A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Nutella Cafe

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Nutella Cafe

This is really big news, people: You know Nutella, right? The world's favorite chocolate hazelnut spread? Yeah, I thought so.


Well, tomorrow a restaurant completed dedicated to this delightful Italian treat is opening here in Chicago! The Michigan Avenue Nutella Cafe opens tomorrow, May 31and will be the first of its kind in the world (with a second location to follow this fall in New York).


I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at the space (and the menu) and it is going to be good! The cafe was still under construction when I visited, so I don't have many pictures to share with you (although Eater has some great ones!)-- except for one of the adorable hazelnut-inspired light fixture. The space reminds me very much of the cafes I visited when I lived in Italy-- clean and modern with lots of white and wood elements and minimalist European-style furniture. In addition to the hazelnut light fixture, this cafe includes some other whimsical details like lights shaped like hazelnut flowers and an undulating dark wood design that "drips" from the ceiling down the wall like Nutella might.


When it comes to food, the Cafe menu is much broader than I had expected. There were standard European-style cafe items available like pastries, gelato, and of course, plenty of coffee and espresso beverages. But beyond that, there were several other options including both sweet and savory and offerings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During our visit I had the opportunity to chat with the chef about some of the menu concepts and was pleasantly surprised to hear that seasonal ingredients and fresh simple flavors were big focal points in the creation of this menu and will continue to be as it evolves over time and from season to season.


During our visit, we sampled two of the chef's favorite savory items along with two sweet Nutella-focused dishes. First up: A trio of salads. I was somewhat skeptical about ordering a salad at the Nutella Cafe, but I have to admit that these were really well executed and I could absolutely see myself walking down on my lunch break for a fresh and healthy lunch (+ maybe a Nutella affogato on my way out the door!). We sampled a classic tricolore salad of chopped endive, radicchio, and arugula dressed in a simple vinaigrette. Second was a pasta salad of orecchiette, fresh mozzarella, and 3 kinds of peas in a lemony vinaigrette, finished with a sprinkling of Parmesan. I am not even a fan of peas, but this was probably my favorite salad of the three. It was simple, but the crunch and sweetness of the fresh peas plus the creamy mozzarella and the bright dressing was just delicious. The third salad was a super tasty kale and quinoa salad with dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts-- a savory nod to Nutella!


The Nutella Cafe menu also features a few panini options, griddled to order. We sampled a sandwich that they anticipate will be a big hit among patrons-- and I'd have to agree! The panino starts with thick slices of rustic bread and in between, layers of speck (similar to prosciutto, but smoked in the final stages of its curing process), gruyere, arugula, and whole grain mustard. It is pressed until the cheese is melty and served with a side of toasted hazelnuts for snacking, of course! This is my kind of sandwich: a few of my favorite ingredients and tons of flavor in a super simple package. Even Alex-- who isn't a huge fan of grainy mustard or arugula-- agreed that this was a pretty perfect sandwich.


Now, the savory items were really delicious but if you're going to the Nutella Cafe the end goal is really to get something sweet, right? Well, I'm happy to report that Nutella Cafe's dessert game is on point as well! The first sweet treat we tried was a bit of a surprise to me: A Nutella-inspired spin a yogurt parfait. The dish begins with a bowl of tangy Greek yogurt which is topped with a generous amount of extras: Big cubes of toasted poundcake, a combination of seasonal fruit (for now, mixed berries), toasted hazelnuts, and a drizzle of warm Nutella. The combination of flavors was wonderful-- and the fruit here is extra special. The berries were tossed in a combination of lemon, olive oil, fresh basil, and a secret something (Chef Barb wouldn't spill it!) so they had this super fresh flavor that made even a a dish that included Nutella and poundcake feel like it would be appropriate for dessert or breakfast.


And saving the best for last, the liege waffle is likely to be a standout on the Nutella Cafe menu when it opens. Liege waffles are unique from your standard waffle because they are made with pearl sugar, so you get these crunchy chunks of sugar in almost every bite. The warm waffle is topped with a fresh compote of Granny Smith apples cooked until tender, toasted hazelnuts, and of course, a generous drizzle of warm Nutella. I loved the idea of pairing the tart apples with the Nutella and together with the thick waffle, this combination of ingredients made for one decadent dish.

Oh, and want to know how they get that perfectly drizzle-able Nutella? See the video below of the amazing Nutella tempering machine that will be churning at the cafe all day:



The Nutella Cafe opens on May 31, 2017 at 189 N. Michigan Ave.!



Editor's Note: A complimentary meal was provided in order to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.

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