Business travel can be tough on social life, circadian rhythms and diet. But when I visit Chicago, there’s always hope for a reunion with my street food muses, the inimitable Zany and Mad Me-Shell.
As soon as I alert them to my imminent arrival, they are on the case. I’m expecting our menu might be sliders and fries on the corner of Michigan and Randolph, but when it comes to local haute cuisine, the girls are always au courant.
“We thought we'd mix it up a bit and take you to one of the hottest new restaurants in town,” Mad writes. “RPM Italian just opened last Wednesday and we've scored a 6pm reservation. RPM Italian is a new Melman restaurant opened with Bill and Giuliana Rancic -- I'm sure they will be there to greet you!”
Dining indoors? I’m intrigued.
A quick Internet search brings me up to speed. RPM Italian at 52 West Illinois, launched with a glitzy opening just days earlier. For those of you who don’t know Bill Rancic was Donald Trump’s original “Apprentice” winner, and Giuliana is an anchor on E! News. The couple hosts a show on the Style Network. My heart’s all aflutter. Dining with the glitterati is a first for us.
RPM has a sleek, shiny black and white motif. The menu is pure Italian comfort served up on small plates suitable for sharing. We like to share.
I meet up with Zany first in the bar for pre-dinner drinks. She’s looking glam in a smart black and gray ensemble which bridges effortlessly from conference calls to cocktails. I’m wearing a serviceable navy blue pullover, but hey, it’s cashmere.
Zany’s recently become a gin aficionado. The gin epiphany came when she and Mad were drinking tequila at a Mexican cantina. Okay, I don’t quite get it either…
Mad Me-Shell breezes in soon after. She’s decked out in elegant urban black, with just a touch of bling. Mad recently wrapped a grueling street food smack down (which she provoked) that threatened to besmirch her title as the Queen of Chicago Food Trucks. But, don’t expect spoilers on that epic challenge right now. Mad promises she will dish on all the sordid details right here on CT very soon.
We are seated and begin to catch up. Zany and Mad have just come off a grueling weekend kitchen project. They spent 10 hours making homemade ravioli while watching the Daytona 500.
“It was a six-pack-a-person job,” says Mad.
Zany scans the room. “So where are Bill and Giuliana?” she demands. “You said they would be here to greet us.”
“I made that up,” confesses Mad.
“I’m telling your mother,” snaps Zany.
“Oh, add it to the list!” retorts Mad.
We order a bottle of Barbera wine. It is described on the menu as a “Soft and Approachable Wine.”
“How very Italian of us,” says Zany.
Mad takes a sip, swirls the wine in her mouth and murmurs her approval to the waitperson.
“Aren’t you quite the red neck sommelier!” remarks Zany.
After making the waitperson wait an excessive amount of time while we chatter, we finally kick off the meal with a healthy spread of appetizers – Provolone Stuffed Peppers, Arancini, Roasted Beets with Blood Orange and Pistachios, Prime Beef Meatballs, Truffled Garlic Bread and a Pizzette with Cremini Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese. Mad insists that we order the meatballs to offset the beets.
This probably looks like enough food for an army but I swear to you that all these dishes are listed on the menu as “small bites.” Tiny is SO fancy. While scrumptious, the small bites have done little to blunt our appetites, so we order three different pastas – Truffled Farfalle, Porcini Mushroom Risotto, and Lamb Sugo with Chickpea Pasta, Black Olives and Oregano.
At one point during the meal, I elbow Mad. “That guy at that table over there keeps looking at us,” I whisper. “He thinks we’re somebody.”
Mad gives the guy a once over. “He’s an out-of-town businessman,” she pronounces. “To him, we are somebody.”
With such small bites, we certainly have room for dessert, and request a Hazelnut Gelato in a Chocolate Shell and a Caramel Pine Nut Tart with Rosemary Gelato.
We finish things off with Amaro, a dark, bittersweet Italian Herbal Liqueur with flavors like Black Pepper and Bitter Orange.
Zany orders a serving of Cannolis-to-go for her husband Luigi the Baker. “I’m shooting for the Best Wife Ever Award,” she says.
We pronounce the meal a great success. There’s something to be said for sitting down and enjoying a leisurely meal without any threat of automobile exhaust fumes.
“I still would have liked a celebrity cameo,” says Zany.
Mad looks slightly affronted. “I was here. Does that not count?”
As we reach for our coat checks, Zany sums up the evening with her usual flair for words. “We are street scavengers, but we can class it up.”
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