Food Guide: What We Ate in Taormina, Sicily

My husband, daughter and I just returned from a glorious weeklong escape to Taormina, Sicily where we gorged on some of the best cuisine we have ever tasted in our lives. I have never felt such intense sadness as we did on our very last evening in Sicily, when we realized that this would be our last chance to devour fresh seafood carpaccio while sipping on an Aperol Spritz (interchangeable with a Sicilian house wine), followed by some sort of crazy delicious homemade pasta and a streetside cannoli.

Taormina is a dream that exceeded my expectations. To be perfectly honest, we weren’t sure what to expect, since Sicily isn’t as popular (to American tourists) as mainland Italy. We had such amazing food memories from our trip to Italy a few years ago, that we really just wanted to go someplace we could feast on MORE pasta, sit by the ocean, and drink endless bottles of wine. We dabbled between Portugal and Croatia, and ultimately picked Taormina, Sicily based on a friend’s recommendation. Since we were traveling with our toddler, it wasn’t realistic to travel to multiple locations, so Taormina was the perfect baby-friendly hub for us just to relax, take in the Mediterranean vibes and do some (very) light sight-seeing while feasting on Sicilian food. In case you missed it, we tend to be food-centric travelers. 🙂 We would have loved to travel to other towns in Sicily, but it made more sense for us to stay put in one place to allow ourselves to truly relax and enjoy THESE views…

Views from the Greek Theatre, one of the main attractions in Taormina 

We picked a beautiful (and so affordable compared to the Amalfi Coast!) apartment rental overlooking Mt. Etna and the Ionian Sea, just a five-minute walk from the main, pedestrian-only street Corso Umberto. The main street tends to get very touristy and packed during the day, but is absolutely magical at night. The best part about jet lag was that we would sleep in late (including our little lady!!), and then head out for a late lunch, afternoon stroll/sight-seeing, nap time for the babe, then a late dinner & drinks when the streets were quieter.

Sunrise from our private garden terrace at the Schuler Residence

Taormina during the day, packed with tourists strolling around and enjoying the various boutiques and restaurants

Stunning views from the Public Gardens 

THE FOOD GUIDE

There are obviously PLENTY more restaurant options than what’s on this list below, but these are some of our favorite spots based on our weeklong foodventuring. I really hope you get a chance to visit the gorgeous hilltop town of Taormina and visit some of these restaurants. It’s truly such a beautiful blend of Greek, Arab, and Italian influences and the sea views just CANNOT be beat.

GRANDUCA
http://www.ristorantegranduca.it/

We literally stumbled on a sign of Granduca while walking along Corso Umberto, followed a narrow staircase downstairs expecting a little pizza joint and found ourselves instead in a beautiful restaurant with a spectacular verandah overlooking the Ionian Sea. I would go here for the views alone, but the food was INCREDIBLE. We had a simple eggplant parmesan, linguine vongole, and the “Granduca” pizza which is HANDS down some of the best pizza I have ever had in my life. Smoked salmon and truffle and cherry tomatoes…I seriously regret not coming back here for round two because the food was as spectacular as the view. I’m a pasta lover, but come here for lunch and order the pizza. You will not be disappointed.

DA CRISTINA
https://rosticceriadacristina.com/ 

This is a popular little takeaway joint right off the main street with some seriously delicious food. There’s a pasta/hot foods section, and a pizza & arancini joint right next door with the same owner. You order at the counter and then sit either indoors and outdoors while the cooks whip up your dish in less than ten minutes. SO simple but SO FREAKIN’ GOOD. We ordered the Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish with tomato and eggplant sauce, more linguine vongole, and tiramisu on our first trip. I’m normally not a tomato sauce girl, but there’s just something about the tomatoes (AND the eggplant) in Europe that is so sweet and incredibly flavorful. We came back on our last day to check out the pizza joint and were not disappointed with the eggplant pizza and prosciutto arancini. Drooling just thinking about this place.

ARCO DEI CAPPUCCINI
https://ristorantearcodeicappuccini.com/ 

We checked out Arco Dei Cappuccini on our very first day in town after reading that this was a popular spot with the locals. It’s pricey, but worth it for its fresh seafood. This was where we had our first taste of traditional Sicilian seafood carpaccio and let me just tell you – I don’t know how I lived my life before eating raw shrimp and langoustine. It has the most buttery, sweet, delightful taste in the world and you HAVE TO TRY IT when you’re in Sicily. The lobster pasta was also delightful and the tiramisu was to die for. The service was also wonderful, which I have to say was the case for every single one of these restaurants. Everyone was so sweet and loving and playful with our daughter, and it made for such a relaxing experience for us as parents.

OSTERIA ROSSODIVINO
http://www.osteria-rosso-divino.com/

This was one of the restaurants that kept popping up as a top recommendation in my research, so I made a dinner reservation ahead of time. It’s tucked away in a quieter part of town with a beautiful garden patio. The food is slightly more modern and inventive than your traditional down home Italian cooking. While this usually raises a red flag for me, we loved the food here – especially the delicious pasta with fresh zucchini flowers and shrimp. Beautiful and tasty. The veal was good too, but I’d err on the side of ordering seafood over meat while in Sicily. There’s just SO much good seafood to be had here!

DA GIOVANNI
https://www.viamichelin.com/web/Restaurant/MAZZARO-98030-Da_Giovanni-3cbq3xo 

This is another restaurant that we just stumbled upon after taking the cable car down to the beach to check out Isola Bella. We were disappointed to find that there was a long flight of stairs to access the beach and couldn’t take our stroller all the way down there. So instead, we popped into the first restaurant we saw located by the flight of stairs and were blown away by the view of Isola Bella. The food was fantastic too – we just had some simple fried seafood and pasta and it completely hit the spot. I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of these beachside restaurants, but I’m really glad we checked this one out. I discovered later that this one is on the Michelin Guide!

TRATTORIA TIRAMISU
https://trattoriatiramisu.it/ 

This adorable little trattoria was located right by our apartment rental and was always bustling with diners every night, so we knew we had to check it out. It was amazing, and probably offered my favorite seafood carpaccio of the entire trip (and trust me, we tried a few different ones). The lobster pasta was absolutely divine and the desserts were exquisite. The place is known for its tiramisu (duh), which was incredible, but the pistachio panna cotta was absolutely divine as well. My husband almost went back there on our last night just to try the panna cotta again.

OSTERIA NERO D’AVOLA
https://www.yelp.com/biz/osteria-nero-d-avola-taormina 

This beautiful Michelin star restaurant also came highly recommended from tourists and locals alike. While it wasn’t my favorite meal, I would still recommend it for some great dishes, wine selection and a lovely outdoor patio. Perfect for date night. We sampled the eggplant parm, sea urchin pasta (frozen, not fresh – but still tasty!), Sicilian ragu, and a delightful panna cotta.

So there you have it – our favorite eats in Taormina! Other notable highlights include pizza at Villa Zuccaro, drinking almond wine at Bar Turrisi in Castelmola, and the amazing live music and grappa at Cafe Wunderbar every night. They say Taormina can be done in three or four days, but we truly enjoyed spending the whole week there and enjoying all its little gems. We could have easily spent another three days there!

Hope you enjoyed this post and leave me comments/questions if you’re planning a trip to Taormina. Much love ❤

Park City From the Eyes of a Non-Skier

Hello, world. I’m back from my non-blogging slumber, though I can assure you I’ve been very busy in the real world, mostly chasing around my baby girl TODDLER, setting up our new home which we finally moved into in December, and navigating the world of suburbia, which is a brand new adventure for me. It’s been a busy, stressful, confusing, transitional time, but at the end of the day, I feel a sense of peace and gratitude that I haven’t felt in my life in a very long time. It’s truly wonderful.

Of course it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. Life as the mama to a very active toddler is chaotic and exhausting on many levels, which is why my husband and I try to prioritize some solo time when we can. We just got back from a lovely little couples getaway to Park City sans-baby (thank you, supergrandparents!), and I feel so refreshed and rejuvenated to be back home to my usual routine after four days of pure R&R. My hubby has been BEGGING me to go on a ski trip the last several years and I finally obliged, though frankly I’m terrified of skiing. Luckily one of our couple friends were in the same boat (he skis, she does not), so we booked the trip, seeking comfort in the fact that I would have someone to socialize with while the boys were on the slopes all day.

Park City did not disappoint. The skiing is phenomenal of course, but there are plenty of other things you can do in case you get tired on the bunny hill after thirty minutes (I’ve heard this is possible if you a) have zero experience and b) are a total chicken and have a deathly fear of heights). Here are a few non-ski related activities you can enjoy:

1. GO SNOWMOBILING! On the last day of our trip, we decided to book a guided snowmobiling tour with Summit Meadows, a company operated out of Garff Ranch. The company handled pickup, drop-off, helmet rentals, and offered a two-hour guided tour through beautiful snowy meadows with spectacular views of the Wasatch Mountains. Since I didn’t get past the bunny hills when attempting to ski, this was a great way to take in the views that I had missed out on. Perfect snow adventure if you’re not able to ski!

2. PAMPER YOURSELF WITH A SPA DAY. This one is a given. If you’re going on a ski trip, you simply have to treat yourself to a massage and escape from the snowy terrains for a bit. We loved the services at Aura Spa located right on Main Street–much more affordable than the fancy resorts, so we were able to squeeze in a two-hour massage and a facial. PURE bliss. Our Airbnb also had a private hot tub in it which added to our heavenly relaxation experience 🙂

3. BLOODY MARYS & APRES SKI AT THE ST. REGIS. We’ve all seen those drool-worthy Instas of fabulous skiers enjoying shot skis, poppin’ champagne bottles, and chugging beer after a tough day on the slopes. Apres-ski is simply the best, and doing it at the St. Regis Deer Valley just feels so luxurious (and less fratty). Sit outside by the fire and order one of their signature Bloody Marys. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 

4. EXPLORE MAIN STREET. The heart of Park City is as cute and charming as you would expect a ski town to be. You can spend hours just walking around Main Street exploring art galleries, breweries, gift shops, and taking a hot cocoa break whenever you please. The nightlife on Main Street is also fantastic – we went to The Spur for a spontaneous night of dancing on a Friday night and O.P. Rockwell for some AMAZING live funk/90s hip hop music on Saturday night. We weren’t really expecting to party in Park City, so the nightlife was a pleasant surprise. The chic speakeasy O.P. Rockwell (pictured below) was especially great!

5. EAT! Park City is home to some really great (although pricey) cuisine. Whether it’s the resort turkey chili or gourmet Italian food, there’s a little something for everyone. Plan ahead and make reservations, especially for some of the more popular restaurants on Main Street.

Duck Enchiladas at Chimayo – such a unique and delicious dish

Turkey Chili at Deer Valley – so cozy and perfect for apres-ski

Amazing Italian fare at Grappa – my favorite meal!

Grub Steak Restaurant – casual vibes, live music, and your standard steak

Mushroom, Avocado and Ricotta Toast at Harvest, an adorable little Aussie-owned brunch spot

 

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
http://comeacasa7.tumblr.com/

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!