Please Adhere to Small Plates when Dining at Cicchetti

I often dream of pasta. It's consistently in my thoughts. Whenever I'm planning on dining out, pasta is always in the running. If I could, I'd probably eat it every day.

Last night I met a friend for dinner and we decided to try the much-anticipated, highly recommended Cicchetti in Streeterville, which debuted this winter. The name is given on purpose, as 'cicchetti' means small, little snacks or Venetian tapas. When dining at Cicchetti, prep for more playful Italian treats, small bite size starters or sharers to nosh on with your dinner partners.

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The first half of the menu greets you in true Venetian tapas style with a few standards like handmade pizzas, cheese selections, prosciutto and meatballs. Embedded in between these usual suspects are items such as house cured sardines with horseradish and pumpernickel crackle and aged hanger steak carpaccio accompanied by cauliflower topped with raisin caper aioli.

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The charred squid is uniquely presented with chewy rings of squid, marinated in blackened garlic, swimming in creamy polenta. The flavors compliment each other well and presents a new spin on squid ink.

Executive chef Michael Sheerin does not limit the menu to just noshers, but offers pastas, fish and meat if you chose to forgo the tapas. There are but five pastas, among them a mushroom risotto, corzetti with spring peas and risotto, and whole wheat chitarra with clams, garlic and sausage.

We tasted the braised short rib ravioli, which is topped with house tomato sauce. The presentation is appeasing, though with first bites it is apparent that something is lacking. It's evident this pasta is made fresh, but maybe the tomato sauce needed more flavor or perhaps the filling could use additional spices, because something was missing.

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Additional entrees include slow roasted salmon, brick chicken, aged trio of duck breast, sausage and confit as well as a 21 day aged grass fed NY strip, all ranging from $23 - $29.

The menu allows you to take control and decide how you are going to pace your evening. If you chose to stay close to small plates and graze your way through the evening, you may. Or perhaps you would like to have some nibbles and selfishly claim your entree as your own. Or maybe you would like to try something in each section to share with your dinner partners, all are welcome.

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The roasted mushrooms, fontina mornay, scallions, and chili-garlic hand-made pizza was absolutely stunning. Served fresh out of the oven, the flavors meshed perfectly with every bite, we barely even left any crumbs.

I enjoyed tasting some of the playful items on the menu, and the pizza is still on my mind; however, I have to admit there is one aspect of Cicchetti that is still bugging me. The atmosphere.

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When I first walked in I was taken by the bar and found it impressive, though when I was seated at my table in the dining room I felt as though there was a void, something was missing. I don't know if it had to do with the dining room not being overcrowded that evening, thus I could hear more goings-on in the restaurant than preferred, or if it was more about the tables and chairs being sterile which echos throughout and at times it gave me a vibe of being in a dressed-up cafeteria.

Perhaps it was more about the lighting that was much too bright; however, I had no trouble reading the menu. With that said, I must admit, I did adore the beams hanging above.

In sum, the service was impeccable, and I did enjoy sipping on a glass of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo as I noshed on Venetian tapas and pasta. However, maybe next time I shall saunter in for lunch.

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