Quartino, Italian for 'Tapas'

June 19, 2012 626 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA

For a friend's birthday recently, I joined a few lovely ladies for wine and small plates at a River North favorite, Quartino. I had been to the Italian tapas restaurant once before, but I was excited to try it again with a group with diverse tastes.

First of all, the wine at Quartino is served in carafes by the 1/4 liter, 1/2 liter, liter, or by the bottle, if you're feeling conservative. I must warn you, it's very difficult to control your wine intake when you're drinking from the tiniest wine cups known to man!

Wine list
Our group opted to start with a liter of sauvignon blanc before diving into an array of small plates.

Liter of sauvignon blanc & those tiny wine glasses
Since there was a group of us, we all ordered a small plate that interested us to share with each other. This worked out quite well as we all were adventurous, non-picky eaters. Each small plate is made to order and is delivered to your table in the order in which it's prepared. This made for a nice parade of small plates that we all enjoyed!

The first plate to arrive was dates wrapped in pancetta. Believe it or not, I had never tried a pancetta-wrapped date before so I was excited to try it. I have to say the texture of the date was unexpected, but I liked the blend of sweetness with the smoky flavor of pancetta. Apparently the dates were stuffed with gorgonzola, but I didn't taste any, sadly.

Dates wrapped in pancetta, stuffed with gorgonzola and topped with honey
Next up was a margerita pizza, featuring large sprigs of fresh basil and homemade mozzarella. I enjoyed the crispy texture of the pizza, combined with a generous sprinkling of cheese. The portion size was also quite large, considering the price.

Pizza with house-made mozzarella, tomato and basil

Margherita pizza
One of my friends raved about the mushroom risotto so we all had to give it a try. It's not often I eat risotto, but I was happy to try it. This dish was incredibly smooth and creamy but had an interesting, slightly tart, taste to it. What the dish lacked in aesthetic, it certainly made up for in flavor!

Mushroom risotto with fresh mushrooms, mushroom puree and pork stock
The pasta dish we ordered, which also happened to be the small plate I selected off of the menu, arrived next. This happened to be my favorite dish because of the creamy sauce and interesting shape of the pasta. Even though there was not a ton of the sausage ragu, it was still yummy (and topped with cheese!).

Orecchiette with fennel-sausage ragu

Mmm look at that cheesy goodness!
Next to arrive was Quartino's fried calamari. This dish happened to be the birthday girl's favorite and was demolished by everyone at the table. The calamari's breading didn't overpower the taste of the squid and was not the slightest bit too greasy.

Crisp calamari with organic tomato sauce
Our final small plate was the beef short ribs. This rack of ribs was served with a dollop of salsa verde, although I thought it looked and tasted more like a chimichurri-style sauce. The meat literally fell off of the bone with a poke of a fork and was pretty delicious. I was surprised to see such an item on an Italian menu, but it added some variety to our traditional pizza and pasta lineup.

Beef short ribs with salsa verde
Last, but not least, (and after an additional 1/4 liter of wine!), we enjoyed a special dessert in honor of the birthday girl. The Nutella panino was exactly how it sounds, a grilled sandwich filled with the chocolate hazelnut spread and topped with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

We all came to the consensus the panino could have been stuffed with a lot more Nutella, but it was still quite tasty. The sandwich tasted less like the bread that held it together, and more like a chocolate covered waffle.

Nutella panino, a grilled dessert sandwich filled with chocolate hazelnut spread
Our meal at Quartino was the start to a great night celebrating our friend's birthday. We enjoyed the wide variety of items we ordered, a true testament to the quality of the food at Quartino. Our server was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, and the ambiance was energetic and welcoming. Quartino is great for large groups with varied tastes as there is something on the menu for all--just hope everyone likes to share! Quartino gets 4.5 stars for its abundance of wine in liters, homemade pastas, more bread than you will know what to do with and a fun atmosphere (don't forget to check out the bathrooms!).

626 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60654
Reservations at OpenTable.com

Quartino on Urbanspoon

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