BY Ariel Cheung | May 29, 2019 | Food & Drink
Stephanie Izard does it again with a West Loop rooftop respite featuring Peruvian-inspired plates and vibrant ceviches.
The colorful interior of Cabra offers sweeping views of the city.
The best restaurants have a knack for putting diners at ease, massaging away the anxieties and drudgeries of the day. Cabra manages this almost immediately; as I take in the inky skyline from the rooftop restaurant’s perch atop the newest West Loop hotel, The Hoxton, Chicago, I feel my brow unstitch as I revel in the sight. Our effusive server charmed me in an instant, guiding us through dinner like the gentle lead in a dance and leaving us free to marvel over the food set before us.
The Afternoon in Cordano ($14) is a pisco sour with frothy egg white and gooseberry.
When a celebrity chef like Stephanie Izard opens a restaurant, it’s practically impossible to live up to the hype. But the keen selection of ceviches, sashimi-style tiraditos, street food snacks and robust large plates is, to boil it down, just good fun to enjoy. One gets the sense that Izard is having fun too—her pink bandana can be spotted from across the dining room in the open kitchen, as she expedites dishes and caters to the eight-seat ceviche bar. “I’m befriending everyone,” she says. “I can definitely be more on the chatty end of things, but then I get 10 orders to fill, and I hone in and focus.”
The fruity Lima Dreamin’ cocktail
Izard (Girl & the Goat, Duck Duck Goat) is careful to note that she considers Cabra’s fare to be Peruvian-inspired rather than an authentic representation (she nods to Gaston Acurio’s Tanta for that). “I don’t pretend I know all about the cuisine by any means,” she says. “But it’s a cuisine I find very intriguing because of all the different influences—Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese. I was excited to dive in.” Her two weeks spent in Lima, Cusco and other pockets of Peru were hardly wasted, providing a launching point for dishes like a distinctive chilled octopus ($15) cut in razor-thin rounds, drizzled with tangy olive-infused mayonnaise and paired with shingles of avocado and intensely buttery crackers. While in Peru, Izard and her team sampled about eight versions of the potato-based causa dish before settling on a classic, chilled rendition paired with shredded Hawaiian red crab, pickled green mangoes and aji amarillo chiles ($16). “I was tempted to coat the potato in tempura and fry it, but we kept it classic,” Izard explains. “It’s really bright and refreshing, and it has become one of my favorite things on the menu.” Little bits of tempura, a tribute to her original plan, are sprinkled on top for added crisp.
Tuna tiradito ($16) topped with passion fruit and jicama
With 10 ceviches and tiraditos, the menu leans more Japanese than Izard initially intended, but given the vast commingling of cuisines, there’s plenty for her to explore. The classic ceviche ($17) is a great way to start the night, with plump squares of bass stacked under a shower of pickled shallots and cancha, a large-kerneled corn snack popular in Peru. The larger cuts of fish are what make Peruvian ceviches stand out, and I find I’m now partial to this style. Meanwhile, duck ceviche ($15) is, thankfully, not served raw, but instead cooked sous vide to render it perfectly tender before being chilled and sliced. Gooseberries and pickled mango add tangy-sweet acidity that elevates the rich meat.
Izard has a certain talent for making each dish feel like the star of the show. Beef heart anticucho ($13) is prepared Peruvian style, in wide-cut, skewered slices bathing in panca chile mayo and a lime-spiked huacatay sauce. During a recent dinner, the sole goat dish on the menu was one of three types of empanadas ($14, two per order). The buttery, flaky crust was intended for popovers at another Izard concept, but it has been supremely repurposed as a vehicle for the succulent goat meat.
Shrimp tacu tacu ($22) atop a pigeon pea rice cake.
And yet, nothing outshone the pork shank ($34), another sous vide superstar, fried and finished off with an obsessively good crispy skin. “We weren’t sure if it was just a chef thing, that we loved it because it’s fatty and fried,” Izard says. “But it’s been one of our biggest hits.” Frankly, I don’t see how anyone, chef or otherwise, could resist savoring each tender morsel as it falls off the bone, waiting to be scooped up with bright, briny sides like pickled mango and fresno peppers and folded in a piece of sweet potato flatbread.
Both bookends of the night—cocktails and dessert—kept us in great spirits. Pineapple and manzanilla sherry lend bright balance to Knob Creek rye whiskey in the Selva Baja ($13), while the Lima Dreamin’ ($14) is a sweet, light blend of tequila, huckleberry and ginger ale. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more dessert options, but the sweet potato doughnuts known as picarones ($11) were still hugely satisfying. Dragged through the glazy, rich dulce de leche studded with crispy rice, each funnel cake-like bite is an ideal blend of sweet and savory—a perfect cap on a night that was seemingly simple, but proved to be a perfectly orchestrated, delicious escape.
200 N. Green St.
Open for dinner every night
Lunch weekdays, 11am-4pm
Brunch Sat.-Sun., 10am-4pm
Ceviches and tiraditos, $15-$17; small plates, $11-$16; large plates, $19-$34; cocktails, $13-$14
Photography Courtesy Of: Jason Robert Scott | tiradito photo by huge galdones photography/courtesy of cabra