Unsurprisingly in this town, when Stephanie Izard announces she’s opening a new restaurant, the press sits up and pays attention. That’s what happened late last year when Izard (and Boka Group) announced that Cabra, a Peruvian-inspired rooftop restaurant, was coming to the new Hoxton Hotel in the West Loop. What didn’t get quite as much attention was the other Boka Group restaurant opening in the same hotel.
Cira, a modern Mediterranean spot, is the brainchild of Chris Pandel, much loved for his casual food at the Bristol and Balena, and currently the chef behind Swift & Sons and Cold Storage. Cira draws inspiration from the entire Mediterranean, not just the flavors of France or Italy. “We’re taking the liberty of looking at all 21 countries that surround the Mediterranean and making a mashup,” says Pandel. “We’ve got Spanish, Turkish, a touch of Israel and Syria, some North African stuff.”
Pandel describes his motivations for this as “selfish” – he wanted to play around with all those different flavors. For example, you’ll find a fiore de mugnello on the menu, an Italian cow’s milk cheese, topped with green harissa and olive oil. “It’s not traditional in any way to have harissa with Italian cheese,” says Pandel, “but it makes for a great dish.”
Pandel was first approached by Boka Group owners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz about a year ago about the possibility of helming Cira, and it’s been a whirlwind of development ever since. The restaurant is on the first floor of the hotel, and will have about 200 seats, plus a large bar and a coffee counter in front.
I’m most excited for the pastas, thanks in part to many happy Bristol pasta memories. One standout is the Pasta de Olivier, named for a sommelier at a restaurant Pandel used to work at in New York. “His father used to make him this dish from Marseille, and he’d make it for us for staff meal.” The pasta combined anchovies, garlic and chili flakes, a heavy hit of Pernod, and then “every soft herb under the sun,” plus bread crumbs for extra crunch. If you’re looking for something a little heavier, try Turkish-inspired manti, pyramid-shaped dumplings filled with lamb and topped with a charred tomato sauce and yogurt.
The chef’s goal is to create a feast-like atmosphere, and the menu has a whole section of large, shareable plates to help with this vibe. Groups can stuff themselves with a dry aged, hearth-cooked ribeye, butchered in-house (anything from 22 to 45 ounces will be available), a whole roasted turbot with cultured butter (up to four pounds) or a super-sharable lamb tagine.
There are also a ton of smaller vegetable dishes, though Pandel admits that he’s holding his breath for the start of the spring produce season. “We’re in Chicago and it’s April and we’re all sort of hoping it’s spring, but it’s wishful thinking.” Expect a wide variety of local produce to be featuered in coming months.
Cira is open for breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch and dinner starting April 4.