Rating 2.5 stars
“It’s a Mediterranean inspired restaurant that prominently features seafood from the freshest sources nearby and around the world. Expect a fine dining experience in a casual setting executed by a friendly and knowledgeable staff.”
Such is the official description of Scylla (pronounced sill-a) provided by its spin doctors. Sometimes it’s good to hear exactly what a restaurant has to say about itself; what its culinary mission is (or wants to be). Under the direction of chef/owner Stephanie Izard, the menu boasts “familiar ingredients from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (and presents them in unique and satisfying bold ways.”
“Seafood,” “bold” and “satisfying” are the operative words in those two mission statements. And, as it turned out, the descriptions were not just a lot of hyperbole wrapped in a thin shell of bravado. Izard knows what she is doing. Her creations are straightforward yet they have substance; they evoke a clear culinary direction that makes good sense. She knows when to stop piling on ingredients, and that allows all of the essential flavors in each dish to be pronounced yet uncomplicated.
The menu at Scylla goes something like this: Five of the nine appetizers include some type of seafood preparation. And seven of the 10 entrees are involved with seafood. That’s a bold way to go for such a small restaurant, but it works quite well.
also read : Trumpeting Chicago’s Restaurants
Scylla, being true to its culinary code, does a fine grilled baby octopus salad. The bevy of “arms,” practically fork-tender and quite luscious, are arranged with “sticks” of fingerling potatoes and tender leaves of peppery arugula. A shingle of Pecorino cheese gets hung atop the arugula, and a tangy vinaigrette dressing adds the right gloss to the entire assembly. The counterpoints of flavor are terrific. And with some of the warm olive bread that keeps showing up. It all adds up to the best eight bucks I’ve spent in quite a while.
Another appetizer that hit the right flavor notes was the shrimp wrapped with prosciutto. If you wrap bacon around water chestnuts, you have rumaki, an appetizer of the past that has been buried. On the other hand, if you wrap prosciutto around shrimp, and you do it right (as Scylla does) with paper-thin imported prosciutto and carefully grilled shrimp, you have met up with a combination that spells out elegant enjoyment.
When was the last time you had grilled Hawaiian hebi? For me this was a first. I took to this fish like a duck to water. It’s available year-round, so why aren’t more restaurants serving this fine fish? The Scylla kitchen pairs the fish with a grand-tasting leek risotto (properly creamy and elegantly al dente), and a “salad” of salsify, sea beans and flakes of lump crab. Quite enjoyable.
Desserts are the work of pastry chef Jessica Oloroso, and the two sampled (five are offered in all) were perfect to the point of plate-scraping goodness. Lemon custard cake was tangy, light in texture and enjoyable in every way. Riding along with the custard cake was a scoop of olive oil-thyme ice cream. That’s not as strange as it sounds. Using olive oil and an herb in ice cream is very big right now in the South of France. In fact, a good olive oil will impart a subtle almond flavor to the cream.
And the warm chocolate cake (even though the warm chocolate cake idea has been overdone) was one of the best I’ve had. Moans of delight go along with each bite of the glamorous brandy-soaked cake with its cloak of silky ganache, the chocolate flowing like lava down each flute. Plump cherries scattered around the cake, along with a knob of rich allspice ice cream, made it all that much more enjoyable.”
Pat Bruno is a free-lance writer, critic and author.
February 25, 2005 “Table Hopping” By Emily Nunn | view the article online
“Food’s fine at Scylla, even if name is funny
From now on, if it isn’t too much trouble, I would like area restaurateurs to contact me before choosing a name for their new enterprises. I’m only trying to help. Let’s look at an annotated list of recent additions to the Chicago culinary landscape: 22 Restaurant & Bar Moderne (way 2 many words), Karyn’s Cooked (sounds like a kitchen accident), Blu 47 (What’s a blu? And again with the numbers), Masck (misspelled implication of concealment), and Kitsch’n River North (no com’ment).
My problem has nothing to do with the food. In fact, the only one whose food I’ve tried is 22 Restaurant & Bar Moderne, which I enjoyed, even though it had the less moderne name Room 22 back then. It’s the idea of all the fussing that bothers me. And I feel that I can speak for food lovers everywhere when I say that we’d rather restaurants focus on being delicious.
The pretty and welcoming Bucktown restaurant Scylla is guilty of what you might call benevolent overnaming. The food tastes terrific, but it would by any other name. Scylla is a nymph who–for reasons typical of the tangled romances in Greek mythology–was transformed into a sea monster with a dog body, 6 heads and 12 feet and who lived her life in misery, snacking on sailors. Not very appetizing. But it’s meant to reflect the fact that the 28-year-old chef and owner, Stephanie Izard, specializes in fish and seafood (she previously worked at Shawn McClain’s fish-centric restaurant Spring).
I can tell you there’s nothing monstrous going on here. Scylla is located in a two-story house once occupied by Glory; it is sweetly decorated with whimsical paintings of water fairies, banquettes piled with pillows, and pretty sage and eggplant walls. The waiters are nice and professional. One of the menu’s virtues is that it makes it hard to decide: oven roasted monkfish with curried risotto; scallops with foie gras and mushroom ravioli; pan roasted quail with white polenta and apricot-brown ale sauce.
On just the second night of business, we had subtle yet remarkable food. No single ingredient in Izard’s roasted amberjack (which is a bit like tuna, but more delicate) overpowered another, in spite of the fact that it is served with rich braised short ribs and tied together by a spiky drizzle of horseradish creme fraiche.
Izard dares to drizzle, which seems quaint these days, and judging from the few dishes my dining partners and I tried, she is adept at pairing somewhat unexpected flavors without producing the culinary equivalent of an amusing but distasteful party trick. One of my tablemates, Linda, goes to Hawaii on vacations; she was happy to see ono on the menu (we later had a brief, misinformed moment of despair about having eaten a fish in the dolphin family; it’s actually a mackerel). It was a nicely cooked slab of flaky white fish, with a brandade (salt-cod puree) crust, served on a bed of sliced Brussels sprouts, almonds, wild mushrooms and tart cherries. Which worked beautifully.
And Itasca, who has a reputation for being persnickety not to mention bossy about food (or about the best way to cure a cast-iron pan, if you mention you just bought one), enjoyed the grilled beef tenderloin, which was served in thin pink slices fanned out upon a jumble of cipollini onions, fingerling potatoes and root vegetables, in a green peppercorn sauce. I personally loved one of the two starters we ordered–a creamy celeriac soup with a mound of chile-spiked, brown-buttered crab meat. The other–escargot in a big bowl of braised leeks, bacon and sweet garlic (which I could not taste), topped with a tomato compote–I liked not at all. As close-minded as it sounds, I can’t imagine why anyone would eat snails without garlic butter.
The only time we unanimously rejected a dish was at the end of the meal. Scylla’s dessert menu includes an interesting list of artisanal cheeses, as well as ricotta fritters and lemon custard cake, but we opted to share the ice cream tasting: lavender, sabayon, allspice and pistachio. I found three of them lovely, but we all agreed that eating the lavender scoop (which included the flowers and stems rather than a simple infusion) was, as Linda put it, “like eating a sachet.”
We enjoyed the place enough to engage in a sort of maternal worry session about whether Scylla–a restaurant that seats just 46 people on a somewhat remote corner of Bucktown–would be able to make a go of it. We sincerely hope so. And since I rarely have that kind of conversation about a restaurant, take the fact that we had it at all as a very good sign.”