Ombra | Restaurant review
Should this cicchetti spot get a bar-food pass?
Ombra, the restaurant the owners of Acre came up with when they decided Acre needed to be only half its size, is the perfect spot for people who like to play the authenticity game. “Is Ombra as good as the cicchetti bars of Venice?” they’ll ask. I don’t care for the authenticity game very much, and besides, I can’t play it here anyway: I’ve never been to a cicchetti bar. But if I had to guess, I’d say Ombra comes pretty close to replicating the experience. I say that because even though I haven’t eaten at a cicchetti bar, I’ve eaten at countless bars in my lifetime, and I know more often than not, bar food gets a pass. Most bar food exists to fill the stomach and fulfill elementary cravings. That’s all one should ever expect from a bar (better to be surprised than disappointed, right?), and it’s all most bars—in the U.S., in Europe and everywhere else—deliver. Ombra is no exception.
The food is literally not pretty. One night I ordered the “chef’s value choice” of cicchetti, the mostly cold or room-temperature snacks and salads that sit behind a glass window on Ombra’s bar, and I found it hard to eat any of it. I took bites of the tuna and bean salad, which tasted as if it had been sitting for a while. But at the pile of what looked like chopped, undressed cabbage, I could only raise an eyebrow. And when I finally raised a fork of it to my mouth, I regretted it—the cabbage was dressed in a chili vinaigrette that had all the subtlety of a Sun-Times front-page headline.
But there’s a small comfort in coming across a bad dish at Ombra: The portions are slight and there’s always something else on the table. If you make sure to have in front of you the baccala frittole (well-fried balls of salt cod that don’t skimp on the funk), or a few oysters, or the sweet roasted onions, or the “eggs tonnato” (where hard-boiled eggs are plated atop a smooth tuna puree) or the creamy pork liver pâté, or the plate of tender short ribs, there will always be something to clear your palate of that cabbage, or to liven it up after a boring bite of a mushroom-pesto panino or truffle-egg tramezzini.
My friends scoffed at that tramezzini, which is basically just a crustless egg-salad sandwich that for some reason arrives in four parts on a skewer. They said it was nothing more than lunch-box fare, which didn’t fit with their restaurant expectations. That’s the problem with Ombra—there just isn’t enough bar in it. It was designed by Davide Nanni, who did Ruxbin, and most of the room is made up of roofed booths that intimately remove you and your group from the rest of the space. It’s a good feeling, but it sets up restaurant expectations when, really, bar expectations are needed. That tramezzini? It didn’t bother me, because I was on my second visit to Ombra, and I knew what to expect. And an egg-salad sandwich soaks up wine as well as anything else.