Adventures in the Chicago restaurant scene are never ending. Thankfully! The ability to have a week of global tastes and flavors needs no plane ride or passport. This week, my friends and I experienced Italian cuisine at Tocco Ristorante. Tocco means “touch” in Italian. Each dish we enjoyed was created with the Chef’s personal touch incorporating fresh local produce and the finest imported ingredients from Italy.
Tocco’s contemporary design is open and airy with private tables for intimate dining as well as a community table in the center of the restaurant. This is a local neighborhood spot that offers a warm greeting from Chef Bruno Abate in appreciation of your visit. On one wall is a video showing cities in Italy, offering diners a window into the beauty of the Italian landscape. You will get a feel for the artistic side of Tocco when you see the design of the wine bottle holders as well as the floor to ceiling shadow box where two silhouettes are wearing dresses covered in fresh roses from Ecuador. What is so intriguing is that the roses will last approximately 8 months having been cared for by LuxeBloom. Stunning! In the end, we are most excited by the delicious menu that Chef and Owner, Bruno Abate and Michelin Star Chef, Domenico Acampora, have created for us. Made in their pizza oven, we enjoyed two Napoli pizzas. This thin and crispy crust was baked in the super hot ovens leaving a flavorful crust with sweet tomato sauce (the best San Marzano tomatoes) and fresh mozzarella. Normally pizza IS the main course. At Tocco, it is an appetizer. Light and just enough to make you even hungrier for your meal.
Our salad was made of arugula, fennel and orange served with hearts of palm, quinoa and toasted walnuts in an orange dressing.
Traditional risotto was served next. Since I do not eat meat, Chef was gracious to create a vegetarian version that was creamy and amazing and sprinkled with 14 karat gold and 24 month aged parmesan. So good!Given what we had been served so far, we became very aware of the modern style of each of these dishes. How the food looks on the plate is just as important since we eat with our eyes first. This makes total sense once you see the homemade tortelli filled with spinach and ricotta in a creamy black truffle sauce that was brought to our table. It was a like a secret hidden under the decadent sauce. Such fresh flavors come through in each bite.And the artfulness of each creation continues with this pan seared Chilean sea bass in a crustacean jus served with blue potato mash and crispy leeks. Ok, seriously, this is the icing on the cake for this dinner. The flavors are indescribable other than to say they just make your taste buds happy.A little palette cleanser of pomegranate sorbet made with no added sugar. This was delicious!A special dish for those of us non-meat eating guests was this bright Bisanzio pappardelle pasta. Fresh tomato sauce that was simply made with just garlic, basil, salt and pepper served over homemade pasta. Perfect!Finally, we finished our evening with a delicate homemade ricotta cake served with chocolate mousse and fresh berries. How we found room to eat this after our meal, I am not sure. But not one person left any behind. That’s how good it was!
As you probably noticed, our menu was a little different than what you might think would be served in an Italian restaurant. We were so fortunate to be introduced to flavors and techniques that brought tradition from Italy to Chicago.
Finally, Bruno Abate is far more than a restaurant owner and Chef. He is a man striving to change the world one step at a time. And he is using his knowledge of the food world to do it. Recipe for Change is a program that Bruno created to teach inmates at the Cook County Jail a culinary education, job skills training and mentoring to instill the value of work and personal responsibility. The program’s goal is to help the inmates become productive members of society upon their release. For more information on Bruno’s efforts, please visit Recipe For Change Project.
Stop by Tocco Ristorante for Italian cuisine made creatively and deliciously by Chefs that proudly share their tradition. Full of the freshest ingredients from local purveyors and the finest Italian products, this will become your favorite neighborhood spot for a casual or celebratory meal. Ciao and Grazie, Tocco Ristorante!