Saturday, April 14, 2007


For my friend and colleague George, I'll try to keep this posting a bit on the shorter side. Maybe that way I can update it more often!

Peter and I found yet another fantastic restaurant right in our neighborhood this week: Frasca. I've walked by it countless times and had heard great things about it from my friend Libby, so on a cold, rainy night in April I was pretty excited when I walked into this cozy spot. Libby was right: with its flickering votives, large wood-burning oven, and warm wood throughout, this place definitely has a romantic feel. We were seated at a large booth and greeted with a friendly smile.

The first thing our server offered was a paper menu called "The Farmer's Table." Much like a sushi menu in which you check off the rolls you'd like, this featured various bruschetta options as well as meat and cheese selections, sort of like a create-your-own antipasto. You have the option to choose individual items or choose 5 items for $15--what a bargain! We chose 2 types of bruschetta, 2 meats and 1 cheese. Everything was delicious, but the standout was the brie and green apple bruschetta that our waiter highly recommended. The brie was perfectly ripe and super buttery, the perfect complement to the acidity of the green apple, finished with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of pepper. Wow. This one I'm going to try to recreate at home.

Though I had every intention of ordering the Tuscan Chicken as my entree, our waiter very kindly let us know that it was BOGO pizza night. 2 pizzas for the price of one? Again, what a bargain! Peter really tried to convince me that we should order both the chicken AND the BOGO pizza so we could take an entire pizza home and keep it for snacking, I eventually won the argument and we settled on just the pizzas.

I ordered the prosciutto pizza and Peter went with shrimp and Italian bacon. Though we were already pleasantly full from our Farmer's Table, our eyes widened when our pizzas were set before us. Mine was piled with large, overlapping slices of prosciutto and topped with a large pile of arugula in the center that had been dressed in a light vinaigrette. It was fantastic. Though prosciutto has a tendency to be too salty, the combination of the peppery greens with the meat (oh, and the mozzarella, of course) was delightful. If I had to offer one criticism, it would be that it was just a bit difficult to eat, as the greens kept sliding off. Peter loved his pizza so much that he very nearly wouldn't trade me a slice of mine for his creamy, cheesy and gooey concoction. We both loved the crispy crust with its smoky, grilled flavor.

The best part of this meal is that our bill came to only $34 total. For this amount of food at this quality, we'll absolutely be back soon.


The damage: that's right, only $34

Food: 4 1/2 forks - all delicious, and I can't wait to come back and sample more of the menu

Romance: 4 1/2 kisses - flickering candlelight is flattering

Watch out for: seriously, the only thing I can come up with is that my pizza was hard to eat

Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar
3358 North Paulina
Chicago, IL 60657

Friday, April 06, 2007

Slim's - Fufu and Cracklin'

Ah, Easter weekend. The perfect time to take a much-needed visit back home to Cincinnati to visit friends and enjoy a good meal or two. Ever since the list of 2007's Top 25 restaurants came out several weeks ago I've been wanting to get in town and knock a few more I haven't visited off the list. My friend Laura has been my tried and true partner for many such dining occasions--each time the new issue comes out she calls me and reads through the entire list over the phone and we talk about where to go next. I was delighted that this weekend both Laura and my friend Julie (yup, same one from our Volo excursion) were free for dinner to try out the much-publicized Slim's for the first time.

The first thing we learned is that Slim's is only open Thursday through Sunday. When Laura called on Wednesday she was greeted by a voice mail directing to leave her reservation request after the beep, and advising that they couldn't guarantee anything since they stay open only until the food runs out. Interesting, slightly strange, and inspiring in that we rushed to get to the place earlier than we'd usually eat for fear they might actually run out of food and send us home hungry.

We walked in to a mostly empty restaurant to find ourselves in a warm, comfortable, eclectic room dominated by yellow walls and warm wood. There were two of the "community" tables I've read about and while they looked interesting and inviting we opted for a four-top on the upper level. Locally produced art adorns the walls and bowls of fresh produce line the windowsill. Though it wasn't crowded when we entered (we did arrive on the very early side), we were soon joined by several other patrons.

Laura had learned that Slim's is a BYOB so she and Julie came prepared with a bottle of pinot grigio each, thereby making me a slacker and a mooch. We all admitted to not having much experience with a BYOB, but after this one I know I for one will seek them out. What could be better? You bring your own wine and they provide the opener and glasses. Slim's doesn't even have a corkage fee so in the end you get great wine of your choosing without the annoying 200% markup you usually get in restaurant wine. But the best part is that we had spoons the size of shovels that let us spoon ice cubes into our wine glasses (don’t laugh—we know we’re classy chicks).

Our server presented us with menus (handwritten, which to me indicated freshness and a frequent change of menu items) and a basket of what had to be homemade bread to start. As we gnawed on the three different types of bread (sweet bread with a salt and pepper crust, distinctly orange jalapeno bread and cornbread), we ran through the menu and tried to decide what to eat. If our server hadn't been there, we'd have been lost. Everything on the menu sounds interesting, but the descriptions weren't terribly helpful. Smoky fufu? As in little bunny? Mofongo pequeno? But our server patiently answered all our questions and carefully described all the dishes, offering up his suggestions in the process with words that clearly indicated that he truly loves food.

We each ordered different starters and entrees and sat back to enjoy our wine, trying not to stuff ourselves with bread. Once the first round of dishes arrived we shared and critiqued each one and determined they rated in the following order: 1) mofongo pequeno (spicy shrimp), 2) asapao de pollo (like a chicken gumbo) and 3) salad with shiitake mushrooms. The mofongo was great: two large shrimp covered in a spicy cocktail sauce sit inside a cup made of sweet bread with crisp greens in a mustardy vinaigrette on the side. We were off to a promising start.

Then came our entrees. I don't know why, because I never do, but for some reason I ordered the vegetarian entree, which was a tamale with black beans and salsa. Though the presentation was impressive, as it was served in a black hexagonal bowl that seemed to be filled with delicious delights, in actuality I thought it was bland and uninteresting. The tamale was just cooked cornmeal with a few lonely mushrooms inside, and the beans lacked seasoning. I should have gone with my gut on this one. Laura ordered the pork tenderloin that she tasted and promptly declared that it tasted "floral." I took a bite and had to agree. Not terrible, but the "floral" taste of lavender and herbs just wasn’t that particularly appealing to our palettes. Julie had wisely ordered what the server had told us was his favorite: braised pork belly with fufu. It sounds strange and even a little bit gross, I know, but this dish was great. Turns out fufu is a combination of mashed plantains and bacon chunks that's a little piece of heaven. And the pork belly was tender and meaty and coated with a crust of cracklin’, that crispy crunchy skin that coats the meat (it’s the same cut of meat as bacon). Laura and I basically pouted our way through the rest of the meal, bitter that we hadn’t ordered that yummy and delicious belly.

We were pretty full of both food and wine at this point, but I felt the need to sample at least one dessert. We chose the Oatmeal Sundae, a large oatmeal cookie topped with ice cream. Maybe I was still bitter about not ordering the pork belly, but I found the cookie to be so overcooked and hard that it was difficult to eat and a little burned tasting. The good thing is that I don’t think in the end we were charged for it.

Slim's bills itself as a restaurant dedicated to "real comfortable food." I'd wholeheartedly agree with that classification. Slim's isn't trying to be something it's not and is clearly just out to serve good, honest food four nights a week. I think their location in Northside keeps more people from eating there more frequently, but if Honey and others in the area can be successful and keep drawing people to the neighborhood they'll likely overcome this challenge.

As for Laura and Julie, we're now on a mission to cross off the others in the Top 25 we haven’t visited before the end of the year. With hard work and empty stomachs I think we'll get there.


The damage: just over $30 per person, which we all agreed was a steal

Food: 3 out of 5 forks, though if Laura and I had chosen more wisely and ordered the pork belly, this might've scored 4 forks.

Romance: 2 out of 5 kisses - it just seems like a restaurant better suited to either a girls night or night out with a group of friends

Watch out for: the vegetarian tamales - bland and disappointing all around

4046 Hamilton Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio