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Food fans can vacation vicariously this summer by dining at local destinations

Food fans can vacation vicariously this summer by dining at local destinations

As someone who loves to travel, I dream of getaways to other continents with breathtaking scenery, exotic cultures, and artisan-produced food and wine. At the moment, though, the harsh realities of rising inflation, an unfavorable exchange rate and dwindling savings are forcing me, along with many other Americans, to confine vacations and leisure time pursuits to attractions closer to home.

While waiting for the economy to turn around, I’ve decided to make the most of the enticing diversions of “sweet home Chicago.” In addition to its great lakefront, cultural amenities, free music festivals and Magnificent Mile shopping, Chicago offers a wide variety of restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world.

Recently, lunch at La Madia, an Italian-inspired pizzeria and wine bar, brought to mind the delightful little Enoteca Bacchus in San Remo on the Italian Riviera, which I visited a few years ago. Thin-crust pizzas topped with various seasonal vegetables, house-made fennel sausage or, my favorite, the Parma classic—mozzarella, arugula and prosciutto—accompanied by a crisp Pinot Grigio, transported me, if ever so briefly, to the Mediterranean.

On another occasion, Fuego, a lively Mexican grill, transformed the suburban sidewalks of Arlington Heights into a restaurant that could have been in the heart of Mexico. The extensive and authentic menu, along with a remarkable list of sipping tequilas and a festive atmosphere, brought me back to memorable experiences I’ve had on a half-dozen south-of-the-border trips. Fuego’s wide-ranging menu encompasses everything from chuletas Oaxaca, grilled pork chops covered in house-made mole sauce, to huachinango a la Veracruzana, red snapper sautéed with green olives, capers, tomato and cilantro sauce.

Ethnic restaurants featuring cuisines of many countries I’ve yet to visit also entice. I’ve never been to Japan, but the new Ajasteak, a combination sushi bar and steakhouse in the hip Dana Hotel and Spa in River North, dazzled my imagination. Menu highlights include a refreshing lobster and Thai-basil salad with enoki mushrooms and truffle vinaigrette, and Kobe beef filet mignon.

Full-flavored and varied Indian dishes beckon me to add India to my “must-see” list. Two local restaurants I’ve visited recently, Vermilion and Veerasway, gave me some intriguing tastes of that fascinating country. Vermilion’s contemporary takes on traditional fare, with lamb chops seared in the tandoor or chile-glazed blackened tamarind ribs, make me want to catch the next flight to Mumbai.

The main thing missing from these restaurant experiences is the sound of other languages being spoken around me. But this summer I need merely to step out of my office building to find many international tourists speaking several languages. Hopefully, when they aren’t sightseeing, they are enjoying Chicago’s restaurants as much as I am.

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