Food Adventures

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Mano (review)

A Mano
335 N Dearborn
Chicago, IL 60601

The menu at A Mano, the Italian trattoria owned by the folks who own BIN36, is quite extensive and versatile. It ranges from antipasti such as grilled baby octopus and marinated wild mushrooms, to a selection of salumi (cured meats), raw fish, and wood-burning oven pizza to first courses (including ribolitta, salads, and cotechino sausage), pasta and second courses (including both meat and fish). There is also a selection of side dishes and, most importantly, a gelato and sorbetto bar.

The restaurant, located in a basement space right underneath BIN36, also features an excellent selection of wines, possibly the most extensive selection of Italian wines of any restaurant in Chicago. And the wine was also the best part of an otherwise average dinner. Both the Amarone and the Valpolicella Ripasso we tried were excellent: rich and complex. The 5-page wine list contains something for every taste and will not disappoint.

Another memorable thing about the dinner was the wild boar, shredded and cooked in its own juices with sweet raisins. It was flavorful without being heavy and the fact that it wasn’t surrounded by a sauce made it stand out and make an impression.

The pasta (pappardelle) the wild boar was served over is a different story. It was somewhat leathery and didn’t combine well with the wild boar. The other pasta we tried, the gnocchetti with sweet butter and parmigiano, was equally unimpressive. The gnoccheti were somewhat slippery and didn’t have any flavor. The most flavorful ingredient on the plate, the shavings of parmigiano, was in short supply, which made the dish as whole quite devoid of flavor.

The pizza is good, but not great. The dough is a little too thick for my taste and the flavors of the pizza we had (Prosciutto di Parma with arugula and mozzarella) were unremarkable. The prosciutto, which should have been the star of the show, was overpowered by the cheese and could have been mistaken for any ham. For my taste, Spacca Napoli and even Frasca have much better pizza.

The meal was somewhat redeemed by the finish, a combination of three sorbetti: lemon, cranberry-apple and blood orange. The lemon was very lemony (even too lemony), but mixed with the blood orange, it yielded the perfect combination of sweetness and refreshing tartness. The cranberry-apple sorbetto was surprising, with a somewhat less even texture than the other two, and the prefect balance of the two fruits.

Overall, the experience was not inspiring, but I would go back for the rotisserie whole lamb (special on Thursdays), the whole roasted fish of the day, and more sorbetto. And, of course, the wine!

Tip: try to go early as the noise level is pretty high later in the evening.


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