Cocello is a new-ish Italian restaurant in River North, from the same restauranteur behind Bavettes, Au Cheval, and Doughnut Vault in River North. Located in the old Dillman’s space, Cocell0 looks much the same as Dillimans, with the feeling of a lounge/cigar bar. There is a large bar in the center, leather banquets along the wall, and tables arranged in the center of the room. The space has this secretive atmosphere, it feels very private and quiet, but this is partially because we were there on a slow night. Cocello describes itself as an Italian restaurant without red sauce. It still has many classics on the menu, just not red sauce. Cocello presents a more modern and elegant style of Italian.
I went with my dear friend Anne, and we had the greatest time catching up and indulging in pasta and red wine. We had both been meaning to try Cocello since it opened in April, and were surprised that the other hadn’t been. Now Anne and I are going to try to visit a restaurant on our Chicago restaurant bucket list every month. It will be the perfect dose of girl time, and a fun chance to try someplace new.
Our meal began with the Roman Style Artichokes, which were fried to perfection and served with an aioli. This was a big treat. I love artichokes, but I don’t see fried artichokes on menus very often.
Anne had the Cacio e Pepe. The pasta had a wonderful texture and fresh taste, and the sauce had a nice creaminess. I like to consider myself a Chicago Cacio e Pepe expert, and I would say this is in the top three. Ordering Cacio e Pepe is a way to test how good an Italian restaurant is, since it is one of those formulaic recipes that all Italian restaurants should master. If the Cacio e Pepe at an Italian restaurant isn’t good, I consider that to be a major problem. Cocello passed the Cacio e Pepe test.
I had the Egg Yolk Raviolo (raviolo is a giant ravioli). When I read the menu I assumed that the pasta would be made with egg yolks. I didn’t expect egg yolk to come oozing out of the raviolo! This was a delightful treat. The yolk acted like a sauce for the cheese filled raviolo. Assembling the raviolo must be difficult, and cooking the pasta without overcooking the egg is an even greater challenge, but this was beautifully executed.
Cocello has several vegetable side dishes on the menu, and we chose the broccoli. The broccoli was lightly charred, and dusted with seasoning, spice, and parmesan. I hadn’t seen charred broccoli before, but it added a smokiness that I enjoyed.
We peeked at the dessert menu which focuses on an offering of gelatos, with a few other classics like tiramisu thrown in. But we were too full for another bite.
We had a great time at Cocello, but we were baffled that it wasn’t busier! Granted, Tuesdays are generally slow nights at restaurants, but with food that good, the tables should have been full. Chicagoans, listen up – Cocello has great food, and reservations are easy to get. This should be your last minute dinner place.
Cocello is located at 354 West Hubbard Street and is a short walk from the Merchandise Mart Brown Line stop.