The new Peruvian-inspired restaurant Cabra is basically Macchu Pichu for Millennials, cougars, and horticultural enthusiasts.
Which is to say it is a Riverdale episode, a mecca for the extremes of two different scenes, though it is not, as it is with the Incan temple, a tiring hike or dusty bus ride away, but an elegant elevator-swoop up the recently christened-shafts of the Hoxton Hotel.
Walk out the sliding doors and you will be greeted by a palette of teal and beige and gold that looks a little too much like every other restaurant in town right now including Aba, Tied House, Funkenhausen, and Galit. Without taking a single bite of food, you might even mistake Cabra, as the twinning, part duh! of Boka sister restaurant combo Somerset/Devereaux.
Cabra is a scene, a competitive jostle of desperation and hopefulness. Beneath green plant tendril-wrapped rafters, honey-colored wood tables, a flickering fire pit and, yes, a shimmering swimming pool, are ringed equally with the well-worn, but freshly-nipped and tucked, as well as those who have only recently shed the Cuervo caul of their college days, the dewy-eyed Instagramming elites.
They are all eating, praying, and loving.
Except me. I am chowing and petitioning, but not so much participating in the affection biz.
I am supplicating for so many things right now.
A service staff not still in training, that can deliver more than watered-down cocktails without asking who gets what.
Full-sized napkins, instead of the Smurf loin cloths that pass as lap towels up in this joint.
A swap out of serveware somewhere before the fifth shared course.
Non-plastic drinkware that was not purchased from the Target seasonal dollar bin (did I mention the pool? Real glass = bad).
Non-chilled non-transparent plates that don’t look like they came from the all-you-can-eat salad bar.
A full-sized banquette, not the half-settee numbers here which force you to give your fellow seatmate a lap dance and/or a reacharound in search of lumbar support.
If you have just come off a binge of Stranger Things, season 3, you will love the proliferation of acid-washed daisy dukes and high waisted tie-off mom jeans worn by the staff.
You will also love the bandannas/headbands, especially as rocked by the bartender with the long stringy mane channeling 1981 Wimbledon Bjorn Borg.
You will also probably like Izard’s now familiar friendly culinary colonization (taqueria opening at the United Center next week!), this time, of Peruvian food.
The ceviche and tiraditos are chill beach-body friendly acid-smacked beauties. The slither of melon-perfumed kampachi punctuated by the crunch of tiny ice lettuce sprouts is a textural masterpiece.
The duck ceviche studded with micro-popcorn crackle of crispy quinoa and splashed with the zing of pickled mango and gooseberries is pretty awesome, though I do feel they missed an opportunity to pair the dish with a shooter of Andre’s flagship sparkler, Cold Duck.
The crab causa is a 1990s pre-fixe restaurant crab salad dropped on top of your abuela’s picnic potato salad, old reliable tropes reunited and rejiggered into something delightfully jarring like a Tarantino flick.
If you are one of those people who likes to get baked before rewatching Pulp Fiction, you will absolutely dig the stoner-surprise that is salchipapas, aka golden lithe frites dripping with chorizo and mayo, a South American clap back at Canadian poutine.
You will also likely relish the empanadas, half-moon pastry stuffed with silky slivers of goat surfing a riptide of huacatay chili-spiked mayo. Though, if you like a little more brightness, the aji de gallina or pepper-kissed chicken dipped in spiced-pecan chimichurri will be your thing. The texture of the dough has a slight floury dryness, and while it’s minor, it made me relish the deep-fried shatter of the empanadas at El Che or the buttery numbers from 5411.
Izard loves shishitos like Snoop Dogg loves Purple OG Kush – I have been growing them in my backyard every summer since I first tasted them at Girl and the Goat – and she delivers a good batch here swizzled with red pepper mayo and an umami hail of chicharron furikake.
You may have to be super high to truly enjoy the chicharron del puerco, a family-style Flinstonian-hunk of bone-in fatty pork shank served with mayo, pickles, plums, herby vinaigrette, and sweet-potato flatbread rounds. It’s sort of like a Latin American version of Chinese pork bun service, where you roll your own sandwich. It’s a great idea, and the magnificent crackle of the mahogany colored crispy skin is as releasing as an adolescent game of mailbox baseball. But the insides are mostly $30 of a gelatinous goo that reminds me of the leftovers of carcasses of people infected by the mind flayer in Stranger Things (two references in this piece, I know – sorry, I suck).
The gloppy parade continues in to dessert where passionfruit honey bogs and tangs a cloud of chocolate whip, aka the suspiro de limena.
Though they are only $11, I would totally pay double for the sweet potato donuts, an autumnal cider mill reverie, dunked in a caramel river of dulce de leche that you will sop up with your finger once the sweet dunkers are gone.
Izard and Boka Group hit so many home runs, that a solid base hit like Cabra feels like a letdown. Then again, when you hit a lot of long balls, you often earn an intentional walk or two. For me, though, it’s a luxury to return to restaurants, which means that if I’ve gone to a place many times, it really means something (unless of course we’re talking about Red Lobster – that’s mostly just a nostalgic personal weakness). My list of regular joints is pretty short and includes places like Rubi’s Tacos, Rainbow Thai, and most germane here, most of the Izard canon like Duck, Duck, Goat, Little Goat, and Girl and the Goat. Cabra, however, doesn’t compel me to be a repeat visitor. Then again, if you are on the prowl for a fling, looking for your second marriage, or your first betrothal, your mileage may vary.
Cabra is located on the roof of 200 N. Green in Chicago.