Riccardo Trattoria is one of the first restaurants Cheryl and I went to in Chicago. She was doing her business school summer internship here and I came for a weeklong visit (my first trip ever to Chicago). Knowing Chicago was a great culinary city I did some research. I wanted to take her to a really nice place with good food. She was living in Lincoln Park at the time so my research on Chicago Foodies turned up Riccardo Trattoria. We went and have been huge fans of the restaurant ever since. It’s our usual choice for birthdays, anniversaries, and special events. We associate good times with it because the food is so damn good!
A couple of things about Riccardo Trattoria. Reservations are a must. It’s a smallish space and the dining room is always full. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to walk in but I wouldn’t try it. The restaurant is also on the Chicago Michelin Bib Gourmand list. How Michelin has not seen fit to give them a star is beyond me, but the restaurant is on the list for its prix fixe menu. $35 for a glass of prosecco, 1st course, 2nd course and dessert, and your choices are bountiful. We always look at that menu and wonder why we’ve never done the prix fixe. Then we look at the specials and the rest of the menu and remember why. We’ve traveled around Italy a bit, Como, Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Praiano (I’ve also been to Assisi and Orvieto), and can honestly say the dinners we’ve eaten at Riccardo compare with some of the best dinners we’ve had in Italy. If you want Italian dining like you’d get in Italy, go to Riccardo. Oh and they have the best panna cotta I’ve ever had!
Like I said, special occasions are reserved for Riccardo Trattoria and since Thursday was Cheryl’s birthday I made a reservation for our favorite place. Once again, we were not disappointed! I got there early and our server for the evening, Dario, came over and commented he hadn’t seen me in a while. See, this is one reason I really like this small place, they remember you. Or at least give you the impression they do! Either way it’s a nice beginning to an evening.
While waiting I ordered a cocktail, a Negroni, and they knew how to make it. When Dario brought it over he said he made it the original way with gin. Of course he did! Just another small thing they get right here. This is something I don’t understand about cocktails. Vodka gets put into everything. Actually I do understand it, people have had such horribly made gin cocktails they avoid gin and that’s a shame (don’t get me started on vodka “martinis”). Gin cocktails, when made correctly, are delicious. With a Negroni I think it’s the bitter campari that gives people pause but I like them. My cocktail was balanced nicely and tasted great.
And once again we looked at the prix fixe menu, thought about ordering it, and went with the specials instead. Cheryl had an order of cecina, a chick pea flour flatbread with speck and cheese for her appetizer and I went with the winter truffle special. Black truffles shaved over your choice of tagliolini, risotto, or polenta with fried egg. I kept it simple and had the tagliolini with butter. If you’ve read any earlier posts of mine you know how I feel about truffles! So awesome! If it were socially acceptable I would have licked the bowl clean. Cheryl’s was really good too! I’d never had cecina before and found it very light but really tasty. Add some ham and cheese and of course you’ve got a winning combination.
We stuck with the specials for our entrees too. One dish I love here that is on the regular menu is their osso bucco. It comes with the traditional pairing of risotto Milanese and the veal is fall-off-the-bone tender. As much as it pained me though I ordered something different and had the baccala Milanese, breaded salt cod with tomatoes and capers. My grandmother used to make baccala for Christmas Eve dinner (in a different way though) so I was excited to see it on the menu. You just don’t see it on menus that often. It was delicious. Cheryl had an order of paccheri, large hollow tube shaped pasta, with a lamb sausage ragout and leeks, fava beans, saffron sauce, and pecorino. Also very delicious. We also had a side of spinach sautéed with garlic. Why can’t I ever make spinach this good? It’s such a simple preparation!
For dessert we had some the previously mentioned panna cotta, which comes with a passion fruit coulis. Since I let him know it was Cheryl’s birthday Dario brought it out with a lit candle. Another nice, small touch which makes dining here such a great experience.
Almost forgot to tell you about the wine! I believe we had a bottle of Poggiotondo red, which was a blend of sangiovese, merlot, and syrah. Very good. They have a really nice wine list which I think is all Italian wines. I’d recommend taking a look at their list before coming so you can familiarize yourself with it and do some research.
To finish off the evening I enjoyed a nice digestivo of amaro Montenegro. One of my favorites. I was turned on to amaro by a tour guide in Italy when I was on a group trip and we were in Orvieto (great white wines there). It was cold and rainy that day but the lunch we had was amazing (yes truffles were involved). Our guide ordered some amaro and asked me if I wanted to try some, saying it was always good to have some after a big meal. I’ve found he’s right about that. It’s a very nice way to end a lunch or dinner.
Now that I think about it, I’m selfishly sort of glad Michelin hasn’t attracted too much attention to Riccardo Trattoria. If the Michelin star-gazing “foodies” started coming we might not be able to continue to enjoy this cozy friendly Italian restaurant that could easily exist a side street of Milan as it does in a tucked-away corner of Lincoln Park. Grazie mille!
Happy Birthday Cheryl!