Posts Tagged ‘Cibo Matto’

Buon Appetito – Our Favorite Italian Restaurants

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

we say:

Supposedly, if you give a baby hundreds of toys to choose from, he’ll get totally overwhelmed and not play with a single one.  We, like spoiled rotten babies, have had a similar reaction to reviewing Chicago’s Italian restaurants.  Chicago is home to some of the best Italian cuisine in the country, but where do we begin when there are literally thousands of Italian restaurants, one on almost every corner?  And how can we compare a place like Spiaggia to a neighborhood osteria?  And what about pizza? Pizza!  And how many Italian restaurant reviews will you, our friends, read before you fall asleep or abandon us forever?  Life is so complicated; we’ll just do our best and hope you like us anyway.  Andiamo.

Our Top Five:

  1. Enoteca Roma (Wicker Park) – We love this small, somewhat low-key (for Wicker Park) eatery for its incredibly flavorful bruschettas, cheeses and pastas.  We love the family-style approach and the way they pour their polenta onto marble slabs.  We love their patio too.   Really though, there’s no trick to why they’re first on our list; the food is superior and that’s what matters.
  2. Rose Angelis (Lincoln Park) - We doubt you’ll find this one on many other Best Italian lists, but you should.  It’s hard to beat Rose Angelis’  huge portions of hearty, homemade pasta.   Formerly the first floor of a home, the cozy layout and setting will charm your pants off (they’ll already be unbuttoned to make room for your pasta baby).  As impossible as it may seem, try to leave room for one of their spectacular desserts.
  3. Piccolo Sogno (River West) – A “little dream” come true.  This upscale Northern Italian restaurant’s menu is as fabulous as its decor.  An impressive place to take out-of-towners, but make your reservation well in advance.  Their mozzarella cheese melts on the tongue and their wine list is impeccable.  They use authentic ingredients combined in wonderful ways, presented artfully.  If you go to their website, be prepared to rock out to some dramatic Italian crooning that starts off like a smooth jazz rendition of the theme song from St. Elmo’s Fire.
  4. Anteprima (Andersonville) - This one almost didn’t make the cut because one of us finds it underwhelming, but here it is, numero quattro, and nobody has to sleep on the couch.  Everyone’s a winner!  Anteprima serves rustic Italian dishes with local, seasonally-inspired ingredients.  The atmosphere is warm and cheerful and totally unpretentious.  They also make their own limoncello. Yum.
  5. Cibo Matto (Loop) and Pelago (Gold Coast) – Between these two, it’s toss up.  Both are trendy and oozing with swank.  Cibo Matto is located in the ultra-hip Wit hotel; Pelago in the boutique Raffaello Hotel.  Cibo Matto is over-the-top stylish while Pelago is more reserved and sophisticated.  Both serve Italian gourmet with a modern twist.  We suggest the Pollo a Griglia at Cibo Matto and the fettuccine with truffles at Pelago.

Our Favorites (In A League of Their Own):

Our Favorite Neapolitan-style (woodfire oven) PizzaAntica Pizzeria (Andersonville)

Our Favorite Italian Sandwiches – Narrowly beating out the neighborhood fave, Piatto Pronto (Edgewater) is L’Apetito Imported Italian Foods (Near North Side).   Check out this Italian deli and delicacy store and get an amazing sandwich to go.  Avoid the tourist trap in the Hancock and stop by the deli in the cathedral district. We suggest Il Parma. It’s topped with the best fresh mozzarella to squeeze it’s way between two slices of bread.

Our favorite Italian Chicagoan – This Guy:

We’re still in search of our favorite gelato.  Got tips?

If we missed one of your faves, use the comment section to let us know.  We’d love to try it …  or tell you why we omitted it (probably because of the weird smell and the cockroaches).  In the meantime, we’ll just be sitting here, staring at our toys and throwing temper tantrums.

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.