A Squared: A Birthday Feast at Cicchetti

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Birthday Feast at Cicchetti

I still cannot get over what a great job my husband and friends did of planning my 30th birthday celebration-- and keeping it all a surprise. More than a week later I am still on a bit of a birthday high. Part of that certainly has something to do with the amazing birthday dinner we had on Saturday night at Cicchetti in Chicago's downtown Streeterville neighborhood. It was the perfect location to celebrate my big birthday-- The decor is chic and minimal, the menu is a delicious combination of Italian and locally sourced Midwestern ingredients (two of my favorite ways to eat), and it is located just around the corner from my very first Chicago apartment. Full circle, right?

Normally I try to highlight a few similar restaurants in one post, but because of our big group we tried so many things at Cichetti and they were all so delicious that I want to highlight them all. So, today's post is dedicated totally to my birthday meal. Let's get started, shall we?

The menu at Cicchetti is meant for sharing and we took full advantage, ordering several small plates to share with the table. Everyone loves the aged hangar steak carpaccio, garnished with some really tasty crispy cauliflower and a sweet and salty raisin caper aioli. We were also sure to order the charred baby squid, a dish that other friends who have been to Cicchetti previously had great things to say about. The squid was served over creamy polenta with some lightly dressed greens.

We also really enjoyed the La Quercia prosciutto appetizer and I was a particular big fan of the interesting ingredient pairing in this dish. I loved the saltines of this prosciutto with super sweet rhubarb and strawberries, fresh mint leaves, and crunch fava beans. I'm totally inspired by this idea of pairing prosciutto with fruit (other than the classic cantaloupe pairing), so stay tuned for my take on this idea later in the week!

I'm not normally a big pork rind fan, but several of my party guests thought the pork cracklins sounded good so we ordered those as well. Great choice, friends! These were delicious and I couldn't stop eating them. They were airy and crispy with great flavor from fresh rosemary and parmesan. These would be so perfect to snack on at the bar with a good cocktail.

Cicchetti offers three different types of bruschette and for a group our size, our sever recommended an order of 6 with two of each kind. These were not your typical tomato and basil bruschetta-- the ingredient combinations were inventive and fresh and all in all, delicious. There was an ahi tuna with pickled shallots (LOVED those shallots!), a fresh crab salad, and my favorite of the bunch-- pork belly with spicy fennel and golden raisin agrodolce. Agrodolce is a traditional Italian sweet and sour preparation, so this was really delicious with the salty and savory pork belly.

And then there was my absolute favorite of the starters: Nonna's Meatballs. If you've ready any other blogger reviews of Cicchetti, they have likely called out these meatballs as being a meal highlight so I knew we needed to order them. These bite sized meatballs are a perfect combination of pork, veal, and beef served in a flavorful pancetta tomato sauce with a chunk of crusty ciabatta bread. Everything about this dish was spot on-- by far the simplest dish that we ate that night, but one of the favorites among the entire table.

Our server also recommended that we share entrees, but with so many people with different tastes and dietary restrictions at the table we decided to go rogue and each order our own. The saffron risotto caught my eye on the menu and it was even more impressive in person: the bright yellow risotto was rich and creamy, infused with saffron and cooked with melted leeks it had amazing flavor. The dish was topped with a fried farm egg. I think we can agree that a fried egg makes anything better and that was no exception here-- it was a super hearty and satisfying meatless dish.

Alex ordered the braised short rib ravioli, so I made sure to steal a bite of that too. I loved the melty short rib inside the ravioli and although the super fresh tasting tomato sauce on top was very good, it tasted like a bit too much for the rich ravioli. They may have been better suited with a more buttery or brothy sauce.

And finally: Dessert. As if we could possibly eat any more. I had heard so much about Cicchetti's reverse affogato that I had to try it. Creamy coffee gelato is topped with vanilla malted milk and served with cinnamon sugar donuts for dipping. It was delicious together, but I was all about the gelato and Alex gobbled up the donuts so it was also perfect for sharing-- and definitely large enough to share too!

Since I was the birthday girl, Cicchetti also brought out a special birthday surprise for me too. The sundae was a delicious combination of tiramisu gelato topped with fernet branca menta-infused fudge sauce (that's an herby minty Italian liqueur), crunchy pistachio brittle, and rich amarena cherries. This was one of the more simple desserts on the menu, but definitely a special take on a hot fudge sundae. And wow, tiramisu flavored gelato-- such a great idea!

Thanks to Cicchetti and to my parents, husband, and friends for a truly unforgettable birthday dinner!
Cicchetti on Urbanspoon


  1. yummmm those meatballs look so good! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

  2. I had my birthday dinner at Cicchetti this year too! Absolutely loved it! The meatballs and short rib ravioli were my favorites!

  3. Happy Birthday, my wonderful friend! You've go right here
    accomplished so much in such a short time. Hope this year is the best yet.


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