Wednesday, February 24, 2010
It seems like new restaurants are popping up faster than I can find time to go out and try them. iCi, on the other hand, has been around for a while. Much like No. 7 before it, many people both on the blog and off have recommended I give it a try. I'd originally planned on going to No. 7 on Monday night before remembering that they're closed that particular night, so I decided to give iCi a shot instead.
iCi is a charming little restaurant on the south side of Dekalb just west of Vanderbilt right next to Tillie's. What I noticed immediately was how intimate the dining room felt. When you enter, it feels initially more like someone's home than it does a restaurant. The dining area is small but not cramped, and it's a great place to just sit and relax.
Billed as being "Fresh, seasonal, and local," iCi prides itself on serving a locally produced menu that changes often. The menu is, in the words of Frank Bruni, "extremely brief," which in this case is a strength. Much like No. 7, everything seems crafted with care, and while it shouldn't take you long to find what you want, I'll bet whatever you order will be good. One nice touch is that they always offer a price-fixed menu of one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert for $26.
The customary bread begins your meal, accompanied by some exceptional olive oil, which i always prefer to butter. I wish I'd remembered to ask where it was from, because the oil really was very good, and the basket of bread didn't last very long between the two of us. iCi offers a "To Share" section of their menu for tasty pre-meal nibblets, but we didn't take advantage of them on this trip. I have a feeling the olives and the cheese plate are definitely worth checking out though.
Eschewing wine (though they have what looked like a great wine list) and a share plate, we dove right into our appetizers. We seem to have caught the butternut squash bug, as both our appetizers had it at their core. I had the Butternut Squash Dumpling, served with toasted hazel nuts, fresh sage, and creme fraiche. The dumpling was firm and held together well, and the squash and sage were very flavorful. The hazel nuts added a bit of crunch and earthiness to the dish as well.
We also ordered a bowl of the soup of the day, which for Monday was a Butternut Squash Soup with fresh sage. So, take the dumpling and turn it into a soup and you have a rich, creamy soup that was just about perfect.
My ever-abiding love for sea bass dictated the choice for my main course, and I had the Sauteed Branzini, which is served with bacon and leeks along with yukon gold potatoes. Served whole but split and ready to be flayed open, the fish was soft and buttery. The bacon and leeks made for almost a stuffing. The potatoes were soft and tasty, but led me to discover my first, albeit minor complaint. I like the ability add salt and pepper to my dishes if needed, while apparently the proprietors of iCi think that's sacrilege of some kind. No table has any salt or pepper shakers to speak of! it's a minor issue, and I actually forgot to ask our waitress for any, but it's a minor quibble worth noting.
My date fell in love with the Portobello and Herb Gnocchi with fontina, fennel, and beet sauce. This was another very strong, earthy dish with a lot of flavors competing for your attention. There wasn't a single dumbling left on the plate, so I have a hard time coming up with any complaints.
Dessert? Yes, please. First up, the Honey Panna Cotta with blood orange syrup and cardamom. If you've never had a panna cotta before, it's a yogurt or custard-like dessert made from cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin. It's almost flan-like in texture, and iCi's version tastes very fresh and while certainly sweet, it's not overly so.
I had no choice but to order the Chocolate Cake. Since the demise of Loulou, I've been hoping to find a new favorite chocolate cake, and iCi is the leader in the clubhouse. Their version is served with lightly caramelized bananas and a thick banana and rum sauce, along with a big marshmallow sitting on top. I loved almost everything about this dish, from the very dense, brownie-like cake to the sweet and flavorful sauce and sliced bananas. But why the marshmallow? I really don't like marshmallow at all, and almost didn't order the dish because of it. It doesn't really fit at all, and I was happy to just toss it aside and enjoy the rest of the excellent dessert. If they substituted a small dollop of vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream? Perfection, I'm telling you. As it is, it was still very good and I'll order it again.
iCi is a fantastically charming restaurant that is right up there with the best that our neighborhood has to offer. Their winter menu is full of rich, earth-y flavors that reflect the season and local produce. I really can't wait to see what they have in store in the spring and summer. I'll be back to find out, if only to get another order of the chocolate cake.
246 Dekalb Ave