A Look Inside Cicchetti

Are you ready for some Cicchetti? Streeterville is about to get a serious infusion of Venetian-inspired cuisine as owner Dan Rosenthal and chef Mike Sheerin prepare to open one of the most important restaurants that neighborhood has seen in years. Due mid-December, Cicchetti draws its name from Venetian small plates, sort of like Italian tapas, which indeed comprise a substantial part of the menu along with other plates composed by Sheerin and his cohorts, Sarah Jordan and Phil Rubino. It's a veritable culinary dream team, all working together under the direction of Rosenthal, esteemed Chicago restaurant veteran and owner of six Sopraffina Marketcaffes in the Loop as well as Trattoria No. 10. He's also the founder of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, so you better believe Cicchetti is as green as a plate of arugula. In preparation for the restaurant's debut, here are some need-to-know details on the restaurant poised to reinvigorate Italian cuisine in Chicago.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital approached Rosenthal about opening a Sopraffina Marketcaffe in an available space next to their grounds, seeing as his brand of wholesome, fresh, healthy cuisine would be a perfect fit for hospital clientele. Since the available space was massive, he could either divvy it up and only take 3,500 square feet of it, or utilize all 9,000. He went with the latter, opting to split the concept in half and do a regional Italian restaurant along with his next Sopraffina, the first location north of the Chicago River. Cicchetti is the first-ever newly constructed Green Seal-certified restaurant in Chicago. Rosenthal went to great lengths to ensure the stamp of approval, sourcing wood for columns and beams from a defunct grain elevator in Wisconsin and using wood for floors that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Almost every element in the two adjacent restaurants, adjoined by a door in the center, is made from sustainable materials, such as marble, cast-iron, and stone. Working under Lean Design guidelines, contruction crews completed efforts in 12 weeks to minimize energy and waste. Cicchetti's minimalist decor also guarantees there won't be any unnecessary wall hangings or decorations. The space is sprawling and enthralling, with tall ceilings, tons of natural wood throughout, glistening white seats, and a kitchen area viewable behind glass in the rear of the main dining room. A private events table is located in a closed off room by the front bar, while seating in the main space ranges from two-tops to larger tables and banquettes. Of course, the food is green as well. Not only does the small plates concept reduce waste through smaller portions, but sustainable sourcing is paramount and a full recycling program makes sure materials are disposed of properly. Even leftover food at the end of the day is to be donated to shelters.

(Cicchetti in progress. Photo: Cicchetti)

The bar program pays dutiful homage to Venice as well, in particular Venice's revered Harry's Bar, the birthplace of the bellini and a favorite haunt for the likes of Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway. Helmed by Daniel Casteel, the beverage program features the most comprehensive array of Italian-inspired cocktails in Chicago, chock full of amaros, vermouths, and bitters. Bellinis are of course essential, made with seasonal fruits such as white peaches and blood orange, as are wine cocktails and even grappa cocktails. Aside from cocktails, the wine list is 100-plus bottles strong, while craft beers are served from eight taps and by the bottle. The bar area greets guests as they enter the restaurant, beckoning with its polished bartop and sprawling height.

In the Titanic-sized, brand new kitchen, Sheerin commands a menu unlike any other Italian spot in Chicago. With the help of sous chefs Jordan and Rubino, the team work collaboratively to bounce ideas off each other, inspire each other, and curate a thoughtful menu derived from classic Venetian flavors and ideologies. Sheerin mentions acid, salt, spice, seafood, and grilled meats play large roles in the kitchen. "The idea is using Eastern influences with spices," says Sheerin. "We're thinking 17th century style," a period of time when Venice was a hotbed for spice trade routes. Unlike his past endeavors, wherein Sheerin made a name for himself as a progressive gastronomy wizard, here he's honing in on more classic techniques. It's a challange for him, but a welcome one. "In the past, I've been able to grab a hold of whatever I wanted. Here it's more about focusing on one ethnic background, but looking at it in a progressive way." It may be outside of his comfort zone, but he's OK with that. "Now it's about understanding other people's comfort zones" says Sheerin. "Exploring Italian food through the eyes of other ethnicities," is how Sheerin describes the cuisine at Cicchetti. Case in point, he got his hands on an Italian fish sauce that he's excited about. And the team has been working on an aged hanger steak carpaccio, using a different, fattier cut of beef than is typical of carpaccio, rubbing it with fat, and hanging it for three weeks. The Cicchetti bar menu is where the smaller plates dwell, adjoined by a regular menu with items such as pizzas and pastas.

Look for Cicchetti to start cooking mid-December, eventually serving dinner, lunch, and brunch.