On our recent trip to Chicago we attended a big birthday bash for a close friend at a local Italian Steakhouse. The name of the place where the party was held was: La Zaza’s Trattoria (named for the owner’s Italian grandmother). How sweet is that?
Normally I wouldn’t blog about a catered party at a restaurant, but they served us off of the regular menu (albeit family style) so I feel like I got the opportunity to really sample their dishes.
The interior of the restaurant was what you would expect from a place like this; dark, rich woods and burgundy colored walls. It had a nice relaxed and not overly formal atmosphere. It would be great for a date night or a meal with good friends. It has a pretty bar area, and a well curated wine list.
I was very impressed with the quality of the food, how well presented it was, and finally the quantity. It was a great night, and our hosts were very pleased.
The Brit and I both ordered glasses of wine. As I was unfamiliar with most of what was on the by the glass list, I was boring and went for a glass of Meiomi Pinot Noir. The Brit ordered the Antinori Super Tuscan blend. He was definitely the winner with that one. It was exactly what the meal needed and a beautiful example of what a Super Tuscan should be. At $12 a glass, I thought it was good value too.
We started out the meal with bread, olive oil, and Parmesan. There was also what was described as an Italian salsa on the table too, but I will come back to that. I watched with interest as people made their own dipping oil mix by adding the oil, cheese, and salt and pepper to their plates. I have never seen that done before, not even in Italy. I tried to look it up online to see where this serving style came from. I didn’t get much luck finding anything, only simple recipes to prepare oil mixes for serving. I was familiar with all of those. The bread was good quality, rustic, and fresh tasting.
The Italian “salsa” was interesting. It tasted like a room temperature puttanesca sauce. A little spicy, with chunky bits of tomato and veggies in it. I sprinkled the Parmesan over it on my plate and dipped my bread into it. It had a lot of flavor and I have to say I enjoyed it.
The La ZaZa’s salad was served next. Romaine lettuce with mixed vegetables and olives dressed in a Balsamic Vinegar dressing and sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles. It was my least favorite part of the meal. All of the components were fresh and well prepared. The combination just didn’t ring my bell.
The next thing that was brought out was bruschetta. Heaving with fresh ricotta, olive oil, basil and tomatoes, these lightly toasted bread rounds were really good. I just wish that they were drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction for that finishing X-factor of delicious.
Pizza was the next course. We were served a margarita pizza and a sausage and cheese pizza. They reminded me of the little neighborhood Italian restaurant I used to eat at as a child. Both had wonderful flavor, with a nice light crust. It was a little more leaning to American tastes rather than authentic thin crust Italian pizzas, but I loved it. Everyone at the table seemed to agree as they piled through the dishes.
The next course was a pasta primavera. The vegetables on the pasta were cooked beautifully retaining all of their color and flavor. The pasta was nicely al dente and the sauce was light and creamy as it should be.
For our meat course our host selected Chicken Marsala. Now this is a dish that is fairly difficult to make in mass quantities and get all the factors right. Usually there is an issue with the chicken drying out, or the sauce being flat and uninteresting. In this case it was all perfect; exactly as I hoped it would be. Beautiful tender chicken in a wonderful rich sauce heaving with mushrooms. Congratulations to the chef. The chicken was great.
Served with the chicken marsala were roasted potatoes. They were absolutely wonderful. Everyone at the table was raving over how good they were.
The second meat course was traditional Italian sausages, peppers, and onions. I could go on for days about the quality of the sausage. It is so rare to get such flavor in restaurants these days. I am told that the sausage is all home-made and it is a closely guarded secret. Honestly, I can see why.
But now to my absolutely favorite part of the meal: The dessert. There were cannoli, pieces of dark chocolate cake, and tiramisu served in small portions. I don’t normally even like dessert, and these were all calling to me: whispers of don’t worry about the calories tickled my ears.
The tiramisu was outstanding. Light cake fingers soaked in alcohol, with beautiful coffee and chocolate flavors. I wanted to eat the entire tray of it myself. It was that good.
The Brit comments: I love tiramisu. No, that is not true, I love good tiramisu. All to often it is no more than a sponge cake with a coffee flavour. That was not the case here, this was the best tiramisu I have eaten in the US.
The chocolate cake was so dark, rich, moist, and delicious it knocked my socks off. The only thing it was missing was some kind of fruit sauce on it to lift the chocolate into perfection. Raspberry or orange accents would have been amazing. Still, on its own with a cup of hot steaming coffee, it was a delight.
The cannoli were interesting. The filling was smooth, so I am guessing that they at least used a marscapone mix rather than all ricotta in their filling. The flavor was great; the shell was nice and crisp. The only let down was the overly dyed green pistachios that were on the ends of the treat. The neon color was a little off-putting. I didn’t feel as though that was needed. Still, I think that is the traditional way of making them, and I have seen it served that way in bakeries in Italy. I guess its my Californian aversion to dyes in my food.
The service was great at La Zaza’s. It is very hard to serve large parties, and our waitress was gracious and efficient, even when some of the guests weren’t that polite. I have to give her kudos for remaining professional through the entire meal. All of our food was served hot, and our drinks were constantly refreshed. It was nicely done. At the end of the meal, all the leftovers were packaged up and given to the host.
I would love to go back and try some of their other dishes at La Zaza’s Trattoria. I was impressed with the food, the atmosphere, and the service. I would highly recommend you check it out if you are in the Chicago area.