Neighborhood: Wicker Park
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★
Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
- Around the World
- Foccacia with ricotta-honey truffle
- Ricotta Pillows
- Crunchy Cauliflower
- Ricotta Agnolotti
- Squid Ink Mafaldine
I recently had a slew of disappointing dining experiences. You know that sunken feeling in your stomach after everyone on Instagram hyped up the restaurant and you found yourself scratching your head wondering what the big deal was? Then realizing you were deceived because of sponsorships and superficial realities like that.
I cautiously entered Etta wondering if it was actually going to be a delicious dining experience or whether it was going to be yet another hyped up disappointment fueled by Instagram. Etta (the E is lower case) was nowhere near a disappointment.
It was a truly delightful meal. I had not previously tried Maple & Ash, the other famously delicious restaurant of etta executive chef, Danny Grant, so I didn’t know what to expect other than an “open-hearth” (old school roasting) concept, but who really knows what that means?
The aesthetic of etta is a product of its time. Plants hang adorning the bar wall, which is a marker of every trendy restaurant in the West Loop and Wicker Park now. The lights, chairs, and booths are all mid-century modern with a visible kitchen concept that is somewhat dimly lit. The napkins were striped illustrating its modern casual vibe.
Service was excellent on all fronts. Our server was not pushy with ordering too many courses and they were excellent with the water refills. We also had prime seating in a booth, which is a rarity. Etta is yet another small plates restaurant, but they aren’t annoying about it and everything was so delicious at a non obnoxious price.
They also have creative cocktails in addition to their extensive wine menu. I of course had a Mezcal cocktail called Around the World and it was well-balanced and smokey. It had Aperol (which I’ve been seeing on all kinds of menus now), hibiscus and grapefruit. It was a sexy, refreshing drink.
We started with the Focaccia served with ricotta-honey and truffle. The focaccia was moist and seasoned perfectly with salt. The ricotta-honey and truffle was a smooth and creamy companion for the focaccia. It was the perfect way to start a delicious meal. We didn’t get enough ricotta so we had the Ricotta Pillows, which reminded me of smooth, truffle ricotta stuffed gnocchi. The sauce was mild but complex and the pillows just melt in your mouth in an orgasmic way.
We also tried the Crunchy Cauliflower, which was another highlight of the meal. The cauliflower had a perfect crackly texture and was extremely flavorful with a bright Romesco sauce on top. It had bold flavors that didn’t drown the cauliflower.
Etta does have some delicious looking pizza on the menu but we weren’t really in the mood for pizza and wanted to indulge in some fine pasta. We had the Ricotta Agnolotti (there’s ricotta in a lot of their items – especially if you are Pescatarian), which were reminiscent of delicate ricotta dumplings bathed in a buttery, truffle sauce. It did remind me of the Ricotta Pillows but it was still super tasty.
We also tried the Squid Ink Mafaldine, which was freshly made Squid Ink Pasta with clams, nduja butter (not vegetarian – I found this out too late…GASP), lobster, and crispy garlic. It had bolder flavors and fun textures with the crispy garlic sprinkled throughout. The seafood was cooked perfectly and blended well with the Squid Ink pasta.
We were pretty stuffed so we didn’t indulge in dessert. What was interesting about etta is that they pack your leftovers, but they pack them for you after they bring a box to your table. It seems like they were trying to convey that it’s not a “fine-dining” restaurant, but that it’s still “higher-end” since they pack your leftovers for you. I found that to be a funny touch.
While it seems like everyone is doing Mediterranean/New American, etta definitely stands out from the crowd and is not insanely expensive like many other restaurants in this genre. It’s pleasant, hearty, warm, and delicately flavorful.