Things change, yet they remain the same. Chicago’s favorite Coco Pazzo Café has moved to 212 E. Ohio St. The venerable Streeterville Café has merged operations with its sister restaurant, Tre Soldi Trattoria. The combined concept re-opened in January in the renovated space that was occupied by the Trattoria, which is a block away from the Café’s former St. Clair Street location. The merged menu contains favorites from both the Tuscan-inspired Café and the Roman-inspired Trattoria. It is if Tuscany and Rome met and mingled together, and we are not at all mad about it.
Invited to sample the new menu, I was trepidatious. A long time fan of Coco Pazzo, I was bringing with me a guest who is strictly Tre Soldi devotee. What could go wrong? Luckily, nothing did. Tuscany and Rome merry beautifully on the new menu. The room is comforting and familiar. The reception is warm and the service is steady without being rushed. We lingered over lunch on one particular Sunday. And why wouldn’t we?
Cocktails run a touch sweet here, all Italian inspired. I highly recommend the refreshing Roman Spritz, a blend of grapefruit and Aperol. An outstanding way to start a meal anytime, but particularly on a warm patio day. The wine list is short and sweet, heavily Italian, as it should be. I sampled some Vermentino and Barolo. Hey, someone had to take one for the team!
On the menu the dishes are marked with a rooster for Tuscany and a wolf for Rome. All of the Coco Pazzo and Tre Soldi favorites are here, so the regulars of either would not be disappointed. Classic Café items on the menu include the Seven Vegetable Salad with shaved Parmesan; Spaghetti AOP with a robust and spicy tomato sauce and chili pepper; Rigatoni alla Buttera, and a reincarnated version of their Tartufo made with pistachio gelato and amarena cherries dipped in dark chocolate. Menu items from the former Tre Soldi include its signature cracker-thin Roman style pizza along with appetizers such as Roman Taleggio and rice filled Suppli; grilled octopus (Polpo) with fingerling potatoes and olives; a variety of pastas including Ricotta Gnocchi; traditional Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe; and Bucatini Amatriciana. Entrée selections feature meats from Slagel Farm and include Milanese style chicken and Maiale, pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta. Desserts include a delectable seasonal Crostata with house-spun gelato.
We sample it all. The translucent carpaccio gives way to braised artichokes. The exeedingly tender grilled octopus is delicious, and I am not usually one for octopus. Ceasar salad, not overly salty or overly dressed, comes draped with marinated anchovies (our request). Seven Vegetable salad is light and crisp and refreshing. We ordered the fish special of the day, halibut cheeks with spinach and zucchini, perfectly cooked. The classic veal scallopine is juicy and tender.
What takes the prize here is pasta. Pasta, glorious pasta! I stared at the menu for a long time, attempting to narrow down our choices (all half portions, mind you), but even with my best efforts at self editing we end up with five pastas. The things I have to do in the name of research… Almost all the pasta is made in house. We start with pillowy ricotta gnocchi and simple cacio de pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper), both very good. The robust bucatini alla Amatriciana is zesty and smoky, redolent with crispy pancetta. And while we enjoyed linguine Cozze (with mussels in tomato sauce), what really stole our hearts was linguine Vongole. Studded with sweet juicy clams, it was perfection in garlicky white wine sauce.
Dessert? Yes. We did. Affogato, a shot of bitter espresso that comes with a scoop of house-spun vanilla gelato and a crisp biscotti, is the perfect end to the meal. But why stop there? We order cannoli. This classic Italian treat is made in house from scratch (yes, including the shell) and is lovely and creamy and not too sweet. We cap off our lunch with luscious pistachio gelato and outstanding raspberry sorbetto.
It’s hard to leave our cozy table by the window. We watched the world go by from our perch. As we exit I think to myself that I am certain to return. How many times do we slow down and watch the world go by over a glass of wine and a plate of pasta? At Coco Pazzo Cafe the comforts of Tuscany and Rome are served daily with a splash of truly Italian hospitality. Mangia! Mangia!
Coco Pazzo Cafe is located at 212 E. Ohio, in the heart of Streeterville.
Photos by Gourmet Rambler. Portions pictured are all reduced in size by request.