3 Things I Loved About…Taste of Chicago

DSC01389For those who may not follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I attended my first Taste of Chicago a bit over a week ago. According to its website: it’s “the nation’s premiere outdoor food festival showcasing the diversity of Chicago’s dining community”. Held in downtown Chicago at Grant Park, it also included music performances by a variety of established and emerging artists.

In the five days I was there, I ate my way through a maze of great food and had a great time visiting the city in the process. There are three things I love just as much as writing: food, music and culture. Therefore, I wanted to share a few things that I loved about not only Taste of Chicago, but the city of Chicago in general; the food I indulged in, the neighborhood I stayed in, etc. It was the perfect mini-vacay, where I packed in as much as I could in a limited amount of time.


I’m a relatively healthy eater; I eat fish and some seafood but no chicken, beef or pork. So I wanted to indulge but not to the point where my stomach would pay for it later. To be honest, if you’ve never visited the city, Chicago is a relatively healthy place. There were plenty of vegetarian options at many vendor stations, so I was happy to know the choice was available.

IMG_0538That being said, “When in Rome…” My first snack was Chicago-style fries – which were topped with chopped onions, roasted carrots, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and melted cheddar cheese. They were good, yes! But everything in moderation, so over the course of my visit to Grant Park, I drank a lot of water (it is summertime), ate lots of fruit (watermelon slices, grapefruit bites, pineapple bites, even a dark chocolate frozen banana). But I also treated myself to a Nutella crepe. Though I don’t remember what they’re called, I inhaled a Jamaican vegetarian dish of corn patties with a side of Buffalo fish; four little crispy patties that were quite delicious. Even on my way to the park one day, I stopped at a veggie cafe I’d spotted before and had a black bean burger and a wheatgrass shot.


I stayed in a hostel located in Wicker Park/Bucktown, a hip and happening neighborhood, on Chicago’s west side. I loved the area because it was easy access to the train and bus, which is on the Blue Line, and the hostel was very inexpensive. Plus it’s an eclectic part of the city full of different races and cultures, cafes, coffee shops, music venues, art galleries and restaurants; even spotted a record store. Furthermore, several times throughout my stay, I’d grab lunch at a café and head over to Wicker Park; cop a squat on the grass and just chill with my iPod and people watch. As a dog owner, one day I chatted up a fellow owner with a Corgi and one with a Poodle.

Smoothies were my breakfast of choice on some days. I’d get them from a local shop called The Green Corner. I ate a couple of times at Native Foods, a fast-casual vegan café, and had their Lavender Hibiscus tea sweetened with organic agave. I also spent several hours on my laptop writing at Caribou Coffee and Filter Lounge Café, noshing on good stuff too, including a tofu scramble on croissant with feta cheese. Stopped at another spot, which I can’t recall its name, and had their Sloppy Jane, which is made with soy crumbles instead of meat and a side of tater tots with a dill pickle.

It’s funny how a place can insert itself into your life, seemingly by accident, and then take on mythical powers of attraction. – Luke Barr (grand-nephew of the late food writer M. F. K. Fisher)

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Food & Music Fest Hits Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in May

Photo credit: Prospect Park Alliance

Superfly, the folks behind Bonnaroo and other major music fests are bringing The Great GoogaMoogaa food and music festival to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on May 19 and 20. Being touted as “an amusement park of food and drink,” the vendor lineup includes Colicchio & Sons, Frankie’s Spuntino, Hill Country Barbecue, Momofoku Milk Bar, Red Rooster, Roberta’s and much, much more. There will be 75 food vendors in eight different pavilions, 35 brewers, 30 winemakers and 20 different local and national musicians, says Eater New York. The musical performances will spread evenly across both days, located in Prospect Park’s Nethermead Meadow. And get this: Tickets are free! Available for all on Thursday, March 15 via the official website. A food and music fest in Brooklyn, this is going to be mucho fun!

Update: As of March 15 at 2:03pm tickets are sold out! Hopefully more will be available soon.

Interview: Daniel Riviera, Executive Chef of L’asso Restaurant Talks Deep Dish and More

L'asso Executive Chef, Daniel Riviera (Photo: Hatti Lim)

On the corner of Mott and Kenmare in Nolita sits L’asso (which means “The Ace” in Italian), a charming pizzeria with wooden walls, a pleasant staff and a deep-dish pie that just may rival its Chicago counterpart. Recently I had the chance to chat with Daniel Riviera, the head chef behind this neighborhood spot, discussing what exactly deep dish pizza is; buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and more.

Tell us about L’asso?

L’asso is a family-like environment, everybody’s very comfortable working here, everybody gets along; the kitchen and the front of the house. And overall we have the best service and the best special ingredients. But we keep it simple, nothing complicated; which is pretty much my motto, as well as the culinary industry and the restaurant industry. You know we just really want to aim for the best, but we don’t go too crazy. For example, we carry buffalo mozzarella here…

What’s that, buffalo mozzarella?

It’s pretty much from Italy and was always made from buffalo’s milk as opposed to whole milk. Not until the United States, and how it was imported, started changing it to whole milk. But the buffalo mozzarella itself we carry is from the direct region. So we have it imported. It’s very expensive but we use it on our Margherita D.O.C., which is our best selling pizza here. It contains buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, oregano, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

What does D.O.C. stand for?

You ever read the back of a wine bottle?? Well in order for wine or champagne to be classified as wine or champagne, it has to come from that region of France; so it’s the same thing for pizza. The D.O.C. pizza should never be made by any machine or equipment; the dough has to be handmade. It should not be stretched out more than 12 inches. It has to use San Marzano tomatoes, San Marzano tomato sauce. Also it has to be made with buffalo mozzarella. So it’s pretty much the stamp of approval from Italy that you are making a true Italian D.O.C.-style pizza. It’s the standard everywhere you go and we were essentially one of the first restaurants to do that.

Where did the idea to launch a Chicago-style deep dish in New York come from?

It was in the works for about three months. We talked about it, researched it…but we don’t want to call it Chicago style; we want to say its New York City deep dish. We want to be the first place in New York City to offer it. Chicago has their own version; we want to be the best that has it in New York City. In Chicago we can’t compete on their level and we don’t want to compete. We just want to provide the best and be one of the few restaurants that carry it. And here at L’asso we use the best ingredients.

Like the pizza I have for you in the oven right now is layered with shredded mozzarella, peppers, onions and San Marzano tomato sauce.

I’m looking forward! But what’s the difference between deep dish and other kinds of pizza?

Apart from our deep dish, a deep dish is not made in a brick oven, it’s made in a conventional oven. The only downside of any deep dish no matter where you go, there’s a slight wait time for it. It takes about 35 minutes to bake. So we do recommend that when customers come to order a deep dish that they have a salad or an appetizer, so that by the time the pizza comes out… its well-worth the wait.

And then as opposed to a regular pizza, a conventional oven maxes out at 500 degrees when we’re cooking a deep dish; as opposed to a brick oven, 900 degrees and those pizzas’s cook in about 5 minutes. So you really want the deep dish to cook through because there are so many layers. Our deep dish pizzas are about 8 inches in diameters and 2 inches deep. So I mean 2 inches deep is a lot of layers to melt and cook through. They definitely need lot more time at a slower temperature.

What’s so special about L’asso, why should everybody come here for deep dish?

We’re the only people doing it [deep dish] and we’re doing it the best. I really want to carry nothing but the best ingredients, provide the best food and best service. I’m very passionate about choosing the proper ingredients, from tomatoes to basil; if it’s not good I send it back. I’m not going to sit there and say I’ll work with it because I’m not. I want to provide the best. And the best thing about having higher quality ingredients is you have to do less to it.

Do you guys use mostly organic ingredients?

Our chicken is hormone and anti-biotic free. With the exception of greens, we don’t carry organic fruit but we do carry higher quality ingredients. Even our steak on the menu is USDA-prime, New York strip. I mean for a pizzeria, I still carry a really expensive set of meat. We’re not just pizza, we’re also pasta, we make homemade ravioli here and it’s filled with potatoes, zucchini and a walnut pesto sauce.

Last question, how’d you come to L’asso? What’s your background?

L’asso came along when I was working in a restaurant in New Jersey. I’d finished culinary school a year before…and a friend told me about this restaurant in New York and said “I know you can do it, you’re good at what you do”…I made a phone call to the owner and in one day I had my job.

Original interview posted December 28, 2010 at shortandsweetNYC.com.

The Top 5: Healthier Ice Cream Brands for Summer [shortandsweetNYC.com]

La Loo's Goat Milk Ice CreamI know ice cream and health isn’t necessarily a marriage made-in-heaven –but trust, this time they are! I’ve listed five mostly natural, organic and non-dairy frozen desserts that I personally taste-tested myself. Yup, six pints of flavor in about two weeks (there’s an honorable mention for kicks and giggles). So you may be asking: What’s so special about these brands?

Well, according to VegNews (a popular vegan magazine), non-dairy brands have no cholesterol, less fat and sugar than dairy ice cream. That said, here’s my totally unbiased list of five delectable varieties you should savor this summer:

1. LaLoo’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream: Before you scream, “GOAT MILK?” Here’s a bit of information: goat milk is good for lactose-intolerant folks [raises hand] because of its natural makeup. So for starters simply try the Rumplemint flavor, which has “garden mint (not peppermint)” and see how it makes you feel afterwards. You can thank me later!

Website: http://www.laloos.com

2. Ciao Bella Gelato: Italian ice cream. Do I even need to say more?? Fresh fruit flavors (Strawberry), no artificial hormones (to produce more milk); plus, there are at least four Ciao Bella Gelato Bars (that I know of) in the city of New York!


3. Tofutti: This was my first time trying Tofutti and to my surprise the Better Pecan flavor didn’t disappoint. It’s definitely less sweet than any other butter pecan brand I’ve tasted, yet full of pecans, a smooth texture and overall goodness because it’s milk free.


4. Purely Decadent: Though I use to swear by their sister-brand SOY Delicious (now SO Delicious), PD’sPomegranate Chip with its dark chocolate flakes and chunks now have me slightly torn. Who knew vegan ice cream could taste so good? Oooh, let me answer!


5. Stonyfield Farm: This was another brand I’d only admired from afar. Finally gave into Cookies ‘n Cream, which is made with organic vanilla ice cream and chocolate wafers. Yup, it is all USDA-approved –meaning at least 95 percent of the ingredients are natural!


Honorable mentionLuna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Bars. Though I’ve had Mint Galactica more times than I care to share here, which is made with coconut milk and peppermint; their dark chocolate Bliss Bars are simply divine. Soy, dairy-free and vegan as well.


Original article posted on July 13, 2010 via shortandsweetNYC.com