Il Porcellino

59 W Hubbard Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 595-0800ilporcellinochicago.com

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Doing Al Capone proud, Il Porcellino (which means “Little Pig” in Italian- no idea why) feels like good, ole, authentic Chicago Italian, with lots of little back rooms tucked away in brick catacombs turned dining areas with private bars and back doors for easy escape… to smoke. Yes, Capone would’ve love this place, granted as slow as the service was, I think he might’ve whacked a few waiters until things improved.

Also worthy of mention is that we were a large party, and why I think this is of significance in this review is because very often that means that the food will be nowhere near as good as it would be during a typical dining experience. So fedora’s off to the piglet, because if this is a notch down, then it must be something special when you eat there like a normal person.

For starters the green chopped salad with kale, avocado, parmesan, pistachios and pepperoncini was good, as was the charcuterie, aka prosciutto trio (parma, cotto & speck). But if you want your world rocked, go with the guilty pleasure of the Tuscan Cheese Bread. I know it sounds like typical Americanified Italian crap, but damn is really friggin’ awesome Americanified Italian crap. Made even more kickalicious with some seriously spicy marinara for dippage.

Both pastas were also crowd pleasers. The rigatoni in vodka sauce with peas and red pepper flakes was a classic done right. And the orecchiette gigante with Italian sausage and broccolini, was right up there with it. Not even sure which was better.

What I am sure about was that the Steak Grigliata was terribliata. I’m guessing grigliatta is Italian for grisly because it was so undercooked and chewy it was inedible. In fact, I had to get up and go to the bathroom just to spit out my bite. And while I’m beating this dead horse, I would say it was so bad that it cost them a knive on this dish alone. That said, the parmesan-garlic fries were pretty darn good.

Ending on a high note, both desserts were great. The gelato is creamy and rich and the tiramisu cups are pretty spectacular.

3 teeth

Sessanta

60 Thompson St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 219-8119sessantanyc.com

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Not all that long ago if you saw a restaurant located in a hotel it was like the kiss of death. But that was before the likes of Maialino, NOMAD and Dirty French. So, when I heard all the rave reviews about this new place in the Thompson Hotel I said to myself, “Self, let’s add it to the list.”

Now, it just so happens that it wasn’t on the list for very long though, because I just recently had a business dinner there and got to see whether it was all that or all hype.

The hotel itself is rather quaint, like the street it’s on, but the restaurant is actually rather sizeable winding around corners and bars with its soothing wood, ribbon walls that almost give it a midcentury vibe.

Off on the wrong foot, we embarked with a Brunello that was very strong on the tannins almost to the breaking point, which didn’t do the food any favors, because it really didn’t complement a single dish. And it’s a shame too, because most of the food could’ve benefited from a little help.

Among the starters in need were the tuna crudo, which was what one might expect from a tuna crudo. Nothing more. Nothing less. Well, maybe except for the additions of zucchini and caper berries, neither of which moved the needle in either direction.

But far guiltier of not moving the needle were the beef tongue sliders, which were so surprisingly bland it felt like you were being cheated out of the gluttony you thought you were buying into.

Also on the bland list I would put the highly revered Struncatura Spaghetti (AKA Peasant Pasta). I had heard from friends and blogs alike that it was exploding with flavor. The saltiness of the anchovies, the heat of the chilies, the heat and saltiness of the neonata (a condiment from Calabria made from baby fish). But I guess the chef must’ve imploded under the pressure of serving the Ferocious Foodie, because what I got out of this dish was neo-nada. Go with the lamb ragu. It’s so much better. More on that later.

Moving up a notch from bland was the marinated calamari with puffed black rice and crunchy celery hearts, which proved to be a textural stroke of genius, contrasting greatly with the squid and making what could’ve been yet another snore just passably interesting. But even with that said, I would still opt for the braised octopus with couscous, apricots and turmeric. It was tender, flavorful and apart from the meatballs, the only thing I would ever order again.

Speaking of the meatballs (pictured), they are pretty amazing. Easily the best thing on the menu. But these ain’t your run of the mill balls. They’re made with spicy Italian sausage, red peppers and Sicilian honey, which almost acts like a candied coating, creating a hard outer shell, locking in the juices. But the true magic is when that honey and heat coalesce in your mouth to create a sonata of sumptuousness.

The other high point of the meal was the Tagghiarini (lamb ragu) pasta, made unique with crunchy bits of baked ricotta salata. The flavors of the ragu were bursting, the cheese was crunching- So then why isn’t it something I would order again, you ask? Because after a few bites the crunchy gimmick passes novelty and starts to become distracting and dare I say off-putting. Like crunchy bugs or burnt bits of lamb floating in your sauce. It’s great as a shared dish, but to commit to an entire bowl yourself is a bit overkill on the crunch.

Dessert also proved to be a tale of two Sessantas with the peach cake coming out dry and worthless. Whereas the cream filled puffs, an Italian take on profiteroles, were a far superior way to end your meal.

So, in all fairness, Sessanta is probably a three knifer, but because of all the hype, being lauded as one of the best new openings in New York according to Thrillist, it is teetering precarious on the edge of two, because apparently they have already started to slide. C’est la vie, as they say not in Italy.

3 teeth

Hot Diggity Dogs

947 W Wellington Ave. Chicago, IL 60657 • (773) 472-5446

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Being strapped with the dubious moniker of “Second City,” there has always been an unhealthy degree of competitiveness between Chicago and New York, at least from Chicago’s perspective. Not sure anyone in New York sees it as much of a contest.

But to be fair, Chicago does win its battles here and there. For example in terms of professional basketball teams I would say The Bulls have the Knicks beat quite badly in historical terms.

The other arena in which Chicago trounces New York would be the hot dog. For all the reasons that New York pizza bests Chicago, it is almost the complete inverse of logic when it comes to dogs. On the pizza front, less is actually more. When you pile too much crap on top you lose two of three greatest components of a pie- the sauce and the crust. I mean sure the cheese is the headliner, but when you pile on five cubic tons of it, you no longer taste anything else and it becomes too much of one note. And therein lies the genius of the Chicago dog, complexity.

Go to Papaya King or any other lauded New York hot dog icon and you will quickly see that once again, New York tries to keep it simple. But the thing is, hot dogs aren’t exactly what one would call complex or interesting (this is excluding bratwurst, Italian sausages, etc.). They are nothing more than blended up animal parts in log form. And I’m sorry, but French’s, Heinz and a little kraut aren’t about to turn the gourmet tides.

Enter the Chicago style dog. Like at Hot Diggity, a little stand that used to be a stone’s throw off of the Magnificent mile serving something equally magnificent. A dog piled high with hot peppers and onions and pickles and squash and zucchini. I mean just one look at this bun of gloriousness and it will change you on the spot. Making New York dogs look more like a severed finger in a bun by comparison. And just wait until you taste it. Your mouth has no idea what it’s about to learn about itself.

4 teeth