Pizza Rustica: So Much More Than Pizza

You’d think a restaurant with the word “pizza” in its name would be all about pizza. While they do feature it, Pizza Rustica is so much more, as we learned at our December Chef’s Table event.

The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife team and has the charm you hope for from a family owned business. Chef Stefano Roman and his wife Juliana Montebello-Roman opened the restaurant in 2005, and since then have treated guests to an Italian trattoria just a few blocks north of Wrigley Field.

The Venetian-born chef features only the freshest ingredients. They’re so fresh that besides the pizzas and a few standards, the menu changes each day based on his inspiration and what’s available. These “blackboard specials” could include baked oysters with sauteed spinach, chipotle-infused reduction, melted fontina cheese and rock salt, or you might be treated to lobster-stuffed ravioli in a lobster bisque sauce topped with black truffle foam.

Venetian Spritz at Pizza RusticaThe evening of our event we were greeted with a Venetian Spritz. This refreshing and slightly bitter drink is a traditional aperitivo in Italy. Juliana told me that when in Venice, this is what you drink before going out for the evening. Made with aperol, prosecco and a splash of club soda, the drink is garnished with both an orange slice and an olive, providing both sweet and savory. The bubbles served to settle the stomach a bit before we embarked on our extravagant five-course dinner.

The restaurant is warm and intimate, and we were seated next to the open kitchen. The counter itself can become seating for those inclined, so you can see the chefs at work.

Plating dinner at Pizza Rustica

Our first course was a lovely spinach salad that was topped with dried bananas and apricots, goat cheese, warm figs, and toasted walnuts.

Spinach Salad from Pizza Rustica

This was followed by a rich, creamy dish of crispy pork belly served over a polenta square and a porcini and portobello mushroom sauce. Not only was it delicious, but the presentation was beautiful.

Crispy Pork Belly at Pizza Rustica

The next course would feature risotto, and, as Chef Stefano explained, risotto cannot be rushed. As we waited the conversation and laughter (and tweets!) flowed.

Chef's Table at Pizza Rustica

The wait was worth it, since our third course was pumpkin risotto with nutella and gnocchi with a rabbit ragu. Yes, pumpkin risotto and nutella. Genius. The dish featured those savory and sweet flavors again, and the rabbit gnocchi was all savory. The pillows were plump and firm and the ragu was rich and hearty.

Risotto and gnocchi at Pizza Rustica

Our next two dishes were originally going to be served together, but Chef Stefano thought they would be better separately. The first was braised pork shank on grilled polenta. Since it was served with its natural au jus the flavor of the pork was really allowed to shine.

Pork shank at Pizza Rustica

This was followed by my favorite dish of the evening (and that’s saying something), the Sea Bass. This perfect, light, flaky, wonderful fish was topped with pickled onions, fennel and endive and served over sauteed spinach. 

Sea Bass at Pizza Rustica

The final dish of the evening was, of course, dessert. We were served a trio of panna cotta drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce, espresso brownie bites, and vanilla ice cream and garnished with fresh blackberries and blueberries. Conversation stopped as we all dove into this dedadent finale.

Dessert at Pizza Rustica

Throughout the evening we were offered our choice of David Bruce Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands in California, or Tommasi Rafael Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC from Verona. Both paired well with the rich flavors of dinner without being overpowering.

As each course was presented Chef Stefano explained what we would be experiencing, providing that personal touch that makes Pizza Rustica so delightful.

Our evening ended on a perfect note when some of our guests asked Jim Goodrich if he would sing. To honor our hosts and the spirit of the evening he delighted us all by choosing an Italian song, and you can hear the very end of his lovely performance in the video below.

Celebrate New Year’s Eve the Northern Italian way! Pizza Rustica is offering their Top 10 Blackboard Specials as well as their regular menu items – at regular menu prices!








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