siena tavern

Rooted in Italy. Raised in Chicago. #FromScratch

Rooted in Italy. Raised in Chicago. #FromScratch

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New York, New York: The James Beard Dinner

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On August 18th, 2013 the DineAmic team packed their mixing bowls and hopped a plane to prepare a dinner at the James Beard House. With a set theme of “Modern Mediterranean” cuisine it was definitely a food-venture to remember…and we plan on giving you the scoop of all scoops. Our social gal and photographer, Lindsey, got to experience first-hand what it means to have your cilantro and eat it too.   

Last week I packed my bags for a 3 day excursion into the foodie jungle, the cosmic apple, the city that never sleeps (this is confirmed). A city where even street tacos are romantic. New York. Although I have been many times before I have come to realize one thing…

I have never seen the same skyline twice.  

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On this trip in particular, the buildings didn’t look like buildings at all. They morphed somehow. Before me I saw giant stacks of tightly-wound housemade linguini adorned in micro chives. Skyscrapers crafted thoughtfully with crispy speck, jaggedly casting shadows across the water. A bridge made of the freshest burrata held in place by tiny army’s of chopped parmesan. Boats made of butter cake and candied hazelnuts. Clouds of stracchino cheese with a midday forecast of tomato gazpacho, it was all just as it should of been. A culinary dreamland that if not otherwise inhibited by my diet, would be the blueprint to my own house. “Good morning, darling!” *Raises blinds made of summer truffle and red finger chilies*

A girl can dream, right?

Okay, so maybe I was a little hungry after being detained on an airplane with only peanuts and bar crackers for two hours. Nonetheless, I arrived in New York with two things on my mind. Coffee (object a) and work (object b). For anyone that knows me well, I only perform optimally at object b when object a is in full force. One latte later and off to the James Beard House I went!

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Arrival: 167 West 12th Street, New York

A quaint building with instant character. I immediately thought of all the people that must be busting at the seams to walk through this door. The masters of culinary. People that pronounce thyme correctly. People that  without question have worked their butts off to be invited. Go team! I made my way to the kitchen and spotted Chef David and Chef Jeremy wrestling with Jersey corn and pecorino. Chef Fabio in the flour trenches making fresh linguini. A real power team. 

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The menu for the evening was as follows:

  • Hors d’Oeuvre
    • Coccoli with Prosciutto di Parma
    • Anchovy Cichetti
    • Wagyu Beef Tartare
    • Tomato Gazpacho
  • Hamachi Crudo
  • Tomato Brûlée with Burrata and Crispy Speck
  • Squid Ink Linguini with Grilled Lobster
  • Balsamic-Glazed Rack of Lamb
  • Warm Chocolate Butter Cake and Hazelnut Gelato

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After countless hours of prep, it was time to begin. Our team had 7 minutes to plate each course for 82 (quite hungry!) house guests. To be honest, it was unlike anything I have ever seen. Each dollop of spicy balsamic reduction done with the utmost grace. Every shallot dropped thoughtfully. You know, at first glance an evening at The James Beard House might appear to be just a blur of smart hands and quick feet with the ability to palette please. When you look closer, it’s about passion. The most desirable marinade of all. Everyone I encountered that evening possessed such an ever-present adoration for food in that warm-fuzzy have another glass of Selvapiana type of way…and don’t forget the cheese.

This foundation is really doing something right.  

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When I introduced myself to Chef David Blonsky he said, “Just call me David, I’m here to cook good food… it’s not like I’m curing cancer!” and thats when I knew it was going to be an amazing event. Both David and Fabio are so passionate about food, feeding their guests and ensuring that everyone is have a great experience. For me, Modern Mediterranean by Fabio and David was the epitome of a James Beard Foundation event. They put together an amazing menu and their dishes spotlighted quality ingredients that made all of the guests truly excited to eat. After working with the chefs all morning, it was really interesting for me to see them work with the film crew. Their personalities stayed the same on and off camera, lots of laughter and professionalism.  -Justine,  Little Miss Local 
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Moving on, I will say that my camera has definitely racked up some hours in between tiramisu prep and housemade bomboloni. More often times than not my shoes are sprinkled with flour and I love that. With each shot I gain more and more respect for what goes on behind the scenes. Every time I work with Chef David, Chef Fabio, or Chef Jeremy they make what they do seem effortless. I walk away thinking that I, too, can make a flawless gazpacho. That’s what it’s all about, right? Sharing the love of what you do with other people. Genuinely being able to translate that feeling of excitement without words, but maybe through a bite of coccoli instead. If I had a box full of lemons for every moment I wanted to jump up and down or smack one of the chefs on the back during those seven minute prep intervals let it be known that I’d have my own fruit stand. 

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James Beard himself one said, “The secret of good cooking, is, first, having a a love of it. …If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be good at it, and you might as well warm up something frozen.”

You’ll find no drudgery in these parts. I walked away smelling like a cookbook on the best sellers list.

Forever impressed and grateful to work with such creative minds.

Until next time New York,

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New Kids On The Block: Lewis & Clark Foodie Remix

You don’t have to be a “Lewis” or a “Clark” to discover that we’ve made some changes lately. Delicious ones. Our menu is constantly evolving to court the taste of the season, in the most romantic way. Siena Tavern has a heart for exploring, a modern day kitchen expedition. Always in pursuit of the next robust flavor delight. A new dessert, one that you’ll order for you mother’s birthday. A new pizza, one that will walk in harmony with a bottle of Dolcetto d’Alba over dinner. We create flavors for moments, and hope that you’ll return to experience them time and time again. 

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."

{ George Bernard Shaw}

Now, say hello to a few of the news kids on the block:
 
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1.  ”Pasta in a Jar” …dinner is now just a cocktail shake away.

Move over jellies and jams, pasta is now stepping into the jar territory and it’s serious. Freshly made mezza rigatone, heirloom tomatoes, bellwether ricotta, english pea, micro basil, and olive oil are ready to give you one heck of a happy plate.

"We really wanted to incorporate summer freshness with this dish, to inspire people to make a similar pasta at home. They do this a lot in Italy for house gatherings and picnics. Throw some fresh (seasonal) ingredients in a jar and shake them up for dinner. We feel like it’s very “homey” and that is Siena.”

-Chef Blonsky

 

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2. Spiced Watermelon Salad 

With watermelon being in season (praise be!) this salad was a no-brainer. It was a tournament of flavors with their own agendas all coming together for a salty meets sweet and sour ballroom dance. The hearts on fire micro green for texture, the feta to compliment the watermelon. Pickled shallots to teeter-totter the sweetness of the fruit. The peach vinaigrette is late to the party with just enough attitude to keep you guessing. Hold your plates close, this is one dish you won’t want to share. 

 

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3. Seared Scallop

Ohhh the mildly sweet flavor of a scallop. Add a fresh risotto that can get along with chiodini mushrooms and that’s amore, the seared kind.

Garlic is growing really well right now and with corn in season, this seemed like the perfect risotto to accompany the scallop.

- Chef Blonsky 

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4. Prosciutto Fig Pizza

Roasted garlic cream, taleggio, mozzarella, baby arugula, and prosciutto. The flavor of this pizza is so classically Italian, you’ll find yourself wanting another. And another. And, yes, another. 

Which Salad Are You?

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Whether you’re into bushels of kale or bags full of iceberg, the thought of a fresh summer salad is undeniably tantalizing. So how do you know which salad is right for you? Standby. When it comes to leafy greens at Siena, we don’t fork around.

1. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No…it’s a grain! Farro Salad

An Italian commodity, that farro. This intriguing grain from Italy made its way into dishes across the states since the mid- 90’s, increasing in popularity by the day. Most people mistake farro for wheat because it tastes somewhat like a subtle version of brown rice. Intriguing, right? We decided to throw in a little herb-marinated shrimp and calamari for a taste-bud swoon, but didn’t stop there. Celery, basil, roasted peppers, and green beans make this salad a fantastic deep sea dive into a housemade herb mustard vinaigrette. This salad is for the dreamers. The secret Spiderman, the Lois Lanes.

2. Iron Man, more than a movie. Tuscan Kale Caesar.

This salad is one heck of a rosemary foccacia crouton crush. With oven dried tomatoes and light parmesan flakes in tow, it’s a perfect choice for the health conscious. Our  housemade lemon caesar dressing adds a subtle hint of flavor, keeping this toss up light and fresh. Did you know that (per calorie!) kale has more iron that beef? Robert Downey, Jr. can’t argue with that and neither can your appetite.  

3. Duck, Duck, Goose. The Siena Chopped.

It’s okay to wear your (artichoke) heart on your sleeve. This chopped romaine and iceberg pairing shouts “you CAN have it all!” from the Chicago rooftops.In our opinion, when avocados are involved a little bit of heaven is always present. Marco. Pair that with plump cherry tomatoes and gorgonzola? Marco. Add wild boar salami, pepperoncini, and cannellini beans? Marco. Egg, green beans, radicchio, red onion, AND a sweet mustard vinaigrette? POLO!  This salad is for the adventurous, for the person that writes in colored ink. The pepperoncini Paul, the gorgonzola Grace.

4.  Jack and the green stalk. Shaved Brussel Sprout  

The pantone die-hard, this is your salad. Green on green. A simple, yet marvelous, brussel sprout standing ovation. Parmesan and toasted marcona almonds provide and sweet (and happy!) fork affair. Did we mention it’s also heart healthy?

5. “It Happened One Night” …starring you. Spiced Watermelon

Move over Clark Gable, even on black and white film this salad could cause a ruckus. Pickled shallots, hidden springs feta, saba, hearts on fire micro green, and peach vinaigrette…oh, the romance! This salad is for the artist. 

6. Simply radishing. Hearts of Palm

It’s okay to do the beauty pageant wave while eating this salad. Grapefruit, roasted marcona almonds, avocados, and breakfast radishes make this lunchtime delight one bite away from a first place crown. Tossed onto butter lettuce and in the well-behaved company of fresh citrus vinaigrette, you can now take a bow. This is the “you can be anything you want to be” salad. 

7.  The new Red Bull. Roasted beets

Need a boost? Put down the can and order this salad. Roasted red, yellow and candied stripe beets bring this bowl of color to funky town. Adding in toasted hazelnuts for a crunch and the delightful La Clare farm chevre it soon becomes a flavor quite like any other. Arugula soon joins the party along with a citrus vinaigrette beet reduction and BOOM. You’ll be moon-walking out of lunch, MJ style. 

The Gelato Life

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When it comes to making frozen desserts at Siena Tavern, finding ingredients that marry well together is always key. Take the fresno chili and peach for example.The art here is creating a sophistication of sorts between these two opposites while still complimenting the other components involved. Finding the right balance of heat from the chili to match the sweetness of the peaches. 

Sometimes the flavors are only a leap away from that “ah-ha!” taste. After tossing in sugar and then a little brown sugar, something clicked. Bourbon. Bourbon would brighten up the peach flavor perfectly. A gracious balance of sweet, salty, spicy, and creamy. Fresno chili and peach, no longer just a dream.

This flavor is a take on the panna cotta dessert Chef Amy is currently working on for the menu!

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However, this gelato does not stand alone on the menu. Last week Amelia Eaton of The CHICago Life Blog had a run-in with 13 of our other flavors. Spoons later, she reached a verdict.

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Starting with the lemon olive oil and sea salt is always hard to beat. Although people have been making olive oil gelato for some time now, the goal here was to make it our own. The addition of lemon and sea salt really break up the richness while still romancing your palate. After trays and trays of housemade concoctions I asked Amelia to give me a hint at her favorite flavor. We cast no blame for liking more than one!

A scoop from Eaton: “I’m not sure I could possibly pick just one flavor of Siena Tavern’s gelato as my favorite!  When I sampled all 13 it seemed as though each one was better than the next. Lavender and tiramisu stand out in my mind. I had high expectations for the lavender based on my love of the No. 4 cocktail which is mainly comprised of lavender, though accompanied by plymouth, honey, lemon, and crème de violette. To my delight the lavender gelato arrived the same beautiful shade of purple as my favorite aforementioned Siena Tavern libation. I would have been happy just admiring it, but after one spoonful it was as good as gone! I felt the same way about the tiramisu, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about how the classic dessert flavor seemed meant for the thick, creamy, gelato texture. Have we been getting it wrong all these years?  While lavender and tiramisu provided a nostalgic Italian gelato experience, there is no shortage of creativity on the Siena Tavern dessert menu. 

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Contributors: Lily Duevel of adoptedSTYLE  and K. Amato Jewelry

Why Charlie Chaplin Would #SitWithSiena

From scratch. From the beginning; starting with no advantage or prior preparation.  

Last week George and Tony of Oak Street Bootmakers learned how to make our to-die-for vongole pizza. In the midst of lunch rush Chef Blonsky slowed down to really showcase what it means to prepare food from scratch. After a dash of this and a dash of that, George also gave us the inside scoop on shoemaking. This was definitely a lunch to remember.

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Where to start? The true art of making a Siena Tavern pizza is the mere simplicity of the dough, it’s pure ingredients. The fluffing of the flour before it is added to the water. The yeast mixture. All allowing the dough to be light and refreshing, careful to avoid an overly full feeling after consumption. It’s that “just right, satisfied-my-appetite” type of chemistry. Boots were soon covered in a dust of white flour and pizza dough was swiftly tossed through the air like a perfectly rehearsed ballad. Much like our “from scratch” mantra, George shares a similar belief in creating his shoes. Oak Streeters are handcrafted for longevity, undergoing 89 separate processes throughout a 28 day period. One thing we know for sure, there’s no shortcut when it comes to quality in the kitchen. Or your footwear. 

The goal was to create a pizza that would make Charlie Chaplin do a table ballet. With flavors so specifically meant for each other that it would be impossible to go wrong.

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Let’s start with the dough. After it’s smoothed out and shapely for prime time pizza making the sauce is added. Made to be light, yet flavorful, with garlic and shallots. After a swift sprinkle of salt and black pepper, the cream sauce is finito.

Fun fact: Siena Tavern makes 225 pounds of dough from scratch on a daily basis. 

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Cherry stone clams are the real romance of this pizza. For flavor they are cooked in vegetables, fennel, and white wine. Sighhh.

Fun fact from Chef Blonsky: Cherry stone clams are impeccably hard to beat when it comes to cooking! The meat to shell ratio is more than ideal and they are often sought after for their not-too-touch texture. 

Grilled escarole, a less bitter member of the endive family, is simply drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. When it comes to formaggio the only appropriate choice for the vongole pizza was taleggio, a classic smear-ripened Italian cheese. The final touch of capers and red chili flakes take place before the crust hits the oven. 

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The vongole pizza is complete with fresh chopped parsley. A roasted garlic bulb is then placed in the middle and meant to be squeezed over the pizza for fresh taste. 

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While our pizza may not last as long as handcrafted boots, we know one thing to be true…

When clams are involved, leftovers are never common.

So go ahead join us for a pizza, #SitWithSiena. If you happen to stick your fork in the crust for a short slow dance across the table Charlie Chaplin style, we’ll be right there with you.

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