Mmm Mmm Monday: Chicago Restaurant Week Edition

Chicago is in the midst of stuff for your face week, more formally known as Restaurant Week. Until February 26th, more than 200 local restaurants are strutting their stuff with prix fixe menus to draw crowds and fill tables. With lunches set at $22 per person and dinner menus priced at either $33 or $44, it's an affordable excuse to try out all those restaurants that have been patiently waiting on your "to eat" list. 

This weekend we decided to give Cafe Spiaggia a whirl. Located deep in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, the mood was set for an upscale experience as we approached the restaurant. With mouths watering and excitement overflowing we arrived at the casual dining side of the famed Spiaggia Restaurant and were greeted warmly and shown to our table.

Chicken Liver Mousse
Chicken Liver Mousse, Cranberry Compote, Arugula and Crostini

As I tend to do, I took one look at the menu and quickly chose items that seemed to have the most exotic ingredients. Since I'm still on my mission to eat (and hopefully enjoy) foods that might make others gag, I started my meal with chicken liver mousse.  My previous experience with beef liver was a total disaster, so I'll admit this was a risky choice. But, as it turns out, chicken liver is much milder in flavor than beef liver and simply lovely when paired with cranberries and buttery toast. The dish was creamy and crunchy and savory and sweet. It was a perfect start to my meal.

Gnocchi with Wild Boar Ragu
Gnocchi with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano

Next up on my crazy protein tour was wild boar. Notice the bite missing in the lower right hand corner? It smelled so good I dug in before I remembered I was trying to document the meal. That's probably a good sign. The boar was tasty, but if I hadn't read the menu I'd have assumed it was pork shoulder or something much more pedestrian. The star of this dish was undoubtedly the gnocchi. I've had gnocchi a million times before and have always enjoyed it. But this time it was different. You know how on cooking shows the judges always describe gnocchi as "pillowy"? I always just assumed they were referring to the shape of the pasta. But they aren't. This gnocchi was the real deal. It was light and fluffy and tasted as though I was biting into the most delicious pillow one could ever imagine. NOW I get it. And I'll tell ya, gnocchi has moved way up my list of favorite, delectable treats.

Tiramisu Spiaggia style
Tiramisu and Illy Coffee

We finished the meal with Tiramisu and coffee. Both were very, very good. Though I wouldn't say either stood out as the best I've ever had, I would not turn down another helping of that Tiramisu if it showed up in front of me right now.

While the food was really incredible, I have to tell you about what was probably the highlight of our visit. As we were leaving the Cafe, we passed by the entrance of Spiaggia restaurant. Who do you think was walking out the door with a plate of food in her hands?

It was cheflebraty Sarah Grueneberg of Top Chef: Austin. Can you even believe it? I mean she is in the top three RIGHT NOW and could be named Top Chef this week! For a reality television junkie like me, this was a big deal. The hubby tried to take credit for our encounter. Since this was our Valentine date, he said the Sarah sighting was part of my present. But I don't believe him and neither should you. As we passed her, I totally played it cool. I simply smiled at her and kept walking. The hubby was surprised I didn't stop and ask for a picture or even say, "Hello." Here's my explanation. If it had been any other cheftestant I might have made a bigger deal. But since Sarah's been such a mean girl this season, I was a little bit uninterested afraid to stop her. What if she bit my head off? Regardless of my personal feelings toward Miss Thang, it was still kind of exciting to see her there, you know? And what if she wins? I can tell everyone that I ate in Cafe Spiaggia on a day when she was working next door there.

Our restaurant week experience turned out to be very exciting indeed. Although I wouldn't put this meal on my list of best ever, the food was definitely top quality. The sweet, helpful host staff more than made up for our less than perfect waitress. At times it seemed like we were a bit of an annoyance to our waitress and keeping her from something much more important. The restaurant space itself was lovely and the location was easy to find and convenient to get to via public transportation. When you throw in a cheflebraty sighting, it's tough to find much to say that isn't positive. 

For a complete list of restaurants participating in this event, menus and reservation (which are suggested) information visit Restaurant Week's official site.

Have you ever had a cheflebraty sighting? Do tell...