When the Moon Hits Your Eye

It recently dawned on me that Chicago Alphabet Soup had its sixth year anniversary earlier in April. What started out as text updates of restaurant excursions on my free Earthlink web space has now become a compendium of ethnic eateries throughout the Chicago metropolitan area on WordPress. That is what I call dedication. Others may call it a love of great food and I am the last person to argue with that observation. But today was not one of those days when I was reminiscing about starting the food blog. I was thinking about a certain restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, that I passed on several occasions and wondered if it was worthy of a visit. Well, there was only one way to find out — just go!


At 113 North Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois, is Geppetto’s. Its fame comes from its pizza. Having a discriminating palate, pizza is not an item that has been high on my list of things to hanker for. After you have lived in New York City and have had their pizzas, especially a Brooklyn pizza that you have to fold in half, anything outside of that is cat food on wafers with cheese. Nevertheless, I found myself at Geppetto’s, greeted by a server who wore the face of someone who was ready to go home — or who was ready to leave work and go wherever. Full of empty seats — I could not resist — I had a seat close enough to the window where I could capture some nice impressions of whatever it was I planned to order. Having taken photos at a Greek restaurant the previous evening — Papaspiros — and seeing how they had done total injustice to the food that was so incredibly worthy, I loaded up my Canon cameras and was ready for action. I was not going to endure another moment of my Nikon cameras making me bark after watching my photos.


Because it was a bit nippy outside, I wanted something to take the edge off of the chill. So, I had minestrone soup. Yes, it is so customary, but rarely is it botched and flares my snobbish sensibilities. If I had a baguette, I could have enjoyed bottomless bowls of the minestrone this day. Nothing spectacular in how it was prepared other than it was just good soup with ingredients that harmoniously resulted in something satisfying to the palate. In addition to the minestrone, I had bruschetta pomodor. Thinking that there would be perhaps four pieces of bread topped with diced tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and mozzarella cheese, I was fine placing the order. Then there were eight pieces of bread that came to the table and these were not small, bite size. Although not substantial, there still was quite a bit to tackle. Honestly, the bruschetta pomodor was an appetizer and one that made me smile. The bread was grilled, indeed, and the tomatoes were plump with flavour, even though they were diced small. With a tall glass of cranberry juice at hand, I slowly worked all eight of those bruschetta pomodor slices to their vanishing point. I had a craving anyway and there simply was no need to leave anything so tasty for later.

Bruschetta Pomodor

Then the seafood pasta that I had ordered came to the table. Oh my God! Truly Geppetto’s serves up everything the Chicago Way. It was large, colossal, Godzilla! A huge plate of linguine with large shrimp, clams, and sun dried tomatoes begged me to get to working on it, taunting me and telling me that I needed to be stuffed. I obliged. For all the great flavour that the dish had, there was also a noticeable amount of salt that had been added. After being diagnosed with high blood pressure years ago, I eliminated salt from my diet and that pretty much was around the time that I had begun my entry into ethnic dining where the seasoning was an ideal substitute for sodium. Fast forward to the present and anything with too much salt almost gives the feeling of adding weight to my tongue. There was not going to be a case of me sending the dish back to the kitchen for modifications. Instead, I ate three-fourths of the seafood pasta and imbibed several glasses of water.

Seafood Pasta

The prices at Geppetto’s are a little higher than expected for a restaurant that does not have the associated pomp and flair. Then again, the portions are sizeable enough to defeat a burly lumberjack, so I stand corrected in my observation of the cost. The food compensates for the stoic service and good food is always a trump card at any restaurant or cafe. Geppetto’s is supposed to boast the best pizza around. I cannot say that I will add a calendar notification to test that assertion. However, there are several other dishes on the menu that I may indulge at some time in the future. In the meantime, I shall think of all the wonderful ethnic eateries that have left me rumpled and dreamy over the past six years.

Geppetto's Pasta & Pizza on Urbanspoon

Ending Song to Carol Burnette Show

It was a Friday night. I am soon to depart Chicago for Washington, DC, where for the next three months I will be on weekend scavenger hunts for restaurants to rival those in Chicago. I must say that Chicago has made it impossible for any other city in the world to best it in the cuisine department — that is unless you go to Melbourne, Australia, where you are guaranteed to shout from the rafters that you have been to food Mecca. But some critics with mild palates have stamped San Francisco as the top food haven in America. Far be it from me to debate someone who has never exhausted himself or herself to great satisfaction at a dining establishment in Second City.


Red, Red, Wine

My circle of friends had a proper send-off for me. We met at Tasting Room at 1415 W. Randolph Street in Chicago’s Near West Loop. Right at the edge of one of Chicago’s premier locations that houses swanky boutiques, fantastic restaurants, coffee houses, fancy shops, and a demographic consisting of artists, bankers, lawyers, engineers, and the like, Tasting Room was a most inviting choice. There are two floors that you may choose for meeting to sip an aperitif or two and sample tasty delights. The bottom floor has a full bar and a generous seating area of tables and lounge chairs. Sweet. And there is the second floor that has a wide-open loft feel with plenty more tables and lounge seating. Windows, tall and wide, face downtown and you see the splendour of the skyscrapers with lights painting the windows while you enjoy company. This is exactly what happened for my friends and me this particular Friday evening.

I have lost track of the number of times I have been to Tasting Room, spanning as far back as 2009. The quality of the food has always been a magnet that draws me back. The knowledge of the wait staff, and I do believe the server we had this time is a sommelier, exceeds that of what you will find at most casual dining establishments. Tasting Room is not for the frugal, but at the same time, it is not one to cause fear of going broke. With such splendid service and great space, it is an excellent location for a gathering of small friends or a send-off with a large party. And because you are certain to find at least one bottle of wine worthy of taking home, may I recommend the adjoining wine shop? Yes, I may.

Vino Rojo

We all ordered flights of wine, the names relating to the Rat Pack that was so famous during the 1980’s. The white wines were attributed to the female cast of the Rat Pack: Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, and others. The red wines had names linked to Judd Nelson, John Cusack, Michael Anthony Hall, Emilio Estevez, and other male characters of the bunch. It was a rather touching theme, one that made me aware of how old I am because I remember all of those Rat Pack movies — “Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Better Off Dead,” and several other worthy movies from that group that makes me wince when I see picture shows by the present ilk of silver screen Thespians. The table before us held flatbread pizzas — one with ricotta cheese and spinach, another with olives and pine nuts, and a margherita pizza topped with fresh tomatoes. We grinned as we delighted ourselves on Bruschetta with sweet, dried cranberries. A crab cake sandwich with spicy, authentic onion rings appeared from the kitchen and were dealt a swift end. And the piave cheese fondue that was ideal for the small group was well-received, as was evident from the fact that we had all but wiped the fondue bowl to completion. White bread, rye bread, potatoes, apples, and chicken swirled around in piave cheese and then popped into our mouths without hesitation. We all smiled.


When the night ended, I remembered the start of the lyrics to the song that Carol Burnette used to sing at the end of her variety show: It’s so nice we had this time together. The thing that left me with a smile is that I also remembered that the show came on again the next week. The laughter, commiseration, and fellowship that I have with my circle will resume when I return. But now that I have been so informed of how warm winters are in Washington, DC, I may want to work out some arrangement where I spend the summer in Chicago and winters in DC. I can suffer through not going to a Chicago restaurant for a few months. Well, I can try to convince myself of that. I guess.

Tasting Room at Randolph Wine Cellars on Urbanspoon