On Riccardo Trattoria
As a Chicago food blogger, I’m embarrassed to admit I was shown up by a New Yorker in my own city. Yes, a friend came to visit with one must-go-to restaurant on his list: Riccardo Trattoria, and I had never heard of it. “You’ve never heard of it? All my friends say it’s the best Italian restaurant in Chicago”. Ashamed and dismayed (especially after reading the numerous online reviews that raved about the place), I knew I had to make a reservation to try it on his first night here. And after a pleasing leisurely meal full of friendship rekindling, good wine and even better food, here is what I have to say about Riccardo Trattoria.
One of the most charming parts about this place is the size. When I walked in, I noticed their maximum occupancy sign said 39 people. 39 people? My house could fit more than 39 people. And our dining room is not very big. Obviously there are certain circumstances where a popular restaurant that doesn’t have room for very many people isn’t charming (i.e. cold Chicago winter nights, 1-2 hour waits…) but when you made a reservation and you’re seated right away, it’s really quite nice. I felt like I was in Riccardo’s house at a dinner party where he was serving up some of the very best dishes that Northern Italian cuisine has to offer.
And if it weren’t a business, it really could be considered as such. Riccardo makes all the sauces himself while his wife makes the handmade pastas and desserts. An impressive family-run operation, this handmade work has a big reputation in this city and apparently, beyond.
But first let it be said that any good European meal must be accompanied by a good wine. With a wine list that ranged from $36 a bottle to $500, I can vouch that even the $36 bottles were indeed of great quality. We tried the Dogajolo, Carpineto, Toscana, a mixture of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we ordered our bottle prior to knowing our entree, this red wine went quite well with the entire meal.
The menu was lengthy, complete with daily offerings as well as seasonal rotating specials. When I finally narrowed my choices down to two, I was deciding between the pappardelle Florentine with beef tenderloin ragout or the porcini mushroom risotto (among others). What did I end up with? Scroll down to find out. But first, we indulged in bread with olive oil for dipping (my favorite!) and appetizers. Very delicious appetizers.
Fava beans with black truffle and Tuscan pecorino cheese
I don’t usually think of having fava beans to start my meal, nor do I eat fava beans all that much in general but I’ve learned that if a restaurant like Riccardo Trattoria serves them with truffle and cheese, I will order them. And I will love them too. Warm, tender and coated with delicious truffle flavor, these fava beans made for a comforting appetizer.
Similar recipes: Portuguese Fava Beans,
Buffalo mozzarella “caprese” salad with vine grape tomatoes, olives and capers
On the other side of comforting was our refreshing caprese appetizer. A small collection of fresh mozzarella, tomato halves, olives and capers, this simple salad was elegant, sophisticated and just plain tasty.
Pappardelle “Florentine” with diced beef tenderloin ragout, porcini mushrooms, and chianti sauce
I chose the beef tenderloin ragout with homemade pappardelle over the risotto (but keep reading…) The meat was so tender and the sauce – so rich. Frankly it wasn’t my favorite dish at first but I did take home leftovers and found this dish to be much tastier the next day.
Similar recipe: Pappardelle with Chicken and Mushrooms,
Trofie Genovese with pine nuts and basil pesto
I thought I was educated in the way of pasta vocabulary but Riccardo Trattoria proved me wrong. Pronounced troh-fee-ay, this trofie pasta is compared to a gnocchi (except regular pasta not potato) but designed for serving with pesto. Our waiter informed us that the tube-like shape is supposed to catch the pesto components creating the perfect pesto pasta dish.
Gnocchi Bava – with speck prosciutto and fontina cheese in a pink tomato sauce
David ordered the gnocchi – this potato pasta is always one of his favorites. At first, I was bummed since I really wanted to split the pappardelle and the risotto with him but in retrospect, I’m glad he ordered the gnocchi. Not only did it add the only tomato sauce to our array of dishes, but this was the best gnocchi I think I’ve ever had. It was baked in a casserole dish and topped with cheese. Does it get better than that?
“Galletto alla Diavola” roasted spicy Cornish hen au jus with roasted potatoes
I actually didn’t get to try this dish – but my friend Jill who doesn’t expand her horizons much in the way of flavor really enjoyed this. The simple presentation did it justice too – others at the table kept commenting on how great it looked. And that’s saying a lot when served at the same table as these spectacular pasta dishes.
Porcini Mushroom Risotto with truffle oil
This was certainly the star of the meal for me. I’ve attempted to make risotto at home but this was the first time I’ve had a risotto as creamy as the ones I’ve read about and then some. Laced with porcini mushrooms and my favorite – truffle oil – this mighty mushroom plate of goodness was the best thing I laid eyes on all evening. Since I couldn’t decide between the pappardelle and the risotto, the waiter convinced me to get a half order of the risotto for the table. Everyone who tasted it was very grateful and frankly, we could have used a whole order :)
Like I said, the food overall was delicious. Especially the risotto. I am inspired to try my hand once more at making risotto at home and more importantly ordering it in Italian restaurants more often. I would certainly go back and try some of the other dishes on the menu.
2119 N. Clark Street
To see the full menu, click here.
Here is Harshil (left) – my friend who recommended the restaurant – posing with our waiter (right), who dealt with our indecisiveness and wine badgery quite well.