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DISH: SAVOR The Florentine; Cafe Robey
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2018-05-21

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Sure, it's good to sometimes shake up things—but consistency can be a good thing as well.

Example one is The Florentine ( in the J.W. Marriott Hotel, 151 W. Adams St.; the-florentine.net/ ). It's still warm and welcoming—and the quality of the dishes is still quite high.

Chef Zachary Walrath recently unveiled the menu for spring/midsummer ( three menu alterations annually instead of four ), with many dishes changed to reflect fruits and vegetables that are currently in season.

Regarding antipasti, it's hard to go wrong with the burrata di campana, which features cream-filled mozzarella, peperonata, olives, capers, basil and polenta bread ( the latter courtesy of a new bakery ); and polpo ( octopus with saffron aioli, butter beans, snow peas, nduja and salsa verde ).

An enticing insalata di carciofi incorporates baby artichokes, golden raisins, currants, marcona almonds, lemon and parmesan. A favorite dish, bucatini carbonara, has the requisite ingredients ( pancetta, sweet peas, pecorino, egg yolk and black pepper ) done in a most pristine manner. Lastly, lamb chops ( or agnello ) are sizeable and tasty, accompanied with charred eggplant, ceci beans, peperonata and mint.

And, if you have the room, don't miss out on dessert. The crostata ( warm apple pie with bourbon gelato ) is divine, but there are other options, including bomboloni ( warm ricotta doughnuts with Nutella and cinnamon ), strawberry mousse and panna cotta.

Also, The Florentine still has an exhaustive drink menu that could be a nightmare for indecisive people. Specialty cocktails ( $16 each ) include items such as The Wayfarer and The Turn of the Tide. ( As last look, these items were not in the online drink menu, which would present a problem for those who like to plan ahead. )

There is one major difference now, though: Sommelier Alexandria Sarovich is no longer there, having moved half a world away to Australia. Fidelma Cunniffe ( who's here by way of Dublin, Ireland ) is the new beverage director.

Cafe Robey

The second example of desired consistency ( incidentally, connected to a hotel as well ) involves the quality of the dishes at Cafe Robey ( in The Robey hotel, at 1616 N. Milwaukee Ave.; www.therobey.com/ ), which, too, has an updated seasonal menu.

The spot's offerings ( some which are "deconstructed" ) can best be described as contemporary American, with a global twist. One of the "small" dishes ( the category printed on the menu ) is simply called "Grains," and it sports a Middle Eastern flair; it consists of the ancient grain bulgur as well as cucumber, roasted peppers and onions, watermelon radish and avocado mousse, and it's accompanied with sesame lavash and sumac vinaigrette.

The Japanese-inspired egg dish simply called "Egg" ( one of my faves ) has a five-minute egg as well as blackened aspargus, basil custard, miso butter, chicken battarga and bonito flakes. The pork-belly appetizer has a Mexican influence, as the braised meat has elements such as mole and charred pineapple gel and corn fritters, along with spiced cabbage and pickled radishes.

The main dishes are just as complex—and, thankfully, tasty. The pan-roasted lamb chops come with snap pea-and-mint puree, roasted carrots, black rice and aleppo vinaigrette. Pork loin is coffee-crusted, and comes with lentils, pork-and-lentil empanadas, chimichurri, kale salad and fresh radish. ( Other entrees cover a wide variety of proteins, such as chicken, duck, cod, beef and salmon, although the browned potato gnocchi is one of the best pasta dishes I've had in a while. )

Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.


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