After 20 years of chefing for his family's Bice restaurants, Riccardo Michi breaks out on his own
I’m sure I’m going to take some heat for this, but I’m willing to risk it to make a statement I feel pretty strongly about: It’s nearly impossible to find good Italian food in Chicago.
Before you rush off to your computer to type out some impassioned letter to the editor extolling the virtues of the spaghetti with meatballs at Bruna’s, chicken Vesuvio at Tufano’s or fried calamari at Sabatino’s, I’m not talking about Italian-American “restaurant food.” I’m looking for authentic regional Italian, the kind of food you’d find in an adorable little trattoria in Italy driven by the chef and the season. And now, I think I’ve found it.
Riccardo Trattoria opened only a couple of months ago, and already it’s a neighborhood favorite, packed every night of the week with loud-talking, glass-clinking friends and a handful of fresh-off-the-boat Italians whom Olive Garden would pay big bucks to cast in one of its commercials. The thick accents of the seasoned waiters might tip you off that the place has ties to Milan, a hunch that’s confirmed once you taste chef Riccardo Michi’s food.
Michi’s family founded the Bice restaurant empire in Milan, and he served as chef of the first stateside location (which opened in New York in ’87), and more recently at the Chicago outpost. And with his namesake Lincoln Park restaurant, he’s left the money maker behind to open—you guessed it—an adorable little trattoria driven by the chef and the season.
Start with the specials: If Michi’s still offering the bacon-topped roasted quail with crispy polenta cake, don’t miss it. It’s the first sign of many good things to come. Of the starters on the regular menu, the prosciutto with moist buffalo mozz, the grilled tomino cheese with roasted veggies and the “pizzaccia” are equally great. The pizzaccia is brilliant and indulgent: a round of foccacia topped with prosciutto, robiola cheese and arugula and finished with a drizzle of fragrant truffle oil.
From there, loosen your belt, make like the Italians and go for a secondo course before entrées. Choosing between the pastas is tough, but if you have room for two, get the orecchiette shells with crumbled wild-boar sausage, garlicky rapini and pecorino cheese, and any pasta that serves as a vehicle for Michi’s incredibly delicious bolognese meat sauce.
Deciding between entrées is equally hard, but luckily it’s tough to go wrong (so long as you skip the disappointing veal-ricotta meatloaf with blah porcini-cream sauce). Double-cut lamb chops get seared before a perfect slow-roasting, and are served with the same killer potato wedges you’ll find with the juicy pounded beef tenderloin. Just be careful not to polish off the giant golden fries; you’ll need room for a perfect ending of “Nonna’s” fruit pie or the ricotta cheesecake. There’s no tiramisu, but I’m sure by next week we’ll have a stack of letters from readers telling you exactly where you can find some.
Riccardo Trattoria2119 N Clark St between Dickens and Webster Aves (773-549-0038). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 22 Clark (24 hrs), 74 Fullerton. Open: Lunch (Sun), dinner (Tue–Sun). Average main course: $18.