Il Mio Viaggio Di Burrata (My Burrata Tour) (2012)
Ciao Tutti! If you're asking, "What's burrata?" It means one of two things: Either you're not Italian, or you haven't been out to a notable restaurant in the last year or so. Burrata (or "buttered" in Italian) has long been known to my fellow countrymen as a delicious delicacy that can be enjoyed any time of day...as a main course, or as an antipasto. Fortunately, it has become increasingly popular in the U.S. and is springing up on more menus everyday. For those of you who don't know exactly what it is, here's a little lesson: Originating from the Puglia region in Southern Italy, it's a fresh cow's milk (and sometimes buffalo's milk) cheese, and is made in a similar way to fresh mozzarella. It actually consists of an outer shell of fresh mozzarella and a filling of stracciatella and cream. Stracciatella is basically the leftover shreds of the cheese curds mixed with a heavy cream. The fresh mozzarella is formed into a pouch and then filled with the stracciatella mixture and then tied off. It is HIGHLY perishable and must be eaten within 1-3 days after it's made. There are some reputable burrata producers in the U.S., however, the best stuff still comes from Puglia, and luckily, its import is becoming more common.
I decided to shoulder a huge burden and go out there and find the best burrata in Chicago...so that my trusty readers wouldn't have to take this miserable task upon themselves. See how selfless I am?? My arduous and backbreaking journey of burrata eating carried me to 5 different venues...shockingly not all of them were in River North :-). The first three on my list have outstanding burrata are STRONGLY recommended. (It's important to note that I've tried burrata at several other venues as well, but these were the most unique and memorable...for various reasons.)
Prosecco, a beautiful and upscale River North Italian spot, really knows how to showcase their burrata. My sister, Kimberly, and I went in strictly to try the burrata appetizer and had no idea we would end up having such a fulfilling experience. Upon sitting, they offer their patrons a complimentary glass of Prosecco (how appropriate) and a delicious spread of Sicilian caponata...a great intro. I mentioned to the manager and server that I was going to be writing about their burrata and how I was really looking forward to it...they told me they actually feature TWO daily burratas. I said "Bring 'em on!" and "Kimmy, you better eat for once...don't you dare leave me with two huge piles of cheese." She happily obliged when she saw what was presented to us. One burrata had a bit of a Caprese vibe, with basil and a balsamic/olive oil drizzle, yet featured sun-dried tomatoes and prociutto...delicious. The second variation, their "special", was brilliance on a plate. The marriage of grilled peaches with pistachios and a honey-balsamic glaze was sublime. Even Chef Mark Sparacino came to greet us and explain how they import their burrata directly from Puglia twice weekly so it really is the best of the best. He also noted that their daily special is always made with the freshest fruit of the season and designed to compliment the daily dinner and wine specials.
Many of you know I really can't shut up about RPM Italian, and their burrata is one of the main reasons why. A traditional preparation for burrata, especially as an app, will usually have some greens (likely arugula), some sort of sweet component on toasty grilled bread. RPM stays true to tradition and serves their incredibly high quality burrata with fresh arugula, a delicious sweet and tangy tomato jam on crusty crostini all topped with a nutty and fragrant olive oil. It's really a show stopper and how I always start my meals at RPM.
My third restaurant (although I would rate the burrata as "tied" with RPM) is a bit unexpected as it's NOT an Italian restaurant. Tavernita does, however, like to incorporate several different Mediterranean influences into it's cuisine... and bringing in the burrata was an excellent choice. Even though Chef Ryan Poli traveled around and lived in Spain for 2 years, burrata was not something he typically ate while there. He came up with his "Pan con Burrata" on his own, as he felt burrata was the most luxurious cheese available that would compliment the toasty crostini with the complex sweetness of the tomato marmalade. A drizzle of Spanish olive oil finishes off this small bite of perfection. I also love how the dish is already assembled for you...with the perfect ratio of ingredients, as most restaurants require you to mix/build everything yourself.
Gilt Bar was another non-Italian restaurant to have burrata as an appetizer. The burrata they feature threw me off a bit because it is very non-traditional, yet it intrigued me. It is served on a colorful bed of smashed peas and mint along with pickled green onions. The presentation was gorgeous yet I felt the flavor was lacking. There was a minty sweetness from the peas and the burrata was fresh with great flavor, but it lacked a kick from an acid (such as vinegar or fruit) that should usually accompany the dish. An interesting concept that didn't fully deliver.
Last on my list is the "Burrata and Sea Urchin" from Nelcotte. Nelcotte has an eclectic "small plates" menu that gets it right on so many levels (like their milled in-house pizza). That ain't the case with the burrata. In order to be fair, I actually went back TWICE to try this dish...in case my palette was a bit "off" the first time. Turns out my palette was just fine... the mixture of the salty/fishy sea urchin with the creamy cheese flavor of the burrata did not work. In fact it scared me. Sea urchin is not too big on my list of favorite delicacies to begin with, and to mix it with an Italian cheese like burrata was highly unorthodox. The burrata itself was a sparse portion which featured more of the "mozzarella shell" and less of the creamy interior mixture. I can understand and appreciate how they were trying to accomplish a bold flavor profile, but somethings are just not meant to go together. This is a classic example of why seafood and cheese should usually be kept separate.
If you only have one night out and are just dying to try the best burrata in Chicago, go to Prosecco. Not only do they have the freshest and tastiest preparation, but they have a version that changes daily, so you're always in for a pleasant surprise. If you can actually get a table at RPM Italian or Tavernita, then you must try their burrata as well...some of my favorite dishes in town. Regardless, whether you're a big fan of this Italian delicacy or a newbie, hopefully you'll get out there and order it for you next meal! Buon' appetito!!