To be completely transparent, I love Chicago. I wasn't born there, but I grew up in the city's northwest suburbs and returned to spend most of the '90s in Chi-Town, working for WGN-TV, then launching my own television show, "Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert." That stretch of seven short, amazing years allowed me to become completely immersed in Chicago's food and wine scene, which was exploding with choices, talent and unparalleled cuisine.
I have a particular fondness for the food, wine and culture of Italy, and mid- to late-'90s Chicago helped feed my Italian appetite. Spiaggia, under then-executive chef Paul Bartolotta, was the greatest Italian restaurant in the country. Coco Pazzo focused on the cuisine of Tuscany like no other venue I've experienced. And over on Halsted, Carlucci's was matching great Italian food with great Italian wine under the direction of general manager Aldo Zaninotto.