I often hear people say they love the city, but wouldnít raise children here. In fact, Iím sure Iíve said that on occasion. Sarah Levy was a city kid. And at 24 years old sheís confident but not cocky. Kind, but not saccharine. Energetic, even a bit bubbly, but not in that maddening, "Oh, my cat got run over today but I am just so happy that she had a good life" kind of way.
Sarah suggested we have tea at one of her favorite spots, Pierrot Gourmet, at The Peninsula Hotel (108 E. Superior). Chatting away, we quickly discovered that our birthdays were mere days apart, albeit separated by a decade. I could have sworn my friends said "Happy 28th" as I blew my candles out the night before. Champagne, sake and wine can cloud oneís reality.
The daughter and niece of the Levy Restaurant founders, Sarah inherited a passion for food, entrepreneurship, diligence and good old-fashioned hard work. Unlike many young adults with means, Sarah isnít biding her time en route to being a "lady who lunches."
Educated at Francis Parker, Northwestern and the French Pastry School, Sarah has literally melted her experiences and talents into Sarah's Pastries & Candies, Inc, a company she founded a bit over a year ago that will grace its first storefront in August at 11 E. Oak. In the meantime, when a chocolate craving hits Sarah's handmade candies can be found at Whole Foods, Urban Epicure, Oliviaís Market and Gourmet 47 among others, as well as online.
Generously, Sarah brought me a bag of her edible goodies. Even though I had just noshed on a piece of decadent flourless chocolate cake, I began to nibble while cursing Michigan Avenue's rush hour traffic. Soon my nibbling turned into devouring. Damn traffic. Hey Mayor Daley, decorating Touristville with flowers is fab, but how about fixing the bloody car congestion?
Okay, I have a bit of a chocolate-loving problem and it's not Mayor Daley's fault. Sorry, your honor. It's Sarah's fault for thoughtfully hand-dipping those candies. The finest and freshest nuts, caramel and crisp rice all glued together by that wonderfully melted chocolate. Oh, so good. On to Sarah's idea of Chicago goodness:
A hidden gem(s) in Chicago that you know about, but most may not?
Anna Kay Skincare (100 E. Walton). For waxing, see Lana; Mara for facials. For some of the best and cheap take out, I love CW Napkin (4443 N. Sheridan). I grew up on it. Iíve never actually eaten there but for delivery itís the best. They have great teriyaki chicken and even the pizza is good. Also, I donít think many people know about Kyoto for sushi. Thatís where I had sushi for the first time. Itís really good and very, very reasonable.
Starbucks, neighborhood cafe or home brew?
Iím currently reading the Starbucks book ["Pour Your Heart into It" by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz], so lately I've had this thing for Starbucks. I donít drink caffeine, so I always order the vanilla steamed milk. Or I get, and this is actually my only caffeine exception, the chai tea latte. Sienna Coffee, across the street from Francis Parker, that's where I first got addicted to the chai tea lattes. I really do like Unicorn Cafe in Evanston. I do like to go to the smaller cafes because as a small business I know how tough it can be.
If you werenít creating pastries & candies, what would you like to try?
The only other thing besides cooking that I have always wanted to do is to be a singer/dancer. Iím not a good dancer at all, but I love do dance. To celebrate my birthday, weíre going to go to Four because you can dance there. Last weekend we went to Reserve. They play really good music and itís not clubby. Itís more lounge-like.
Thank you notes. Handwritten, email or never?
Handwritten thank you notes. My mom taught me that and nowadays itís so appreciated because everyone emails thank you's and sends email cards. Iím big on thank you notes. I get my stationary from Carnegie Printers (913 N. State), itís where I buy my [product] labels. They have great stationary. I also really like Paper Source (232 W. Chicago).
What's your favorite indulgence(s) under $20?
Italian ice at Annette's. It's really, really good. We always had it growing up. And, the black & while cookies at Olivia's Market. They fly them in from New York. It just looks like a regular hard cookie, but it's like a little, really moist cake with half black, half white frosting. It's amazing and is only $2. And, for a good, cheap manicure Princess Nails (8 E. Chestnut). For really great plain cotton tees under $20, American Apparel (1563 N. Milwaukee).
What's your favorite dish when dining out?
My favorites are Italian and sushi. I'm biased, but Cafe Spiaggia has this really good trout. If Iím trying to be healthy I'll order the trout. They also have this great cheese ravioli served with veal ragu. I also love Sushi Wabi. I think their rolls are the best. I always order spider rolls. But, I also just went to Katsu.
Drink that proves the wonder of alcohol?
Oh, the sake bomb. You know, when you pour the sake into the beer. We love doing the sake bombs at Jia's.
What local boutique(s) shows up most often on your credit card bill?
Sugar Magnolia (34 E. Oak) and Saks Off Fifth at Old Orchard Mall. I discovered that when I was in college.
You need a bottle of wine. Do you, hit the corner market and make your selection based on the prettiest label or peruse you own collection?
I really like House of Glunz (1206 N. Wells). I recently went to a wine tasting there and got a couple of really great bottles of wine (from Savannah Chanelle Vineyards a 2001 Armagh Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir). Sam's Wines and Spirits also has such a huge selection and they know everything. I got a bottle of Muscato there. It's the best dessert wine.
Most over-rated Chicago venue?
Rockit Bar & Grill. I just donít get it. I go there and am like, what am I supposed to do?
If you were a Chicago venue and writing a review about yourself what words would be most apropos?
Fun, comfortable and not pretentious.
Take your tea with milk or sugar at the Pierrot Gourmet; 108 E. Superior; (312) 573-6749. Tea is served daily from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Jennifer Wennig delights in the wonder of tea and conversation every other Tuesday in Tea @ 3. If you know someone that she should know, please email her.