photo credit: Sandy Noto
Accepting things at face value can be risky. Like renting an apartment for its beautiful fireplace only to discover it’s been bricked off, or finding out the bedroom set you ordered online is for a dollhouse. You can’t always take everyone at their word, and you can’t do that with restaurants like Cira either. Its menu describes dishes made with ingredients that should make them exciting and flavorful. But when it comes to flavor, this spot over-promises and under-delivers.
Cira seems like a place to get excited about. It’s in a trendy hotel in the West Loop, and it’s from the same people as Girl & The Goat, Swift And Sons, and Cabra - all of which are great (and the last one happens to be on the same hotel’s rooftop). But like a person who says they’re a Rhodes scholar but are actually a Rhodes Elementary School scholar, Cira’s setting you up for disappointment.
The menu lists dishes like a brown butter hummus with chorizo verde and grilled octopus with horseradish, and reading this, you expect some flavor. But you can’t taste chorizo verde in the hummus at all, or any browned butter, for that matter. The grilled octopus that promises horseradish (and lemon vinaigrette) only tastes of the bland snap pea puree that’s on the plate. There’s allegedly both aleppo pepper and mint in the lamb tartare, but neither of those ingredients is anywhere to be found. Even the cacio e pepe, which only needs two flavors to shine through, has no discernable parmesan or pepper happening. Everything just tastes underseasoned and pretty boring.
Interestingly enough, while these dishes aren’t flavor-bombs, they are well-prepared. The hummus is smooth and creamy, and the tender octopus has enjoyable char from the grill. Plus, the pasta is housemade and perfectly al dente with a great chewy texture. A meal at Cira is like going on a first date with someone you thought was going to pick you up on a motorcycle, but then they show up on a tandem bike. If you go in hoping for the former, you’re going to be disappointed by the latter, no matter how pleasant they might otherwise be.
As long as you understand what to expect from it, Cira can be a useful spot to keep in your back pocket. After all, there aren’t a lot of upscale places to have breakfast or lunch in the West Loop, and the large space is nice enough for a business dinner, with food that’s bland enough not to offend a visiting VP of marketing. In other words, don’t come here to be blown away with excitement. You can go to one of the other 56,945 spots in the West Loop for that.
Brown Butter Hummus
This might be the most boring hummus we’ve ever had. There is no hint of brown butter taste, and the hummus itself has no seasoning or tahini flavor. And there’s a lot happening in this dish, so it’s hard to say where the flavors disappeared to. Adding to the nonsense is the fact that it is served with a singular pita that no group of adults should have to divvy up.
The lamb itself is tender and perfectly cut, and we like the crackers it’s served with. But the meat needs more salt or acid.
The octopus comes on top of a very bland snap pea puree, and although the menu mentions aleppo pepper and horseradish, it’s too subtle to taste. That said, the octopus is very tender and grilled nicely.
Cacio E Pepe
All the pasta at Cira is made in house, and the cacio e pepe has a fantastic al dente texture. We just wish it had more cheese and pepper flavor.
Grilled Cornish Hen
Thanks to the zhug (a thick green hot sauce) on top of the hen, this is the most flavorful dish we’ve had at Cira. It comes on the plate with socca pancakes (fried chickpea flour) that don’t taste like much on their own, but have a fun crunchy texture.
This dish is almost like a salad. The lightly seared tuna comes with radicchio and radish, and sits on bland onion sauce. None of it complements the fish very well, and our favorite part of this are the pieces of grapefruit scattered on the plate.
We like the breakfast here, especially since there aren’t a lot of upscale spots like it in the neighborhood. Order the breakfast sandwich - it comes on a fluffy roll with an egg, American cheese, and some tasty Turkish sausage, which is one of the more flavorful things here.