Monday, November 12, 2012

Post 96: Two Times Quartino (Chicago: Near North Side)

In my very short trip in Chicago, most of which was spent in the suburbs by O' Hare Airport, I managed to come across Quartino twice.  The first time was a planned dinner with an old friend.  The second time was accidental... the result of a digestive walk after consuming Chicagoland staples on Ontario Street.  Quartino, is a tapas restaurant, but one that specializes in Italian small plates rather than the traditional Spanish snacks.  The menu is extensive, ranging from pizza to pasta to risotto.  There is a section for salumi and formaggi, and three of the eight folds in the paper menu are dedicated to wineQuartino was an ideal place to meet Jen, my friend from back home who had recently moved to the Windy City.

Whether sitting at the bar in the afternoon or settling down for dinner in the evening, the meat and cheese charcuterie is one that must be ordered.  The full platter is of salumeria tasting is two selection of meat and cheese each, three spuntini, and an assortment of olives.  The star of the salumi on the menu is definitely the house made duck proscuitto, a seasoned duck breast that is smooth and fatty, peppery and fragrant, vibrant and beautiful.  Another highlight is the fontina val d'aosta, a cow's milk cheese that is creamy and soft, and perfectly spreadable over crusty bread.

And now we turn to the dishes we ordered for dinner the night before.  The first thing we ordered was crisp calamari, which has become a must as an Italian appetizer.  It was cut in wide curls, and it was so fresh.  It was not overcooked to the point of tasting like a rubber band, just tender in the middle and slightly crisp from the breading on the outside.  The lemon and organic tomato sauce only added to its freshness.  It had to have been one of the best calamari plates I have ever had.

The next item we ordered was the sea scallops, grilled with beautiful sear impressions with a hint of lemon and caperberries.  There are not too many ways to grill sea scallops, so I appreciated that the restaurant served them on a bed of vegetables and sliced peppers in a buttery sauce.  The peppers gave a pleasant kick to an otherwise mild dish.  It wasn't completely out of the ordinary, but it was just different enough to make this dish have its own personality.

When Jen and I saw that angus beef carpaccio was on the menu, we had to order it.  Any carpaccio, tartare, or steak for that matter, is simply a favorite of mine.  Topped with shaved celery, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil, the dish was a perfect balance of savory protein, salty dairy, and light greens.  I really liked that celery leaves were shaved along with the stalk.  The celery leaves gave the dish a very clean taste.  My only wish was that the cheese was grated as thin as the beef, but it was good nonetheless.

For a more substantial dish, we also ordered the roasted Tuscan sausage and peppers.  It was the first truly meaty dish that was served during the meal.  Even though the calamari and the scallops were hot dishes, the sausage and peppers were the first dish to make me feel warm.  Thanks to this dish I had forgotten all about the elements in the Windy City.  It was raining, and the wind was definitely blowing hard.

Of the four risotto dishes on the menu, we selected the mushroom risotto made with portobello, balsamic and pork stock.  The risotto was creamy and hearty, cooked to just al dente.  The comforting, hot food was a smart way to cap off the meal to make us feel full and satisfied. 

Even though we were absolutely stuffed, we had to have dessert.  Okay, so maybe I had to have dessert, and I conned Jen into joining me for dessert.  First were the zeppole, freshly made Italian doughnuts that were like a cross between giant donut holes and mini cream puffs.  They were dusted with powdered sugar on top and served with chocolate dipping sauce on the side.  Chocolate, of course, made the deep fried ball of dough that much better.

We also got chocolate cake.  What's wrong with us? Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs that night... maybe not just that night.  The torta al cioccolato topped with vanilla gelato sealed the deal for the night.  The hot chocolate cake melted the gelato too quickly, so I had no choice but to order another scoop.  Jen looked at me like I was crazy, but a cold gelato must be eaten the proper way.  I made sure to walk up and down the stairs to the bathroom a number of times to somehow stir up the digestion.  I'm not sure it worked out the way I had thought.

It had been years since I had eaten with Jen, but it seemed like we made up for all the lost meals in one night.  I was very glad that we were able to catch up while trying a variety of different Italian dishes all done tapas style.  With all the food that we had ordered for two people, I was surprised that we didn't even order from the pizza or pasta section.  That, I guess, will be saved for next time.  It was good to see both Jen and Chicago again.  Jen, come back and visit soon! Until the next business trip, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20121018-19


  1. Such a good meal. Can't wait till we eat again!

    1. But yes, let's eat again... aren't you glad I didn't mention anything embarrassing from when we were in high school?

  2. what the hell sir you ate a shit ton that day lol

    1. Yuuup. My eyes are bigger than my stomach... just getting fatter and fatter with every meal...