When Do You Leave?

travel, translation, italian, iphone, europe

travel, translation, italian, iphone, europe

Every day for the past two weeks I have been asked the same question. I am unsure if my friends and coworkers can’t wait to be rid of me, or if they are as anxious as I am for the grandest adventure of my life. This includes that time I walked across the US/Mexico border and spent the day traipsing around Tijuana.

I have been fortunate to travel domestically (and to Canada and Mexico last year) since college. Most of these trips involved visiting friends in cities I had never seen. Glamorously, this also included crashing on couches or in dorms. When you rarely sleep well at someone’s place, be it a relative or friend, staring at the ceiling on an air mattress or on a couch is irrelevant.

This vacation may signal what psychologists call “adulthood.” A thing that I often avoid at all costs. The trip involves zero couches or air mattresses. It also features seeing some of the world’s greatest art, origins of the modern city and the finest cuisine.

When do I leave, you ask?

The scheduled departure is this Friday evening. The destinations, if you haven’t been subjected to my repeated questions or discussions, are Rome, Florence, Venice and, at long last, Paris.

For the past four to five weeks, I have been researching every travel guide and blog I can find. Rick Steves has become my close personal friend. For one week he accompanied me on my commute, sharing stories on Rome at Night, the best churches, Trastevere and walking through the countless museums that house priceless treasures.

Another few days were comprised of mimicking an “Italian for Travelers” CD my girlfriend picked up. Should I be concerned that all of the hotel dialogue was about the rooms being small and too expensive? I still need to learn how to ask where the library is and what noises Italian animals make.

Then I hit the podcasts and apps. In a true measure of nerdiness (or being curious about the world), I found lectures on the great artists. This lecture from Washington University Professor William E. Wallace was particularly fascinating about Michelangelo as artist, sculptor, foreman and aristocrat. One might call him a renaissance man.

All this crammed research made me wish I took more art and world history classes in college. I realized I would’ve paid a lot more attention if I were going to Rome and Florence at the end of the semester.

I haven’t done as much research on Paris, mais j’espère que les années de français sera de retour à son arrivée à Paris.

This trip will mark the first time I haven’t been in Chicago for my birthday. Instead, I’ll be in the eternal city and Florence. In lieu of buying me a drink this year for my birthday, feel free to send me some euros my way.

Mille grazie et merci bien to my lady friend for agreeing to join on the adventure and to all my jet setter friends who have shared their experiences on places to see, places to skip and reminding me to plan to time to enjoy la dolce vita/la belle vie.

I’ll try to update BachelorBasics with pictures and vignettes when I can. If you want more, follow me on the social channels (links are up top).

No one has asked when I come back. I think they know that I wasn’t kidding when I replied that I wasn’t.

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La Famiglia – 437 Rush Re-Opening

chicago, food bloggers, cfbeats, phil stefani, 437 rush, la famiglia

Within 10 minutes of entering Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush’s re-opening party last night, I had a glass of vino and more food than I get at my grandma’s house. (I hope my grandma doesn’t read this.) The waiters came in unrelenting waves with trays of everything from bruschetta to tuna tartar. I had quickly amassed more plates than a circus performer, replete with my very own mini trident.

chicago, food bloggers, cfbeats, phil stefani, 437 rush, la famiglia, salad

For the Stefani family, food is their life. This restaurant goes beyond being a mom-and-pop upscale steakhouse to being part of their empire, which includes CastawaysChango LocoRiva Crab House and Tuscany (4 locations throughout Chicagoland).

Gina and Anthony Stefani grew up with a restaurateur for a father and learned the family business from an early age.

“My dad had me working the pasta stand at 11,” Anthony recalled.

“And I was washing dishes at 15,” Gina added.

Phil, the patriarch, makes it back to Italy five times a year to sample the authentic flavors of the motherland. Their family vacations might sound a bit different than yours and mine.

“Whenever we took trips, it was always focused on the food,” Gina said. Instead of waiting in line for the teacups at Disney, they sampled sauces and breads in Italy.

“But the food in Italy is amazing. You’ll never have anything better.” Gina continued.

The brother/sister duo were entrusted with updating 437 Rush from the old-school Italian steakhouse vibe.

“Anthony is more of a foodie than I am,” admitted Gina. “He knows all the trends for new ingredients.”

Gina stepped away from her gig in PR and event planning with XA to lead the project management of the redesign.

“This has been my baby for the past two months and tomorrow will be its birthday. I told people we should’ve had a film crew in here,” Gina said of the remodel resembling those featured on HGTV. It came down to the final hours of pulling the plastic off light fixtures the day before the party.

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The white tablecloths have been removed. With new floors, Edison lights (a requirement for any new bar), Chicago-themed art, dinnerware and flatware, the only thing that hasn’t changed is the focus on the diner. Their new menu retains classic staples like gnocchi, branzino and the montecarlo, a dish that was a non-negotiable for staying on the menu.

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“We wanted to still serve the dishes our regulars come here for, but also offer some smaller plates and new cocktails,” Gina said. The aim is to attract the lunch and happy hour crowds looking for a place to unwind.

Like the Stefanis, executive chef Christian Fantoni also comes from a family involved in food. His father was the cook for an Italian prince in northern Italy. Gina and Anthony worked with the chef to adapt the menu to include more small, shareable plates. Some of the apps offered last night included wild boar pate, melazane (a pesto with eggplant) and risotto with buffalo mozzarella.
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The redesign also includes a salumeria bar with sliced, melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto, mortadella and salamino nostrano. I fought the urge to request half a pound sliced thin to trump anyone else’s lunch at the office.

The next wave of waiters brought glasses of warm lobster bisque. He informed us that their process takes 12 hours to make their batch.

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If that weren’t enough to satiate your appetite, martini glasses of limoncello and cosmos were the next round to wash down the food. Then came the barrage of cakes: vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and banana.

After the din of the 150+ guests started to wind down, I found the Stefani family gathered, like most families, near the kitchen to enjoy what matters most: good food and la famiglia.

 

Sins against Italy – Carbonara

20131124-183313.jpgThe temperature in Chicago this morning was in the single digits. This isn’t OK. After I returned from California a few months ago, I realized that living in Chicago is a choice. I’ve deemed it a bad choice.

Nevertheless, cold weather is good for a few things:

  • Selling clothes
  • Killing off germs
  • Exposing people’s true self. Everyone’s nice when it’s 78 and sunny, but few people are nice in an arctic tundra.
  • Justifying eating more carbs

To the dismay of my female friends, I’ve yet–and hopefully never–to have any issues with carbs and gaining weight. I credit my Italian ancestry for this evolutionary advantage.

Tonight’s dinner was my first attempt at the Italian classic, pasta carbonara. I rarely have bacon in the house, so almost every dish I’ve made this past week has included a few strips. You may be asking yourself, “Why does he still have bacon left?” Valid question, but you’re the one talking to yourself.

This is often described as one of the easiest dishes in the Italian cookbook. None of the techniques required are difficult, nor does this take a lot of time. But it does require cheese–Parmesan or Pecorino. I had neither in the house and it’s too damn cold to go out again. Thusly, committing one of the gravest of sins for an Italian. I fear that if my ancestors saw the cheese-less atrocity tonight, they’ll curse me with pots of water that will never boil.

Here’s the rundown:

Serves 2-4, depending if anyone is hangry.

  • 1lb pasta, typically spaghetti or farfalle. I had rigatoni and campanelle
  • 2-4 strips of bacon, cut into squares (this is why I still have bacon)
  • handful or two of frozen peas
  • 4-6 kale leaves (cleaning out the fridge)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese. Other recipes call for cheese and cream/milk
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 tbsp of bread crumbs
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • Salt/pepper
  1. Cook the pasta as directed.
  2. In a frying pan, cook the bacon. Once it’s getting crispy, use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and place onto a paper towel. Bikini season may seem far away, but so will your toes if you eat a quart of bacon fat.
  3. Add the kale and garlic to the frying pan/bacon grease. Let cook on low for 3 minutes.
  4. The pasta should be done by now (~10 minutes). Drain it and save a half cup of pasta water.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, separate the egg yolks from the rest of the eggs. I’ll have to post a video of this at some point too. There are also lil gadgets you can use. Or you can use your manos. Beat the yolks with the cheese. Add the drained pasta to the yolks/cheese. Add the bacon and kale. Top with some bread crumbs and salt/pepper.
  6. Take a pic and post on instagram with the #bachelorbasics.