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!

Geppetto's

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.

Minestrone

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

Foodie Mantra No-No

A few nights ago I met a great friend for dinner in Wheaton, Illinois. With me working in the West Suburbs of Chicago and he living even farther off the map, we decided that we would meet in a central spot and decide where we would work our teeth on something worthy. Before I left work, it had dawned on me that I had left home earlier without any one of my high-end cameras. Not that I had to have one of my Canons or one of my Nikons, but not having a camera is a cardinal no-no in the foodie mantra. See excerpt from Section 5.2 in the Foodie Bylaws.

Section 5.2: Must Have Camera at All Times
All foodies must have in their possession a camera that they shall use to capture the impressions of food and beverage. The cameras are not limited to professional cameras, prosumer cameras, point-and-click, and cameras on cell phones. Acknowledgement as a foodie shall be revoked if a foodie does not have proper equipment for photographing food or beverage.

When I finally realized that all I had with me was my cell phone, I cursed under my breath just before I sent a text message to my friend to tell him to bring his Canon. As a photographer, cell phone cameras are wicked devices that are better used for texting, setting calendar events, sending email on-demand, and posting ad hoc posts on Facebook. Needless to say, my friend had left home well in advance of my text message. More cursing and then me dropping my purist photography air and settling on using the camera on my cell phone. It takes great photos anyway.

Lobster Fra Diavolo

Lobster Fra Diavolo

Once in the quaint downtown of Wheaton, my friend and I looked at the menu at the restaurant we initially said we would try. Then we opted to review the menu at another Italian restaurant he had said received great reviews. At first glance, we settled on the second restaurant, Il Sogno, at 100 N. Hale Street. Up the stairs we went where we entered a dimly lit room with aromas all in the air. We knew that we had made the right choice.

With a server who was very much knowledgeable of the menu without having to refer to it when we asked for recommendations and very much in tune with the specials for the evening, my friend settled on chicken parmesan and I ordered lobster da fravolo. But before the entrées, we accepted the suggestion from the server for stuffed calamari. Let me just say that instead of getting a plate of well-seasoned rings of calamari, we got whole calamari stuffed with a cream sauce that deserves an encore. This appetizer was so delectable that if I get any more fried or plain calamari rings in the future, I may toss the plate on the floor and bark an obscenity in Italian.

If you think that my description of the stuffed calamari was a highlight, that was nothing compared to the entrées. The chicken parmesan that my friend ordered had come with a tomato sauce that was lightly spicy and with a hint of ginger. Hello! I have had a tomato sauce flavoured with ginger to the point where it was pungent. The faint taste of it at Il Sogno added an accent to the dish that made every bite a gala. As to the lobster da fravolo, there is a certain Italian restaurant in Chicago proper where I have been — that will remain nameless — that could take notes. Spicy like an arrabbiata, the well-seasoned lobster, mussels, and clams sat atop a bed of linguine under a lip-smacking tomato sauce. I drooled. My eyes went to slits from food comatose. I smacked the table. I hummed. My friend and I indulged ourselves to the point where we completed our entrées and had no room for any desserts. The only thing that we could muster was cappuccino and that was absolute top.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash Risotto

Because I could not get the thought of Il Sogno out of my mind or the wonderful taste of the calamari and lobster da fravolo out of my mouth — okay, an exaggeration — I was in Italian mode for much the remaining week. Having gone to Korean barbecue with another friend earlier in the week and then to Il Sogno the next evening, I decided that I would complete the weekend in my kitchen rather than dining out again. How about that? There has to be a special section in the Foodie Bylaws for indulging yourself in your own kitchen, as long as you abide by Section 5.2. Well, that was no problem. Being a lover of bread, I baked a loaf of Italian bread. And no loaf of Italian bread is complete without some fresh parmesan cheese, olive oil, and black pepper. How do you say, Yummy, in Italian? Warm from the oven and me sopping the olive oil, parmesan cheese, and black pepper while drinking pineapple juice from a mason jar, this complement was ideal with the butternut squash risotto that I prepared. Not to toot my horn, but when your neighbours knock on your door inquiring about whether they can borrow some ingredient only to sit at your counter, you are doing something correct. The butternut squash base took some careful preparation and I finally cooked the risotto so that it was al dente — not mushy like I have done before. Satisfaction.

Olive Oil Ice Cream with Raspberries

Olive Oil Ice Cream with Raspberries

Now, as of late I have become rather eclectic with the desserts that I have been preparing at home. Devils food cake baked with ancho and chipotle chillies. Chocolate gelato made with sweet curry. Vanilla ice cream made with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. This evening was no exception. I had prepared a custard with olive oil and frozen it. Olive oil ice cream with raspberries. Who would have thought? Yes, there are some who are cringing, wincing, spitting, and rolling on the floor. But the olive oil adds a fruity hint to the ice cream, unlike what you experience when you are dipping Italian bread in olive oil mixed with parmesan cheese and black pepper. I get excited thinking about how refreshing and tasty the dessert was. And just to be even more eccentric, I drizzled a sweet olive oil syrup over the ice cream. I do not know what to do with myself.

Well, I abided by the Foodie Bylaws and captured the main courses for your visual delight. At Il Sogno I used the camera on my cell phone and was rather surprised to see how well it captured the lobster da fravolo. With me having professional cameras, the cell phone is giving them competition. At home, I used one of my Nikon cameras. The risotto almost never made it because the smells were so powerful that my growling belly had kept telling me to hurry and get to gnashing on the dish. I complied. For the ice cream, I shall enjoy this special dessert for the upcoming week while I ponder the next exotic ice cream concoction I plan to try. Regardless of what it will be, rest assure that I will have a camera ready to capture the impressions. I simply cannot shirk my foodie responsibilities by not having a camera ready. For shame.

Il Sogno di Barrella on Urbanspoon