I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Maybe it’s because of my recent New York trip. (More about that soon, I promise.) I ate a lot of pizza in New York and well, I came back to London and was still in the zone and just couldn’t stop eating anything sauce-y and cheese-y.
Pizza Union totally delivers. On a crazily rainy afternoon the other week, we scarfed down two piping hot pizzas — one Vesuvio (pepperoni, green chillies, cracked chillies) and one Stagioni (cotto ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives) — in the blink of an eye. And I mean blink because Pizza Union is not kidding when they say these are “superfast” pizzas. There were pretty much no minutes between placing our order and being served. Maybe five minutes, max?? We washed our delight down with the house red wine that we affectionately called “pizza wine” because, well, it was a very good pizza wine.
Americans amongst you will laugh when you are handed one of those “Your table is ready” devices which will blink and buzz when it’s your turn to head up to the front and pick up your pizza. That’s part of how Pizza Union does this so fast. You place your order at the till, get your device and find a seat. (When we were there at lunchtime on a Friday, the place was PACKED. By 2:30 pm, it had emptied out.) The staff are seriously cranking out pizzas like there is no tomorrow so it won’t be long before your buzzer is a-blinkin’.
A Pizza Margherita at Pizza Union goes for an astonishing value price of £3.95. The Vesuvio, £5.50 and the Stagione £6.50. How they keep prices so low, I don’t understand!! Either rent is cheap or they do so much in volume that it all sort of works itself out.
During our stay, we also enjoyed some corn nuts, a verdura salad and some crazy delicious desserts that I cannot even explain. Deep fried rings of deliciousness stuffed with caramel and nutella, covered in cocoa. Messy but delicious.
We really enjoyed our time at Pizza Union. It’s buzzy and fun and well, a terrific good value. Staff during our visit were super friendly and nice. It’s a student-y type of place bound to be popular with the kids. But it will be popular with me as well.
The Verdict: Fun for the entire family.
I was a guest of Pizza Union and invited Denise along.
The new sightly unemployed Krista is the “Say Yes Krista.” Yes, after years of saying NO, I’m saying Yes. Because someone has to. And I’d rather it be me then some of the crazies. (Sorry, crazies.) So when Jamie’s Italian offered me a £50 voucher to eat at one of their restaurants, I said YES and invited the infamous Wine Sleuth along with me to check out Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden.
And you know what? We had a great time. The atmosphere was lively! The food was enjoyable! The wine was in abundance! And even better, our server, Carlos, was pretty much the nicest, best server I’ve ever had in London. When he told us that he helped train new staff in new restaurants, I totally got it. If I ran Jamie’s Italian, I’d want Carlos to train all my staff too. Thank you, Carlos, for a wonderful experience and for making the Fritto Misto happen!!!
In short, my main takeaway after my £50 voucher experience at Jamie’s Italian was that I should SAY YES more often.
Jamie Oliver is a cheeky chappy now isn’t he? And so is his food. He is being funny sometimes with his menu. Me? I would like to have a long talk with the person in marketing who called the fried ravioli “Italian Nachos,” but otherwise, how can one NOT enjoy fried ravioli?? I accidentally ate the entire spicy pepper on our bruschetta which caused some problems for me the next day (!!!) but damn if we still didn’t polish off both the ravioli and the bruschetta starters and a mixed basket of very nice bread as well.
The carbonara was luscious although after discussing it with Carlos, we determined that it was not of the creamless variety. I don’t care! The SAY YES Krista is less of purist than the old fully-employed Krista. The carbonara was still enjoyable! My dad would have loved it! (I’ve learned over the years to never take my father to an Italian restaurant in London. He is always disappointed. I don’t think he would be disappointed at Jamie’s Italian.) The sausage pappardelle was less enticing — lacking a depth of flavor — but we still polished it off.
Carlos had initially suggested that we try the Fritto Misto but then it turned out that they were still waiting for their seafood delivery. 20 minutes became one hour and 20 minutes but Denise and I were catching up on all things social media and drinking all the white wine, so it didn’t matter really. When the huge platter of Fritto Misto finally arrived, the Italians at the table next to us looked on in horror. I don’t know if you know this, but I can totally read people’s minds and I knew exactly what they were thinking.
How are those girls eating all of that?
We want some.
And while the Fritto Misto was a little short on seasoning, multiple lemon wedges delivered by Carlos on request made up for that. Even my arteries acknowledged that the quality of frying was commendable. Also, a great selection of seafood. Not a one-trick scampi pony. Excellent work, Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden. Excellent work. (But try a little pinch of Old Bay next time.)
In short, we had a good time here. I’d go back and bring my dad. We meant to stop in the front of the restaurant on the way out and check out the books and products on sale, but 1.25 liters of white wine later, we forgot. This means I will have to go back.
The Verdict: Fun for the entire family. Say yes!
Marketing bit: Jamie’s Italian does a Gold Card membership which is free and offers members little treats and promotions whenever they visit any of the restaurants. Join now.
Obligatory disclaimer in a normal font size that humans can read: Jamie’s Italian was kind enough to give me a £50 voucher for lunch at one of their restaurants. We still managed to spend £42 extra pounds AND we still tipped on what would have been the full amount. As you can (I hope) tell, I still wrote whatever I wanted to write, even with the voucher.
Julie left us here in Chicago and moved to DC. Her boss’ boss’ boss in the President now. That’s pretty cool. So I went out to DC for a visit, hoping for an intro. When I was a kid, we considered everything south of Pennsylvania “The South,”which I think is funny now as a Midwestern transplant. That being said, visiting DC made me miss the East Coast and most notably, the preppiness. I miss preppies…seersucker, boat shoes, Lacoste, belts with boats and whales on them. And I miss the food…clams and clams and more clams. I did NOT have clams when I was in DC but I did eat a Proof, a wine bar full of beautiful people. The gnocchi was beautiful. I would say you should get some, but it’s not on the menu anymore. Sorry!
The Verdict: A nice meal and a very nice wine list. I’d go back here.
P.S. Julie did not introduce me to the president. She owes me.
I had in my head this idea. That I wouldn’t go anywhere for July and August. That I wold stay in town and try to enjoy Chicago. This is my second weekend of that, and frankly speaking, I’m doing a terrible job with all this. Instead of relaxing and exploring, I’m finding myself at Home Depot, Target, the Post Office (!!!) and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Worst bit? I REALLY want to go to IKEA. NOOOOOOOO.
I did have a very nice morning at the Wicker Park Farmer’s Market last Sunday though, helped by some Divvy bikes and some classical music. (But then…stressful…Divvy didn’t show that I had ever returned my bike. They’ve still got some kinks to work out there, apparently.)
Where I’m going with all this is that for the first time in ages, I did take a bit of a break and finally took advantage of work summer hours on Friday and met @Zimmerino for lunch at Siena Tavern. I was a bit nervous about this lunch because Siena Tavern is one of those cavernous River North places with filament flightbulbs and cheap bathrooms. (Not even a soap dispenser. Seriously. Just a container of Softsoap.)
And I was somewhat right to be nervous. Because here’s how this all went down.
Me: “Hi, I don’t have a reservation but I’d like table for two if you’ve got one.” (It was 1:30 pm on a Friday, close to the end of the lunch rush.)
Them: “We’re all booked in the restaurant right now, but you can find a table in the bar area. It’s first come first served.” Fine.
Me, sitting at the bar, about 15 minutes later, “Hi, we’re going to move to that table over there that just opened up if you don’t mind.”
Bartender: “I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that. Have you asked anyone if you can do that?”
Me: “Um, I guess I’m sort of asking you. The front desk said it was okay, so maybe we can just close out our tab and move over…”
Bartender: “Well, I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that but if that’s what they told you at the front desk, I guess you can.”
And then we ordered some food that took ages and ages to arrive. The brussel sprouts salad was rough and dry, and the coccoli, which everyone raves about (dough puffs slightly bigger than golf balls, prosciutto di parma wrapped around stracchino cheese, “drizzled” with truffle honey) was okay, but for me, the honey ruined everything. Too sweet, too cloying. Then the waitstaff disappeared forever and ever. And then we had some gnocchi that I can only describe as overcooked wet blobs of something in a decent cream sauce, and then a prosciutto, pear and arugula pizza where the pears had been “drizzled” with powdered sugar. I don’t want powdered sugar on my pizza. (But the arugula was very good and fresh, and the pizza crust itself was nicely done.) Ah, and then the waitstaff disappeared again and us and the table next to us spent a lot of time trying to flag someone, anybody, down.
Best line? Our waitperson walked by with two very fine looking beers on her tray, stunning in color with fine foamy heads. I had just gotten a beer, but it wasn’t anywhere near as nice looking as the two she had on her tray. “What are those? I asked her.
“Beers,” she answered.
The Verdict: Inconsistent cooking and flavor combos that didn’t work for me particularly well. Too much sweetness. In general, not my scene. But many people will like it here.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Sometimes the simplest explanation IS the explanation. Sometimes, you have to leave to go home. Or come home to leave. Thankfully, the winter of my homecoming last year has not been repeated. Chicago is bright and cool and BRISK. The skies are stunningly, vividly blue. I’ve worn my boots just once. And my down coat — its buttons lost somewhere between last year and this year — also just once. Everything is lovely, but it makes me feel like we are on the cusp of something. On the cusp of something big. Something huge. Something terrible.
I am frightened.
So, um, I’ll just keep going out to eat then. Here’s where I’ve been lately:
Boiler Room, 2210 N California Ave: I loved the vibe of Boiler Room. I loved the loos. (Chicago Transit doors and, even, sound effects.) I loved the beer selection and I thought our service was pretty good too. But the pizza? Undercooked, and while at least the pepperoni had some taste to it, The Purist (mozzarella, basil, balsamic reduction) was pretty tasteless. The Verdict: Meh. So much promise, but not fully realized.
Keefer’s, 20 W Kinzie: My NY Strip Steak was good. The creamed spinach was good. The potato croquettes were excellent. But our server took FOREVER to take our order, and then he claimed we didn’t order calamari to start (we did) and then at some point, a fist fight broke out between other tables. ??? Oh, and I should mention that my friend who made the reservation is a very dependable, reliable person and I was there when she called Keefer’s and booked the table. Upon arrival, they had no record of our booking. They worked things out which was good of them, but still all very odd. Oh!! And then, when the bill came, we asked for it to be divided up amongst credit cards and that was one of the most complicated conversations I’ve ever had, for what was a basic math thing. The Verdict: I’d go somewhere else before I went back here, but I did like the vibe of the room with the radios in it.
Nori, 954 W Diversey: I dropped in here for a quick dinner after getting a haircut at Salon Blue on Sheffield, a place I’ve been going to since 1998! (Go see Amy. Tell her Krista sent you. Funnily, Chicago Food Snob has been going to Amy forever too!) Amazing. Anyhow, obviously Penny’s isn’t doing as well as it used to because this used to be part of Penny’s next door. I sat at the bar and had the Red Nori (spicy tuna, spicy shrimp, and avocado covered with tempura crumbs, red tobiko, and unagi sauce) and it was pretty enjoyable. But then I had the Crunchy Spicy Tuna maki and it was so depressing, it made me cry. There was no crunch. It was like they forgot a step. Roll the maki in raw tempura crumbs and…sigh. The Verdict: OK. Not great. I will keep searching.
Roka Akor, 11 W Illinois. I dropped in here for lunch with some colleagues this past Wednesday during Restaurant Week. The restaurant was curiously empty. Apparently, no one in The Loop wants to go north of the river, because Petterino’s is freaking PACKED every single afternoon. And Petterino’s is just good. And not as vibe-y as Roka Akor. Fascinating. Well, I had the restaurant week special and although I thought the Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings were pretty luscious, the rest of the meal — the butterfish roll and the barbecued pork loin — were uninspiring. At $22 though, this was a very good value. The Verdict: Good. And the bar area seems good for solo dining.
So there we are. Some recent tries in Chicago. Until next time! Let’s hope it doesn’t snow like crazy in between.