Coco Pazzo Cafe
The post office has a mantra that they will deliver mail in rain, sleet, or snow. That may not be exact, but I found it pertinent enough to borrow so that I may apply it to my situation regarding finding good food. Chicago had gotten blanketed with several inches of snow. Driving on slick roads in Chicago is not a pleasant experience, but there is public transportation that makes everything fine. Some friends had wanted to meet for lunch at an Italian restaurant in downtown, so regardless of rain, sleet, or snow, I left the condo to pander to my own personal mantra — get fed well.
We met at Coco Pazzo, at 636 N. Saint Clair Street. With a bit of a rustic feel and a lot of space, four of us congregated at a table to reminisce about days working together — which was only a few months ago for most of us — and poking fun at whatever popped into our streams of consciousness. But one thing that we knew for certain was that we were going to have at least one hour of enjoyment getting some food bliss.
To warm up on the inside, I started with escarole e fagioli. Minestrone is so commonplace at Italian restaurants that I had decided that I would try something different. Although not too much different from minestrone, this white bean soup was delectable. With a bit of escarole added, I was quite satisfied devouring this bowl of soup while dipping some of the home-made bread in olive oil, ground pepper, and parmigiana cheese. Seasoned just right, I will now ask for escarole e fagioli when I got to Italian restaurants.
One of my friends ordered a bruschetta. This plate of grilled bread topped with tomatoes and olives looked way too artistic to be on a plate ready to be gobbled. And then my friend added some parmigiana cheese before closing her eyes and then sinking her teeth into the appetizer.
The entrées were out of this world. Since the four of us who were at the restaurant are more global in our eating experiences, we ordered everything family style. Just bring everything to the table, put it in the middle, and we will spoon or fork up our own on our plates. There was a spaghetti with mushrooms in a rich tomato sauce. Nothing akin to Prego, Ragu, or any other spaghetti sauce, this sauce had a spicy bite to it like arrabbiata.
The linguine with clams were also a wonder dish that was ideal for a toasty winter afternoon. Although not as heavy as any Italian dish with a red sauce. Clams, white wine, parsley, garlic, and chili flakes came together for a fantastic burst of flavour. The clams were also prepared such that there was no grit when chewing them, and they were so tender that it was apparent that the lengthy time it took for the dishes to come to our table was an indication that there was attention to detail and preparation. You could taste it.
Another winning dish was the tagliolini. House made thin pasta, plump mushrooms, and pecorino was the marriage that resulted in a tasty dish that otherwise looked rather bland. While there could have been some lasagne or raviolis brought to the table, this dish was splendid as an option. Not the least bit heavy, it too went pleasantly well with the home-made bread.
For an easy dish, we had calamari. Not rubbery like what you may find at some places that shamelessly tout that they serve the best calamari in the city, your teeth just slowly cut through the calamari without effort. Although fried, there was a bit of a grilled taste that went over very well. Dipped in a marinara sauce that had a hint of a cheese base to it, we were all in Italian mode gesturing with our hands like Italians while we completed the dish.
After we had completed the meal, we decided that we would sit and enjoy the time. The dinner crowd had not begun to pour in, so there was no rush. I ordered a cappuccino, which is a ritual after Italian meals that I eat. The cappuccino at Coco Pazzo Cafe pretty much confirmed the fact that Italian restaurants put a lot of care into preparing their coffee. It also gave me an idea that I may bypass a lot of the coffee shops like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Intelligensia, and the host of coffee shops, and take my coffee at Italian eateries. There simply is no way that I could go wrong.
For dessert we all shared a crostata di mele, which was a rustic apple tart with plump white raisins and a scoop of vanilla gelato. Having a crust accented with sugar and cinnamon, this was a true treat. I was not expecting the raisins in the tart, but that did not detract from me partaking of my share of the dessert. The dessert that was worthy of praise was the tortufo. A cherry in the middle of a ball of vanilla ice cream that is encased in chocolate ice cream and then coated with chocolate and served with raspberries and strawberries were all that we needed to end a stupendous lunch. There are some desserts that you never forget. The tortufo is one of them. Then again, we will probably partake of this plate of flavourful ice cream and berries to the point that we will never forget about it.
Coco Pazzo Cafe falls into the category of a high-end restaurant, but not to the point of emptying your wallet or having your credit card company call you to find out if you made an astronomical charge. The food was outstanding. The service was splendid, considering high-end restaurants have a tendency to present a stiff atmosphere. And the price was nothing that would leave you wide-eyed. For those who live in the vicinity of the Magnificent Mile, those who may be in the area shopping, and any who may want to find an Italian restaurant that will make you happy that you went, 636 N. Saint Clair is on the map. I know that regardless of rain, sleet, or snow I will return.