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Restaurant Sat Jan 25 2014

Cicchetti Delights with Venetian Small Plates

L1000305.jpgCicchetti is an Italian word for a snack or a small bite. In Venice, there is a great tradition of stopping by the local bacaro (Ventian tavern) for a glass of wine and cicchetti, exquisitely-made small plates. It is from this tradition that the new Streeterville restaurant, Cicchetti, was born.

Upon entering Cicchetti, the newest effort from one of the chefs from Trencherman, Michael Sheerin, the first word that enters the mind is warm. The bar and the main entry exude warmth. From the dark-stained timber beam construction to the modernist aesthetic to the backlit bar, the space emanates both charm and sophistication with a tip of the hat to innovation. These themes carry through to the bar menu, the hors d'oeuvres, the main plates and the incredibly interesting desserts by up-and-coming pastry chef Sarah Jordan (formerly of Boka and GT Fish & Oyster, Jordan was named one of the best new pastry chefs by Food and Wine Magazine in 2013).

The bar menu is full of interesting and varied spirits, including a long list of grappas (or fruit brandy) and an extensive list of gins, whiskeys and ryes. The wine list is similarly long and lively.

The servers here at Cicchetti are top notch. Our server was knowledgable about the menu and made excellent recommendations. Some standouts on the appetizer (cicchetti) section of the menu were the warm roasted olives with focaccia and spreads and the charred baby squid. WIth the warm olives, Sheerin hits the right notes of sweet, salty and savory with a selection of picholine, kalamata, and castelvetrano olives that miraculously stayed warm throughout the course. He added to this a voluptuous salted european butter, a sweet and tart kumquat marmalade and a spicy tiny-chopped giardinara. Each bite of the focaccia has a fine crumb and a salty satisfying outer crunch. The charred baby squid was equally delicious. In this dish, charred inky baby squid is paired with perfectly prepared polenta. The rich, creamy and buttery corn flavor pairs excellently with the briny and ocean-forward flavor of the squid.

The favorite dish of the night was a pairing of sunchokes and artichokes with pea shoots in a balsamic caramel. It was an unexpected pairing and they went brilliantly together--the sunchoke's sweetness mixing with the more earthy artichokes. This was set off nicely by the sweet darkness of the balsamic and green flavor of the pea shoots.

From the pasta and risotto menu, we selected the gnocchi with braised pork shank. This dish included buttermilk, celery root, pear and crispy chestnuts. The most unusual flavor combination of the night, this dish was also winning in its use of umami. The tangy buttermilk hit the right notes with the bitter celery root and the sweetness of the pear.
Combined with the heartiness of the pork, the salty crunch of chestnut and perfectly cooked gnocchi, the dish was elegant comfort food. We also had the house specialty, the Venetian seafood stew. Again, flavor combinations ruled with the piquillo peppers, cilantro and mint serving as rich and bright backdrops for the seafood stew.

For a dessert drink, our server recommended the grappa tagliatella, which had wonderful cherry notes that went perfectly with our favorite dessert, the valrhona grand cru gianduja dark chocolate cannoli. With a mixture of ingredients that seems confusing, this dish blends together in a perfect melding of cocoa nibs, rich dark chocolate gelato, sweet potato flan and crunchy gianduja bits. Also worth a mention is the reverse aflogado with malted doughnuts--in its creamy coffee drink with the delicious cinnamon sugar doughnuts. In general, the desserts were outstanding. It makes sense the Sarah Jordan was listed in Food and Wine.

The service at Cicchetti was outstanding. Our server recommended fine wines for each course, the pacing was terrific, and the staff was at the ready, bussing as we finished and providing clean plates for each course.

Overall, the visit to Cicchetti was excellent. If you're shopping on Michigan Avenue or want to make a plan for a delicious dinner in a warm setting, check them out. Highly recommended.

Cicchetti is located at 671 N. St. Clair St. Reservations can be made by calling 312-642-1800 or through opentable.com.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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