Food Adventures

Monday, June 25, 2007

Apicius revisited

Some people go on vacation to lie on the beach and do nothing. I seem to want to go on vacations where I will be in a hot kitchen in the middle of July, sautéing, baking, and frying in 100 degrees. So, this year, once again I am going to Apicius (, the Culinary Institute of Florence, where I got my first taste of professional cooking courses last summer. I will be spending the month of July in Florence, taking 2 courses on Italian cuisine. Admittedly, July might not be the best time to visit Florence (because of its location, Florence is the hottest city in Italy, hotter than Rome), but I am not discouraged by the prospect of cooking in hot kitchens. I know I will enjoy it and learn a ton, so I am looking forward to it.

Michael is joining me for the first 10 days and we will spend the first weekend of the trip on a farm in the mountains north on Prato and Florence ( This will allow us to relax after the long trip, get over jet-lag, and spend some time in a cooler place before we brave the busy (and hot) streets of Firenze. Also, we hope to have some homecooked food as the owners have a small restaurant on the property.

The second weekend, we are going to Isola di Giglio, a small island off the Southern coast of Tuscany ( One of my instructors from last year and a dear friend, Marcella Ansaldo, is originally from the island and will be there. I have always wanted to see the Tuscan coast and visit some of the islands and this is the perfect opportunity to do so and have the advantage of being introduced to the island by someone who knows it. What an adventure!

So, stay tuned for more cooking school stories and recipes. And get ready to help me taste test some new recipes when I come back.

Friday, June 08, 2007


If you have had a hard time finding out about Crust, the new pizza place in the space where Settimana used to be, you're not alone. Despite the fact that we knew the place was set to open on May 24, on the day of the opening we could not find any information about whether it was really going to open. I certainly could not find a phone number to call, which was discouraging. (By the way, the phone number is 773-235-5511)

But, we decided to take a risk. When we arrived, it looked like the restaurant was open, but we were told that it would take a couple of minutes until we got served. It was shortly after 5. In fact, we did not get seated until close to 6 pm. By that time, there were at least 15 or so other people waiting to be seated. Since the restaurant was technically open and we could smell the food being prepared in the wood-burning over, it might have been a good idea to offer those of us waiting a taste of something, but alas! At least the atmosphere didn't feel rushed and stressful. Everyone seemed calm albeit a bit disorganized.

Crust, which touts itself as "the first certified organic restaurant in the Midwest," has a menu of 5 salads, 4 sandwiches, and 10 pizzas, or as they are called here 'flatbreads'. The flatbreads are described as "pizza's big brother, worldly and without boundaries." I was not sure what that means (even though I found the description somewhat intriguing) and, after trying the flatbread/pizza, I am even less sure I know why you'd call it that. The flatbread is a smallish pizza (10 inches or so): the toppings taste rather fresh and vibrant, but, for my taste, there isn't enough cheese (I could barely taste the cheese). But, it is cooked in a wood burning over and it tastes good. In addition to some rather traditional combinations, such as the Italian sausage and shroom, there are also somewhat surprising ones such as clambake (fresh clams, béchamel, fresh-pulled mozzarella, caramelized onion, wild herbs) and b.l.t. (slab bacon, beefsteak tomato, amish blue cheese, tossed arugula). Many of the flatbreads are made with béchamel, the flour-butter-milk sauce usually used in lasagna. The prices range from $10 to $14.

The sandwich choices seem to cover both vegetarians and carnivores: pulled pork, grilled cheese, tallgrass beef, and Californian. The pulled pork sandwich is served on a brioche bun, which adds to the sweetness of the pork and the sauce. It was also supposed to have Asian slaw, but I only found some pepper strips in mine in addition to the hoisin sauce. The pork was tasty, but not even close to impressive.

The most exciting part of the menu might be the cocktails, many of which contain interesting vodka infusions. The grapefruit mojito is truly a must-try. The drink list also features local beers, white and red wines, martinis, and several vodka infusions.

On opening day, the service was a little uneven: most of the waiters seemed quite inexperienced and nervous albeit well-meaning. There were some snafus, but nothing offensive. If the food were more memorable, I would go back.