La Notte Cafe & Bar

La Notte Cafe & Bar

It dawned on me that although I have blogged a lot of restaurants in and around the metropolitan Chicago area, there are more that I have visited and not blogged. I don’t always have my camera with me and because I often leave my cellphone at home intentionally, I then don’t have anything to record spoken annotations of certain dining experiences. Fortunately, there are some restaurants that are still in business and their first visits were so memorable that I have since returned. La Notte Cafe & Bar at 6822 Windsor Avenue in Berwyn, Illinois, is an example of one of those restaurants where I went well over a year ago without a camera for capturing the impressions of all the good food.

Nottetini

Nottetini

Sidecar

Sidecar

A great friend and I returned for a second visit. Figuring that there would be a large dining crowd for the fantastic Saturday that it was, we arrive for a 4:00 PM seating. To make things even better, we sat outside on their patio and quenched our thirsts with a nottetini and a sidecar. The nottetini was truly a glass of Italy, a mixture of limoncello and vodka. James Bond would enjoy this one without having to mention wanting it shaken instead of stirred. I requested the sidecar with a slight modification. I wanted it mixed with whiskey for the base as opposed to a sour liqueur. Bravo!

Zuppe del Giorno

Zuppe del Giorno

We were in our usual mode of wanting a degustation. The beauty of going to small and family owned restaurants like La Notte is that you can order accordingly. And the menu may be adjusted to taste or ordering desires. This means nothing is thawed, popped into a microwave or conventional oven, arranged on a plate, and then brought to the table with a declaration of “Voila!” So, in keeping with our degustation, we started with the zuppe del giorno. This cup of love had a New England clam chowder base with smoked gouda cheese, shredded tilapia, fresh shrimp, a purée of shiitake mushroom, and finished with shallots, cognac, and a splash of tabasco sauce. Assolutamente deliziosa.

Soft Shell Crab Over Salad

Soft Shell Crab Over Salad

A lot of my recent restaurant outings have reintroduced chicken and some beef into my diet. The result of that, and I really shouldn’t put the blame on indulging meat, is that I have gained a few inches in my waistline. That is quite fine, except for me having a hard time zipping and buttoning some tailor-made pants that cost a mint. In addition to my new gym membership, I need to get back to a regimented pescatarian diet. The great thing about La Notte is that the seafood selection is splendid. So, we ordered soft shell crab. The soft shell crab came with a balsamic glaze and honey mustard over a mixed greens and cherry tomatoes. Very simple, yet savoury.

Risotto with Shrimp and Scallops

Risotto with Shrimp and Scallops

Italian dining does not always have to include pasta. And anyone who has had risotto worth using as a trump card in discussion about who has had the best dish ever will agree that Italian cuisine has some versatility that will make you forget about penne, spaghetti, fettuccine, and angel hair pasta. The risotto we ordered came with a cheese base blooming with great taste, giant shrimp, tender scallops, and chopped asparagus. Served family style, the dish was substantial. The chef left disappointment out of the recipe completely. Grazie a dio per questo.

Sea Bass and Vegetables

Sea Bass and Vegetables

With the platter of sea bass and mixed, grill vegetables of squash, zucchini, red onions, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes, we got a tableside presentation in deboning the bass. Watching the owner work his magic with only a fork and spoon, and then applying a garlic drizzle to the dish, you have to appreciate the art involved in filleting the fish. But the burst of gusto in each bite had me almost forgetting about the side pasta that had come with the dish. And given that there is quite a bit of the sea bass and vegetables, the dish is still light.

Limoncello

Limoncello

Tulip

Tulip

There exists an atmosphere very much like that of the “old country.” There is no rush. My friend and I sat to let the soup, appetizer, and entrées settle. After some time, we decided that we would indulge dessert, which is another vice that I need to control. We had some homemade limoncello — my friend because she was not driving and me as a disclaimer to null the discomfort from a pulled muscle. The son at La Notte explained that his grandmother sends lemons from Phoenix, Arizona, and that is what they use to make the limoncello. Good on them because it is worthy of savouring from a sniffer.

Tartufo

Tartufo

There was a chocolate tulip, filled with chocolate sorbet and topped with chocolate. Be forewarned if you order the tulip, it is rich. And if the tulip isn’t enough, the tartufo is another option for catering to the monster. A small ball of vanilla ice cream encased in a bigger ball of chocolate ice cream and then dusted with cocoa powder and hazelnuts. Served with strawberries and whipped cream, all you have to do is add the clinking of a spoon on your plate and a scream afterwards.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

For our finale, my friend had coffee with cream and I had a cappuccino. My indicator for good coffee is when you can take it without any sweeteners. The cappuccino surpassed the test and reminded me of the cups of cappuccino I had during visits to Milan.

Berwyn is slowly becoming a nearby Chicago suburb whose focus is primarily on authentic dining. What many will find are family owned and small restaurants that boast dishes that you will indeed find during visits abroad. La Notte Cafe & Bar is not simply an establishment borrowing Italian charm. The father and son not only retained the Italian customs in the recipes, but also make sure that the dishes that come to the table reflect the same quality that they enjoy in their own homes. The service during my first visit was well past the high mark of 10. The service during the second visit was even better. For what I would consider fine dining, the prices are extremely reasonable. If you want the feel of going to someone’s home and having a meal without being rushed, I highly recommend La Notte Cafe & Bar. I know it won’t take me a whole year for a return visit.

La Notte Cafe on Urbanspoon

Papaspiros Agora, Trying the New

Papaspiros Greek Taverna

A few years ago when I was on assignment in West Suburbs, I had made Oak Park, Illinois, a stopping ground for dinner on Friday evenings. Traffic was always aggravating and driving a manual shift car never made matters any better. Oak Park has a nice selection of ethnic restaurants and one that I had not tried was Papaspiros Greek Taverna at 733 Lake Street. It was an outstanding dining experience and by the time I had decided to return for a repeat excursion, the restaurant had closed. Well, it has since reopened in a new location across the street at 728 Lake Street.

Cranberry Juice and Water

Cranberry Juice and Water

Hummus

Hummus

Sesame Seed Bread

Sesame Seed Bread

Saganaki

Saganaki

With it being a perfect Saturday afternoon, I had an outdoor seat and prepared myself to savour some Greek dishes. I started with hummus. These creamed chickpeas, served with slices of tomato and cucumber and accented with olive oil, were quite nice and delectable. There was no pita served along with the hummus, so I used the complimentary sesame seed bread instead. That was fine until I was running out. I had ordered saganaki and good saganaki can have a spreadable consistency. The saganaki was also tasty. And usually, saganaki is set aflame at the table and then doused with lemon juice. The saganaki simply came to the table already bubbling in the small skillet.

Shrimp Souvlaki

Shrimp Souvlaki

Slowly I am starting to work myself back into my pescatarian diet. Blogging has a tendency for me to have chicken every once in a while and an occasional slice of beef. However, having had an appetizing seafood entree at another Greek restaurant recently, I thought that it would be a good idea to sample some seafood options from Papaspiros. The shrimp souvlaki was a perfect choice. Plump shrimp marinated in herbs and skewered with onions and bell peppers, each bite was worthy of a want to return. The garden salad and rice pilaf that came covered in a red tomato sauce along with halved potatoes were quite a lip-smacking accompaniments.

Arni Kokkinisto

Arni Kokkinisto

During my visit to Papaspiros at its former location, the first entrée I indulged was arni kokkinist — tender braised lamb, flavoured with fresh herbs, spices, and white wine, and served with green beans in light tomato sauce. Being a pescatarian at the time, eating lamb was a stretch, but it was not going to cause immediate ruin. With lamb meat falling off the bone and exploding with great taste along with fantastically seasoned green beans, the arni kokkinist deserved an encore.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

For the second round, I had sea bass with rice pilaf and steamed mixed vegetables of potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage. I ordered the sea bass complete with bones and with the head intact and t I took my time savouring each bite. Well, I should put that in context. I took my time so that I was not swallowing the small bones in the fish. The rice pilaf and the mixed vegetables were perfect companions to the dish and my server smiles wider every time she passed by and saw me nodding my head in appreciation for the offerings that she had suggested.

Grecian Riganati Chicken

Grecian Riganati Chicken

After sitting for awhile, I was ready for a third entrée. I had Grecian riganati chicken. Oven roasted chicken marinated with olive oil, lemon sauce, and oregano, and served with rice pilaf was a perfect wrap-up entrée. The server had told me in advance that it would take half an hour for the preparation and it had come to the table in perfect timing. Each bite was succulent. The meat was moist and I kept working my knife and fork slowly until I could not finish all of it. The server was rather impressed with my feasting talents.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

I should have stopped, but what is a splendid meal without a proper dessert? I had coffee and galaktoboureko. Semolina-based custard flavoured with lemon in phyllo, drizzled, and sprinkled with cinnamon with honey was enough to fly me to the moon. I think the patrons who were sitting next to me wanted me to stop humming, for I was exhibiting too much bliss. If you have some awesome food sitting before you and you are enjoying it, there is nothing wrong with letting it be known accordingly.

In 2012, I had the complete package of satisfaction: great service, outstanding food, and reasonable price. On this recent visit, the service I received from my server was top. The rest of the staff had a distant disposition that was kind of rattling. The food has not suffered as a result of the move, and the price is still sweet to the wallet. If Papaspiros draws crowds on Friday and Saturday nights the way I recalled during the stint at the former location, it may be a good idea to go during the afternoon on weekends. Certainly if the weather is pleasant enough for outdoor seating, take advantage of the restaurant’s authentic Greek menu items. Just don’t scream, “Opa!” The staff may think you’re ready to start throwing dishes on the ground.

Papaspiros on Urbanspoon

I See Food at Devon Seafood Grill

Devon Seafood Grill

Recently, I bit down hard and started a Chicago Alphabet Soup page on Facebook. For all the kicking and screaming I did as far as delving into social media, it was a good idea. There is still something of a human touch missing. Friends had told me to add Twitter, Tumblr, and a few other brand name social media outlets to my repertoire. I will slowly add them. One avenue that I thought would be good would be to actually engage people outside of my inner circle for advice, feedback, and recommendations. So, I found myself on the Meetup.com site searching for some foodist-photographer groups. There was one that stood out since it seemed to focus on the photography aspect of being a foodist. As much as I would love to claim major photography skills, there is a lot that I need to learn still. I figured I would recalibrate myself to hone my still shot skills and then indulge Twitter and other social media after a bit of more polishing. All of that research had left me with an appetite.

X-Rated Martini

X-Rated Martini

Sidecar

Sidecar

I called a great friend and mentioned that I was considering going to Devon Seafood Grill at 39 E. Chicago Avenue for my favourite American culinary fare — seafood. It was early in the afternoon and I knew that going before 6:00 PM would mean getting there before all the nouveau laissez faire parents arrived with their little wicked Damians and Rhodas to make a complete mess of the whole dining experience. Ah, but we opted to sit upstairs in the bar area, which solved the problem of witnessing bad little kids doing God knows what all it takes to get their parents’ attention. My great friend and I knew we would have no disturbances while she enjoyed her X-rated martini and I enjoyed my flight of whiskey cocktails.

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Unlike some people we have heard ordering chicken fingers at ethnic eateries that don’t even have fancy baked chicken on their menu, we started with tuna tartar. Served over cucumbers and accented with a wasabi sauce, ginger, and wafers, we were rather glad that we had braved the bite of the wind coming off Lake Michigan. The cucumbers had a faint flavouring of ginger, although not atop the ginger. The wasabi drizzle did wonders on clearing our heads. Of course, there was sipping — my friend enjoying her X-rated martini flavoured with raspberry and lemonade and me mouthing off at how much I was enjoying my whiskey cocktail flight. Having started this whole thing with ordering flights of cocktails at restaurants, knowing that flights are not on the menu, our server lit up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Turns out she was not only a server, but she was also a bartender. And her talents are top. The Maker’s Market basil and lemon whiskey cocktail, the twist on a mint julep, and the twist on a sidecar left me speechless for the greater part of ten minutes. My friend and I acknowledged that we will request her when we return. If she’s not there, then we’ll come back when she is.

Biscuit and Butter

Biscuit and Butter

Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll

Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll

Lobster Tamale

Lobster Tamale

Lobster  Roll

Lobster Roll

Now, I had mentioned that I had an appetite earlier. That was no lie. The warm biscuits that came to the table with the dollop of honey butter put Southern biscuits to shame. There was a shrimp tempura sushi roll that rivalled the same sushi rolls I have had at countless top-notch Japanese sushi bars. When Devon Seafood Grill says that they get their seafood in fresh daily, the wow factor in their sushi is an indication that they are not lying. Another rather substantial appetizer that we ordered was the lobster tamale. This was nothing short of bliss in a creamy gravy and we all but picked up the plate and licked it after we had finished. Still, I must admit that one of my main reasons for wanting to go to Devon Seafood Grill was for their lobster roll. I rolled my eyes with each bite, and I don’t mean as in being cheeky. Add to that my habit of humming when food is good.

Lemon Basil Manhattan

Lemon Basil Manhattan

Mint Julep

Mint Julep

Sidebar

Sidecar

But now a good hour had passed and we were ready for more, yet something light. And then came a bowl of mussels to the table with garlic bread. People on self-imposed diets are wishing they had a thread of our hair for their voodoo dolls that they would torture relentlessly. I’m bald, by the way, however, my friend isn’t. There is almost a guarantee to get a batch of mussels full of sand in them. That was not the case with the batch we had. The sauce that they were swimming in was perfect for sopping. With a few more pieces of toast at hand, we made the sauce disappear.

Mussels

Mussels

By now, my friend had finished her martini and I had downed my flight of cocktails and a few glasses of water. My friend had a sip of my sidecar and was so pleasantly pleased that she ordered one of her own. I ordered another one. These were a few notches past ideal with the mixed platter and the plate of halibut. The mixed platter came with sea bass over mashed potatoes, haricot verdes, scallops, shrimp, and crab cakes. For those of you who are based in or around Maryland, Devon Seafood Grill prepares crab cakes the way that they are supposed to be done — with lump crab and a few crumbs to hold the crabs together, not as a cake with essence of crab. The halibut, flaky and wonderful, came with a lobster risotto and mashed potatoes. This was also a few notches past satisfying and all of it went bye-bye in appreciation of its great taste.

Mixed Platter

Mixed Platter

Halibut, Lobster Risotto, Mashed Potatoes

Halibut, Lobster Risotto, Mashed Potatoes

Devon Seafood Grill is one of the incredibly good seafood restaurants in Chicago proper. Yes, there are a lot of seafood restaurants that tout divine food, but quite a few have service that doesn’t balance the output from the kitchen properly, and that often detracts from an enjoyable experience. Devon Seafood Grill does an outstanding job of making sure that patrons’ dining experiences are worthy of return visits. Well, for disclosure, my experiences have warranted repeat visits — barring the episode where a little Rhoda threw her knife, fork, pen, and sticky pad at me in a fit of solidarity against her hands-off parents. One thing I shall note is that the price is not cheap. It is not exorbitant either. For those who go and want to enjoy your meal, I highly recommend sitting upstairs in the bar area. You still get great service. Yet there is an adult atmosphere upstairs where you can also enjoy some great bar service and conversation without yelling if you’re on a date. And if you want to take a chance on getting a flight of some beverage, request a flight of whiskey cocktails. Take your spacesuit because you will shoot straight for the stars thereafter.

Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon Devon Seafood Grill - Chicago on Foodio54