Friday, March 5, 2010
Chicago 2010: cibo matto (The Wit)
I finally had the occasion to try the oft-recommended new Italian restaurant at The Wit hotel downtown. Set in a sleek space on the second floor, cibo matto evokes a modern feel, but the food is prepared with a centuries-old care reminiscent of the Italian countryside.
Rich wood floors are coupled with comfortable, modern banquettes and chairs in a very open space - crested with a mural overhead. There is also a very nice, versatile private room (glassed in) and a large communal table overlooking the chef's workspace, set next to an antique-looking glass salami and cheese case. The wine cellar is a high point - an architectural feel to a glass U-shaped 4,000 bottle end-of-dining-room cellar.
The impeccably-designed restaurant is also home to a staff of excellent servers and hosts. Well-versed in the menu, drinks and wine - very friendly and attentive.
There is a short but interesting cocktail menu to start your dinner experience - I tried the Monte Verdissima, a manly mixture of Maker's Mark, Green Chartreuse, Benedictine and some lemon juice, and was not disappointed.
The authentic Italian menu balances a mixture of imported and local ingredients and flavors. Given our dining party had some dietary restrictions, the seafood-heavy selections were welcomed, but there were plenty of carnivorous dishes as well.
The bread was surprisingly uninspired for an Italian haute cuisine spot, but the butter was well-salted and soft. For starters, I had the grilled octopus with squid ink, served with a hash of jicama, fava beans and parsley. The squid ink sauce was excellent, and the octopus was grilled to perfection.
For dinner, I had the bucatini with black pepper and carbonara sauce; the two quail eggs were cracked, raw, over the pasta table side and mixed with the fresh hot pasta. The sauce was delightful and the noodles prepared perfectly. We had a side dish of the cheese potatoes, but would not recommend them - too starchy and too light on the sauce.
The evening ended with a round of champagne and salt taffy, gratis in honor of one of our dinner partner's birthday. Overall, while there a few things that could be improved on the menu, it is an excellent venue with great service and fine Italian dining - a must try and good place to meet up downtown.