Tocco is a study in appealing contrasts. The food tastes as if it comes straight from the cluttered kitchen of deep Italian tradition. The flavors conjure warm tones of perfectly aged cheeses and decades of making pasta by hand. However, walking into the space feels like walking into a modern gallery. At the far wall, massively oversized light fixtures frame a moss accent wall. Triangular sound dampeners hang overhead like sculpture, serving double duty of form and function.
Even the drinks combine the old and the new. Expert cocktails that emphasize the flavor of spirits over sweetness in sleek glassware arrive with long, uncut, uncooked pasta serving as straws. Another beautiful marriage of form and function with charm to spare.
Our favorite touch, though, is Bruno’s Cheese Cave, an all-glass walk-in cooler where wheels of imported Italian cheese and slabs of Italian butter await their dining room destinies. From time to time we watched as owner and chef Bruno Abate would escort people in to tour the cave and heads would crane all around the room to see them gesturing and appreciating the stores like culinary artwork. Again, a gallery.
From the fresh-baked table bread accompanied by rich olive oil and potent, fresh-shredded Italian parmesan to the final bite of one of the best desserts we’ve ever had, Tocco is the real deal. And that handmade pasta . . . oh, man, that handmade pasta.
Tocco is located at 507 Chestnut Street in Winnetka, 847-386-6955, tocconorth.com.
Mozzarella di Bufala
The pride in using imported Italian ingredients is evident throughout the entire menu but is perfectly exemplified in the Buffalo Mozzarella appetizer, which isn’t on the menu but has been a frequently offered special ever since Tocco opened its doors. Creamy, rich, and surprisingly complex, this mozzarella is a flavor journey all its own. They could just set the pillowy sphere on a plate unadorned and call it a day. The final dish includes a minimum number of impeccably sourced ingredients so that the palate can absorb each flavor—olive oil, a sprinkle of black pepper, sliced tomato, and basil leaves. If this is one of the specials on the evening of your visit, it’s a must.
Torta Di Ricotta
The cheesecake we didn’t know we’d always been waiting for. This slice of heaven comes with a buttery top crust like an apple pie and a blissfully warm ricotta filling. A dollop of chocolate mousse on the plate acts as a nice palate cleanser between bites since the flavors are so starkly different from one another. The dish is then decorated with eye-catching smears of raspberry syrup, drizzles of chocolate sauce, and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Once again, a dish that delivers incredibly rich flavors while still feeling light.
Pappardelle all Norcina
There are two pasta sections of the menu, one for imported, one for handmade in-house. The Pappardelle all Norcina makes an extremely compelling case for Tocco’s in-house pasta. The thick noodles are so fresh and buttery covered in a mouthwatering cream sauce with crumbles of savory Italian sausage and black truffles. It’s exceedingly rare to find a pasta that doesn’t feel heavy, especially one with such decadent flavors, and yet this one pulls it off. Undoubtedly the highlight of our night.