The River North spot Coco Pazzo, 300 W. Hubbard St., is one of those spots I've always wanted to visit.
I had heard some people rave about the restaurant but, for some reason, I never got around to visiting this Tuscan spot although I've certainly been at other Italian restaurants in the area, such as Nonnina. Recently, Coco Pazzo brought back its lunch menu after a two-year hiatus (another sign that things are returning to "normal") and I thought it was time to see what the restaurant has to offer.
What this 30-year-old restaurant has to offer is pretty impressive.
The menu is relatively simple but variedand everything we tried was delightful. Executive Chef Eric Hammond's appetizers are definitely traditional, with items such as mozzarella di bufala, cured meats (salumi), addictive calamari fritti and an enticing misto terraa gorgeous display of meats and wood-roasted vegetables.
Regarding drinks, Coco Pazzo offers a unique and award-winning wine list that features Italian winessparkling, white, rose and red by the glass and the bottle. Cocktails are also a specialty, including the Negroni Classico, bellinis, the Italian Manhattan and the Aperol Spritz, among others.
A must-try itemeven if you normally stay away from vegetablesis the Caesar salad. The dish is a show-stopper not only because of the taste, but also because it's prepared at your table (an old-school tradition that I hope never goes away). And it's customizable: My dining companion didn't want anchovies or mustard, while I didso two separate salads were prepared (with grilled chicken). The result was incredible, as I could taste every ingredient of this layered dish.
However, Coco Pazzo has other favorites. There are pizzas such as Margherita, funghi e Gorgonzola and the white pie salsiccie e shishito. However, we went with popular pasta dishes: the rigatoni alla buttera and the risotto o farrotto. (Note: The risotto selection changes daily.) Both dishes were creamy, unexpectedly complex and beyond tasty.
And the desserts! I went with the light-but-delicious tiramisu-flavored gelato while my friend had the flourless chocolate cake coupled with coffee gelatoa dynamic duo, indeed.
We were both in seventh heaven. In fact, my dining companionwho happens to be Italiansaid this meal was the best Italian food he had eaten in a while.
I already have solidified plans to return to Coco Pazzo. I suggest you visit this restaurant and see why people have loved it for decades.
*Lunch at Coco Pazzo is offered at 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The restaurant's website is www.cocopazzochicago.com .
Note: This visit was arranged.