The year of the pizza continues. Let's see so far Chicago's been plied with Neapolitan-style pizza (Spacca Napoli), Roman-style pizza (Gruppo di Amici), retro pizza (the rebirth of Gino's East on Superior Street) and now this: the $100 pizza.
My first reaction? Yawn.
Call me a cynic, but haven't we seen this type of thing before? $1,000 martinis at Reserve. $50 Margaritas at Adobo Grill. We get the formula by now: Take an ordinary menu item, then 'zazz it up with some kind of out-of-this world ingredient (in Reserve's case, a ruby). Then just let the publicity machine do its work.
So when Barcello's, formerly a crusty ol' Bucktown pizza joint that's been tossing dough since 1976, suddenly began pushing a flamboyant flatbread topped with Oestra caviar, diced hard-boiled eggs, crème fraiche and chives, I was dubious. But hey, gimmick or not, I had to try it, right?
Turns out David Richards--who also owns foodie favorite Sweets & Savories--took over the space about three months ago. He relaunched the business in late September, but kept the Barcello's moniker. "The name needed to be respected," he says. Everything else needed some, well, 'zazz.
Richards gave the space the fresh, sunny walls of a modern trattoria, plus a bit of personality: A canary-yellow Italian motor scooter is parked near the back of the one-room restaurant. (A waiter told us the restaurant plans to eventually use it for deliveries.) Another bonus: It's going to be BYOB for the foreseeable future, says Richards.
Sweets and Savories fans will have no trouble recognizing the chef's ingredient-focused style--it's pure Richards. We liked the earthy flavor of the roasted beet antipasti with goat cheese and a healthy sprinkle of dill ($3), and the rolled mozzarella and prosciutto topped with a mint pesto sauce ($5). The cold calamari salad ($3) was a bit of a disappointment.
Entrees include a handful of mid-priced risottos, pastas such as truffle potato ravioli ($12) and entrees such as roasted Amish hen ($29) and whole-roasted loupe de mere (Mediterranean sea bass, $38).
Barcello's still offers traditional pizzas--you know the kind, topped with pedestrian fare like mushrooms and pepperoni. Now, the restaurant also sells 15 different 10-inch "trattoria-style" pizzas, with toppers such as pulled pork and peach drizzled with pomegranate-accented barbecue sauce ($12) or duck confit and fennel ($14). Tempting. But we were there for that Zsa Zsa Gabor of pizza, the $100 caviar pie.
But some weirdness, first: The menu lists the pizza as "Beluga Caviar" pizza. The accompanying description, however, correctly lists the less-controversial (and less-expensive) Osetra variety.
A one-ounce glass ramekin of the stuff is served in the center of the pie. Our waiter seemed a bit nervous presenting it, telling us that we were the first in the city to try it. That made us a little nervous to eat it.
My two buddies and I each spread the roe on carefully at first, meting out each precious spoonful among our first slices and taking tiny nibbles, letting the luscious, salty flavor slowly coat this inside of our mouths. By our second slices, we spread more generously. And when we all finished the pizza but caviar still remained, we felt no shame in tipping in our forks and eating it straight. Pure, delicious decadence!
In the end, am I sorry that I dropped a whole Ben Franklin on this pie? Not at all. Would I do it again? Never.
But if you're buying, be sure to give me a call. I'll bring the champagne.
Chris LaMorte is the metromix dining producer. firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun