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David Lissner
for restaurants

Round, red, ripe, juicy …

Tomato slices

Each August, during La Tomatina in Brunol, Spain, near Valencia, tens of thousands of people from around the world converge to throw tomatoes at each other, splattering 100 metric tons of the fruit over the streets.

What a waste! Here in Chicago, we can do better things with tomatoes … like eat them! There’s no better time to enjoy tomatoes than August, when the locally grown crop reminds you of what tomatoes are really all about — not an afterthought to garnish a sandwich or salad, but a center-of-the-plate, luscious treat.

Here are the best of the bushel of tomato-time events going on at restaurants around town:

    • Pane Caldo, Gold Coast, Thursday, Aug. 20–Wednesday, Aug. 26.

      Pane Caldo’s Worldwide Heirloom Tomato Festival features free tastes of Chef Maurice Bonhomme’s creamy tomato-and-mustard gazpacho for all diners, plus his menu of heirloom-tomato dishes ranging from special bloody marys to tomato desserts, including such Northern Italian dishes as frog legs and heirloom tomatoes, tomato risotto and gnocchi with tomatoes, nuts and truffles.

    • Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, Lincoln Park, “Show Me Your Tomatoes!” Festival Thursday, Aug. 20–Wednesday, Aug. 26; contest, Saturday, Aug. 22.

      Chef Tim Cottini offers new tomato-based dishes, including drinks and desserts. On Saturday, gardeners are invited to bring in their home-grown tomatoes and compete to see who has the largest, heaviest or ugliest. the gardener of the tastiest tomato wins a trip for two to Las Vegas. (Contestants must register in advance.)

    • Tapas Valencia, South Loop, and Meson Sabika, Naperville, Tomato Fest through Aug. 31; tomato dinners, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, at Tapas Valencia, and Wednesday, Aug. 26, at Meson Sabika, $45.

      These sibling Spaniards fete the La Tomatina with $3 bloody marys daily and a range of specials, plus special five-course dinners with wine pairings. The dinner menu includes gazpacho Andaluz, charcoal-grilled plum tomatoes topped with asparagus wrapped in imported Serrano ham; and paella mariscos with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, tomato puree and mixed vegetables.

    • Carlucci, Downers Grove, Tomato Fest through Aug. 31; tomato cooking class, 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, $50.

      Tomato dishes at wallet-friendly prices ($5.95–$12.95) during Carlucci’s Tomato Fest include chilled gazpacho with spicy marinated baby shrimp, fresh tomato tart with basil-garlic crust, fried green tomatoes with arugula pesto and cherry tomato relish, an heirloom tomato stuffed with angel-hair pasta with salsa cruda and an heirloom tomato, peach and plum crisp with pine nut-almond topping and basil ice cream. If you eat on the patio on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, you can hear live music by Frank and Dave, Eric Howell, Opal Staples and others.

      Chef Kevin Provenzano also teaches a class on tomato cooking featuring, among other recipes, his grandmother’s panzanella salad and pasta made from scratch. After class, students get to eat the dishes they helped create, paired with wine.

    • Eivissa, Old Town, Wednesday, Aug. 26–Sunday, Sept. 27.

      In honor of La Tomatina, Chef Dudley Nieto showcases tomatoes in dishes like amarillo, yellow-tomato gazpacho with cucumber, serrano ham and peppers; cazuela de res, braised short ribs with tomatoes and tempranillo sauce; and galleta, chocolate cake with marcona almond nuggets and tomato chutney. Nieto toasts the season with a zesty tomato-themed cocktail, The Tomatina (vodka, crushed tomatoes, black pepper, habanera sauce, lime and parsley).

    • Green City Market, Lincoln Park, 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 26.

      Chefs Ron Aleman of Aria in the Loop, Brian Millman of Uncommon Ground in Edgewater and Carol Wallack of Sola in North Center showcase farm-fresh tomatoes in this month’s “Savor the Seasons.” Samples, tips, techniques and educational materials feature.