DavidAllen | Chicago Reader

Recent Reviews

Re: “Riccardo Trattoria

In some ways I don’t want to write this review. Right now you can get a table here, but if it gets out just how good this place is, it might get a bit more difficult! But they deserve the success, so here it is.

I have eaten here several times, and I can categorically say that this is the best, most authentic, northern Italian restaurant I have been to in the US. I have spent a great deal of time traveling around Italy, and this is the only restaurant in the States that I have been to that captures the true essence of Italian cuisine. Riccardo is a true Italian, who understands that Italian cooking is not about quantity, complexity or red sauces but about the use of a few, high quality, fresh ingredients used to complement each other.

The selection of antipasti is typical of good restaurants in metropolitan northern Italy. The beef carpaccio and grilled sea scallops are definitely worth a try. The insalate are simple and not overpowered with standard Americanized dressings, but the simple, quality dressings used in Italy to enhance the dish. Try the ruccula (arugula) salad with artichokes, shaved Parmesan, and a lemon vinaigrette – a truly fantastic combination which reminded me of the best salad I ever tasted, in a small restaurant in Verona.

There are nods to some of the better Anglo-American eating habits – one of the best of which is that you can order almost any of the fantastic pasta dishes as a starter, even though they are listed as primi. The lobster and crab ravioli and the orechiette with wild boar sausage being especially good, however the best I had here was a special of farfalle with venison ragu (if that is on the menu, get it and your taste buds will love you forever). The risotti are all extremely good. Risotto is such an undervalued dish in both the US and UK – try it here with the porcini and truffle oil and you will realize just how much.

The secondi are again typically northern Italian. Veal of course features, but most of the dishes are the sort of things that you will not see often in the US, but are common place in Italy. Typically Tuscan, game features heavily. Venison and pheasant are part of the standard menu, often joined by duck, rabbit and wild boar specials. The porchetta is also excellent. Pesce appears, but is not a major part of the menu, as is normal in Tuscan cuisine. The piece de résistance however, which proves the restaurants Tuscan origins beyond question is the tripe. In Tuscany tripe is served by street vendors pushing carts, but Riccardo Trattoria is the only Italian restaurant that I know of in Chicago that serves it (by the way, I don’t like tripe, but many do).

The vegetable side dishes are small and simple. If they have a fava or cannellini bean dish on, try it for a truly authentic Tuscan experience.

Believe it or not, Italians are not renowned for their complex desserts (or bread for that matter); that is a development of Italians living in the US and UK who have adopted French deserts and baking. Riccardo has more choices than would typically be found in Italy, but none of them are overly complex. Fresh fruit, cheesecake, and gelato are typical.

The wine list is small but well chosen and very well priced. None of the wines disappoint, but the objective is not to provide an expensive oenophile experience. In fact, that is one of the things that really makes Riccardo Trattoria stand out. Riccardo has attempted (and in my opinion achieved) to create the sort of neighborhood restaurant he could find in his native Tuscany. The feel of the restaurant is informal and friendly, where the emphasis is on the food. The staff are attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, and try to cater for the customer's wishes as much as possible.

The only weak area I have found is that of after-dinner cheeses and drinks. There is a standard selection of Italian cheeses, not a selection of individual chesses (or types) to suit your taste and the Pecorino is from Romano not Sardegna (this is such a small point, but hey I am finding it hard to find anything wrong). The after-dinner drinks are somewhat lacking. There is no port (or portlike) option, and there are better digestifs available (such as Mirtillo). But when I say these are the only weak areas, it really puts it into perspective just how good this restaurant is.

1 like, 2 dislikes
Posted by David Allen on 05/31/2007 at 1:04 AM

Re: “Shaw's Crab House

If you’re after old school, understated, luxury dining then Shaw’s is definitely worth considering. Specializing in fish dishes, particularly oysters, crab, and lobster, the restaurant also offers a choice of steak. A party of three, we started the evening with a round of well-mixed gin and tonics and one of the house specialty martinis. For the meal we started with a bowl of lobster bisque (a little too much tomato and not enough cream for my taste), an oyster platter (with a selection of different oysters), and a salad. All were well prepared and the oysters were particularly good. For the main course we selected a ‘turf and surf’, a ‘surf and surf’ (a combination of fish and shellfish), and a daily fish special. All were excellent, perfectly cooked and interesting. My fish was particularly good, with the very fresh fish cooked to perfection and crusted with pine nuts and served with a sauce. To accompany this we selected a good un-oaked Californian Chardonnay with the waitress's assistance, which whilst very good did not much up to some light European examples. For dessert we tried a selection of sorbets followed by coffee and liqueurs.

The service was excellent, informed and attentive, without being overbearing.

Considering the quality of the food and service, the décor, the overall experience, and the amount of alcohol we ordered, the $400 price tab represent good value. I would certainly recommend this restaurant for a business dinner or to take a date if you want to be knowledgeable but not pretentious.

Posted by David Allen on 12/06/2005 at 10:38 AM

Re: “Twisted Spoke

What can I say about the Twisted Spoke? Really a bar that serves good bar food, the décor is deliberately ‘grungy’ following a biker theme, though there are few true bikers here! It is always busy, too busy really for the number of wait staff they have, who work tirelessly to try to server everyone in a reasonable time. We went for the Sunday brunch, for which it is renowned. The Bloody Marys (with a beer chaser) are legendary and are a meal in themselves, and the bar staff make them continuously. For brunch (available every lunchtime), the best options are the excellent egg dishes. Particularly good is the fried egg sandwich, the breakfast burrito and the steak end eggs, but I have been reliably informed that every egg dish is excellent! Seating large parties inside can be a little problematic and may involve a wait, but is usually fine on the rooftop terrace which is open during the summer, and even during fall if the weather is fine. The bar is also renowned for the number of bourbons it offers, and these are all half price on Wednesdays. Beware (or not!) that on Saturday evenings they cover up the windows and at the stroke of midnight, show hard-core porn on all the TV screens!!

Once you’ve discovered this place, it will become THE place to come to recover and restore your constitution and make it though the day, after a good night out.

Posted by David Allen on 11/11/2005 at 3:56 PM

Re: “Cafe Bolero

This is a great little restaurant in the Bucktown area. The staff were friendly and our waitress was extremely attentive.

The food was excellent, providing a mixture of authentic South American cuisine, despite billing itself as a Cuban restaurant. There was live music in the back room, where there was a cute little bar and tables where groups were eating, whilst the front area was quieter and had tables that could be arranged for larger parties, so you can select an ambiance to suite your mood. I would certainly recommend it for a fun night of eating and drinking, but the back area may be a little noisy for a romantic night out.

Posted by David Allen on 11/11/2005 at 3:37 PM


Posted by David Allen on 10/19/2005 at 5:10 PM

All Reviews »

Favorite Places

  • None.
Find places »

Saved Events

  • Nada.
Find events »

Saved Stories

  • Nope.
Find stories »

Custom Lists

  • Zip.