Pizza Capri, Hyde Park Haunt

Pizza Capri

When I lived in Hyde Park, several friends and I would block every Thursday to gather at any of the great restaurants in the neighbourhood. Given the multicultural environment in Hyde Park, there were restaurants representative accordingly. One of our favourites was Pizza Capri at 1501 E. 53rd Street. With so many Italian restaurants in Chicago having menus full of dishes with red sauces, Pizza Capri switched up a bit by adding cream sauces and other menu items that differ from the usual Italian restaurant fare.

Potato Soup, Bread, Olive Oil

Potato Soup, Bread, Olive Oil

Fast forward to 2015 and I had a craving for something to feast on from Pizza Capri. Opting to indulge a three course meal, I started with a cup of potato soup, along with the complimentary bread and olive oil accented with herbs. The potato soup popped with the flavour of potatoes and it was seasoned well enough that I didn’t miss any salt in the recipe. Instead of pasta, I ordered a small rosemary potato and chicken pizza. This was a complete deviation from a pizza with a tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings ranging from sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and other ingredients. This pizza was simply divine. And with it being thin crust, it was hearty, but not to the point of me not being able to finish all of it.

Rosemary Potato and Chicken Pizza

Rosemary Potato and Chicken Pizza

Knowing that I was going to have a finale of coffee and dessert, I waited for about 15-20 minutes before having a cappuccino and a flourless chocolate cake. Just like I remember from my days past, the cappuccino was brewed well enough that I could take it without any sweeteners. As to the flourless chocolate cake, it was addictive. With the consistency of a mousse, atop a crème anglaise, topped with strawberries, and drizzled with chocolate syrup, it was the perfect companion to the cappuccino.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Since my first visit to Pizza Capri in the lat 90’s, the service and the high quality of the food have always been consistent. There are a few items on the menu that have classic red sauces and you can never fail by ordering any of the items. There are also specialty pizzas and other Italian dishes like alfredos and pasta in cream sauces that are also winners. But since my friends and I are now on different continents, whenever we have a reunion in Chicago, Pizza Capri is where we come together.

Pizza Capri Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A-One Italian-French and A10

A10 Hyde Park

February is speeding with a quickness. And I had thought that I would have visited at least one restaurant per week since the New Year began. Alas, the constant snowing and arctic temperatures when snow isn’t falling joined forces to have me running to the warmth of my condominium rather than to the inviting flavours of any restaurants. That is not a good thing because it means once the temperatures warm up finally and I go outside to venture to restaurants for sampling, I will overdo it and then have issues with the night elves that visit my closet and stitch up my pants such that they’re tight around the belly. Ugh, I hate winter, but I love food enough to brave the chill of the Chicago air every once in a while.

A10 Dinner

A10 Dinner

Baguette

Baguette

A great friend and I had managed to escape to Hyde Park a few weeks ago to sample a new restaurant on the Hyde Park landscape. We were so blown over by the service and the food that the experience had plagued our thoughts and conversations since. After a long weekend of being inside, I had cabin fever. I am not a fan of shopping and long walks along the beach with the wind blowing angrily off of Lake Michigan may be a romantic escape for those who like to play roulette with pneumonia.  But food is my lover and I can stand a walk to the subway and connect to a bus to get to a destination that will take my mind way from the fact that the temperatures never got out of the single digits. So, after making reservations, we went back to A10 at 1462 E. 53rd Street in the new chi-chi fantasy world that has taken over the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park.

Benromach Scotch Whiskey

Benromach Scotch Whiskey

Templeton Rye

Templeton Rye

Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey

Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey

There is always the request for what one would like to start with drinking. My friend tried her hand with an old-fashioned whiskey cocktail since I had it on the first visit and apparently wouldn’t shut up about how much I loved it. After her first few sips, she had kept mentioning how it was an excellent option. I was in a rare mood — no rarer than usual, though. I requested a flight of whiskies. You can hear all the beer connoisseurs mumbling through upturned sneers, “Snob.” With a baguette in front of us served with a plate of olive oil and balsamic with garlic cooked such that it was spreadable, we were off to a smashing start.

Garlic Soup

Garlic Soup

For starters, my friend had a bowl of roasted garlic soup and I had a Portobello mushroom pizza. The soup was hearty and full of flavour. I recommend it highly if you are all about being heart healthy. Even if you are one of those fans of vampire movies and you fear one of the pretty actors with polished fangs may come to you one night to bite your neck, a bowl of that soup would  be perfect for fending off those wicked vampires. The Portobello mushroom pizza was more like grilled toast with cheese, sautéed onions, and pickled carrots. Giordano’s what? Eduardo’s what? Lou Malnati’s what? Domino’s what? Pizza Hut what? The Portobello mushroom pizza was a blast.

Portobello Mushroom Pizza

Portobello Mushroom Pizza

My taste buds had me in a mood for seafood. Fortunately, A10 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to seafood offerings for my palate. I ordered a cold smoked trout that was served over whipped garlic potatoes. Wow! Having had trout fried, having it smoked such that the fish was flaky and meaty has now moved it up into my Top 5 Fish Loves. Because it was all so fantastic, I worked my knife and fork in slow motion, trying to make the moment last as long as possible without letting the dish get cold.

Cold Smoked Trout with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Cold Smoked Trout with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Many of the specials had pork in the recipe, which was not something that appealed to my friend. Instead, she ordered blue crab ravioli with fried green tomatoes. During the first visit, she and I had shared a bit of our dishes and when I had tasted the ravioli that was bursting with blue crab, I understood fully why she ordered it again. This was not a case of “when all else fails,” but one of “you are certain not to fail by ordering the ravioli dish.”

Blue Crab Ravioli and Fried Green Tomatoes

Blue Crab Ravioli and Fried Green Tomatoes

We sat for a while after we wrapped up our entrées, reminiscing about how Hyde Park used to look. It appears that change is taking over the landscape of Hyde Park in a rapid fashion that would otherwise eradicate charm in other neighbourhoods because of poor execution. However, Hyde Park has been a bastion of diversity and change, so the new look doesn’t feel out-of-place. By the time my friend’s coffee and my cappuccino arrived, we had recounted where old establishments were that have gone away to give way to a shinier, dynamic Hyde Park.

Cappuccino and Biscotti

Cappuccino and Biscotti

In addition to our coffees, there is one dessert we had that I think that everyone in the Chicago metropolitan area, as well as visitors to the Chicago area, must try. It’s soft serve ice cream — and I don’t mean that cold foam you get at McDonald’s. It’s homemade ice cream, but accentuated with almond granola, a honey drizzle, and thyme. I have prepared my share of savoury ice cream, so this dessert was clearly a winner to me. This was my guilty pleasure dessert in advance of my birthday. I had an allowance for something sweet, yet not sugary and definitely not saccharine. It would be a lie for me to say that I was not in love after the very first scoop.

Soft Serve with Honey-Drizzled Granola

Soft Serve with Honey-Drizzled Granola

A10 is relatively new, perhaps only a few months of being in business. Unlike a lot of restaurants that are still in their neophyte stages, complete with fumbling and blaring presentations of overcompensation, A10 has the air of a well-oiled machine. It is also quite obvious that the residents of Hyde Park are appreciative of the restaurant gracing 53rd Street, as there is a constant flow of those from the neighbourhood coming in to partake of the menu offerings. For this to have been my second visit, I have been a minimum of ten notches past impressed. It’s not that the hostesses remembered me. It’s not that our first server came by and spoke. It’s not that those on the hospitality staff welcomed my friend and me back. It’s that they got it right. And for that, I say, “C’est bon et bravo!”

A10 Hyde Park, Bar

A10 Hyde Park, Bar

A10 on Urbanspoon A10 Hyde Park on Foodio54

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.

Bruschetta

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.

Delicious

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

From Down Under, A Review

Egg Breakfast in Deep Pot

This review has been long overdue. Granted I created Chicago Alphabet Soup for review of restaurants in the metropolitan Chicago area, I am a bit of an international-phile. Chicago is tops in the restaurant area, and certainly when it comes to a variety of ethnic eateries. But with travel, I often get a chance to sample bites while visiting other parts of the world. Towards the latter part of 2010, I had mentioned that I had taken a personal holiday abroad in Australia. During my brief stint Down Under, I promised a friend that I would journal at least one restaurant I had found fascinating enough to blog.

Poached Egg and Ricotta over Focaccia

I spent a little over a week in Melbourne sampling more than my fair share of cafes, restaurants, diners, and outdoor shops. As fascinated as I am with the multitude of options that Chicago offers, Melbourne is a Wonderland of delights for the palate. Restaurants seemingly go on for miles in any direction. But one restaurant that stood out was a particular rustic Italian cafe in Brunswick, which is the neighbouring suburb just north of Melbourne. So very reminiscent of the Wicker Park section of Chicago and highly recommended by my friends, I got to see an Italian chef works his magic Australian style.

Scrambled Eggs Over Focaccia

The two friends I visited in Melbourne had mentioned that they have a Sunday ritual. For breakfast, they frequent a restaurant called Piazza 51, which is located at 51 Sydney Road in Brunswick. Being that I am a regular at a certain eclectic organic breakfast spot in Chicago, I understood. My friends would then go about their day, enjoying the sites and sounds of Melbourne and the countryside, and then they would return home to freshen up before going back to Piazza 51 for dinner. Hmm. That is what I call dedication more than a ritual. And for the Sunday that I was in the city visiting, the last thing I was going to do was complain about food, my lover, my constant comfort, my reason for fighting with widening in the middle.

Potato and Onion Pizza

Piazza 51 employs use of a wood burning oven and with the kitchen being right there with you, practically, you get to see the chef in action. Very nice, I thought, since you get to see real ingredients go into your food. For breakfast, my friends and I feasted ourselves on focaccia under scrambled eggs, focaccia with poached eggs and tomato and ricotta cheese, and a baked egg with sausage and vegetables in a clay pot. Here is where I would usually insert a smart remark like “oink,” but a bit of my British leaning was intact, so there was plenty of pomp about my feast and appreciation — in my mind I was having a moment, to put it mildly. But not to see such a pleasure on plates and not capture the moment, I snapped a few pictures while at my seat and also in the kitchen. Not only did the breakfast look like a presentation, but you could smell the goodness. That was probably because of fresh ingredients being used. Mainly it was because of my blooming appetite. This was filling enough that my stomach did not grumble for several hours. It was then that I understood why my friends were not so anxious to start gobbling something at any eatery immediately afterwards.

Bruschetta on Focaccia

Ricardo at Work

After a day of touring the wine country, sampling wine, and making purchases, we returned back to Melbourne in time to get ready for dinner. Food, glorious food. My friends had commented that it was better to arrive at Piazza 51 early because the cafe tends to pack out early. I had figured that if the dinner was as good as the breakfast was, then it was understandable that the place would be filled to capacity for the dinner set. For dinner, hell yes, it was worthy of the return trip. We started with a bruschetta on focaccia. Again, fresh ingredients and focaccia baked to perfection in the wood burning oven. One of my friends ordered a vegetarian flatbread pizza with chillies on it. She is a danger girl. The other friend ordered a pizza full of vegetables and sausages. His eyes were dreamy after he had downed a fourth of the pizza. I ordered a flatbread pizza with thin potatoes and onion, and I have no earthly idea how I managed to get the whole thing down my cake hole. The pizzas all came on tremendous sized plates and still hung over the sides. On top of that, I had a sambuca that would do just great for a common cold. And in the spirit of gluttony, I had a molten chocolate cake with another shot of sambuca. Nice.

Vegetarian Pizza
It was quite refreshing being able to engage the chef and the other wait staff in conversation. That was, of course, one of the benefits of going with my friends who are regulars at Piazza 51. Not that they should consider opening a spot in Chicago, which would not be a bad idea, but the wood oven concept being used to retain a bit of the old country style of cooking is a selling point that makes Piazza 51 tops, much like the authentic Italian restaurants in Chicago proper. It is a welcoming experience to walk into an establishment and for the merchant and customer to have a first-name basis relationship. I now see why my friends wanted me to get the Piazza 51 treatment before dashing back to my very own world here on the the other side of the Date Line.

Dinner is Ready

While I must admit that Australia is a hot bed of scenic views, confusing dispositions, people who make no eye contact — unless staring at you sideways, and weird airs until your foreign accent is heard, I never went without an appetizing meal. That is a plus. If I were to do something like a restaurant show, I honestly believe that I could spend a whole season roaming through eateries in Melbourne and still have enough coverage of other restaurants in the city to fill up a few more seasons. Piazza 51 certainly got flagged as a restaurant I would include on the tour list. If you should find yourself making the rounds across the continents and Melbourne is on your itinerary, make your way on up to Brunswick and see how rustic Italian dining is done to satisfaction. Pip, pip.

African-Caribbean, Italian, German

Piazza 51 on Urbanspoon