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A Requiem For Cicchetti And Other Restaurants That Never Got A Chance To Shine

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Oct 14, 2014 9:00PM

Pork crackings with parmesan and rosemary (Melissa McEwen/Chicagoist)

Of the crop of nouveau Italian restaurants that have opened in Chicago over the past two years, Cicchetti was one of my favorites. The carpaccio was a carnivore’s dream come true. Then there was the heavenly cast iron pan of pork rinds. And the salty pepper squid with creamy polenta. It made the fact I often went there on the way to or from the hospital and the reasons I was there a little more bearable.

And then one day something changed. The carpaccio tasted just blandly salty instead of intensely savory. And my meal was capped off by a cappuccino that tasted as if it had been made with wood chips, which caused me to seek out another cappuccino elsewhere out of fear that something my doctor had done had somehow removed my ability to taste coffee. I didn’t go back again. Not long after that Chef Mike Sheerin and Pastry Chef Sarah Jordan departed. Now it's shuttering on Saturday.

It didn’t entirely surprise me. When I interviewed Sheerin about the food it was clear this was a restaurateur's restaurant. He had never been to Venice and had to adapt to a concept from above rather than finding a concept that worked for his team. Some places like Brendan Sodikoff’s empire can make that work, but I suspected Sheerin had too much of his own voice for that.

It reminds me of the sad story of Laughing Bird, a restaurant that closed before I had the chance to dine there. I heard it was uneven, it was far away. But I had some of Chrissy Camba’s food at Cochon Heritage BBQ and while parts of it were rough around the edges, there were some clearly outstanding and promising elements. But the restaurateurs there decided it didn’t deserve time to iron out the kinks, which also didn’t surprise me given the fact it had been birthed by the dilettantish act of closing Tank Sushi out of what seemed like mere boredom. It didn’t pay off soon enough to give it a chance.

“Re-concepting” is usually a red flag, but I’ve seen it work elsewhere, as long as it’s a team decision. Henri's transformation into Acanto, though initially met with groans from the food media, is very clearly as much driven by the chef as the owner.

I just hope both chefs can find places to work that allow them to find their voices.