When a restaurant is located two doors down from Blackbird it’s easy to be overlooked. On Saturday night, Alimentari Osteria was woefully empty while both Blackbird and sister restaurant, Avec, were swarming with people. Why the discrepancy? Was the food so starkly different, or was it a matter of reputation? Blackbird does have a Michelin star, for what that’s worth. And Paul Kahan is a bit of a legend in Chicago.
We had our pick of tables, and chose a window-side banquette seat. Toasted bread served with olive tapenade and fresh tomatoes was a nice Italian twist to traditional bread and butter and served almost immediately, so we could nibble as we perused the menu..
Appetizers were delicious, even yummier than the entrees, as I would later discover. A gluten-free farinata pizza made with chickpea flour and topped with loads of wild mushrooms and mozzarella was the stand out dish of the night. I don’t have any gluten sensitivities and neither did my dining companion, but we both enjoyed the cake-y texture of the chickpea dough, which complemented the robust earthy mushrooms perfectly. This pizza is appetizer size, with a six-inch diameter. Alimentari has several new 12-inch pizzas on the menu too, with six offerings ranging from a Napoli pizza with anchovies to a lamb sausage and bell pepper pie. While I didn’t have the chance to try any of these this time around (my stomach can only handle so much), I saw a cute brick oven on my way to the ladies room that resembles a gigantic apple, and the pies coming out looked so good that I’ll be sure to order one next time.
Grilled calamari served with Northern beans and arugula was another tasty antipasto. The calamari were tender and just the slightest bit chewy, while the light tomato sauce with beans was a great accompaniment.
After a great start to the meal, the entrees were rather ordinary. The fish of the day was seared striped bass with a lemon-caper sauce. The fish itself was fresh and tasty, but the mashed potatoes underneath fell flat. Maybe some garlic cloves would have livened up the starch.
Roasted organic chicken stuffed with swiss chard, prosciutto and mozzarella was a little more interesting and flavorful. Again, though, the side potatoes, this time roasted, were rather bland.
Desserts, including ice cream and sorbet, are all made in house. We tried the panna cotta, which our waiter insisted had nutella mixed in, although we could only taste vanilla. The cooked cream was topped with raspberry and mint sauces, and was more rigid than I like, perhaps due to too much gelatin. It did have a nice sweet and creamy flavor though.
Our waiter, Drew, was attentive and pleasant, and the menu shows enough promise that I would return, particularly for an early meal before a show. Randolph St. is overflowing with restaurants, but if you’re looking for somewhere quiet and relaxed for a simple Italian meal, you won’t be disappointed.
621 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60661