Thursday, January 22

The Ghost Guest in London & Paris!

With all of the holiday craziness, this post is slightly overdue! Just before Christmas, the BF and I flew across the pond to enjoy a week in London and Paris! It was the BF's first time in Europe and a trip of a lifetime at that. Of course it was filled with fantastic food and drink (and a few sites and sounds mixed in). 

Thanks to the BF's job, we are able to fly standby AKA we get on the plane if there are seats! Good news: there were seats. In first class. That's right, we flew directly to London in the comfort of American Airlines' Flagship Suite. Upon boarding, we were showered with stuff: glasses of wine and champagne, a travel kit complete with anything you could possibly need on a seven hour flight including a sleep mask, ear plugs, toothbrush, lotions, face wipes, etc, as well as slippers and PAJAMAS. We all pretty much looked like we were in The Hunger Games wearing the same unisex gray sleepwear. The BF and I were living the dream.

Is this how the 1% live?

Obviously I have to tell you about the food. We were treated to a four course dinner of our choice which included some highs and lows. But hey, they could have fed me unlimited peanuts and I would have been happy. I ordered this pistachio-crusted tilapia that wasn't too shabby. The real delight was the giant Ben & Jerry's hot fudge sundae! We felt like giddy children. Best part? No sharing! Another plus: our seats swiveled 270 degrees so the BF and I were able to sit across from each other as if we were dining at a restaurant. 

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia
Ben & Jerry's Hot Fudge Sundae
After eating and drinking ourselves silly, the BF and I passed out. Our seats converted into fully flat beds that actually were pretty comfy! Several hours, a yummy breakfast, and a change of clothes later, we were in Londontown! I have a special place in my heart for London. I studied there in college, met some of my best friends in London, and discovered I had distant relatives living there. Overall, it's my kind of town (sorry Chicago) and I was ecstatic to be back.

We only had two days in London which resulted in me playing tour guide and showing the BF as much as I could. We traveled by foot and tube around central London, I showed the BF my old university, Piccadilly Circus, and The National Gallery, we explored the craft beer scene in Southwark, including The Kernel Brewery, checked out Westminster, Buckingham Palace, and Tower Bridge (it was as exhausting as it sounds).

'Twas a Beautiful Day!
One of our best meals was dinner at Great Queen Street in Covent Garden. The restaurant was warm and cozy and the menu changes every single day. On the night we dined, we tried a housemade terrine with pistachio and strawberry jam.  It may not look pretty, but it was pretty delicious.

Housemade Terrine
The main course stole the show; we split a duck cassoulet filled with local veggies, duck, pork belly, blood sausage,  and pork sausage. There was so much comfort in this dish it was unbearable. Not only was the pork belly insane, I also ate the best carrots of my life. If all carrots tasted that good I probably wouldn't need glasses.

Duck, Pork Belly & Sausage Cassoulet
I also took the BF to my favorite bagel joint on Brick Lane, Beigel Bake. While Brick Lane is known for its Indian food, it's also home to unofficially the best bagel in London. Beigel Bake is the oldest bagel shop in London, is open 24/7, and sells traditional bagels with fillings including salt beef and smoked salmon and cream cheese. It's a must stop for any traveler.

Bagel with Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese
Beigel Bake also makes some delicious pastries and doughnuts including this jelly-filled monster we devoured on Brick Lane.

Jelly-Filled Doughnut
That's what I'm talking about
On our second day we explored St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern, Harrods, grabbed fish and chips, and stopped by my local pub from my study abroad days.

View of St. Paul's Cathedral from Millennium Bridge
Tate Modern
Fish and Chips
Our last night in London happened to be a Sunday...perfect for grabbing a traditional roast supper. After our originally planned pub was no longer serving supper upon our arrival, we headed to The Albion in Islington. Good news. It was the most adorable pub I have ever been in. I'm not sure adorable is the right word but it was truly, truly a gem. We ordered a whole roast chicken to split, which was served with roasted potatoes, greens, carrots, and gravy. It was wonderful.

Sunday Roast
We ended the meal with the most insanely delicious sticky toffee pudding EVER.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
The next morning...POOF! We were in Paris, thanks to a short Eurostar train ride. I hadn't been to Paris in 10 years so this time the BF and I were full blown lost tourists. Who don't speak French. Again, we found ourselves zigzagging the city, running from the Arc de Triomphe, to Sacre-Coeur and Montmarte, and stopping for a quick lunch in one of Paris' fabulous cafes.

In Front of Sacre-Coeur
Croque Madame
Dinner our first night in Paris was at La Chaise au Plafond, a lovely place recommended to us with fantastic chocolate mousse! The BF ended up eating French onion soup every night we were in Paris (can you blame him?)! 

French Onion Soup
I had some grilled pork with veggies and potatoes, while the BF tried the steak. Mine was super bland but his was tasty.

Grilled Pork
Grilled Steak
The chocolate mousse was TO DIE FOR!

Chocolate Mousse
The next morning we stopped at famous patisserie Carette for breakfast. Their macarons and croissants are out of this world. And so are the prices!

Carette Macarons
The BF and I splurged on this breakfast of coffee, fresh juice, toast, and a croissant. I won't tell you how much it was because I am ashamed.

Breakfast at Carette
Luckily, the rainy and foggy weather cleared up just as we went to the Eiffel Tower. We got some beautiful shots and took in the scenery.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
Post Eiffel Tower we visited Notre Dame and walked around the area near the Louvre to discover it was closed that day! Plan B? Eat more! We stopped into Stohrer, the oldest patisserie in Paris, for some truffles and macarons.

Raspberry Macaron from Stohrer
We walked down the gigantic holiday market on Champs-Elysees where we enjoyed a glass of champagne and bought gifts. Not gonna lie, this market puts Chicago's Christkindl Market to shame.

Champagne at the Holiday Market
Champagne at the Holiday Market
That evening we dined at Le Grand Colbert, a restaurant made famous by the movie Something's Gotta Give. Yes, it's touristy, and yes the restaurant still flaunts its movie cameo, but we enjoyed the food and wine we had.

Le Grand Colbert
Wine Tastes Better in Paris
I started with escargot which were the best I've had. I had to dig for those little dudes though!

Come Here Little Snail!
The BF had, you guessed it, French onion soup! In my opinion, this was the best version of the trip.

French Onion Soup
For my main course I went with the salmon filet with mushrooms and mashed potatoes. It was yummy but very heavy as you can probably tell by the sauce.

Salmon Filet
The BF went with steak again, this time in a pepper sauce.

Sirloin Steak with Pepper Sauce
After dinner, we decided to check out the Eiffel Tower at night which sparkles for five minutes on the hour. It was a magnificent sight!

On our last day in Paris, we were treated to a one-of-a-kind experience in the champagne region of France thanks to the lovely Monika Dixon of Monika Dixon PR who was kind enough to organize the meeting!

A short train ride away landed us in Chigny-Les-Roses at the beautiful Cattier champagne vineyard which has been family-owned since 1763 and is currently run by the 11th generation of the Cattier family.

We met with Philippe Bienvenu and Jean-Jacques Cattier, president of Cattier, and learned so much about the brand and what makes its champagne so special (it doesn't hurt that Jay-Z is a fan and partner). Cattier produces 1 million bottles per year from its vineyard which features pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes. Some 60% of Cattier's champagnes are exported to more than 80 countries including Japan, Australia, the US, and China. You've probably seen bottles of their Armand de Brignac, or "Ace of Spades" champagne before. It's hard not to recognize that magnificent gold bottle!

Arnand de Brignac Champagne Produced by Cattier
Range of Cattier Champagnes
Unfortunately on this visit we didn't get a chance to view Cattier's cellars which are 30 meters deep! However, we did enjoy a wonderful bottle of Cattier Blanc de Blancs and now have a reason to come back (not like we needed one!). The Blanc de Blancs is made with chardonnay and is VERY easy to drink. It's mainly sold in France and is velvety with no acidity. Our time at Cattier was truly memorable. A trip back to the champagne region is definitely a must the next time we return to France.

Cattier Blanc de Blancs
After another quick train ride back to Paris, we finished our final day in Paris at the Louvre which was actually open! Admittedly, the BF and I were pretty pooped so we dragged ourselves through gallery after gallery stopping to check out some highlights including the Mona Lisa of course, as well as the Napoleon apartments. The Louvre is massive and overwhelming and unbelievable and we certainly didn't have enough time there!

The Louvre Pyramid Entrance
Mona Lisa
Post-Louvre we walked around St. Germain and stopped into La Grande Epicerie de Paris AKA a Parisian version of Eataly, but better! We oohed and aahed over the artisan cheeses, breads, chocolates, and oils. It is a foodie heaven and I never wanted to leave!

Cheeses at La Grande Epicerie de Paris
Breads at La Grande Epicerie de Paris
One of our last stops in Paris was by far one of my favorites. The BF found this unique bar called Chez Georges in St. Germain that is an underground wine cave! You literally walk underground and sit in a crowded wine cave and enjoy wine and cheese. It's basically the best place on Earth.

Underground at Chez Georges
We ordered a plate of cheese and charcuterie that was absolutely fantastic! I mean, look at that thing! I really want to make this my computer background. Don't judge.

Cheese & Charcuterie
Sadly, our weeklong Eurotrip had come to a close, but not before a flight back in business class, complete with another Ben & Jerry's hot fudge sundae. Luck was certainly on our side!

I know it might not seem like it by the length of this post but these are not even all of the places we went...just some of our favorites! What are some of your favorite restaurants and bars in London or Paris?

Monday, January 19

A Pleasant Surprise on Michigan Ave.

Any time a restaurant opens on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, one has to be suspicious of a) whether it's a chain, and b) whether it's going to be pretty terrible. Michigan Avenue Italian restaurant Acanto is neither of those things. Last summer, Billy Lawless, owner of The Dawson and The Gage, closed French restaurant Henri on Michigan Avenue to make room for his Italian restaurant concept, Acanto. The new space is WAY more casual than Henri was and is decked out in warm tones. The space is on the smaller side, but tables are not on top of one another a la New York City. The BF surprised me with a visit to Acanto on a Friday night and we had a wonderful experience from start to finish.

First we started with a bottle of red that general manager and sommelier Jon McDaniel selected for us.  We basically told him what styles and flavor profile we liked and he recommended a nice bottle.

Acanto's menu is divided into meats and cheeses, starters including salads and small plates, large items included meat and fish, as well as a selection of handmade pastas. They also feature a daily pizza option. We began our meal by selecting two cheeses from California's Bohemian Creamery which supplies all of the cheeses on Acanto's menu. 

Assorted Cheeses
We also enjoyed a generous portion of prosciutto di parma. While I would have preferred the prosciutto to be served with bread instead of the whole wheat crispy bread pillows, it did come with a tiny pot of parmesan fondue! Two words that should always be together...parmesan and fondue. We enjoyed every last bite of the meats, cheeses and fondue. 

Prosciutto di Parma
Our server (who was super attentive and knowledgeable about the menu) told us about their daily pizza special which included fennel pork sausage, ricotta, parmesan, roasted mushrooms, and balsamic. I was pretty much sold on all of those ingredients so we had to go for it. Acanto also offers the ability to add 10 grams of shaved white truffles to any dish for $30. That may sound like a lot but it's pretty much at cost! I convinced the BF to add truffle to our pizza and it was unbelievable. Now I can say I've eaten a $50 pizza! The flavors of the fennel sausage, mushrooms, and balsamic were wonderful with the aroma from the white truffles. We were in heaven.

Pizza with Fennel Pork Sausage, Ricotta, Parmesan, Roasted Mushrooms, and Balsamic
I'm a sucker for handmade pasta (and carbs!) so we tried the black peppercorn rigatoni with spiced lamb ragout, bread crumbs, and caciocavallo cheese. You could tell the pasta was handmade by the texture and it had a hearty flavor that was perfect for warming us up on the cold Chicago night.

Black Peppercorn Rigatoni with Spiced Lamb Ragout, Bread Crumbs, and Caciocavallo Cheese
Lastly, we were spoiled with three desserts that we were told we had to try. First up was my favorite, an extremely decadent chocolate hazelnut budino with mascarpone cream, candied hazelnuts, and hazelnut shortbread. Get this dessert. It was like eating the world's best Nutella X 10.

Gianduja Budino
We also tried two varieties of affogato, served with liquor instead of the traditional espresso. These were quite boozy! The first featured Amaro Nonino with pistachio gelato, while the second included Lazzarni Amaretto with amarena cherry gelato. These were both fantastic but we were partial to the budino.

Amaro Nonino with Pistachio Gelato
Lazzarni Amaretto with Amarena Cherry Gelato
Overall, our experience at Acanto was wonderful. Everything we had was delicious, the prices were reasonable given the restaurant's location, and the staff was super friendly and knowledgeable. I'm giving Acanto 4.5 out of 5 ghosts! Check it out the next time you're down on Michigan Avenue or in Millennium Park.

18 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603
Acanto on Urbanspoon