Imagine dreamy Italian music in the background, breathtaking scenic views, a bottle of wine, and two starry-eyed people falling in love. Scenes from a movie? A book? No, but a passionate story that reaches across the ocean and back home again.
This is the love story of Laura Emme and Executive Chef Alessandro Farinati, owners of Uptown Grille in Chebanse, and their remarkable love, their journey through Italy, and their passion for excellent food.
Most of us know them from Uptown Grille and their incredible food; yet, we know very little about their background and how it came to be that this beautiful young lady meets and falls in love with a creative chef.
It was May 2007 that Chef and Laura began a long-distance relationship. Five months later, she left Illinois to spend the summer in Italy. Leaving her job in Chicago, bags packed, she was on her way to begin a new chapter in her life.
In Italy, as the wisteria and cassia bloomed, so did their romance. Chef invited her to take a tour of Italy. In a borrowed Land Rover, their first visit was to Chianti Valley in Tuscany. As they strolled in Siena, they decided to dine at a small trattoria on a cobblestone side street. “The street was on a slight sloping hill and there were tables with bench seating,” Emme wrote. “Since the table legs were cut on angles one was sitting high; the other lower. We laughed and talked and held hands and were completely in the moment.”
They dined on plates of pasta and drank Chianti. One pasta was made with black pepper and cream sauce, the other with a garlic cream sauce called Pici all’Aglione. Guests will find this dish on their Valentine’s Day menu. Chef will make and hand roll the spaghetti noodles. Of course, one of their favorite wines – Chianti will be on the menu.
Chef and Laura were married on June 9, 2009. It was during that winter they went on a “very memorable trip” to Asiago for the International Fireworks Competition. During this time, they became the owners of that borrowed Land Rover and were able to drive to the perfect spot to observe. “The black sky and the perfect blanket of untouched white snow made a remarkable backdrop for the display,” Emme described.
Afterward, they stopped for dinner at a local restaurant, casual, yet sophisticated, which made them feel at home. A chalet-style interior with wood decor, a warm fire and large picture windows overlooking the highlands of Asiago. The cuisine was local, typically based on items that included or paired with Speck, Asiago cheese, and porcini mushroom.
Uptown Grille has offered these flavors numerous times in pasta and pizza, she wrote. “Whenever you see the Altopiano or highlands, you will now know exactly what it means to us and why we were inspired to do it.” New Year’s Eve was the last time it was served but guests can look forward to this enticing dish on Valentine’s Day.
Emme wrote that some of the best date nights were spent close to home. They were still living in Italy. A local “hot spot,” Pizzeria da Mario in Creazzo, Italy, became a favorite. “We would usually stop for a pint of Guinness at Paddy’s Irish Pub,” she explained, Massimo the owner, made everyone feel at home.
At Mario’s, she tried the crostino. Chef was a frequent visitor to the restaurant and loved the dish, which soon became Laura’s favorite. Crostino is made with three layers of toasted bread with prosciutto cotto, fresh mushrooms, spicy sopressata, marinara and mozzarella and is perfect for two people to share. The appetizer made its premier on Uptown’s menu on New Year’s Eve and will remain on the list for a while, but you can enjoy it on Valentine’s Day.
In 2010, Chef and Laura vacationed in Menorca, a Balearic island south of and part of Spain. Mahon cheese has been a part of the charcuterie selection; here is its place of origin.
The island is approximately 25 miles wide and where the couple would pack lunches and head to the beach. They managed to see every beach on the map. At night they would have fun cooking in their apartment using local ingredients.
For their last night, they wanted to experience how “real Meonracans eat.” They dined in a local restaurant located in the capital city, Ciutadella. They discovered a fantastic soup called Caldoreta de Langosta. “It’s a magnificent lobster stew typically served with sliced toasted bread,” Laura explained. This year they will be adding a wedge of Mahon cheese for their Uptown guests to sample.
Their Valentine’s menu will consist of many foods enjoyed by Chef and Laura. She wants guests to experience their favorite foods they enjoyed together in Italy as well as other items from their menu.
Begin with a beautiful appetizer such as the Fritto Misto made with calamari, shrimp and sea scallops flash fried and served with lemon wedges; a favorite from their honeymoon in Karpathos, Greece.
For a dinner entrée, choose from Risotto Altopiano made with Italian carnaroli rice pan sauteed per order with imported speck, asiago, and porcini. This dish was inspired by one of their favorite date nights in Altopiano of Asiago.
Rare to this area will be Wagyu beef on the menu. A succulent Australian wagyu beef strip steak with a silky chianti and Madagascar vanilla sauce.
Chef and Laura are a fantastic couple, and I am fortunate to be able to share their love story. I’ve known them for years and have visited their restaurant on many occasions. Their foods are authentic, delicious and prepared by the incredible chef who grew up in northern Italy. The hospitality is sorprendente [amazing]. Be prepared for a night of romance, Italian delicacies, a become a chapter of their continuing story.
Uptown Grille is located at 141 S. Chestnut St., Chebanse. Call 815-697-9710 for reservations.
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Flight 102 Wine Bar, Bourbonnais, will be celebrating Valentine’s Day Tuesday, Feb. 11. through Saturday, Feb. 15.
Enjoy a delicious tiramisu martini while listening to accomplished pianist Peter Czifra, who will be performing from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14. Chef Peterson will have a special surprise chocolate Valentine’s dessert as well.
On the menu will be lobster sherry bisque; lobster surf and turf with an 8-ounce lobster tail and 6-ounce filet; crab surf and turf with 12-ounce Alaskan king red crab legs with a 6-ounce filet; 1.5 pounds of Alaskan red king crab; a single South African lobster tail, or make that a double.
Reservations are not required, but the owner, Kelly St. Aubin, said, “that we can only take reservations for six or more people.”
Flight 102 Wine Bar is located at 565 Main St. NW, Bourbonnais. Call 815-523-7470. Check out their website and Facebook for more information and specials.