Parisian Foodventures: My Top 5 Meals!

If you’ve been following me on the ‘gram, then you know that I just got back from an INCREDIBLE weeklong trip to Paris with my little family–yes, including the baby in tow! Most people thought we were absolutely bonkers to travel to Europe with a newborn who’s not even three months old, but it was so, so worth it. It was a LOT of work, but also tons and tons of fun. I’ll do another post on tips for traveling with an infant in Paris, so stay tuned 🙂

For this post though, I want to focus entirely on FOOD. We spent seven nights in Paris staying in the trendy Le Marais neighborhood, and it was so wonderful staying put in one place. Pre-baby, our international trips always consisted of multiple cities with jam-packed itineraries and daily restaurant reservations. This time around, traveling with a baby forced us to slooow down, space out our sight-seeing, and leave lots of room for spontaneous breaks at those darling French cafes people-watching for hours. Yes, it was as delightful as it sounds.

We made a few restaurant reservations ahead of time (a must for most Parisian restaurants!), and made sure to mention that we were with a newborn baby who would be in her carseat sleeping. Because she’s so young, we were able to get away with a few tasting menus, but still opted for more casual vs. stuffy/fancy restaurants. That’s more our style anyway! We had an amazing mix of meals during our stay in Paris – from modern French tasting menus, to delicious North African cuisine, to mouthwatering Italian food, and of course those fantastic pastries. I don’t think there was a single meal that I didn’t enjoy, but here are my top five FAVORITE meals that we enjoyed during our time in Paris.

*Disclaimer: There are obviously a zillion other restaurants in Paris, and we selected places that were convenient for us to visit with a newborn baby, but hopefully this is still helpful in your trip planning! Oh, and tip for eating out in Paris with a baby–make an early reservation (most places open at 7 or 7:30 pm) so that you can get in and out before it gets too busy. Some places might get cranky if you show up with a carseat + stroller (mostly because Parisian restaurants are tiny), but we were so pleasantly surprised with how friendly and accommodating each of the below places were. 

1. LA BOURSE ET LA VIE
http://www.labourselavie.com/en/  

My carnivorous hubby was obviously on the hunt for the best steak-frites in Paris, which is how we ended up at La Bourse et La Vie, a modern (and slightly Americanized) take on a traditional French bistro. With super minimalistic decor, and an uber-cool wait staff, we were in for a stellar meal. I’m so glad we found this place, because I’m still dreaming about that incredible rare steak au poivre with thick, crispy potatoes cooked to perfection. We split one steak, which was probably for the best, but I kiiiinda wish I devoured one on my own. So. good.

2. LES ENFANTS ROUGES
https://www.les-enfants-rouges.fr/ 

Les Enfants Rouges was probably THE most convenient restaurant we went to in Paris, because it was located right next to our Airbnb. It was also just an incredible meal. A tiny restaurant located in a side street of Le Marais with a Japanese chef, Les Enfants Rouges was exactly the type of modern inventive French food we were craving for our very first dinner in Paris. We opted for the six-course tasting menu, and our super sweet waitress who had just moved to Paris from Tokyo (and was juggling three different languages) happily described each of our dishes in English. French, with a touch of Asian influence. Our favorite dishes included a beautiful beef & mushroom dish and a mouthwatering molten chocolate dessert with pistachio ice cream.

3. COME A CASA
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It’s tough competition, but this might have been my favorite meal of all, just because the restaurant was SO ME. I live for tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that make you feel like you’re inside someone’s living room, and that’s exactly what Come a Casa is. It’s a tiny place in a very residential neighborhood owned by an Italian couple that changes the menu daily. Oh, and there’s only like three things on the menu. And everything is simple, fresh, and exquisitely delicious. We sat outside, drank lots of wine, and ate to our heart’s content. Big thanks to my friend Kat (a former Parisian) who recommended this very special place to us!

 

4. EAST MAMMA
https://www.bigmammagroup.com/fr/trattorias/east-mamma 

We were severely depressed on our last night in Paris and had no idea where to go. We wanted to go someplace casual, and I was craving another Italian meal because well, what’s new. I always want Italian. Kat had told me to visit one of the restaurants from the popular ‘Big Mamma’ restaurants so I mapped out whichever one was closest to our Airbnb. So that’s how we ended up waiting in line for East Mamma to open its doors at 7 pm on a Saturday night. Pretty much everyone in the line was speaking in French, which is how I knew we were in for an amazing meal. And boy, did it deliver. We were quickly seated outside, ordered the truffle pasta and a truffle pizza, and…died and went to heaven. To top it off, we polished off a pistachio creme brulee that might have been even better than a Pierre Herme macaron. And that’s saying a LOT.

5. SEMILLA
https://www.semillaparis.com/en 

Semilla is one of those trendy Parisian restaurants that just oozes French sophistication. The local patrons there are impeccably dressed, and the waitresses are just-friendly-enough to still be cool. When we asked for the tasting menu, they warned us that our baby might not last the two and a half hours (…their polite way of saying, please eat quickly) but I’m glad we insisted on it anyway. And our little one thankfully slept through the entire dinner! I loved my meal here–it felt more clean and refined than the modern French cuisine at Les Enfants Rouges, but perhaps with a little less heart. I’d still recommend Semilla for the overall ambience and really, really good food. The sole fish with tons and tons of butter was DIVINE.

Baby’s First Vacation: Portland, ME & Boston

Will time. please. SLOW. down?! I cannot believe that my baby girl is almost three months and that I only have two more weeks of maternity leave left. Cue tears now. I know it sounds cliched, but the past two and a half months have been the most challenging, yet gratifying and beautiful moments of my life. Time is SO relative – when I think about how long I’ve been away from work, my job feels like a distant memory, but when I think about how much time I’ve spent with the little one, it feels like a mere second. There are so many little projects I hoped to accomplish during maternity leave – baby photo books, finally getting my wedding albums together, blogging about motherhood…but of course none of it happened in the midst of all the newborn baby tantrums, diaper changes, and cuddle time.

One thing that my husband and I did prioritize during this time was travel! Everyone told us that the younger the baby, the easier it is to take them on a plane so we made sure to squeeze in at least two vacations during my maternity leave. We spent a week up in New England, road tripping from Boston up to Portland, Maine, and I’m shocked by how easy it was traveling with our baby! She was a little over two months at the time, so she slept like a champ. Slept through flights, car rides, and even fancy dinners. We’re headed to Europe this weekend (!), so will have to revert back with how that longer international journey goes…

Anyways, I wanted to share some of the delicious meals that we enjoyed in Portland. I was super excited to check out this little town by the water because of its reputation as a foodie paradise. It was the perfect little getaway from Boston for three days. Even though it was still fairly cold in mid-April, we had a great time bundling up the baby and walking through the little cobblestoned streets and enjoying some really fantastic food. The weather probably worked in our favor, because it wasn’t as crowded and touristy as I imagine it is during the summer months. The best part about our stay was that all these great restaurants were concentrated within just a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel (Portland Harbor Hotel) in the Old Port District. Made our lives so much easier with the little one!

Fore Street
http://www.forestreet.biz/

Maine is known for its farm-to-table restaurants, and Fore Street is the very original one that put Portland on the culinary map. I loved the ambience at this super rustic and romantic restaurant with a wood-burning oven in an open kitchen. So cozy! And the meal did not disappoint…a tagliatelle with fresh pesto appetizer, a cold seafood platter, fried shad roe (not pictured, but actually a Bengali delicacy as well!), and some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. Everything was very simply, but elegantly prepared with the freshest of ingredients. YUM!

Eventide Oyster Co.
http://www.eventideoysterco.com/

Literally everyone we spoke to said we HAD to visit Eventide Oyster Co. for the best lobster roll of their lives. And they were right. This was hands down our favorite meal of the trip! Since Eventide doesn’t take reservations, we were lucky to snag a communal table right away since it was off-season and on a weekday. We ordered their famous brown butter lobster roll (unique because it’s on a bao instead of a traditional roll), a fried oyster bun (just as good as the lobster roll!), chowder, and oysters on oysters on oysters. Amazing.

Js Oyster
http://jsoysterportland.com/menu/

Js is the type of place you’d see featured on Anthony Bourdain – grungy & dark with friendly locals with strong accents chatting up the dinner patrons. This wasn’t my favorite meal, but we did enjoy our lobster dinner with steamed clams, which is something neither of us had tried before! And the view by the water was beautiful.

Duckfat
http://duckfat.com/ 

Duckfat is another lunch spot that came highly recommended to us from literally everyone we inquired. It was nice to take a break from seafood on our last day in Portland before driving back to Boston. Duckfat’s a tiny little sandwich shop that’s known for their Belgian-style fries fried in duck fat. The fries, with truffle ketchup and Thai chili mayo, were INCREDIBLE and I could’ve had an entire meal of just those fries. We DEVOURED them, which is why I forgot to get a picture. Oops. For sandwiches, we split the Overnight Duck Confit and House Smoked Brisket. Heavy, but delicious. A great way to end the trip!

Three Meals, Three Neighborhoods: Restaurants I Loved This Winter

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Chicago restaurant review, and since I wasn’t cooking much in February (see previous post for explanation), I thought this would be the perfect time to share three new restaurants I tried and absolutely looooved this winter.

If you know me or follow me on Instagram, you probably know by now that one of my favorite activities is exploring new neighborhoods and trying new restaurants – whether they’re new to me, or new to the market. These past few months, I had the chance to check out a couple different new places, but my absolute favorites were: Bernie’s Lunch & Supper in River North, Big Jones in Andersonville, and the ultra-cool Dusek’s in Pilsen.

1. Bernie’s Lunch & Supper, River North 

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I picked this casual but trendy new River North spot for my husband’s birthday dinner in January based on a friend’s recommendation. I was seriously skeptical at first–Mediterranean small plates at a place called Bernie’s?–but walked out raving about the food. Along with everyone else in our dinner party. It’s rare that every single item brought out to a group of critical diners receives such a stunningly positive response, but that’s exactly what Bernie’s was for us. Everything was absolutely amazing. My personal favorites: the Komorebi cocktail (Japanese whiskey, ginger liquer, orange flower water, honey, and lemon, mmm!), the lamb hashwi, pork shoulder confit and belly (pictured above), beets and burrata, and veal meatballs. Dying to go back for the cheeseburger and paella.

2. Big Jones, Andersonville 

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Big Jones was another birthday excursion for my birthday boy. I organized a whiskey tour at KOVAL Distillery in the afternoon which is pretty far up north, so we thought it would be fun to hang out and brunch in Andersonville before, a neighborhood we don’t often get a chance to explore. We randomly walked by Big Jones and thought it looked cute from the outside–plus, my husband is obsessed with anything and everything New Orleans-themed. So glad we decided to wait for a table, because the food at Big Jones was fantastic. We shared the cornbread muffins (oozing with butter) and the Bayou Teche omelette, which was packed with crawfish, spicy smoked andouille and cream cheese, and topped with bearnaise sauce and scallions. So freaking delicious. Definitely worth a trip out to Andersonville for a brunch date here!

3. Dusek’s, Pilsen

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Dusek’s has been on my list for a while, and I finally snagged some reservations last Friday night. Longman & Eagle is quite possibly my favorite restaurant in Chicago (though it’s so hard to pick just one) and Dusek’s is headed by the same team, so expectations were high. It’s also always fun to check out a new neighborhood, and I’ve never really hung out in Pilsen. Dusek’s has a really really cool bohemian Moroccan vibe–it’s cozy, spacious, and the food was excellent. It doesn’t beat Longman & Eagle, but it’s still definitely worth checking out. The scallop appetizers were amazing and the desserts deserve special mention, so make sure you don’t stuff yourself too much during dinner. Make sure you order the Halawat Al Jibn: cardamom ice cream, blood orange curd, honey gel, golden raisin puree, honey bubbles olive oil, and honey toffee powder. Yup, pretty much heaven. After dinner, we headed downstairs to Punch House for some more strong cocktails and awesome old school hip hop music. Perfect night out!

So there you go – those were my faves this winter, but I’d love to hear what Chi-town restaurants you’ve checked out recently. I have a growing list of places to try, so send me your recs! 🙂

Fancy Date Night: Les Nomades

Last night, my husband and I had the pleasure of trying the prix fixe menu at Les Nomades, one of Chicago’s most classic French restaurants. The dinner was a generous wedding gift from our family, so we were incredibly excited to get dressed up in our finest threads and celebrate our anniversary (yet again) with some fancy French cuisine, wine, and chocolate.

The entire dining experience was top notch from start to finish. The interiors are cozy and romantic, resembling an authentic French living room with beautiful artwork everywhere. I especially loved the fireplaces at the entrance and dining area, artfully decorated with fall knick-knacks. I opted for the four course meal (my husband did five, which was definitely more food than anyone needs) and our server made sure our glasses were full throughout the meal with different wine pairings. My favorite dishes were the langoustine ravioli with seared scallop, my husband’s slow-roasted veal and lamb loin, and the hazelnut souffle with hot chocolate sauce. The souffle might be the most amazing dessert I’ve ever had – so rich and decadent, I savored every last bite of that deliciousness. The whole experience was just lovely – self-indulgent, but lovely.

Enjoy some images from our meal!

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Langoustine ravioli and seared scallop, langoustine sauce. This was my absolute favorite dish. 

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Seared foie gras, strawberry balsamic reduction, caramel foam. Rich and flavorful, just like foie gras should be! 

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My warm lobster and shrimp salad with mango dressing 

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Dover sole with quinoa, saffron pomme macaire, citrus sauce

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Slow-roasted veal and lamb loin. I wish I had more room in my belly to try more of this! It was absolutely amazing. 

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I don’t think we got enough dessert. The hazelnut souffle with chocolate sauce, a surprise chocolate mousse cake for our anniversary, a plate of macarons and chocolate truffles, and a generous cheese plate. Happiness on a table right here. 

Why Ukrainian Village Is My New Chicago Food Haven

My first foray into Ukrainian Village’s culinary scene was an incredible meal at Trattoria Ultimo, my current favorite Italian BYOB in the city. I was straight up obsessed with everything in this hole-in-the-wall restaurant – the handwritten menus, fresh ingredients, the low-key European vibe, mouthwatering handmade pastas…I could go on and on, but I’ve already committed an entire blog post professing my love for this restaurant. I went back two times pretty soon after I wrote that initial blog post, and I’m thinking I’m long overdue for another visit. When I took my mom there during one of her Chicago visits, she complained about the long Uber ride, but it was all worth it when she had her first bit of pasta. Everything was forgiven.

Then this spring, my husband and I decided to check out Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill, which is down the street from Trattoria. I’m always craving sushi and have struggled to find a solid sushi spot that has a casual vibe and is also easy on the wallet. I LOVE Hatsu Hana in Lakeview, and still believe it’s the best place for simple and fresh sushi, but it’s pretty pricey for what you get. At Yuzu, you can treat yourself to enormous rolls with the perfect fish-to-rice ratio and a great selection of robata items. My favorite is the Pot River Roll, stuffed with all sorts of fresh fish–so flavorful and perfect for sharing! Yuzu’s presentation is super creative, but I love that the sometimes gimmicky presentation is backed up by taste! Additional bonus – 90s hip hop music all night long.

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Another favorite Italian BYOB spot in Ukrainian village is Briciola. They have a beautiful outdoor garden patio (RIP, summer) and really great pastas. The food is just as good as Trattoria Ultimo, but the ambience isn’t as charming and unique. I ordered the black fettuccine special with scallops and jumbo shrimps in a sweet saffron cream sauce, and it was honestly one of the most delicious and unique pastas I’ve ever had. I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my pasta (the simpler the better), but the saffron cream sauce was such a great addition to the dish. I’d love to go back this winter and sample some of their other pasta dishes!

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Finally, this past weekend, we tried the shared omakase (chef’s selection of fresh sushi and sashimi) at Kai Zan, which firmly cemented my belief that Ukrainian Village has the best food scene in all of Chicago. At least right now. I loved, loved, loved Kai Zan! We came here with my brother-in-law and his fiance and sat at one of their cozy, semi-private tables. We were going to order a la carte till our waiter suggested the shared omakase for two, at just $35 a person. It’s 10 courses, but each plate is half the portion of the regular omakase, so you don’t get as much food. We were plenty satisfied with the amount of food that was provided, but you can always get a side of yakisoba or teriyaki. This is the perfect option for someone who wants to sample omakase without investing in the full spread. Every item was like a piece of artwork and so mouthwateringly delicious. Our group’s collective favorite was the “Angry Crab” – spicy crab wrapped in tuna, topped with tempura crunch and generously drizzled with truffle oil. It was AHHHH-mazing. We all just stared at each other in disbelief after taking a bit of this roll!

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Anyways, my point isn’t to ramble on about specifics of these restaurants, but just to show my appreciation for Ukrainian Village as a food destination in Chicago. I love the distinct personality of Ukrainian Village restaurants – much more relaxed and laid-back than River North/West Loop, but the cuisine rivals some of the bigger, more well-known restaurants of Chicago.

Are there any other restaurants that you would add to this list? I’d love to check them out!

Brunching Out: North Pond

Brunch is easily one of my favorite meals of the day, and when it’s done at a Michelin-star rated restaurant, even better!

My husband and I had an amazing weekend recently celebrating 365 days of marriage (AHH!). We both love eating–foodventuring is obviously the best type of adventuring–so our anniversary weekend was pretty much centered around good meals. On Saturday, we packed a picnic with sandwiches, a cheese plate and vino, and drove up to Evanston for a picnic at Northwestern University’s beautiful lakefill area. We’re both alums, and it’s where he proposed, so the campus is a very special place for us both. Picnicking was followed by a light al fresco Spanish meal at Salero and drinks at Kaiser Tiger, a really cool brewery with an awesome outdoor patio (and the prettiest fairy lights ever) in the West Loop.

Our favorite part of the entire weekend though was our Sunday Brunch at North Pond, the most beautiful, charming little restaurant with the most glorious view of Chicago’s skyline. We live in the Lakeview neighborhood, steps away from the restaurant, and have always been dying to make reservations there. We figured our anniversary weekend would be the perfect excuse to check out North Pond’s three course brunch. The menu changes based on seasonal ingredients and every dish is truly a work of art. I love meals where you can actually see the ingredients and feel the different textures and flavors. We had an incredible experience from start to finish and can’t wait to go back ASAP with out-of-towners. Make sure to request a table by the window if it’s a special occasion – the view of the pond is stuuuunning.

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Personalized menu for our anniversary! +15 points (I’ll excuse the minor misspelling of my name) 

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Warm crab crumb tomato, gulf shrimp, green and wax beans, cherry tomatoes, peach, almond

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Great Lakes whitefish, herbed rice, nectarine preserves, broccoli, peanut sauce, carrots

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My husband’s entree: Sauteed soft shell crab, corn pudding, charred kernels, watermelon, chorizo, pepper-tomatillo, mole

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DESSERT! Fresh peaches, blackberries, lemon verbena panna cotta, hazelnut biscotti, peaches

Dining Out: Trattoria Ultimo

My dining experience this past Saturday night was truly a special one. Maybe it’s because SG and I were badly in need of a date night, or maybe it’s because we ventured outside our usual go-to neighborhoods and into Ukrainian Village. I just know that I’m going to remember my dinner at Trattoria Ultimo for a very, very long time. I’m already dying to go back and can’t wait to tell all my friends about the amazing service, cozy interiors and most importantly, the FOOD.

To start with, any Italian restaurant that’s BYOB is a win in my book. SG and I are currently on a major red wine kick, so we picked up one of the staff favorites from The Noble Grape and made our way to Trattoria Ultimo, a hole-in-the-wall BYOB Italian place between Damen & Winchester Avenue. The restaurant looks very unassuming from the outside, but as soon as you enter, you can feel its warmth and intimacy. There are only 6-7 tables in the restaurant, and the kitchen is in close quarters to the dining area. I seriously felt like I was in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and visiting an Italian grandmother’s kitchen in Sicily or Rome. While I love a trendy, ‘scene-y’ restaurant as much as any other 20-something, sometimes a simple, hole-in-the-wall dining experience can be even more special.

We were greeted by the owner of the restaurant, who treated us with impeccable service the entire night. The regular menu has limited options, but they have a long list of specials that the owner handed to us on a small chalkboard. I love little details like that – adds so much to the overall dining experience! While the entrees were on the pricey side (average of $20), it was all SO worth it – the ingredients were fresh and organic, and the pasta handmade. Everything was delicious, but the prosciutto and burrata appetizer deserves a special mention. Served with bread, a scrumptious olive fig, and delicately seasoned tomatoes, the appetizer was just perfect. So creamy and flavorful – I would have been happy eating just that all night.

Thank you Trattoria Ultimo, for your warm service and a truly memorable dinner.

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Our personal chalkboard of specials!

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The prosciutto and burrata appetizer – to DIE for.

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My scallop linquine in a white wine sauce and tomatoes – incredibly flavorful and surprisingly light!

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My husband’s rabbit pappardelle – rich & hearty…everything you need on a cold Chicago evening.

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The flourless chocolate cake. The owner called it “love on a plate” – couldn’t agree more!