A totally not comprehensive food and book lover's guide to New York City

Welcome to installment two of Page & Plate Travels, in which I take myself on vacation and then tell you all about it in hopes that you might find a new place to check out the next time you find yourself wherever I was.

This episode: New York City! There’s a rather defensive stance on New York around Chicago, which I think stems mostly from the fact that we play second fiddle to their “number one city in the US” song. So, when we took off for a weekend in the also-very-windy-city, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A quick stop at The Donut Pub before we made it to the Airbnb quickly assuaged those fears. Why isn’t every doughnut shop a 24/7 operation?

We opted to stay on Manhattan for this trip, since it was my first in a few years and Colin’s first ever. From the West Village, we were able to walk to most of what we wanted to see (and eat), starting with the Chelsea Market and the High Line. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Very. We stopped for lunch at Miznon, a Mediterranean pita shop concept by Israeli chef Eyal Shani. Colin got the lamb kebab and I got the ratatouille, and they were both so good that I felt like I could have eaten approximately 14 more of them. They were served with roasted peppers, and honestly, it may be because I was starving, but I cannot remember a meal that instantly sated me as well as that one did. The market was also decorated for Halloween, which made it all the more fun (and actually very scary, people!).

After walking 11 miles (not a joke, as my feet will testify), we decided we’d hop around the neighborhood to a few spots that had been recommended to us by internet friends (hey, Infatuation), starting at the legendary speakeasy Chumley’s. At Chumley’s, you walk in and instantly feel smarter, more mysterious, and more indulgent than you did. It’s a great feeling, and it goes even better with the beef fat french fries and the whole roasted romanesco. Just an idea. Following our speakeasy moment, we grabbed a few cheap well drinks at Marie’s Crisis Cafe, where a singalong was in full swing and the Christmas lights were shining cheerfully, then headed to Atla, where we had some of the best ceviche of my life and some very necessary guac.

Sunday was perhaps the best eating day of my life, and it started with me completely missing a meal by sleeping in until 10:30 which was both horrifying and wonderful. After I finally managed to drag myself out of bed, we ventured out into Brooklyn to a neighborhood called Midwood, where the most magical pizza place in the world is located. At Di Fara, an 81-year-old man makes the pizzas one by one at his own pace and you wait forever for the privilege of eating those pizzas. But while you’re waiting, you don’t complain because it’s all part of the experience and you know that. And when the pizza finally comes out and into the little room where you’re waiting, you eat every little scrap of it because it is the most delicious pizza you’ve ever been lucky enough to put in your mouth and you need to appreciate every bite. And it’s wonderful.

On our way back into town, we stopped at the wonderful Books Are Magic and for a quick drink at Fawkner, the self-proclaimed “coziest new bar in Brooklyn,” and relaxed in front of the fire. When we got back, it was time for the main event: dinner at Blue Hill, where I took no pictures and only hyperventilated over bread once because I’m working on acting like an adult in world-famous restaurants. We went with the eight course tasting menu, and wow, let me tell you, that is not a dinner for the faint of heart. It’s an investment of time and money and I cannot recommend it enough to those who are at all interested in the farm-to-table movement, the future of food, or just having your mind blown by a simple pepper. If this sounds exciting to you, go read his book The Third Plate. You might never look at food the same way.

On our last day, we stopped at Levain Bakery before a walk through Central Park and enjoyed our chocolate chip brioche and butter and jelly baguette (which, by the way, might be the most genius menu item ever to grace a bakery) on the lake. We had planned to do a few other things, but when we walked into The Strand, it was all over. $70 worth of books and two hours later, we were airport bound. It was a great morning.

Lakeview Kitchen & Market and Velvet Dessert

Tucked in between The Bagel and a quiet dentist’s office on Broadway, Lakeview Kitchen & Market seems like a quiet storefront. Then you walk inside and realize that behind the storefront, there’s an enormous, gleaming industrial kitchen with shelves of oats, cereal, and more flour than you could believe. This is more than a bakery: this is the home of 35 businesses. I sat down with the co-owner Maggie O’Brien to find out more about what makes Lakeview Kitchen & Market so special -- and, if we’re being honest, to get tips on how she manages to make hundreds of perfect macarons for Velvet Dessert, her baked goods brand.

O’Brien has been baking her whole life, but has come a long way from the sleepover meal of chocolate chip cookies with a side of chocolate chip pancakes of her childhood (although, full disclosure, that sounds like something I would still eat as an adult). When she was starting out, O’Brien used a shared kitchen to jump-start her own catering business. Because keeping costs low was so important, she was driving out to a shared kitchen in the suburbs close to where her mom, Wendy Grahn, the co-owner of Lakeview Kitchen & Market, lived.

“Then my mom moved into the city, and it became time to think about whether or not I wanted to launch this into a fully-fledged catering company,” said O’Brien. But the pair was still hesitant: the market in Chicago is saturated, and the risks were high. After a fruitless search for space in a shared kitchen, O’Brien and Grahn were struck with the solution: open a shared kitchen space themselves. They fell into the perfect location (the space the 73-year-old House of Fine Chocolates had just vacated), O’Brien “dragged my mom out of corporate America,” and they started building the shared kitchen space of their dreams, all while O’Brien continued to build her catering business Velvet Dessert, one of the 35 businesses to call Lakeview Kitchen & Market its home. The Kitchen has become a safe space for restaurants looking to focus on their catering operations, small bakers looking for a place to run a company, and soon-to-be-independent operations who need a launching pad. “It’s evolved into a way more collaborative experience than we expected,” laughed O’Brien. “I had no idea how much I would end up advising people on their businesses and cooking.” 

Unlike Lakeview Kitchen & Market, O’Brien runs Velvet Dessert on her own, a mammoth undertaking given the popularity of her unique, high-quality pastries (and yes, I’m biased, because I could take a bath in her French buttercream). O’Brien is a graduate of the French Pastry School here in Chicago -- “It’s the best place in the world! I wish I could go back to school every single day forever!”-- and she also interned at a bakery during her four month course. Between that and bouncing around the back-of-the-houses in many a bakery both here in Chicago and in Columbus where she went to school, O’Brien became an expert, and it shows in her well-curated menu at Velvet Dessert.

Velvet Dessert’s menu is the epitome of the everywoman’s indulgence: French pastry training that has been translated into approachable, high-quality baked goods like macarons, croissants, scones, and more tarts than you can imagine. “Our menu got quite a bit more expanded than I had initially intended,” said O’Brien. “I kind of have pastry ADD.” As a frequent consumer of her goods, may I just say here that I totally support the pastry ADD, and that my favorite thing is everything.

Do yourself a favor the next time you’re walking down Broadway and stop in the Lakeview Kitchen & Market to sample the treats from Velvet Desserts and all of the other vendors. A huge selection of all things delicious awaits you, and even better, so does the opportunity to support a blossoming business with a unique model.

“People don’t understand what a shared kitchen is because there aren’t a lot that you see as a storefront with a retail presence like we have on Broadway,” said O’Brien. “It’s hard to explain what a unique opportunity our shop owners have until you see it.”

Lakeview Kitchen & Market is located at 3109 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657.

Old Town Oil, AKA Narnia, and Slow Roasted Salmon

A few weekends back, I got off the plane from Florida and was immediately bummed out that it wasn't 80 and sunny. So I hopped off the train at the Sedgwick station and made my way over to Old Town Oil, suitcase in hand, in search of something delicious to brighten my day. 

AND BOY OH BOY DID I FIND IT. In fact, I found about 25 somethings because who knew there were so many flavors with which to infuse cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar? I didn't. At least, not until I stopped in the Old Town location, met Jess, and became a fully sentient human olive oil and vinegar taster. (Oh, yeah, and you can taste in the store.)

 Christmas came early! Late? It doesn't matter! Yay!

Christmas came early! Late? It doesn't matter! Yay!

Old Town Oil, run by a Chicagoland family who knows their stuff, is all about helping you see the potential in your olive oil and vinegar collection (yes, I now have a collection, and yes, I am so totally okay with that). They know more about olive oil than I know about all kinds of oil combined. They can help you find the perfect housewarming gifts for your friends who are #adulting and moving, the perfect pairing for that way too expensive cheese you just bought at Eataly (this is what happens when you drink and shop at the same time), and they can tell you what kind of olive oil gift box says "Hey, boss. Happy holidays. I'm intriguing, I'm trustworthy, and I have a lot to offer you in the future."

You guys, it's heaven. And you know what's even better? They have an online store. They ship. And if you use my discount code PP15 either online or in the store between now and July, you'll get, uhm, a discount (discount code = discount, duh). So you now have no excuse. GO. SHOP. LEARN. Make this slow roasted salmon using that gorgeous grapefruit balsamic. Everyone wins.

Old Town Oil Grapefruit Balsamic Slow Roasted Salmon.JPG

Page & Plate Note: Old Town Oil gave me a sampler pack of olive oil and vinegar to use for recipe testing and the purposes of this review. Thanks, Old Town Oil!

Read It & Eat: Cheers to The Publican Cookbook Class

Yesterday, Colin and I spent the evening at a cookbook class at Lincoln Park's magical Read It & Eat shop. For those of you who have not yet been inside the most wonderful of shops, Read It & Eat is a delight. A local (and woman-owned!) business, the RI&E (if I may be so bold) functions as a cozy bookstore and then ups its charm exponentially when you realize that it makes a name for itself by selling only cookbooks, food memoirs, and chef biographies: in short, it is a place where I could happily curl up and read until I die.

 Casually plating some carrots like I haven't been dreaming of eating them again for weeks.

Casually plating some carrots like I haven't been dreaming of eating them again for weeks.

Oh, and did I mention that they can teach classes because the shop is also outfitted with a commercial grade and drop-dead gorgeous kitchen? YEAH. Talk about the icing on the cake. In that kitchen is where we learned how to make barbecued carrots, mussels in sour beer, frites with an egg on top, and a mouth-wateringly spiced chicken -- all from The Publican's Cheers to the Publican, Repast and Present cookbook. And if you think I didn't get suckered into buying the gorgeous cookbook after finishing the class, you are very, very wrong. I mean, come on, they offered a discount...

Will I be back again? Of course. It's a bookstore filled with books about food. Should you check it out? Yes, yes, you should. Will I be cooking recipes from that cookbook for the foreseeable future? Again, YES.

Read It & Eat, 2142 N Halsted Street

I ate like it was my birthday.

On Saturday, I turned 24. Besides a few extra gray hairs sprouting up, not much changed. Then, we had dinner at Monteverde. Then we had dinner at The Publican. And then everything changed because I realized I had peaked in life and gave up on ever eating that much good food ever again. Just kidding. (Kind of...) All in all, though, it was truly a weekend filled with stuffing my face and relaxing, which is exactly what you want when you're turning another year older. Shout out to the expert dinner-reservation-maker below (along with the fam) for wining and dining me.

If you live in Chicago and you haven't been to either of these restaurants, you absolutely need to snag the next reservation available and go stuff your face. Below, find the run down on both places and my best wishes for trying to decide which one of these standouts you need to visit first.

Monteverde has been on my list for a while, mostly because of the stories I've heard about their pasta. I think we all know by now that if a restaurant has a pasta bar, I'm probably already there. Happily, the selection of pastas (both house-made to order and from Italy) did not disappoint. Also, may I just take this opportunity to brag that I had orange wine there? And it was amazing. And I never would have tried it if my fabulous waitress had not both explained to my clueless self what it was and recommended it. Also, get the ice cream. 

You guys know from my obsessive recipe replication plotting that I deeply loved The Publican the first time I went. In fact, I loved it so much that I used the gift card that my parents got me for Read It and Eat (another best place ever) on a cooking class focusing on their cookbook. It's not until Sunday, and yes, I've been counting down for ages. So I think we know that you're not going to get an unbiased report here. That being said, everything was amazing. Highlights included the yellowtail, the cauliflower (I LOVE IT SO MUCH), and the cookie jar, which made me want to die of cuteness. Just go, okay?

Monteverde, 1020 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607

The Publican, 837 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

Early Morning at Evanston's Hewn Bakery

I am a creature of habit. It is not like me to spontaneously get off the train one stop early to see if the bakery I've been stalking online is open without checking. But a few lovely, 20 degree Friday mornings ago, I did just that. I know, right? I broke my routine. Earth-shattering. 

But when I could literally smell the bread baking as soon as I left the train station, and then when I walked in the fogged up door, and felt the heat from the ovens in Evanston's Hewn Bakery, a new routine was born. 

turkey red and cheddar and chive scone.jpg

I had read a lot about Hewn and the great care they take with choosing their grains and crafting their loaves, and the loaf of Turkey Red that I picked up that day was proof of all of that. The deep flavor and consistent crumb of the loaf made it the perfect mate to the bowl of soup I warmed up later that day at the office after I had finally defrosted from my painful walk there (barely half a mile, but that wind, yikes).

Because self-control is not my strong suit, I grabbed a scone as well. As a vegetarian, I'm often disappointed that the only options for savory scones are cheddar and bacon, so imagine my joy / elation / drool when I first tasted the cheddar and chive scone that Hewn served. When a classic pairing is done that well, you're guaranteed to make time in your morning routine to stop by that bakery again.

Hewn Bakery, 810 Dempster St., Evanston, IL 60202

Holidaze Part II: Bread from Five Points

Though Chicago is where I make my home now, Pittsburgh has and always will be my city. And like any other place, there are restaurants and bakeries there that will never be bested simply because they're not the ones I grew up with. One of those places is Five Points Artisan Bakeshop, a warm, welcoming bakery in the midst of the Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze neighborhoods that opened just as I was about to graduate from Carnegie Mellon.

No trip home is complete without bread and pastries from Five Points, and it hasn't been since my (admittedly hipper than I am) dad discovered the bakery the fall of my senior year. We swung by on the way home to take fresh bread for dinner, and we've been going back as much as possible since. This haul included two perfectly crisp baguettes, a seeded fougasse that explodes in flavor and crunch, and a mushroom quiche, and within a bite, I knew this visit had been worth it for bread alone.

 The haul from today. How could we not go back so often?

The haul from today. How could we not go back so often?

If you're ever in Pittsburgh and you don't make your way to this bakery / haven, you're doing yourself a dis-service. Pittsburgh as a city has a food scene that's getting ever better, and this gem of a place is one of the standouts. Take it from someone who went like four times a week just for the sake of cookies and staving off senior year stress.

Five Points Artisan Bakeshop, 6520 Wilkins Ave Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Dinner at Spacca Napoli and the Pure Bliss of Pizza

Welcome to the first ever restaurant review posted on Page & Plate. This wasn't something I was planning on including in this blog, but then I had the Caprese con Bufala at Spacca Napoli last night and I needed to tell someone to know about how life changing it was.

 Logo taken from Spacca Napoli's site.

Logo taken from Spacca Napoli's site.

I have never in my life had mozzarella di bufala that was so spreadable, flavorful, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. And when it also starred on the Enzo pizza that came to the table, but SMOKED?! I mean, wow. Say goodbye to mozzarella that tastes like nothing. This cheese will change your life.

While I spent my dinner soaking up all of the carbs and dairy products, the best part about this restaurant is how flexible they are for people who have dietary restrictions. I have friends who are gluten- and dairy-free right now for medical reasons, and they can eat here no problem. The same cannot be said about many places, and when it can be said, the options are slim and lacking in taste. Brava to Spacca Napoli for crafting pizza for everyone, and special kudos to them in the midst of the 'art of Neapolitan Pizzaiuolo' as a culinary practice being inducted onto the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. A win for pizza is a win for everyone.

Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave., Chicago, IL 60640