Notes from the Road...

Have you ever indulged in a meal that felt as though you were perched at a long family-style table in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, sharing summer vegetables so sublime they echoed the rolling landscape and firm pasta made by hand. I was rewarded with such an experience recently at NYC's Del Posto, my first taste of Mario Batali's work.

While Chicago consistently blows me away on a culinary scale, I've been longing to experience the orange-clogged-one and my recent trip home was just the time. His cooking proved, as I had hoped, to truly exude rustic Italian charm and class, not just an Iron Chef but a true gustatory journeyman.

This particular Batali-Bastianich legend has an atmosphere steeped in luxury and dimly lit dark wood, and I sensed a stir in the air that I was in for a treat.

I started with a salad, which seemed to be a cop out in a place that treats meats so lovingly, but all reservations were gone by the time a virtual painter's palate was presented in front of me. I was blown away. My fork bounced from fava bean puree to edible herb and flower blossoms to marinated artichoke and rough crumbles of pumpernickel croutons for lapping up fresh goat's milk ricotta...

The pasta was delightfully springing and firm. My dad, who's been known to play it safe when venturing out to eat, was pleasantly surprised by his spaghetti roti (firm, chopped, large ropes of pasta) that nested chunks of dungeness crab, scallions and mild jalapenos.

I looked to our waiter for his spot on recommendations, and went with my gut with the white rabbit panzotti (large hand-formed packets filled with sausage like dark meat and ricotta), bathed in black truffle butter and sliced pencil asparagus. It transported me to that farm table in Italy. Simple ingredients, sunny and bright but so chewy and indulgent that I was left more than satisfied.

Dessert was a necessity at a place like this. The selection was difficult and daring, but my butterscotch semifreddo proved a study in contrasts. The buttery, coffee tones spooned up deliciously cool and creamy. Nestled beside it was a bouquet of baby mint leaves and a dollop of rhubarb marmalade. The semifreddo felt so old-world in it's comfort and indulgence, but the rhubarb and mint were surprisingly lightly simple yet modern nod to the fresh bounty of the season. Perhaps this tiny bowl captures the magic of Del Posto and Batali himself, combining rich Italian culinary sensibility while invoking the purest contemporary ingredients to bring the meal to life.

This week, I'm welcomed back to Chicago with an event I've truly been looking forward to: the famed Green City Market's annual Chef's BBQ. I can't wait to report on my favorite local chefs (64 in attendance!!)...and ones I'll be dying to visit on their own turf.


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