Serious Eats: Chicago
Knockout Noodles: Take-Home Pastas from Wisma
With the recent opening of Moderno in Highland Park to go along with his lauded Lake Bluff restaurant, Inovasi, chef John des Rosiers is amassing an increasingly strong presence in the world of suburban Chicagoland dining. But for city dwellers who can't make the trip out to the 'burbs to experience the chef's take on Italian and American cuisine, there's an option much closer to home. Actually, it is your home; in addition to his sit-down restaurants, des Rosiers also oversees Wisma, a three-location chain of shops offering pre-made food intended for reheating and eating at home. And one outpost is located in the Chicago French Market inside the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
I stopped by the Wisma stand in the French Market recently and picked up a couple of refrigerated pasta dishes, which come in microwaveable plastic containers. Sure, I had my suspicions about the prospects of nuked noodles. (Four to six minutes on medium-high power, said the instructions—could these pastas really have that broad of a doneness sweet spot?) But if des Rosiers can get those right, I figured that Moderno, his brand-new Italian eatery, must have promise.
The orecchiette with black pepper, garlic, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes, and fresh basil ($7) I tried didn't instill me with tremendous confidence. The flavors were enjoyable—light, bright, and peppery—and the warm goat cheese provided a nice creaminess, but the orecchiette were woefully gummy and tough. I gave them another hit of heat in the microwave, but to no avail; they seemed unwilling to turn the corner toward al dente. Was it my failing as a microwave jockey, or had the noodles not been pre-cooked long enough? Frustratingly, there's no way to tell.
With my concerns mounting, I zapped the container of penne and free range chicken with creamy tomato vodka sauce ($7) that I had also bought. The sauce had been laid atop the noodles, so I quickly tossed everything in a bowl before plating so that all the penne was well-coated. This plate of pasta, on the other hand, was impressively good: plump noodles with just the right amount of bite; bright, creamy vodka sauce; herbaceous strands or fresh basil; and surprisingly juicy slices of chicken with crispy, well-seasoned skin. I was enjoying it so much, I forgot for a second that it came out of the microwave.
My takeaway from all this was that reheated noodles can in fact be delicious. There's no guarantees that what comes out of the microwave is going to be perfection on a plate. But considering the price and convenience, they'll certainly satisfy a noodle craving in a pinch—and perhaps may even pleasantly surprise you.