Knockout Noodles: Riccardo Trattoria
"Here one day, gone the next." That's the slogan of PT, a new pop-up restaurant in the Talbott Hotel serving up Mercadito chef Patricio Sandoval's take on American cuisine. PT occupies a space that previously held an outpost of the Italian restaurant chain Bice, whose star seems to be on the wane in Chicago as of late. Why bring this up in the context of Riccardo Trattoria? The restaurant's chef, Riccardo Michi, broke out on his own after successful stint as part of the Bice empire, which is run by a relative. For PT, the phrase above labels the project as fun and fleeting; for other restaurants, it might well be a fitting epitaph. For warm, cozy, welcoming Riccardo Trattoria, the phrase just doesn't seem to apply.
For evidence of its staying power, I submit Riccardo's spaghetti carbonara ($16; split portions pictured throughout). Tender strands of pasta come dressed in a rich sauce of bacon, egg yolk, and pecorino cheese. I could really geek out here on the finer points of noodle texture, sauce viscosity and adhesion, and ingredient-driven seasoning management, but that kind of tech talk seems too architectural when what we have here is art on the plate.
The daily specials at Riccardo are always worth your perusal. For one thing, you can experience the chef's light hand when it comes to delicate seasonal ingredients. The elegant fettuccine with fresh Oregon porcini in garlic, olive oil ($22) rightly pairs an airy pasta noodle with thin slices of the mildly earthy domestic fungi, creating an intimate dance of textures. A few shaves of fresh parm helped to round out the whisper-quiet dressing of browned garlic and oil.
The rustic and robust Paccheri au Gratin ($16), off the regular menu, was another stunner. Paccheri are essentially XXL rigatoni noodles, wide and prone to collapse into themselves. Here they get together in an ovenproof dish with savory-sweet roasted eggplant, salty black olives, tomato, basil and rich mozzarella, and then go under the broiler. Good things happen: cheese melts, noodle corners crisp, flavors deepen.
If Riccardo keeps this up day after day, it's hard to imagine it ever being gone tomorrow.