Posts Tagged ‘burrata cheese’

Cibo Matto, Downtown Chicago

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

he said:

When we first walked in to Cibo Matto, my friend Joe leaned over and quipped, “This place is pretty trendy right now. Let’s hope it’s good.” I silently agreed.  I don’t know why, but I have an inherent distrust of trendy restaurants. In my mind, when I hear trendy I think, “too much presentation, not enough preparation.”

Cibo Matto is located in the Wit Hotel, below their hyped rooftop bar.  The Gal and I tend to enjoy restaurants that serve up great food in an unpretentious environment, and Cibo Matto, with its dazzling décor, did not seem to fall into this category at first blush.

But I had no need to worry. From the attentive service to the lovingly prepared dishes, this was a great dinner.

Our group started with a round of appetizers. The sea scallops, served on top of a celery root puree,  were tender and fresh, a really good dish even though I don’t like seafood much. The burrata, beet and arugula salad was also really good.

“How’d They Do That?” Grilled Chicken

My main dish was surprising. I ordered Pollo a Griglia, grilled chicken. I figured it would be good because grilled chicken is almost always good. Often forgettable, but good. Cibo Matto’s grilled chicken wasn’t forgettable in the slightest.

The main thing that stands out is how crispy and salty the skin was.  That was balanced by meat that was really tender and moist. Rarely do I find myself wondering how a certain effect was achieved, but I was wondering how the chef pulled off this feat.  I heard a rumor that it’s baked with pancetta.

Don’t Forget Dessert

By the time our entrée dishes were cleared, I thought I was done with surprises. But the desserts had more in store for me. It was a pretty straightforward menu, with gelatos, sorbets and a chocolate tort, but they were all delicious. The honey gelato especially was unlike anything I’d ever had before.

When we left, we weren’t talking about how trendy the restaurant was at all. We were talking about how wonderful our meals were. And how we’d like to come back.

she said:

Cibo Matto means, in Italian, “crazy feast.”* Did our meals live up to the name?  Were they, as promised, crazy?  I suppose not, but I will say this, Cibo Matto is doing something very different with Italian food and I’m pretty damn impressed.

For my entrée, I ordered the Caramelli.  Caramelle, in Italian, means candy.  Caramelle pasta resembles a piece of candy wrapped in plastic.  The one pictured to the right isn’t from Cibo Matto.  Mine was stuffed with burrata cheese, lined up in a row, and tossed in braised  lemon peel, diced asparagus, garlic and olive oil.  It was delightful.  I now will employ a new adjective, one that I’ve never used to describe pasta.  Drumroll, please…My pasta was refreshing.

I also tried the risotto, which was gorgeously buttery and saffrony.

And the desserts.  Oh Lord, the desserts.  We ordered several for the table; it was our dear friend Chrissie’s birthday.  The gelatos and sorbets are homemade.  I second the honey gelato recommendation and would add the bitter chocolate gelato and mint sorbet, but only if you combine them in your mouth.  Think frozen Thin Mint.  The Tutti Frutti, a white mousse dish, was less remarkable.

If you can actually find a place to stand (sitting won’t be possible), have a nightcap on the rooftop bar.  It offers an impressive view of the city.

Both Cibo Matto and the bar have garnered the kind of trendy hype that illicits foodie backlash.  I’ve read a ton of bad reviews and I admit, the whole experience is pretty swanky.  Even the bathroom sinks are hip.  I enjoyed our visit despite of all this because the food was exquisite and inventive.

*I love me some Italian food.  I lived in Italy, for the love of Pete.  However, there are very few Italian dishes that I would define as “crazy,” whether I’m in an American-Italian pizza parlor or an itty-bitty restaurant in Sicily that serves, exclusively, horse.  Often, Italian dishes surprise and delight me.  Rarely are they crazy.  In fact, the only time I’ve used that adjective to describe food was at Moto.

Green Zebra, West Town

Friday, January 15th, 2010

he said:

Feeling a little full of toxins after our Christmas and New Years celebrating, my beautiful girlfriend and I wanted to go out to a healthy dinner. Also, we wanted it to be just the two of us. Holiday parties are fun and waist-expanding, but a little one-on-one time was needed as well.

So we chose Green Zebra based on the fact that it was vegetarian. Should be fairly healthy, right?

Not so green when you’re driving in circles

First things first, this place is really hard to find. My lovely and talented girlfriend had just gotten me an iPhone for Christmas, and we were using the map function to get us there, but that still didn’t help. We drove in circles looking for an unmarked door. If she hadn’t been there already and remembered what it looked like, we may never have found it.

Maybe a little valet would help, too. Not a lot of parking in the neighborhood.

So we finally find the spot, and I’m unimpressed as we walk in. The place looks like it’s an old set from Miami Vice. Too be fair, it doesn’t have as much neon.

Great vegetarian food

But once the food started coming out, I was happy. Being new to eating whole meals that do not include a slaughtered animal, I’m always a little concerned when I go to a place that has just vegetarian options. I need not worry, I always enjoy these restaurants.

And Green Zebra was very good. We started with a burrata cheese course that had tangerines, pumpernickel crumbs, and a salted cucumber that was the highlight of the meal. I don’t know the difference between salted cucumber and pickle, but it tasted different and it was delicious.

That first course was the highlight of the whole meal for me. I had a parsnip and leek soup that was great on a cold night and wonderfully creamy. The faro risotto was a little dry and too straightforward to be memorable.

And the last course I had was warm braised artichoke and beet salad. I thought I might be getting a salad, for some reason. But it was a pasta dish. Well, I get why the call it a salad, based on the ingredients, but it looked and tasted like pasta. I really liked it, though, and would definitely recommend it.

I don’t know if we accomplished our goal of eating smarter—we had a big meal. But I’m sure we ate healthier than we have been. And I know we ate very well at Green Zebra.

she said:

First, a confession. I ducked out on the parking fiasco. I was trying to look all cute for our date so I wore high heels, which is just plain stupid during the winter in Chicago. He dropped me off at the front door because he’s nice.

Green Zebra is, indeed, a mostly vegetarian restaurant, but by no means is it a restaurant designed to impress only vegetarians. The food is exquisite, artfully prepared and presented. It’s gourmet without pretense (and that goes for the service too). You’re encouraged to order 3-4 plates; the menu is visually separated into categories so you pick one dish per category. The plates are small (because small is big these days), but satisfying, and the food is mostly organic and locally grown. There are usually 1-2 meat options (chicken or fish), which, to me, feels like an unnecessary fail-safe against warding off skeptical vegephobics.

For my first dish, I ordered a shaved papaya and salted mango salad, which was good but not amazing, in part because the description created an expectation that the dish didn’t meet. The salad was mostly greens and if I hadn’t been told, I’d have had no idea papayas or mangos were present. I also had the sunchoke ravioli with a poached quail egg – yum – and the celery root crepe – double yum. Two thumbs up for creative approaches to winter vegetables.

I second Guy’s praise of the burrata cheese dish. The cheese was buttery and smooth with unique accompaniments. As for the decor, it’s not particularly appealing to me either. They’re going for super modern, but ended up with posh Floridian hotel lobby. You’ll get over it (if that’s necessary) with your first bite. Or your first sip. Though the cocktail selection didn’t jump off the page to either of us, the wine list is top notch.