Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pasta Up! Where to Carbo Load Before the Chicago Marathon

Who's hungry now? Credit: flavorrelish
Rigatoni, penne, spaghetti. Top those off with a ladle of marinara and you've got yourself an age-old pre-race meal. Whether it's a swim meet, a marathon or an Ironman (or even a long workout), we eat that pasta to carbo-load and give our bodies the energy they need to power through those events. Yep, it wasn't just my Italian heritage that dictated pasta before every single swim meet (even if it meant eating at 3 p.m.), there was a plan to the carbohydrate loads. Though maybe it was a swimmer thing? When I chatted with Dr. Andy Baldwin after the Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon, he said he ate it too--and still favors his mom's pasta dinner before a big race.

But there is a right way to feast on pasta effectively. This Health.com article doesn't suggest gorging at the pasta dinner--you could face some indigestion that'll rear its ugly face while running (I've been there, it's not pleasant)--but it is OK to eat that pasta until you're full. Given that we burn roughly 100 calories every mile of the marathon, you're going to need that fuel in the morning.

One problem for those running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7: You're not going to find a race-organized pasta dinner (I swear Dominick's used to sponsor one at the Hilton Chicago back in the day, though). With a 45,000-runner field, can you blame them? Lucky for us, there are plenty of places to pasta up in the Windy City--and eat in general. But what's even better is that October happens to be National Pizza and Pasta Month (hmm, do you think the marathons and restaurants joined forces to make that happen?). As a result, some Chicago restaurants are offering dining specials that highlight their pastas.

  • ItaliAsia. Want to learn how to make your own pasta. If you're local or in town early for the marathon, you can on Thursday, October 4. ItaliAsia's Chef de Cuisine Johnny Foster will teach guests how to make ravioli, pappadelle and bowtie pastas. It's free, plus you can sample some seasonal dishes and wine pairings. Located at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza, the event runs from 6-8 p.m. Contact italiasia@martplaza.com to save a spot.
  • Quartino Ristorante. Specializing in small plates, you'll be treated to homemade pastas by Executive Chef John Coletta. Yummy! Some seasonal highlights include gnocchi with green beans, potatoes, arugula pesto, and pork stock; fettuccine with organic tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil; and Pappardelle al Sugo di Manzo (this one is just as good the next day).
  • Rosebud Restaurants. With six restaurants sharing the Rosebud namesake--plus three in the suburbs--and another named Carmine's (nearly the same menu), you practically can't walk around downtown Chicago without coming across one of these Italian steakhouses. Their traditional pasta dish? The pappardelle original homemade square noodles in rich tomato basil sauce--and you can have it for lunch or dinner.
  • Tavern on Rush. Admittedly, I had no idea this Gold Coast spot that always draws a crowd, served pasta dishes. It is, after all, next door to Carmine's. Or maybe it's because the pasta dishes have international flair. Executive Chef John Gatsos is inspired by global flavors and ingredients, which shows in the Firecracker Grilled Chicken Pasta tossed with cilantro pesto, roasted red peppers, sweet corn and whole wheat spaghetti; Shrimp Cipriani with ribbon noodles, tomato cognac sauce and jumbo shrimp; and Rigatoni with Sausage & Peppers. 
Been there, done that? Chicago's far from shy on its Italian offerings. The Mia Francesca family, Piccolo Sogno and now Due, the trio that comprises the Italian Village, and any of the Lettuce Entertain You options--Maggiano's, Osteria Via Stato, Scoozi (my college roommate's fave), Frankie's--and I could go on. Then there's the obvious: Go cruise Little Italy on Taylor Street. Scout the 17th and 18th miles, roughly, of the marathon course, and grab a bite to eat.

Where--and what--are you eating the night before the marathon?

Photo grabbed from flavorrelish at flickr.

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