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Trattoria No. 10 inspires with Sardinian food and drink

Even the lighting and the table decorations were inspired
Barbara Payne

Had a chance recently to learn a little about the island of Sardinia. Where’s that, you may ask? North of Sicily about 120 miles west from the edge of the boot. It’s a land where, so they say, people tend to live longer than people anywhere around them – many living to 100 and beyond. Credit goes to the Mediterranean diet, of course, but also to their specific wines, made with native Cannonau grapes (similar to Grenache but unique to Sardinia). These fruits are said to have three times higher levels of antioxidants and flavonoids that are known to “slow down aging in your cells” and – imagine! – “reduce stress in males.” What? Only guys?

Ladies, never fear. Wine of all types reduces our stress.

Tasted several Italian wines imported by Cantina Oliena (a group founded to promote the wines of Sardinia) and ate some scrumptious Sardinian-inspired dishes by Executive Chef John Caputo of the popular Itaian restaurant, Trattoria No. 10, located at 10 N. Dearborn. Walk in from the street and take either the stairs or the elevator down to the lower level. Despite lots of dark wood and heavy, embroidered, lacy-looking curtains shirred on rods on the windows separating the private dining area from the public spaces, the place has a light and comfortable feeling.

The Sardinian dinner menu included a light yet piquant salad of arugula and shaved fennel topped with Parmesan chips, dressed with a light hand and sprinkled with Bottarga di Muggine (a grated fish egg preparation that gave it a touch of salty tang). Excellent!

The wine that accompanied the salad was a standout – Istrale Vermentino Bianco 2012 (retails at about $16). This is a white wine worth searching out. Dry, but round and full and smooth in the mouth with lots of herbal notes – one of few wines that go well with green things like artichokes, asparagus and so on. Buon Gusto Market, importers of Sardinian goods, including cheeses, wines and olive oils, provided the wines and a number of the food items in Chef Caputo’s American take on Sardinian foods. They don’t sell direct to consumers but do have a page on their website listing all the Illinois restaurants where you can expect to find their products.

Next was a grilled octopus – marinated first, then grilled nice and brown and crispy. It was so well browned that it almost looked overdone, but the taste was marvelous and went perfectly with the little chunks of watermelon and pieces of heirloom tomatoes, all dressed in a light tarragon vinaigrette. The wine in this case was a dry, darker pink rosé called Jannas Rosé Cannonau DOC (no vintage). Nice pairing.

The main course was a seared lamb loin, cooked pink, and served with a small pool of rich, translucent brown reduction I couldn’t quite identify – delicious – and accompanied with a hunk of lamb-pecorino sausage. That same type of sausage had been cooked long hours in the tomato sauce that the side of pasta, rapini and sweet corn was served in. Oh, man, that tomato sauce was full of flavor and quite unique. I’d come back again to Trattoria No. 10 just for that sauce. The whole dish was most enjoyable. And it was served with two different red wines – one light and dry, and the other deeper and richer-flavored. The first was Lanaito Cannonau IGT 2011 (a blend with 20% Monica grapes) and the second, Nepente Cannonau (100% Cannonau) DOC 2011. I give them 3 stars and 4 stars respectively.

The dessert, ravioli filled with young Pecorino, was served with a scoop of Torrone Gelato (Torrone is a hard nougat made of honey, sugar, egg whites and toasted and chopped almonds and nuts). The whole dish was drizzled with Sardinian bitter sweet honey. Loved the gelato! The two different red dessert wines paired nicely.

I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Trattoria No. 10 and sample from their regular menu. Clearly Chef Caputo has a passion for combining flavors and cooking to perfection that I’d like to experience more of.