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RPM Italian – Chicago, IL

Not going to lie, I’ve been a huge fan of Giuliana and Bill Rancic for a while now, so ever since they opened RPM Italian in Chicago I’ve been dying to go.  What a beautiful cool and modern space!  The place was packed and rightly so, the food is incredible!  The fact that I’m still thinking about what I ate says a lot.

The stand outs for me were the toast with homemade ricotta and marinara, the artichokes, the spicy king crab pasta (this is the dish I’ll be dreaming of until I go back again) and the budino.  Everything was stunning and packed with flavor.  You can tell a lot of love goes into this food.  Let’s also not forget to mention the staff who were so fun and full of personality.  Our server truly enchanted our evening.

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Fresh Homemade Ricotta – Ciabatta Toast

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Roman-Style Artichokes – Lemon Aioli

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Burrata Stuffed Squash Blossoms – Homemade Marinara

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RPM Caesar Wedge – White Anchovy

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Spicy King Crab – Squid Ink Spaghetti, Fresno Chili

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Pappardelle Bolognese – Hand-Cut Pasta, Short Rib Ragu

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Braised Duck Agnolotti – Black Mission Figs

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Whole Grilled Branzino – Mediterranean Sea Bass, Oregano, Capers

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Bill’s Chocolate Budino – Salted Caramel, Cocoa Nibs

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Bomboloni – Cooked-to-order Italian Brioche Donuts with Nutella and Vanilla Sugar

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Estela – New York, NY

We heard about this restaurant from our chef friends in Seattle and weren’t able to go last year so we made it a priority this time.  Definitely worth it.  Such a cozy intimate spot that makes for a relaxing dinner.

My husband LOVED the beef tartare.  There were crispy bits of sunchoke in it which gave it great texture.  I can never say no to burrata when I see it on a menu.  This one was topped on a delicious piece of grilled bread surrounded by bright salsa verde.  So good!

Our mains included the fried arroz negro with squid and romesco and the swordfish with avocado, Meyer lemon and almonds.  Both were outstanding.  Not one bit was left on our plates.  Dessert was just as incredible.  Panna cotta with vinegar and honey – perfection!

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Burrata with salsa verde and charred bread

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Beef tartare with sunchoke

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Fried arroz negro with squid and romesco

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Panna cotta with vinegar and honey

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Peasant – New York, NY

Our trip to New York this past December was different from our others in the past such that we didn’t have any agenda nor did I make any reservations ahead of time.  Typically I set my alarm for 6am 2 months in advance and call to get into whichever restaurant I have on my list and then I go back to bed.  We’ve done the 3 hour Michelin star meals, the fussy food where you debate grabbing some street food on the walk home.  This time we wanted to eat like locals, explore the different neighborhoods and that’s exactly what we did.

Our first night there we got in late and asked our concierge what they recommended for great Italian food near the hotel (The Mercer Hotel in Soho).  Immediately she said, “Peasant!” and off we went to dinner.  The ambiance is great, rustic but refined.  Chef Frank DeCarlo really prides himself on the kitchen which is meant to be exactly like a true old world kitchen in Italy or France.  Rustic brick wood-fired ovens, a rotisserie…the only gas is so they can boil water we were told.  Let’s not forget to give credit where due…he laid the brick himself!

The food…where to start?!  We couldn’t help ourselves and had to order the Burrata with wood-roasted tomatoes and the Polpi in Purgatorio (baby octopus, hot chiles).  Both were outstanding!  Perfectly presented, cooked, prepared…delicious and I would order them again in a heartbeat.  For our main courses we chose the Gnocchi al Funghi (brown butter, sage, mushrooms) and Tagliolini al Ragu di Vitello (homemade tagliolini, veal ragu).  I never use this blog as a forum to talk badly about a restaurant or dish (I just don’t write about them) but in this case I wanted to because I love this restaurant so much but this is where we felt there was something lacking.  Neither dish had much flavor which was surprising seeing as our starters were incredible.  The pastas lacked salt for one which probably would have made a huge difference.  This all being said I would most likely order one of the pizzas and/or meat/fish dishes next time (we were told by other locals after the fact that their pizzas are to die for).  For dessert we went with the Budino di Pane e Cioccolato Bianco (white chocolate bread pudding with almonds, figs and white chocolate gelato).  I typically stray away from white chocolate but I’m a sucker for bread pudding and I’m glad we tried it because it was incredible!

One more thing to note, I guess there’s a great wine room down below that wasn’t even on our radar.  Just something to note!

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Agrodolce – Seattle, WA

Located in the old 35th Street Bistro spot in Fremont, Agrodolce has knocked it out of the park!  The atmosphere is welcoming and charming and our server couldn’t have been more enjoyable which was very refreshing.

The food was to die for!  I seriously would go back tonight for the exact same meal I ate last night.  We started with the burrata with beets, a citrus honey gastrique and mint…as delicious as I expected!  For my main course I chose the ricotta ravioli with roasted garlic, green garlic and stinging nettle.  Everything about this dish was perfect!  You would have thought I had licked my plate based on how clean it was at the end of the night.  Do yourself a favor and go get this before they take it off the menu.We also got the seared broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts to share…all of which I would order again.  For dessert we got the rice pudding fritters with a citrus honey, vanilla dipping sauce and powdered sugar.  Nothing to complain about there!

Something notable about Agrodolce is how organic the menu is.  It took us a bit to realize that the few things on the menu that are unlined are those ingredients that are NOT organic.  Just to be clear, there are hardly any.  Pretty impressive!  Not to mention on the reverse side of the menu there are vegan and gluten free options.  This isn’t something I’ve seen yet in Seattle but I think it will soon catch on.

Overall, Maria Hines has outdone herself and I can’t wait to go back!

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Not too long ago I got a Daily Candy SF (I still subscribe to be “in the know” of all things San Francisco) advertising a new website/company called Kitchit that acts as a search engine for chefs in the Bay Area that are for hire for private events.  They also cater to Los Angeles and New York…hopefully Seattle in the near future:)  Whether it’s a casual dinner or formal affair, there are chefs and budgets to fit any situation.  The website makes it easy to check out each chefs profile and what they’re capable of not to mention you can read reviews from others that have used them.  Pretty easy!

My good friend Jen hired Chef Anne Olsen for her fiancé’s surprise 40th birthday party and the whole night was amazing!!!  She started us with a gorgeous farmers market crudité platter and then followed it up with an unbelievable first course of burrata with favas, English peas and speck.  Next was oven roasted Halibut with Meyer lemon gremolata, pan fried baby potatoes, spring herbs and créme fraiche.  For dessert…baked Alaska!!!  All in all it was an outstanding night start to finish and I would recommend Chef Olsen and Kitchit to anyone!

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