Quartino’s, 626 N. State St., is always busy trying new menu items and interacting with culinary experts from around the globe. Recently Chef John Coletta and world-famous pizzaiolo (master pizza maker) Antonino Esposito – they’ve been friends for the past five years –introduced the chef’s newest pizza preparation using Pivetti Grano Arso.
Starting this month Chef Coletta has added a grano arso pasta dish to Quartino’s regular menu. Called Stracci con Cime di Rape (Stracci with Broccoli Rabe), the pasta is shaped in wide ribbons that have a mildly roasted flavor and is served with crisply cooked broccoli rabe in a light creamy sauce (see photos). The dish comes of course, like everything on Quartino’s menu, with their signature grate-it-fresh-yourself parmesan server.
Grano arso, an ingredient rarely experienced outside of Italy, offers a unique flavor and color to pasta, bread and pizza dough. Meaning “burnt grain,” grano arso originated hundreds of years ago in the Pulglia region of Italy where careful wheat growers generally burn their fields after the initial harvest. The grain that’s collected from the freshly burnt wheat fields is known as grano arso.
If you and a friend are nearby and hungry around lunch one day, try Quartino’s new prix fixe lunch option - three courses for two people for $25. Visit Quartino’s website for more information.
Meanwhile, on another part of the downtown grid, plan a visit to the gloriously bright and expansive restaurant atop the Art Institute of Chicago. Known as Terzo Piano (which means simply “third floor”), it is currently carrying a prix fixe menu ($23) that’s described as relating to some of the food items represented in artworks in the exhibit Art & Appetite.
The first course is glazed parsnips with toasted hazelnuts and herbs – nicely done. The main course is PEI mussels served on a bed of Fideo pasta (Spanish-inspired noodles) in a rich, thick tomato broth (see photos). You get some unusual bread and olive oil with your lunch; desserts and wine are priced separately. For quickest access, enter at the Modern Wing entrance, 159 E. Monroe St., and take the elevator up to the restaurant.
Eat first, so you’re not starving when you view those classic paintings of food! Check out Terzo Piano here.
Yet another downtown spot, The Local Chicago (TLC) at 198 E. Delaware has just instituted a guest-bartender series on Monday evenings to benefit various charities around town (more on this in another post). TLC is a sister restaurant and run by the same owners as Chicago Cut Steakhouse over on LaSalle, named one of the top steakhouses in the country. TLC is less formal but just as professionally run. I very much enjoyed the warm-wood ambiance inside and the view outside, enhanced by deep dark-blue canvas awnings that give the large open inner space a feeling of coziness (see photos).
A friend and I enjoyed lunch there the other day. Starting with a thick-crusted quesadilla with rich lobster-studded cheesy filling ($14), we then had cups of spicy shrimp chili with beans and cheese ($6/$9). Our mains were their signature Dr. Pepper glazed spareribs ($26) and the roasted diver sea scallops (cooked just to doneness) with a balsamic reduction and served atop a plateful of super creamy and delicious butternut risotto. The warm Apple Brown Betty dessert hit the spot served with a scoop of french vanilla gelato. Portions on all items were generous.
Service was friendly but unobtrusive, yet very efficient and professional. I appreciated that our server made specific recommendations without being asked to; it’s always nice to get some guidance. Very nice that the manager on duty came over and chatted with us after lunch. Check it out at The Local Chicago website.
Then up north in Lakeview East, Macku Signature at 2529 N. Halsted has just introduced happy hour specials from 5 to 7 pm M – Th. Priced from $2 to $10, these signature nigiri-with-toppings, spider and tempura rolls and other dishes (see photo) are customer favorites selected from the regular menu. I loved my first visit to this place (read the review) and look forward to indulging during their happy hour and attending their educational sessions on how to pair different types of sake with sushi dishes. Sounds like a good way to learn more about modern Japanese fusion cuisine. Read more at Macku Signature.