Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh Joy, It's Happened Again, or, Food Like a Grandmother's Hug

Lucky, lucky me. I recently celebrated a birthday, and the epic weekend of friends and food and, of course, plenty of drink was marked by so many great things--a top notch dinner of lots of different plates at a nearby kitchen; a surprise gathering at a favorite bar; a lazy day of eating a huge Hawaiian box lunch at one of my favorite hangover cure places, Aloha Eats in Lakeview; a lazy slither into a movie theater to cool off. But the big highlight was the much anticipated celebration of food and drink at what is one of my favorite places in the city; the place I say first when people ask me what my favorite restaurants are; the place I think of first when I want to take guests to a great spot. The place? Anteprima in Andersonville. SO devoid of pretense and anything other than solid, soulfully crafted, thoughtful food; a menu that stands on its own without succumbing to the name-every-single-farm-that-every-single-item-came-from craze, despite the fact that they utilize more local farm produce than many of the restaurants in the city; a beautifully simple dining room that, like the food, relies on human touches and the quality of what is being offered above any over-the-top rock star touches or minimalist lack thereof. A great review I read just after it opened in 2007 stated that "despite having just opened, Anteprima has the kind of servers who seem like they've been there for years"--and this, of course, was meant in the positive--the place just has that warm, welcoming, giving atmosphere. Dishes are presented with an emphasis on the food being the food--not some sort of esoteric art display. In a city and time of so much overthinking happening about food, Anteprima is real.

So, what did we have? Well, I had more help this time, and we made our way through:
  • a cold antipasti of olives, stuffed baby eggplant, glazed carrots, beans, farro, radishes and chiles;
  • proscuitto di Parma with melon;
  • tuna carpaccio;
  • bruschetta with sweet corn;
  • the crispiest stuffed and fried zucchini flowers with tomato;
  • big, chubby pork meatballs;
  • grilled octopus with potatoes and chiles;
  • fried duck egg on tomato;
  • the long-time favorite orecchiette with lamb sausage and bitter greens;
  • ravioli stuffed with beets and ricotta;
  • spaghetti with anchovy and chiles;
  • trofie (short, thin, delicate spiral pasta) with green beans, tomato and pesto
  • braised goat (good lord, get me another!)
  • arctic char with salsa verde
  • bison flank steak;
  • lemon panna cotta, so well done, smooth, with a birthday candle in the middle;
  • apricots poached in amaretto with crushed amaretti cookies;
  • peach crostata
  • ...and of course a whole tub full of drinks and wine.
You'll notice my lack of detail above, mainly because these dishes really do speak for themselves and require no embellishment. When composing dishes for the Salon, or any restaurant I've worked in, I always seek to make the elements on the plate complement each other. Like a good pasta dish, there should really be no filler--no ton of noodles with a ladle of sauce on the top. No, these two elements should be tossed together, with equal billing. And this is how things have always gone for me at this restaurant. The service doesn't distract from the food; the wine doesn't overshadow the service; everything is in its place and plays its role in support of the other. And they all do it to such a high level, the result is one of the more relaxed, loving meals that one can experience. And the other important part of the equation? Those eating it. In this case I had some of my closest friends there with me--people who I'd eat anywhere on earth with without the fear of someone not liking something or someone wanting to have the server split the check 10 ways or someone doing anything other than just straight up enjoying themselves and each other. Maybe it's the marking of another year of my life talking, but you can keep your rock-star chefs with their haircuts, tattoos and jewelry; I'll take the warm hug of a loving grandmother over that every time.