Il Porcellino

59 W Hubbard Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 595-0800ilporcellinochicago.com

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Doing Al Capone proud, Il Porcellino (which means “Little Pig” in Italian- no idea why) feels like good, ole, authentic Chicago Italian, with lots of little back rooms tucked away in brick catacombs turned dining areas with private bars and back doors for easy escape… to smoke. Yes, Capone would’ve love this place, granted as slow as the service was, I think he might’ve whacked a few waiters until things improved.

Also worthy of mention is that we were a large party, and why I think this is of significance in this review is because very often that means that the food will be nowhere near as good as it would be during a typical dining experience. So fedora’s off to the piglet, because if this is a notch down, then it must be something special when you eat there like a normal person.

For starters the green chopped salad with kale, avocado, parmesan, pistachios and pepperoncini was good, as was the charcuterie, aka prosciutto trio (parma, cotto & speck). But if you want your world rocked, go with the guilty pleasure of the Tuscan Cheese Bread. I know it sounds like typical Americanified Italian crap, but damn is really friggin’ awesome Americanified Italian crap. Made even more kickalicious with some seriously spicy marinara for dippage.

Both pastas were also crowd pleasers. The rigatoni in vodka sauce with peas and red pepper flakes was a classic done right. And the orecchiette gigante with Italian sausage and broccolini, was right up there with it. Not even sure which was better.

What I am sure about was that the Steak Grigliata was terribliata. I’m guessing grigliatta is Italian for grisly because it was so undercooked and chewy it was inedible. In fact, I had to get up and go to the bathroom just to spit out my bite. And while I’m beating this dead horse, I would say it was so bad that it cost them a knive on this dish alone. That said, the parmesan-garlic fries were pretty darn good.

Ending on a high note, both desserts were great. The gelato is creamy and rich and the tiramisu cups are pretty spectacular.

3 teeth

The Schoolhouse

34 Cannon Rd. Wilton, CT 06897 • (203) 529-7751 • schoolhouseatcannondale.com

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I love New York City. I love it times infinity. For providing a virtually limitless array of culinary experiences ranging from dives to the exquisite and every nationality or cultural niche you could possibly think of. But the one thing New York can’t do is be a quaint, refurbished schoolhouse like something pulled right out of the show, Little House on the Prairie.

But as unique and charming as the Schoolhouse is, it’s definitely not what I would call dressy, per the classification on Yelp. Unless you consider a fleece and chinos dapper. That said, the place is still a class act from the service to the seasonal menu, which not only rotates based on the harvest, but by party. And what I mean by that is that the menu itself actually has the name of your party printed right on it! Nice touch.

Starting class off with a lesson in awesomeness, the parsnip and apple soup was superb- well, initially it was served a touch tepid, so we asked them to heat it up, but after that, it was sheer perfection. As were the mussels with cauliflower. Such a simple twist on a classic dish that not only made it unique, but brilliant to taste, as the cauliflower served as a blank canvas to soak up the delicious broth.

The only slacker in first period was the salad with squash, goat cheese and pecans. It was bit over-dressed and comparatively, a bit underwhelming.

For the main event, we covered three different options on the menu with the branzini going to the head of the class. Best entrée of the three by far, served over a creamy celery root puree, along with roasted beets that made this dish an A++.

The NY Strip was cooked perfectly, served over mashed potatoes, with caramelized onions and broccolini, but having just had the transcendent beef tenderloin only days before at The Inn at Pound Ridge, I couldn’t help but find myself wanting more from the Schoolhouse strip. I also felt similarly about the duck, not that I had just eaten that at Pound Ridge too, but I did find myself craving more oomph, especially in light of such previous highs such as the soup, mussels and the fish.

Before class was dismissed, we stayed for extra credit, ordering the chocolate soufflé for dessert. And while very good, it is served with a completely unnecessary chocolate dipping sauce, because the soufflé itself is plenty ooey-gooey and chocolaty all by its lonesome. Also, I found the homemade vanilla ice cream served with it just okay.

All in, when you take into account the novel experience, culinary craft and the fact that even the misses were still pretty solid, it’s hard to give The Schoolhouse anything less than four knives, but to be fair, I am grading on a curve.

4 teeth

The Pink Door

1919 Post Alley. Seattle, WA 98101(206) 443-3241thepinkdoor.net

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Located in a pseudo alley and marked with very little signage, save the actual color of the door (which is obviously pink), the place makes you feel like you are entering a sex dungeon. Especially as you head down the stairs into an intimately lit, high-ceiling dining space adorned with various types of trapeze equipment hanging above the tables. Apparently there is a correlation between colored doors and hedonistic things lying behind them. The Green Door, for those old enough to remember, had porn behind it and The Pink Door has, well… burlesque trapeze (pictured). Which is naturally the first thing you think of when you think Italian cuisine. The Italians being well known for their burlesque- oh, wait… Sorry, that’s the French. But trapeze- okay, also French. So I’m not exactly sure why the European mash-up, but I have to say I dug the vibe.

I also dug the fact that as a walk-in, they didn’t screw me with a table by the wait station. Quite the contrary, they gave me the best table in the restaurant, outside on the patio, in a corner, offset from everyone else, with an amazing view of the water and Mt. Rainier.

Another pleasant surprise was the 2013 Va Piano Sauvignon Blanc by the glass from Wala Wala, Washington. Not only was it one of the best Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever had, it was one of the best whites I’ve ever had offered by the glass. And let’s be honest, there’s a third plus as well… it’s just fun to say Wala Wala, Washington.

Unfortunately, the food didn’t hold up to the preamble. The asparagus, while decent, gained nothing from the crispy prosciutto and hard boiled egg crumble, because both are served in such minimal proportion that I didn’t even get the point.

They made up for it though, with a salmon special that was very good. Served over a cauliflower and fennel puree, with broccolini, morels and roasted grape tomatoes. Not very Italian, but I think that ship kinda sailed. And at least it was healthy, clean cookin.’

But easy come easy go, because after making it up to me on the entrée, they royally shat the bed on dessert. The oatmeal crisp was so atrocious there was nothing crisp about it, soggy like a bowl of cereal sitting in milk for over an hour. Quite possibly the worst I’ve ever had.

And while I would love to stay mad at The Pink Door for wasting my money on that dessert, I have to give it up to them for the free dinner theater, bizarre as it might be. Starting with an Elvira-looking vamp, decked out in black chiffon, traipsing through the restaurant like she was Lady Godiva or something. Then, right their in the middle of the restaurant, she climbs aboard one of the trapeze swings hanging from the ceiling and proceeds to writhe on this thing like Josephine Baker while people attempt to still eat their meals beneath her. Not since Señor Tango in Buenos Aires have I ever had a dining experience like this. And for that, I have to commend The Pink Door. Thank you for making me feel like I was on another planet. A distinction not many restaurants can achieve. Which is probably a good thing.

3 teeth