Riccardo Trattoria has long been a favorite of true-blue Lincoln Parkers and the food-obsessed from around the city who cherish the spot for its small and boisterous dining room and traditional yet innovative cuisine. So when owner Riccardo Michi decided to open a tiny wine bar across the street, weâ€”and plenty of othersâ€” were interested.
With just 45 seats, Riccardo Enoteca is much more intimate than its older siblingâ€”think of it as a great place to grab a casual dinner with friends or a relaxed and fun first-date spot. The menu is significantly smaller, too, with sections such as salads, pizza, panini and items from the wood-burning oven, including eggplant with Parmesan and oven-grilled mixed Italian sausageâ€” most of which are served small-plate style. Italian wines dominate the list, but there are also ones from other popular grape-friendly countries, such as France and Argentina. Beer and cocktails are available as well.
Though itâ€™s much more laid-backâ€”the minimal and quite basic interior design adds to that vibeâ€”than its sister spot, thereâ€™s nothing casual about the service at Enoteca. The dark-haired waiters and food runners (pretty much all possessing slicked-back hair and crisp white shirts, looking like extras from Goodfellas) are doting. A plate, even an empty one, never gets removed from the table without permission, wine glasses are always full and, if you leave the table, napkins are refolded.
And you can bet, almost all the plates are empty, scraped clean with the soft golden focaccia served in the house bread basket. The pizzas, which incorporate a Milanese-style focaccia crust, have crackling edges and a range of creative toppings. On the evening I dined at Enoteca, my favorite was the Capesante drizzled with lobster bisque, wispy slivers of tender scallop, zucchini and pieces of smoky bacon. (Sounds strange, tastes great.) But be warned: This particular ingredient combo may or may not be available since Riccardoâ€™s serves a menu of daily specials thatâ€™s almost as large as the regular one, and a good bit of it turns over weekly. Other daily specials might include grilled asparagus with fontina fondue and a fried egg. (Want a preview? The specials menu is available on Enotecaâ€™s website and is updated daily.)
But donâ€™t let all these specials recommendations worry you: The regular menu holds its own, too. Grilled octopus with garlicky pesto nestled in a mound of crushed potatoes, aka the Octopus Genovese, is soothing comfort food. Scrims of smoked pink tuna, topped with a salad of peppery arugula, orange and fennel bursting with citrus and licorice, make a nice palate-cleansing intermezzo. Pizzas always on the menu include Fugazetta with braised onions, sausage, mozzarella and provolone, or the Bianca, with smoked salmon, stracchino, capers and onions.
Enotecaâ€™s lasagna Bolognese from the Forno a Legna (â€œwood-burning ovenâ€) section offers tender bits of browned beef coated with a light touch of tomato ragout sandwiched between al dente pasta coated with nutty bÃ©chamel. This dish is a reminder that real lasagna is not a pasta brick sogged with cloying Prego and glops of ricotta.
Heavy food however is welcome during dessert, especially with Enotecaâ€™s paciugo (Italian for messy concoction), a sundae of silky vanilla gelato, handwhipped cream, bursting berries and amarone-soaked cherries. Itâ€™s simple, perfect and rewarding, which is to say, much like Enoteca itself.
2116 N. Clark St.,