Friday, April 26, 2013

Pizza Rustica Chicago

After Pinot Days, Laima and I headed up Lake Shore Drive to Pizza Rustica, a restaurant we'd heard good things about. A husband and wife team, he working the kitchen, she the front of the house, the restaurant was known as a friendly place to hang out.

Pulling up to the restaurant, we saw a chef exit the bakery across the street with a bag of fresh bread. I remarked that, if the chef was headed into Pizza Rustica, we were in for a treat. It doesn't get fresher or more local than across the street. Happily, he did indeed walk into the restaurant.

The restaurant is a large room, divided by some columns and clever lighting fixtures into 3 distinct yet connected areas: kitchen, dining room, and bar. From all 3 sections the others are clearly visible, so watching the kitchen make the food is as central as checking out the other diners. It's somewhat dark, but in a comfortable way; the entire facade is glass, and there is plenty of unique lighting to keep it interesting. Chalkboards on one wall show daily specials -- the food is purchased fresh several times a week, so the daily specials are constantly evolving. When the menu is brought to the table, the artistic bent of the restaurant is further revealed -- nice cork-covered binders show that wine may be as important as the food.

Pizza Rustica Chicago

Wine

Pizza Rustica used to be a BYOB restaurant when they opened across the street from the current location, but they have spent considerable effort building up a good wine list. There are also plenty of interesting beers and cocktails if that's your preference. I of course started with a Prosecco, the Nobili del Borgo, a refreshing citrusy sparkler that primed me for the meal to come. The Tommasi Single Vineyard ‘Le Rosse’ IGT Pinot Grigio continued with the balanced acid, pairing perfectly with all our dishes. Laima added an Old Vine Lot 57 Zinfandel to the mix -- the old vine Zins are fast becoming one of our favorite go-to wines, being eminently drinkable on their own but also complementing a variety of cuisines. The restaurant holds many beer and wine "Battles," something to keep an eye out for.

Food

While the name might suggest otherwise, pizza is just a very small portion of the menu, with appetizers, salads, pasta, meats and seafood being fully represented.

We started with a salad Caprese, outstanding fresh mozzarella and a good indication of the freshness of the ingredients!

We had to get pizza, and the restaurant has a unique was of allowing multiple tastes -- you can order by the "slice," half, or full pizza. We took advantage of this, ordering the Tutta (everything), the Verdure (roasted veggies), the Papate (rosemary potato, yum), and Bianca (white pizza, served with fresh lemon, very unique) -- they all came out together on a peel, a fun presentation and very clever way of giving diners plenty of choice.

Pastas are also cleverly done, with a choice of sauces going along with the multitude of pasta options. Artichoke Ravioli with the Quattro Formaggi sauce and Meat Tortellini with Alfredo were our choices and they both really shone -- hard to believe 2 white sauces could be so different. Since the menu changes, it's nice to know there will be more to try when we return.

Pizza Rustica Chicago Food

Dessert:

Hard to believe after all that food that we had room for dessert, but for one, the food is relatively light and two, the desserts sounded awesome! I'm not usually a big fan of tiramisu, but we finished it all and then the Flourless Chocolate cake as well. Desserts are made in-house and should not be missed. It would be a shame if an Italian restaurant didn't have espresso and they didn't disappoint, with the biggest head of foam I've ever had the pleasure to drink through.

Pizza Rustica Chicago Desserts

Three things stand out about Pizza Rustica: passion, friendliness, and quality of food. This is the ultimate neighborhood joint -- if we lived in the area, I guarantee we'd be here a lot; with the ever-changing menu of fresh, well-made food, the wine and beer "Battles," and the hugs given to regulars, Pizza Rustica makes you feel welcome and appreciated.

Unlike some businesses we've visited, Pizza Rustica is active on social media, sharing via Facebook and Twitter, retweeting and favoriting on a regular basis. Follow them and make sure to drop in when you're in the neighborhood (or make a special trip!).

Pizza Rustica on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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