You know that hot girl with Euro-designer looks—slick and fashionable at first glance, but underneath it all a vapid soul, straight from a Mike Meyers-era SNL Sprockets skit? All show and no substance—a bit like Tocco. True, this new Wicker Park hot spot is a sibling of Fulton Market’s successful Follia, but aside from sharing the look of an Alessi showroom, the apple has fallen far from the tree.
And I gave Tocco more than enough chances. I went at two weeks—a snooty hostess said she didn’t have our reservation, that no tables were available for walk-ins and we could wait at the bar to perhaps get a table if there was a no-show. After a half hour, we ordered dinner with the bartender, a struggle to say the least—aside from being clueless about the wine list and the menu, she gave us a blank stare when we suggested that the naked gelato she brought needed a shot of espresso to be the affogato we ordered (even listed on the menu as gelato topped with espresso). In the end, the delicious thin-crust pizza and the bad service were the only things memorable.
So I returned in a week, hoping maybe the seating system had improved. Notsomuch. We waited 45 minutes with a reservation while three tables sat empty. Once seated, we again had a fantastic pizza—thin, with slightly bubbled edges of crust, less chew than Neapolitan, a touch of salt, a simple tomato sauce and toppings of beautiful buffalo mozzarella, ribbons of prosciutto and fresh arugula. This time, our server was friendly and competent. Unfortunately, our high dissipated through the rest of the meal. The tiny square of lasagna was nothing more than fresh pasta sheets with flat, unseasoned meat sauce; the quarter-inch thick “strip” steak was sad, nearly half of it gristle, the other half chewy medium-well meat; and the grouper was overcooked, unseasoned and plated atop a boring yellow pepper sauce and a pile of spinach. But the place was packed, and people around me seemed happy. Had I ordered wrong? Was I being too harsh? I’d wait two weeks and come back.
Turned out I didn’t need to. On the third trip, the kitchen’s overall lack of soul was summed up when our entrées arrived with the apps, were cleared, and then sat in the kitchen for 15 minutes while we finished the starters. You’d think the chef could spare another three-ounce portion of fish and a painfully thin steak instead of watching them cook under a heat lamp to be sent out well-done. Guess not. So while owner Bruno Abate has mastered the role of ever-so-charming host, you can’t help but think all of the cheek kissing and “Ciao, bellas” is what’s helping diners overlook that the ragù atop their watery polenta isn’t properly seasoned, that their steak is insulting, and that the poor pasta maker is foiled by a tightwad bottom line that refuses to allow more than two ingredients in a sauce.
So I left my third visit thinking the same as after the first two: Tocco is good for splitting a bottle of wine and a great pizza. But invest in a full meal? There are too many other places with more to offer, even if they’re not as hot.
1266 N Milwaukee Ave
|Cross street:||between Division and Paulina Sts|
|Opening hours:||Dinner (closed Mon)|
|Transport:||El stop: Blue to Division. Bus: 9, 56, 70.|
|Price:||Average main course: $16|
|Do you own this business?|