreline along Lake Michigan. There are beaches for people, and beaches for dogs. You can rent a boat or picnic in the grass, and even take in the view of Chicago…

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I quite enjoy a summer’s day at the beach, and I go prepared with fizzy water and snacks, a comfortable chair and an oversized sun hat. It is my time to catch up on reading, and the soothing sounds of the lake’s waves sound every bit as powerful as ocean waves…

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And just down the block is Northwestern University, where many a youth is filling their head with intelligent notions. I love school. If I could make a career of taking classes, I would…

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But along this wonderful shore, upon land owned by the university, there is a curious sight. Hundreds of enormous rocks, decorated with colorful messages…

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Out on those rocks, people lounge in the sun, eat their lunches, and even fish…

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And if you get close enough to read what is written, you will find interesting quotes, marriage proposals, individual memories and tributes. They are entertaining to explore (though somewhat precarious to walk upon)…

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There are many rocks that make me smile and warm my heart…

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And I find it a complete wonder to consider how many folks have trudged down to the lakeshore with paint buckets in hand over the years!

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Some were decorated so long ago, that the messages are fading away under the elements…

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There is much love to be found upon the rocks, which a community can never have too much of…

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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We of course cannot leave out messages that instigate a giggle or two, for what is life without laughter?

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Here’s wishing you a place of nature and beauty to enjoy, wherever you may live. Here’s wishing that you’ll visit it often and be filled with peace and happiness!

Birthday Blessings!

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was just filled with blessings. So many people were so kind in wishing me well, and offering little surprises that filled my heart with thankfulness and gladness. There was also a special birthday meal, which handsome treated me to at Boltwood in Evanston. This is the second birthday dinner in a row that I’ve spent there, for we quite enjoy this restaurant (which I’ve also reviewed here , here and here)…

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To start, we shared the sourdough pizza with summer squash, goat’s milk ricotta and oven roasted tomatoes and the grilled octopus with greens, orange and cucumber

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Grilled octopus is a touchy dish, but Boltwood does it right. Fresh seafood that is grilled to perfection! Makes me feel transported from the Midwest to the Mediterranean…

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And of course, there was no passing up the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Need I describe something so delicious? You can see from the photo that those potatoes are heavenly!

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There was also a big salad, for I love my greens! The simple, yet satisfying chopped salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and lemon vinaigrette was delicious and is just the kind of dish that inspires my own salad makings at home…

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For the main course, handsome had the grilled pork chop with red rice, quinoa, fennel and plum salsa. All that was left at the end was the bone, so I can only conclude that it was one pleasing chop…

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Meanwhile, I relished in the wild king salmon with fresh shelly beans and mint-almond pesto. Look at that beautiful fish!

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And after blowing out my pretty pink candle, we partook in a very unique dessert. Sweet corn with ice cream, corn cake and caramel. Definitely a wink to the sweet bounty of summer!

Here’s wishing you blessings all year long, be it your birthday or any day other!

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

The behemoth museums that regularly have dazzling new exhibits and thousands of visitors each year are of course fun! The Field Museum here in Chicago has a very special place in my heart (I’m especially nuts about their permanent insect exhibit). Lately however, when taking the opportunity to go to a museum, I’m leaning toward the smaller gems…such as Evanston’s Mitchell Museum of the American Indian!

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I took a pleasant bike ride over to this informative and precious museum this week and toured it in about 45 minutes. If I’d read more of the plaques that shared all of the history of each piece, it would have taken a little longer to get around…

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So what did I enjoy? First, the beadwork. Have you ever felt beadwork in your hands? The cool, slinky weight of it is so different from anything else.

Glass beads were first introduced to American Indians by European settlers. Before that, the use of bone, porcupine quills, shells and seeds were more common for decoration.

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Papoose! I was struck by these. I stood staring at them imagining a more natural life out-of-doors with a baby on my hip and no crib or fancy stroller. These hearty women strapped in their plump-cheeked cuties and went about their work.

What I really found interesting is that these weren’t meant to just wear on the back or prop up against a tree. They could also be tied higher up on a post of a dwelling, or to the side of a horse. Can you imagine being a little dude in a papoose riding on the side of your mother’s horse through the plains? What an adventure!

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I really liked the art pieces that depicted different American Indian cultures throughout the U.S. Sadly, movies (and especially old westerns) aren’t regularly true to history (and are even stereotypical and offensive) about native American culture. It’s important to visit museums to view precious collections (like this one) and learn the real history. Illustrations like these were an extra boost, giving me a better idea of how differently people lived depending on climate and region. These would be especially good for kids to check out!

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I delighted in these weaved pieces. I’m so used to seeing thick weaved baskets, that the teeny-tiny weave on some of these had me wondering how they did that. No little grains or treasures have a chance of escape from one of those. Incredible!

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This photo is for you jewelry/turquoise lovers. Ogle away!

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I swooned over the dolls, which like the paintings, illustrated daily life. I thought they were very special!

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And so cool…goggles made from leather! I learned that hunters needed these to help with the intense glare of sunlight projecting off of the freezing white landscape in our blustery northern region. I grinned back at the man in that photo!

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Thank you to all of the people who work so hard and with such great care to bring us such wonderful displays of history. Everything you do is appreciated and important!

For those folks who live in or are visiting Chicago’s North Shore, fit a visit in for this gem! And for everyone else, don’t forget to check out those smaller exhibits in your local community! I find that they offer such excellent and selective displays on individual histories and topics. What a treat!

Dining with Grace

A week ago today, handsome and I had a special occasion to celebrate and wanted to make it remarkable. For some time, we’d been wanting to visit Grace, a restaurant in downtown Chicago with an exceptional reputation!

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I can hardly describe, how otherworldly and magical this dining experience was. There are really no words for the glorious eight course meal we had, along with remarkable wine parings, impeccable service and truly exquisite ambiance.

This restaurant isn’t flashy from the street (we weren’t even initially sure we were at the right address), and when you enter, what peace and elegance; dim lighting, soft colors, minimal decor, gentle music…we immediately melted into our seats and relaxed (after a rather heroic city drive under some intense city winds that closed off streets due to high-rise debris falling on cars, during rush hour. Not terribly uncommon in the Windy City.)

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When you first begin, you select from one of two menus and the courses begin. Flora (for the plant lovers) or Fauna (for those who want seafood & meat). I tried Flora, and my companion, Fauna (though we shared, of course).

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Above was the amuse-bouche, “mouth amuser” in French, which isn’t ordered, but served prior to the meal gratis of the restaurant. I was fascinated with the forest plate set before us… we were told to use our fingers (no cutlery).

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To start: Parsnip with malt, pink grapefruit, lemon balm…(mine). So beautiful!

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Osetra Caviar with brandade, lemon, scallion…(his). Oh heavens!

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This one was served with a lid, and when you remove it, you’re instructed to lick the delicious lemon creme on it (like a yogurt cap). From within, smoke pours out, the wood smoke scent was amazing!

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Butternut Squash with ginger, mint, coriander blooms…(mine). I cannot express how divine the taste of coriander blooms are. I’d tasted coriander seeds before, but these little blooms were packed with a burst of spicy, flowery, herby flavor that I’d never tried…it’s a wild little plant!

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Alaskan King Crab with sudachi, cucumber, lemon and mint…(his). On this one, delectable bites were nested at the bottom, and layered over the top. You crack the shell up top with a spoon and then mix it all together. So, so pretty and the crab was so fresh.

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With the main dishes, small house-made breads were served to the side of each course (each piece unique), presented with a very special herbed butter. I could eat that butter with a spoon and I’m not ashamed to say it!

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Pumpkin with coconut, finger lime and sorrel…(mine).

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Hamachi with black cardamom, yuzu and chard…(his). The fish was so tender!

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Beets with goat cheese, cider, red amaranth…(mine). Do you see the goat cheese? It has been crafted into that edible white bowl right there!

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It melts, releasing the incredible liquid onto the plate to meet with the vegetables. I am a huge fan of beets…I was so delighted with this dish!

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Trumpet Royale with oat, cara cara and sea cress…(mine). Mushroom bliss!

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Pig Tail with endive, cauliflower, oxalis…(his). The meat (tender and juicy inside that ball up top) was utterly incredible.

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Chestnut with perigord truffle, buddha’s hand and white kale…(mine). A rare dish using  buddha’s hands, which are a tart, citrusy fruit. Paired with savory truffle, and nutty chestnut, truly unique!

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Short Ribs with watercress, lime and Vietnamese herbs…(his). I didn’t try the meat, but my date loved it. I did snatch another nibble of those coriander blooms however…I think I need to grow some of this plant this summer!

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Paused between the main dishes and dessert to have some Meyer lemon sorbet in a cone to ‘cleanse the palate’. It was like we were on a summer stroll. We could have stopped there and been content, but then…

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Banana with blueberry, cashew and African blue basil…(mine). Oh blueberry!

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Hazelnut with apple, brown butter and sorrel…(his). Hands up! Give me that donut!

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Chocolate with heart of palm, tangerine and citrus begonia…(his). I could have licked the plate.

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Firm, jello-like balls filled with chilled lemonade that burst in your mouth…so, so cool! Some pretty neat food chemistry was going on with this one…

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Peanut with passion fruit, murray river salt, banana and mint…(mine), in the glass to the left, along with a row of our wine pairings. It was a shame to let any of those delightful sips of wine go to waste (some of the most amazing tastes), but we were so delightfully fed and blissed out that we just couldn’t finish them. This three hour meal left us speechless.

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We love a decadent meal, but this one went far beyond that. For us, this was not just a meal, but an experience that we will never forget, marking a special occasion. If you’re planning something special and are local to Chicago, Grace will ensure your night will always be remembered!

Valentine’s Day Delights

My honey and I enjoyed another delicious meal at Evanston’s Boltwood to celebrate the holiday of love, and it was amazing! (You can also review another one of our visits here.)

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Holding hands with my Valentine…awww!…Now let’s get to the food!

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Ok, I understand some folks are squeamish about shellfish. But I had to get a picture of these oysters up close because I am mesmerized by nature. I never really thought about an oyster’s anatomy but they’ve got a heart, gills, a stomach, etc. You can read about them here. I hadn’t noticed these things before, but this particular variety had a very visible mantle on the shell and green gills!

After reading a little more about these little dudes, this vegetarian’s heartstrings tug for eating them. However, they were delicious pared with Boltwood‘s citrus mignonette. And it was Valentine’s Day, and oyster’s are said to inspire passion…

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Next we each had a slice of black bean toast, topped with avocado, cilantro, radish and cabbage. Oh my! They used a thick slice (reminding me of Texas toast), toasted perfectly with that crisp on the outside and comforting chew on the inside. The toppings were so cool and fresh, a dream dish for veggie lovers!

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Then we went to carrot heaven! Yellow, orange and plum color carrots prepared al dente, accompanied by burrata (soft cheese), mint and pesto…really, really, really delicious.IMG_3096.JPG

For our main dish, handsome had the grilled spiced octopus with almond tarator and lime relish. He enjoys octopus, having eaten it often in the south of France where he grew up, where it was abundantly pulled fresh from the sea and grilled. The hard part about ordering it locally (in the U.S.’s Midwest) is whether it will be fresh, but also grilled to a point where it isn’t overcooked, yet isn’t rubbery. This isn’t octopus snobbery, mind you. No one wants to eat a smelly, fishy tasting, rubbery octopus tentacle!

As there is an entire menu of delectable dishes at Boltwood, my date was on the fence. But our server assured him that he wouldn’t regret choosing it, and he didn’t! Cooked just right with a splendid spice and citrusy relish.

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Meanwhile, I couldn’t get enough of my grilled Indiana shrimp with miso squash, red cabbage, peanuts and cilantro. There was a taste of summer in these delicately charred shrimp and fresh slaw, wonderful! The squash was sweet and the peanuts crunchy, what a combination!

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We couldn’t go without a side of Boltwood‘s infamous crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Glorious, crispy buds with fresh green onions and one addictive cool dip for them. We could eat these everyday!

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To finish, the apple tart with almonds, peanuts and vanilla ice cream. This traditional American dessert was out of this world. It tasted like a chilly autumn night, with trick-or-treaters, jack-o-lanterns and fiery rustling leaves. Oh, my, goodness good! Tart little cubes of green apple, sticky carmelized sauce, nutty crunch, cinnamon spice and cold ice cream. Loved it!

We highly recommend making a reservation at Evanston’s Boltwood if you find yourself on Chicago’s North Shore. For us, it was yet another lovely evening filled with warm ambiance, excellent food and great service; quite a charming Valentine’s dinner!

Mangia! Mangia!

We had a delicious Italian meal at Convito Cafe in Wilmette, just up the street from home last Friday evening. We love finding new places for date night, and feel doubly lucky when we discover a great place right where we live.

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I smiled when they sat us in the coziest enclave, white linen on the table, soothing flameless candles, and this print of Venetian canals. If Venice is in my view, how could a meal ever be unpleasant?

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I’m a sucker for beet salad! If it is on the menu, I order it. Some soft goat cheese and spicy arugula, earthy chilled slices of beet…this salad alone made my night.

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No helter-skelter mussels arrangement here! Didn’t you know that mussels taste better when they are arranged this nicely? The Prince Edward Island Mussels with San Marzano cherry tomatoes, white wine, parsley, marjoram (a type of oregano), butter and crunchy garlic bruschetta was delicious!

Is it just me, or could you also eat an entire loaf of ‘crunchy garlic bruschetta’, dipping it into the sauce until there isn’t a drop or crumb left, only to ask the server for a second loaf?

Fun Fact: Bruschetta is actually just grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. You can put toppings (like diced tomatoes, onions and basil) on it, but bruschetta doesn’t mean its topped. I’m always learning something new!

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Pasta heaven! My date had the Campanelle Tonnato: bell shaped pasta, Italian poached tuna, grape tomatoes, picholine olives, capers, fresh basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of chili peppers. Was it delicious? I ate his leftovers and mine the next day.

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I enjoyed every bite of the Penne Integrale: whole wheat penne, butternut squash, kale, leeks, pumpkin seeds and parmesan butter sauce. Mmmmm…parmesan butter sauce. I dug this dish! The hearty kale, soft sweet squash, flavorful leeks and crunchy pumpkin seeds made it a pasta plate to remember.

A slice of sticky sweet apple tarte and vanilla ice cream was just the right ending to our meal. That was handsome’s espresso, but I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled divine. I would have taken a sip, only my eyes would have been wide open all night and this gal needs her eight hours.

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Convito Cafe was simple in the very, very best way. The food was delicious without being overly rich, the restaurant was classy yet warm like home, the service impeccable without being stuffy. We truly enjoyed our dinner.

But there’s more! Convito Cafe has a market on one side of the restaurant, filled with delectable, take-home meal options. We just picked up some butternut squash lasagna (for me), and meat lasagna (for him)…and some potato gratin (for him) and some cannelloni (for me)…and some roasted brussels sprouts (for us) and a lemon bar (for him…but I’m going to steal a bite when he isn’t looking and blame the cat). Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs…well, maybe not mine.

If you live on Chicago’s North Shore, take a little ride up Sheridan along the lakefront and enjoy a table at Convito Cafe. It’s a gem! We’ll see you there!

Indulgent Robatayaki

As I thought about our date night at Roka Akor this past Friday evening, the first word that popped into my head was decadence. Oh yes, we can’t stop going back (read here & here), and for good reason. In fact, we had other reservations but the moment handsome got home on that cold night, I blurted, “How about Roka Akor?” The answer was an immediate, yes.

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We started with the Salmon Tartare with Roasted Tomato Dressing and Crispy Taro Chips. The perfectly minced stack of salmon was so fresh, but the delightful, cool fresh toppings sent the flavor over the top. I felt my chopsticks combat in that bowl with my dinner companion’s, though we were on a date, so I didn’t nip his fingers like I wanted to.

You can purchase taro chips nowadays at the grocer, a healthier substitute for potato chips for certain. If they tasted like these, I’d be stocking up on bags like it was the eve of an apocalypse!

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The oysters were perfectly chilled, politely loosened from their shells, plump and topped with a hint of refreshing additions…just how an oyster should be. Bottoms up!

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Next, we once more selected the tender Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. “Decadent”: to be luxuriously self indulgent. Yes, that sounds about right! That pork belly is amazing!

We also enjoyed the fresh, crisp Organic Vegetable Maki rolls. Earthy and simple, the perfect balance in our mix of delectable choices.

Do we always select four appetizers when we eat out? Only at Roka Akor…decadence, remember?

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For the main course, I enjoyed sweet, tender Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter. Crab is king in my book, and this plate was generously stacked with the best. And though I find it satisfying to break apart my own crab legs on the hunt for meat, I didn’t have to look like a wild-crab-claw-crusher in front of my date. They come sliced open, the meat easy to get at. That’s some classy crab!

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The Japanese Wild Mushroom and Mountain Greens Rice Hot Pot is a very special side. To open that rustic looking kettle safely planted into a wooden box feels like I’m sharing in tradition while eating the very thing to ward off winter. It is such a satisfying dish. Roka also offers shaved truffle with it. Did we get the truffle? Decadence…

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Handsome had the Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod with Pickled Onions. Holy cod! That fish was exceptionally light, fresh and flakey with that lovely crisp on the top. The yellow sauce was a sweet, creamy lemon and it was out of this world delicious. Sometimes, I just want to eat sauce with a spoon. How is that for decadent? And let’s not forget the pickled onions, a little sweet, a little sour, a nice crisp, loved them.

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For dessert, Warm Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Caramelized Peanuts; one wonderful end to a magnificent meal. That with a sip of Japanese whiskey, what can be said but perfect.

The staff once more showed their excellence in service and we were never inconvenienced with clutter or a spill left on the table (like the soy sauce I tipped out of the bowl). The folks at Roka Akor really are impeccable at what they do, making our dining experience both delicious and genuinely pleasant.

Of course, we don’t eat this way everyday. We sup on our home cooked meals, a simple menu, ever trying to strive for the opposite of overindulgence. But on date night, we love a great experience, and of course, a little decadence! Cheers to good food, and one sizzling robata grill at Roka!

La Joie de Vivre!

We had a fabulous meal at Evanston’s Bistro Bordeaux once more on New Year’s Eve!

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Though it is always lovely to bring in the new year by toasting at midnight (which we’ve had the pleasure of doing at this very restaurant before), we decided to take an early meal and kept it simple; no oysters, no dessert, no heady digestifs…but of course there was champagne!

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Handsome started with the quiche du jour, which is always filled with savory ingredients and the perfect buttery crust that melts in your mouth. Served with a mixed greens salad, this lovely plate could make the perfect meal all by itself (and often does in our house).

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I chose the soupe du jour to warm up from the cold. A creamy tomato and their perfectly crisp and chewy French baguette to dip. Heavenly!

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My companion selected the Cassoulet Toulousain for his plat principal: French white bean stew, duck leg confit, braised pork shoulder, boudin blanc, bacon lardons, chapelure. When I asked him toward the end of the dish if he’d like to reheat the other half of it on the following day, he said no and took another bite, and then another. Some dishes must be finished, not a bean left behind!

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I selected the Gnocchis Parisian aux Truffes which you can also have served with the braised pork shoulder. Truffle gnocchi, button mushroom, arugula, butternut squash, beurre noisette. I normally don’t order gnocchi in restaurants, or pasta either. It tends to be overpriced, processed, the sauce overly rich or too bland. But at Bistro Bordeaux, I order it all of the time because it is fresh, handmade, perfectly cooked and always served with delicious al dente vegetables. Over the years, they’ve made it out of different veggies (not just potatoes), which is a vegetarian’s dream. The truffle flavor made it completely special this night!

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The restaurant was aglow with hanging candled glass orbs, the chatter was buoyant, the service excellent and the atmosphere cozy. Tres charmant!

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The decor was so pretty, and I especially appreciated the heaters in the foyer that kept us toasty while we waited for the valet (who was appropriately wearing a French beret).

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It was a frigid night, but here in Evanston on Chicago’s North Shore at one of our favorites, we approached our new year warm, well fed and cheerful. We couldn’t want for more!

Chicago’s French Market

On Friday evening, I attended the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre here in Chicago with my best friend. The performance is dazzling every time, and this year was made more special in that it is the last to be performed in Robert Joffrey’s version. His choreography and style for this ballet was one of the first to create a version of the Nutcracker that looks American and has been replicated throughout the country. Head to the Joffrey site to learn the interesting history.

But as is our norm, we must always eat before heading to the ballet or opera. One cannot truly appreciate the arts without a full stomach, or so I believe. We met at Chicago’s French Market which is located underground of a bustling train station. IMG_1904.JPG

What is fun about the French Market is that it has a cozy, European market feel with a lot of local vendors. Deceivingly however, it isn’t filled with French fare, though you can certainly get a crepe or a French pastry. It is simply called the French Market to stir up the feel of such lovely places. Even the isles between kiosks have names like Boulevard Saint-Germaine and the open dining area looks a little like you are sitting near the Eiffel Tower at an outdoor cafe.

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I have never been fond of shopping, but shopping for food is another matter. I love it, and of course, I love artisan, good quality, fine food. You can pick up quite a number of such things at the French Market, like fresh seafood, vegetables, cheese, meat and wine.

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The location is perfect for the thousands of train commuters flowing in and out of the city, which I personally appreciate. I like places of quality that are also convenient when you must be a part of the hustle and bustle.

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Nice too, are all the little restaurants serving food that is fast, yet finer than fast food. One stand offers scrumptious grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with delicious and unique fillings, another serves up perfect lobster rolls, another excellent sandwiches on artisan bread. I had a lobster roll from Da Lobsta. If I’d been alone, I could easily have eaten three of them. Who am I kidding, I’m sure my best pal wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d ordered three. She’s seen me polish off some pretty large meals before.

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You can even grab fresh flowers, which definitely adds to that open market feel. So pretty!

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I was personally overwhelmed by the selection of handmade chocolates at Lolli & Pops and stood staring at the display for an embarrassing amount of time while waiting for my friend to arrive. I just couldn’t pull myself away.

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If you are a Chicago commuter and in need of a small holiday gift, you can’t go wrong with a box of these chocolates. The looks of them alone would put a smile on anyone’s face!

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Oh heavens! I mean…Oh la la, how lovely is Chicago’s French Market!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

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The flowers made me forget the clock!

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The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

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And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

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The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

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There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

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The roses were so moving, they danced…

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And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

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That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

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And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

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That seagull dove right at my head…

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And his friends thought that was funny!

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The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

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This drake was with his honey!

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All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

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The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

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Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

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I could go on and on with this nature talk…

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Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!

An Autumn Night In Evanston

“Brrrr mom, it’s getting chilly out there!”

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“I think the sun is setting, we better find a warm place.”

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“All set…please turn up the thermostat, would ya?”

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The evening meal is set…

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The house is cozy and warm…

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And the fireplace illuminates our evening…

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Happy Autumn!

The Pleasantly Palatable Menu at the Peckish Pig

My boyfriend and I make a particular effort to plan a date night each and every Friday evening. It is always something to look forward to and we often chat during the week about what we’d like to do. Shall we dress up and head to dinner downtown Chicago? Get tickets to the ballet or theater? Do we want to order in and have a comfortable couch night (best for those exhausting weeks)? Should we grab a casual dinner in Evanston and head to the movies? It’s so nice to have that special time together that we plan ahead for.

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And oh boy! Let’s just say when it comes to Evanston restaurants, we are becoming ever more spoiled! The perfect fall evening that it was, we cozied up at Evanston’s Peckish Pig this Friday. It was our first time dining there, and we loved it!

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To start, we had their Whipped Goat Cheese & Honeycomb on toasty little slices of bread. Oh heavens! I’m a cheese addict, this was delicious! We also had the Roasted Beet and Burrata with Basil Oil which was served chilled. It was so refreshing! We also sampled their Beer Pig Mussels Cooked with House Brewed Beer & Bacon.

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For our main course, handsome had the Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese, Mango-Lime Mayo and Cumin Fries. I’m pretty sure I ate more of his fries than he did…those perfectly crispy, seasoned, large cut fries! And I had the Chef’s Fish Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Whipped Avocado. To finish, we shared the Fresh Fruit with Creme Fraiche & Balsamic Reduction. Tart and fruity!

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The atmosphere at the Peckish Pig is awesome! We arrived for an earlier dinner and were very pleased to see all of the families, couples and bar folk, a very pleasant mix to the crowd. The lighting isn’t blaring and I particularly liked their use of candles, strung bulbs and ambiance lighting. Water is served in blue mason jars (which we also drink out of at home), loved it! Service is excellent and there is a great energy to the place. With a really nice selection on their menu, we can’t wait to head back! And I’ll make sure to be a little more than peckish when I arrive!

Here’s to good food at Boltwood!

When I think of Venice, I think of a city that remembers to enjoy the good things in life. A stop in the piazza to grab an espresso with a friend and watch the world go by, an umbra of wine in the afternoon at the local bacaro with a nibble of savory cicchetti, a stroll through the morning fish market to stir up fresh ingredients for tonight’s repast, open windows embracing the sounds of flowing water and a singing gondolier, a stop in the local campo to catch up with your neighbors…

With that in mind, I intend to share snippets of not only Venice, but also those things that remind me of what that city embodies; the great joys in life, like good food!

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Last night, I feasted at Boltwood in Evanston, IL. The city is just north of Chicago and hosts some excellent restaurants. Boltwood serves seasonal New American cuisine using the freshest ingredients. The photo above was of their arugula & La Quercia (prosciutto) salad with sliced plums and grilled Brun-uusto (cheese). I’d had it there before, and the treat is that they change up the fruit in the salad! If you haven’t tried prosciutto and fruit together on one plate, you must!

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I also enjoyed these Island Creek Oysters served perfectly chilled with a glass of rosato brut (from the Veneto region in Italy). So refreshing on a hot summer evening!

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As for my main dish, my eyes grew as large as quarters with the very first bite of their tilefish served with aioli, succotash and bacon. The word delicious doesn’t cut it. A lightly crisped fish on the top with delicate meat within, a nice portion of fresh vegetables and a sauce that I was tempted to eat with a spoon.

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For dessert, the chocolate cake and ice cream topped with tart kumquat slices and perfectly toasted chopped almonds. Delightful and pretty!

If you find yourself in Evanston, reserve a table! I like to sit at their intimate chef-side seating where you can get an eyeful of the dishes as they come out! The hostess is welcoming, the servers are sincerely pleasant and knowledgeable, and the manager attentive. The ambiance is dreamy and the food, spectacular!