Chicago’s Restaurant week: Peruvian demographics, Italian dreams, and American price discrimination
By Luca Pizzuto ‘15 | february, 2014, Issue 1
Restaurant Week with Luca Pizzuto
Every year at the end of January Chicago makes a gift to warm shivering citizens and tense MBAs in recruiting season: Restaurant Week. These 14-days of fixed menus in 260 restaurants helped me exceed my food & wine budget in the most enjoyable way possible: eating in three cool restaurants.
Numbed by a ten minute walk in the blistering cold, my senses got abruptly de-iced by Tanta's wall-long vibrant painting in prime colors and grilled seafood aroma. Once seated in the calm atmosphere of a Sunday night, we resisted ordering a-la-carte and chose the Restaurant Week menu. Each serving was a thrilling contrast of texture and flavors: from the shrimp, calamari and mahi ceviche, through the grilled octopus with chimichurri roasted potatoes, to the cod bouillabaisse over green pepian puree. Apparently, chef Gaston Acurio ignited relatively simple dishes with influences from China, Japan, Spain and Italy, reflecting the diverse ethnicities that make up Peru's culture. Surprisingly, you can learn a lot about demography by eating in fancy restaurants.
The 2nd feature of Restaurant Week for me is Piccolo Sogno and the "small" dream of the owners. As soon as we walked in, the restaurant embraced us in a compact environment limited by deep blue walls. The atmosphere was kept intimate by the tenuous lights of few electric chandeliers, which would look pretentious if they were not contrasted by a rustic brick wall. Our Booth group forgot recruiting for once while toasting with a bottle of Valpolicella Ripasso, which was supposed to recall red fruits, chocolate, and cinnamon on a silky, structured and round palate, but it was honestly hard to describe with words different than vigorously good. Even as well executed and somewhat refined, both the baby spinach salad with crispy cured pancetta and the four cheese ravioli with pine nuts and marsala glaze lacked a bit of estrus. Or maybe I was too busy toasting to truly appreciate the food. When you dine with some of your favorite Boothies, company is all that matters.
Lastly, entering David Burke immediately made me feel like I was back in consulting. Concisely elegant and rationally sober, the design of their interior delighted the affluent customers with fifty shades of brown. Once seated, the Booth instinct took over and I couldn't refrain from appreciating the ingenuous pricing exercise conducted in the menu. The lunch-only restaurant week menu successfully attracted new customer segments like me, then inducing them to spend way more than the base price with upgrades and additions, while refraining usual customers from benefiting from the offer. A mix of huff and admiration for the trick was soon steered towards oblivious enjoyment by the richness of a salty croissant with butter and rose salt, followed closely by the delicacy of some wagyu beef sashimi on a block of Himalayan salt. After the meticulous waiter cleaned the creamy leather table cloth, we could finally enjoy the character of a dry aged (45 days) meat. It was worth the price discrimination.