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Are you making a specialty food? Share your adventure


Harry V. Mar 22, 2002 11:54 AM

Just wondering if anyone has any restaurant recommendations for risotto in Chicago or environs? I often order and am served risotto that tastes good, but which has a very tight, firm, almost dry texture. I understand that in Italy risotto is a wetter, looser, more porridge-like dish than what I am generally served here.

So which places dish up risotto here like they do back in Italy?

  1. m
    mw Mar 23, 2002 06:35 AM

    I'm glad you asked this, because I'd like to know myself. Rhapsody used to have a decent risotto, but now that they've changed, I don't know if it's still good, or even on the menu for that matter. I prefer my risotto to be a tad on the "gooey" side, for lack of a better term, considering the hour. One thing I've learned though: never get risotto in a less than "fine dining" restaurant, because it's awful. They simply don't have the staff to babysit it.

    21 Replies
    1. re: mw
      joan Mar 23, 2002 07:32 AM

      i wouldnt want to stop you from a night out, but please consider making your own risotto. there are many, many reasons to go to restaurants, but to eat risotto isn't one, as it is easier to make at home. any good italian cookbook can get you started. (i'm partial to marcella hazan's in general). and then you can add your own ingredients. it is truly easy to make, it just requires patience and lots of stirring. spring is here! how do i know? because asparagus are 98 cents a pound at stanleys produce. a great ingredient for a springtime risotto. some fresh herbs, chicken broth, arborio rice and real parmesan cheese and you are off and running.

      1. re: joan
        bmwrisotto Mar 23, 2002 02:33 PM

        Couldn't agree more. You are almost always dissapointed when eating out. Like you said, too "al dente". Add dried wild mushrooms to the chicken stock, use funky fresh ones, sauteed and added at the end. Asparagus is great, and if you can find it, saffron which goes into the milanese version but works in any mix. And gobs of good fresh parmesan, not too finely grated.

        1. re: bmwrisotto
          Lady T Mar 25, 2002 09:51 AM

          Hear, hear! I tend to roast rather than saute my mushrooms (with olive oil and a bit of fresh thyme), and to shred rather than grate the parmegiano -- but it's the same general idea. I never order risotto at restaurants any more -- playing with it at home is just too much dang fun!

          1. re: Lady T
            bmwrisotto Mar 26, 2002 03:52 PM

            Your absolutely right, shredded.

        2. re: joan
          Harry V. Mar 25, 2002 10:31 AM

          Marcella Hazan's recipes are fine but you've got to watch the butter, she's a fiend with it.

          I marvel at all you folks that think it's easy to make risotto at home. I guess you've all got big vats of chicken broth simmering on your stoves at all times.

          1. re: Harry V.
            leek Mar 25, 2002 10:48 AM

            Well, actually, I often have a container of that square "aseptic" or whatever pak broth (I like Kitchen something, but Swanson low salt isn't bad), and I try to keep a quart or two of home made stock in the freezer.

            You see, chicken stock is pretty easy to make. I take whatever veggie ends look good from whatever I am making, scrub them, and toss them into a freezer bag (not asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, or other "distinctive" veggies, but carrots, potatoes, onion bits but not the skins, garlic ends, celery, tomato skins...), leftover herb stems, etc. I also toss in the bits and pieces left from when I trim chicken breasts (sometimes I'll have a whole chicken, so I toss in the backbone, wing tips, etc). When the bag is full, I dump it into a pot, cover it with cold water, bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for an hour or two, strain into a plastic container and let it sit overnight. Then I skim off the fat and freeze the stock or use it then.

            1. re: leek
              Harry V. Mar 25, 2002 11:06 AM

              Thanks. I have made stock a few times in my life, and I understand that the technique is not hard (the pot does most of the work). It is the time, energy and enterprise for making stock in which I am lacking.

              If you could remember the name of that recommended store-bought stock or stock base, I would be most appreciative.

              1. re: Harry V.
                Lady T Mar 25, 2002 11:53 AM

                What I use, when I use store-bought, is the College Inn low-salt canned stuff...then I throw in some white wine and maybe some fresh-ground black pepper. Works pretty well.

                1. re: Lady T
                  Paulette Mar 25, 2002 01:27 PM

                  I keep canned stock in the house at all times, beef, vegetable and chicken. College Inn and Swansons both make good stock, Health Valley also makes a good stock. I found Kitchen Basics to be a little bit too strong. I use them as a base for soup at all times lately, although I have browned bones, and made homemade stock in my days of cooking for the family and entertaining frequently. It still makes the best soup. Also just saw that College Inn I think is coming out with a juice box size which I think is great for recipes that call for a cup or to use to cook vegetable in.

                  1. re: Paulette
                    bjt Mar 25, 2002 01:56 PM

                    Here's a suberb risotto technique I learned from a smart and savvy woman named Maria Teresa Franco Romani de Medici (really!) who was from Roma and living in Hyde Park back in '96 while she taught Medieval Studies at the U of C . . . As my husband attempted to teach her in broken English and technological sign language how to work a computer, she set me up in the tiny kitchen stirring, stirring and stirring over the risotto. Rather than just using chicken or beef stock with her risotto, she had me start with a bottle of champagne (but you can use prosecco as well). Use it first at about a cup os so at a time and once that's all been absorbed into the arborio, move onto your stock. When making a mushroom risotto she actually used a beef stock and when she once made a risotto with cauliflower, she used chicken stock. Anyhow, the sparkling wine seems to make for a lighter perhaps slightly more tangy dish. (And you can sip on a glass of the fizzy stuff while you're stirring . . . a little reward for your effort.) The Wine Discount Center on Elston has a wonderful, clean, crisp Nina Rustico Prosecco which goes for about $8 a bottle.


                    1. re: Paulette
                      sc Mar 26, 2002 12:24 PM

                      I agree with the Health Valley recommendation. It has way less salt than just about any other brand I've come across, allowing you to better control the saltiness of whatever you're cooking. In fact they make a "no salt added" version which I always have on hand in my kitchen.

                      This brand didn't fare as well as I would have expected in Cook's Illustrated's comparison, but I thought the taste test was conducted a little unfairly - I mean if you're just going to compare a teaspoonful tasted directly out of the can, of course a lower-salt product is going to seem to have less flavor than super-salty Swanson's or College Inn! What's important is how well it performs in your cooked dishes! by the way, I've dealt with too many cans of sour College Inn broth to ever buy it again even if I'm desperate (probably the fault of the place I bought it, but still).

                  2. re: Harry V.
                    Vital Information Mar 25, 2002 12:06 PM

                    Harry, do not back off so easily. Your instincts on the stock making are dead-on.

                    Stock making is not so easy. Beside the amount of time it takes to make stock, the basic problem is that at the end of the day, what do you have. Not that long ago, I made a beef stock with ox-tails and short-ribs and other cuts. A huge amount of meat in a huge stock pot (by home standards), and at the end of the day, you would be amazed at how little stock I got.

                    I whole-heartedly second what Lee said about the asceptic boxes. The stuff is plenty good. The huge advantage of the boxes, is that you can use a bit and then put it in the fridge for the next time. Trader Joes has several varieties that we like.


                    See link below to some good stock making tips

                    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    1. re: Vital Information
                      leek Mar 25, 2002 09:00 PM

                      But the TASTE of that little bit of stock does wonders for a dish. Your own tastes so much better, and you can control the salt, fat, etc.

                      I rarely make beef stock (don't make too many recipes that call for it) but chicken stock, especially the way I make it from all that stuff you'd just toss, is pretty darn easy.

                    2. re: Harry V.
                      Erik M. Mar 25, 2002 12:33 PM


                      Leek is probably talking about Kitchen Basics. Its in a brownish box.

                      FWIW, in the January issue of Gourmet Magazine, they taste tested 10+ brands, including Kitchen Basics. Their favourites were College Inn (reduced fat and sodium) and Swanson (regular).

                      When I don't have time to make stock myself, I use the College Inn (reduced fat and sodium). I think its pretty good.

                      Erik M.

                      1. re: Erik M.
                        Harry V. Mar 25, 2002 02:23 PM

                        Thank you sir. Were they talking only about chicken stock, or other types as well?

                        1. re: Harry V.
                          Erik M. Mar 25, 2002 06:02 PM

                          Harry V.,

                          Chicken only.
                          Here are the one's they taste-tested:

                          Canned: Swanson, College Inn, Campbell's, Cento, and Manischewitz.

                          Aseptic Containers: Kitchen Basics, Imagine, Pacific, and Health Valley:

                          Cubed: Herb-Ox, Maggi, Wyler's, and Knorr.

                          Concentrated: Fond de Poulet Gold.

                          Erik M.

                          1. re: Erik M.
                            joan Mar 27, 2002 09:16 AM

                            i use both homemade and canned stock, and even tho i have excellent blood pressure, i really hate the oversalted canned stocks. this is one of my (many)pet peeves. homemade stock doesnt need ANY salt. canned stock derives most of its flavor from the addition of it, because they dont want to spend the time and money to produce quality stock. i had settled on college inn, low salt as my favorite. recently boston market introduced a low salt broth. i grabbed a bunch on sale, tried it, liked it ALOT.only then did i read the salt content. it was extremely high. admittedly, less than their regular stock, but something like 2/3 of the daily limit in 1 cup. (i dont have any in my pantry at the moment to verify that). I was annoyed enough to call the company and complain.

                        2. re: Erik M.
                          annieb Mar 25, 2002 02:49 PM

                          Yes, but when using boughten stock for risotto, I always dilute it by half.

                          1. re: Erik M.
                            zim Mar 26, 2002 08:44 AM

                            a very easy veg alternative that works well for mushroom risottos is to use the water/stock that results from rehydrating dried shrooms. This works well with dried porcinis and shitakes.

                          2. re: Harry V.
                            leek Mar 25, 2002 08:57 PM


                            Cook's Illustrated did a taste test and preferred Swanson (either low fat or low sodium) in the asceptic pak. I like Kitchen Basics because it tastes stronger. I use about 1 cup wine and 5 cups or so stock. Generally it's about 50-50 whether I have home made stock on hand.

                        3. re: Harry V.
                          leek Mar 25, 2002 10:51 AM

                          You can also make a baked risotto. It's not quite the same, but it's easy - I don't recall the proportions off hand (see Patricia Wells' book "Trattoria") but you sautee an onion, then add the rice and stir to coat with oil, then put rice, onion, some tomato sauce, stock and parmesan into a greased casserole, and let bake. You might bring it to a boil on stove top first, I can't recall....

                    3. a
                      annieb Mar 23, 2002 07:44 PM

                      I had a very nice risotto at Carlucci's on Grand Ave. It was cuttlefish, very nice little tiny cuttlefish, in a tomato risotto. Not too dry. I am very partial to cuttlefish and it's not something you see around much. They did a good job with it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: annieb
                        Harry V. Mar 25, 2002 10:32 AM

                        Thanks Annie, sounds delicious.

                        1. re: annieb
                          Harry V. Mar 25, 2002 02:54 PM

                          Actually I am having a little trouble locating a Carlucci's on Grand. Is this a new place?

                          I am turning up two Carluccis in the suburbs, and I remember there used to be a restaurant of that name on Sheffield, and/or perhaps also on Halsted. But nothing is ringing a bell on Grand.

                        2. a
                          Ace Brando Mar 27, 2002 03:28 PM

                          Went to NoMI last night and had the Risotto Milanese which included pieces of clam, cuttlefish and shrimp. Very good. They also had a Morel Risotto available in appetizer or entree sizes but did not try.

                          I also agree that making them at home is a blast too.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Ace Brando
                            Vital Information Mar 29, 2002 01:42 PM

                            Was what you had really described as Risotto Milanese? With seafood? If not, please forgive the following rant:

                            But what the hell is seafood doing in risotto milanese? There is nothing wrong with seafood risotto, but it is not risotto milanse. Risotto milanes is butter, cheese and safron, period!

                            Me and my mum, we both keep on ranting about finding "authentic" itialian food in Chicago. Instead, we get this?

                            So, has anyone been to Merlo? Does it stack up as authentically Bolagnase?


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