Tête Charcuterie

I have a confession: I feel really guilty.

Why? Because I’ve waited way too long (like three weeks!) to tell you about this little gem: Tête Charcuterie. Life gets in the way–work is busy, my sister AND sister-in-law had babies in the same week (yay!), I went to New York City for almost a week, we found a new apartment (more on that later), I had jury duty–but seriously, no excuses.

Let’s cut to the chase: this place is great on so many levels. The service is some of the best I’ve had IN MY LIFE. The menu is sophisticated, well edited, and a little adventurous. But let’s get into the details:

I met one of my oldest friends, Ali, here for a night of major catching up. We sat inside, where it was quiet and cool. Right away we were greeted, and Ali had the Three Amigos while I ordered a Tête a Tête, which our waiter said was a better version of a Moscow Mule. Sold! It was very tasty and refreshing. What made it even better was when the bartender came and checked on how the drinks were himself. That’s extra points in my book.

We wanted to try a variety of meats, so we went with the small charcuterie board, which includes a taste of everything: chicken liver pate, mortadella, salami, and the house specialty–head cheese–as well as thick, delicious bread slices, sweet pickles, and whole grain mustard.

I have more to confess: I was nervous about eating the head cheese. If you don’t know what head cheese is, it’s a meat jelly (no dairy here) made with various parts of the pig’s head–very European. I questioned trying it, but like the saying goes, “When in Rome…”, right?

So Ali and I tasted it at the same time, and…it wasn’t bad at all! Moreover, what makes this board so good is that each bite is deliciously unique. And it’s really the perfect portion for two people to share as a meal. While we were eating, we were checked on again by Amanda at the hostess stand. More points for Tête!

But we couldn’t end there. We decided to go with a rich and creamy artisan goat cheese with strawberries, dried apricots, and more of that delicious bread for dessert with a glass of Hi! Prosecco–a perfect pairing, if you ask me. It was a great choice to end our evening with a little sweet…or so we thought…

Then Dan, general manager and partner of Tête, stopped by to chat, and brought out a sample of the applewood smoked bacon. (I mean, who can turn down a delicious piece of bacon?!?) It was the perfect amount of smokiness and melted in my mouth. What a decadent end to a wonderful meal.

Now, when we were there, Tête just had its three-month anniversary, and Daniel told us they will have their own cured meats to try in a month or less (ours were from West Loop Salumi just across Randolph Street)–I know I will definitely be coming back to try them.

Honestly, if you want incredible service and delicious, unique fare, head to Tête Charcuterie. The care that they put into their food and their customer service shows. It’s perfect for date night, a night with the girls, a group, you name it. Just make sure you go.

Tête Charcuterie
1114 West Randolph
West Loop

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I Heart Eataly Chicago

I love Mario Batali for many reasons. Here are just a few:

1. First and foremost, he is an amazingly talented chef on the Food Network.
2. Mario has red hair, like my handsome husband.
3. His wife’s family owns a dairy goat farm (I have a current obsession with goat farms after meeting Gretta of Gretta’s Goats).
4. Mario is a Midwestern man during the summer; he has a home in Michigan.
5. He—and his lovely business partners—gave me Eataly Chicago.

I know I go to a lot of restaurants, but this one is oh-so-different. The first time I went (and, I confess, I’ve been back since!), I was like a kid in a candy store—except my candy includes cured meats, cow’s milk-alternative cheeses, fresh pasta, a Nutella bar, and made-to-order sheep’s milk cannoli.

Eataly takes up at least a city block, and it’s a sensory overload from the moment you walk in. It’s two floors that consist of a fine Italian market, restaurant, brewery, and more, all in one. Because it’s a bit overwhelming, I’ve developed a system to navigate the space: walk counterclockwise around the perimeter of the store. It hasn’t failed me yet!

My first visit to Eataly was with my good friend, Lindsey. I took the subway from my office and arrived in 10 minutes (dangerously close). We wondered around the first floor, wide-eyed. It’s there you’ll find the information desk, produce, a Panini bar, a coffee bar, Nutella bar, gelato bar, sweets bar, housewares, packaged sweets, jams and jellies, and packaged dairy (milk, butter, yogurt, and eggs too).

We walked up to the second floor, where we were greeted by a fried food bar to our left, cheese and cured meats to our right, and a wine bar directly in front of us. We opted for wine first: Prosecco for me and red for Lindsey. One of the many good things about Eataly: you can drink and shop. Mario, you’re one smart cookie.

We then decided to stop at the cured meats and cheese bar. Because I try not to have cow’s milk cheese in January—call it a New Year’s cleanse, of sorts—we ordered a wooden board of delicious cured meats. I found out when I went with Hope (in February, post-cleanse) that when you order the meat and cheese platter, you get sweet jams and honey on the side, too. I dare you to try both!

Next, we wandered around, passing the rotisserie bar, peeked in the brewery, and made our way to the refrigerated cured meat and cheese section. I was in heaven. Friends, take note: Eataly is the best place to build the perfect gift basket.

Past the fish and butcher stations, you’ll pass the fresh pastas. During my first visit, I brought home some fresh pasta, as it was part of their weekly special. Yes, every week, there’s a new deal on everything from pasta to fish (Branzino this week!) to toothpaste to pasta sauce. What a great way to sample some of Eataly’s finest!

If you’ve ever wanted to see endless varieties of dried pastas, faro, risotto, sauces, pestos, olives—this is where you want to go. Then, comes the best part of Eataly: the pizza and pasta restaurant. I’ve sampled the pizzas with buffalo mozzarella (apparently I’m not allergic to buffalo milk!), and had a fresh pasta dish (with mushrooms) and a dried pasta dish (with pork, parsley, and pecorino) from their menu. Not a bad meal yet; although, during my visit with Hope, I was completely stuffed because of my lack of self-control around mouth-watering carbs. Whatever you do at Eataly, you need to eat at this restaurant.

After the carb fest, the rest gets blurry. I blame it on the food coma. There’s a bountiful wine section (as you would imagine), fresh breads (watch the bread makers—they’ll toss flour at you!), beauty products, and lots and lots of olive oil.

Each time I’ve been, I have been too full for dessert; however, why not bring some home for my hubby? First, fresh cannoli, and then a rich semifreddo sweet with a blackberry on top, both packaged to perfection.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: go to Eataly. I haven’t even begun to share all of the elements I love about this place, but you have to discover them for yourself. Mangia and salute!

Eataly Chicago
43 East Ohio
Streeterville

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Week #15 – Balena

I had pretty high expectations for Balena, which has been named one of the top 10 new restaurants IN THE COUNTRY. I met up with my friends Lauren, Bridget, and Tara there for a night that was sure to bring lots of delicious food, tasty drinks, and even better conversation.

When you walk into Balena, it’s a large restaurant with tall ceilings (used to be Landmark), but somehow they’ve managed to make it feel cozy. The dim lighting, the warm neutral tones, the luxurious seating—can your interior designer come to my apartment?

I had a really rough day at work that day (we’re getting into our busy season, so my apologies if my posts feel few and far between!), so I was ready for a glass of Prosecco stat. I sat down and within minutes I had water at my table setting and my drink was ordered. I have to note that our waiter was not only good looking (a cross between the lead singer of the All American Rejects and Cillian Murphy), but he gave great recommendations and service. Definitely starting off on the right foot.

The menu at Balena is best for sharing, which I am a fan of. I was one of those kids who didn’t like my food to touch, and I ate everything in a specific order (OCD, anyone?). It’s so nice to share with people who push you a little outside your comfort zone.

We started with the Herbed Focaccia, Ricotta, Cracked Black Pepper, and Olive Oil. The focaccia was delicious (dind’t try the fresh ricotta), and I loved the presentation. We followed that with Spicy Lamb & Pork Sausage, White Beans, and Pickled Red Onion. Now, I had to slice the sausage immediately because I didn’t care for the presentation, but it was perfectly paired with the white beans. And I’m not really one for frisee salad, but this lettuce was insanely flavorful. Then came the Brussels Sprout, Pancetta, Pecorino, and Red Onion Pizza, which was surprisingly light and fresh. Their pizzas are big, so we each had two pieces. Next came the Orecchiette, Kale, Lemon, Bread Crumbs, and Chili Pasta, which tasted to me like the richest, most decadent pasta on the planet. I could have eaten bowls full of this. Our order from the Grill/Oven/Rotisserie portion of the menu was Roast Porchetta, Creamy Polenta, and Parsley Red Onion Salad. By this time, we were all hitting our limits because we knew we wanted dessert, but it was divine. The ends of the meat were crisp and full of flavor, and the creamy polenta melted in my mouth.

Lastly, we shared the Affogato, Vanilla Gelato, Espresso, and Cinnamon Sugar Donuts (these donuts are heavenly), and the Vanilla Gelato, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Malt Chocolate Sauce, and “Toasted Milk” (I didn’t try this one, but the girls said it was amazing).

Whether you need a night out with your girls, or want to take your special someone out for a romantic date night for two, Balena is the place to go. Need to take Nate here!

Balena Chicago
1633 N. Halsted Street
Lincoln Park

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