While great Italian restaurants seem nearly ubiquitous in Chicago, great Italian restaurants serving food from the Tre Venezie region (think Verona and Venice) are not. Fortunately for us, there’s Ombra, the Andersonville restaurant serving delectable dishes inspired by Northern Italian flavors.
Every last detail of the restaurant is thoughtfully executed without being fussy. The salvaged material décor, brilliantly designed by Alerego Design’s David Nanni, is transporting, casual, and sexy. It is also practical. Rather than placing seating evenly along the food bar, as is typical, stools are smartly huddled into pairs, creating a more intimate setting. After all, how often do you eat at a bar with more than one other person?
The plates at Ombra are meant to be shared, providing ample opportunity to try several dishes (and adding to the romantic mood of the restaurant!). A favorite was the spicy octopus, sautéed to satisfyingly chewy but not rubbery, the kicky red sauce expertly balanced by giant fava beans. Also delicious was the flank steak cooked, at the suggestion of our waiter, on the rare side of medium rare. Wonderfully oniony ramps, romesco sauce, and hearty farro rounded out the dish.
Not every plate, unfortunately, compared to the octopus and flank steak. The bread of the less enthralling spinaci bruschetta, for example, seemed unnecessarily buttery, and the toppings, a spinach pesto, goat cheese, and golden raisins combo, unnecessarily deficient and a bit ho hum.
Dessert was more than redeeming. Initially, my husband and I faced the impossible decision of choosing between the chocolate salame, a dessert that looks like salami, and the classic Italian tiramisu. Our sympathetic waiter put an end to our suffering by offering us half portions of each. The salame, with its rich chocolate, broken cookies, and cookie dough texture was sinfully intense; the half portion was just the right amount. And the smooth espresso flavor and light, creamy consistency of the tiramisu was perfection. It’s impossible to say which is better. Which means I’ll just have to go back and try them both again. And the spicy octopus.
Try Ombra at 5310 N. Clark Street.