photo: courtesy of Via Veneto
Octopus: It's trendy, it's healthy and most importantly, it's not squid. The two oceanic treats may have a few things in common, like their unruly amount of arms, for one. But their preparations differ greatly on local menus. Just take a look at squid; the measly little mollusks are often fried and offered as cheap appetizers. Octopus, on the other hand, is typically served as an exotic main course. And as for frying it, well, no chef would ever dream of doing such a thing. It's no secret that a well-prepared octopus requires little more than a helping of extra-virgin olive oil and a charcoal grill. Here are few restaurants that have it down to an arm—uh, art.
Via Veneto: Polpo Alla Griglia
This family-owned and operated restaurant offers plenty of traditional Italian dishes, but there's one house specialty that's not to be missed. That would be Via Veneto's charcoal-broiled octopus. Rather than slicing, dicing and chopping the mollusk, as many restaurants are wont to do, Via Veneto serves up a plate full of thick, long, looping arms. The presentation may be a little frightening for first-timers, but you'll be faced with an empty plate before you know it. Charred to a delicate crisp and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the polpo alla griglia makes a great shareable appetizer or filling meal for one. You can even go for something a little less frightening in appearance with the restaurant's carpaccio di polpo, thinly sliced octopus served in a garlic, olive oil and parsley sauce.
Buona Terra: Tri-Color Salad with Octopus
Some octopuses have the ability to change color as a defense mechanism; even if it doesn't always work, the different hues at least make for a more interesting meal. This Logan Square restaurant grills baby octopus with spicy herbs and then serves it over a rainbow of leaves with balsamic. Don't forget to pair it up with a bottle of your favorite wine from the restaurant's choice list.
La Donna: Seafood Risotto
Octopus goes head-to-head with squid at this Andersonville restaurant. But that's just the beginning; these two ingredients get mixed up with a slew of other underwater edibles as well, including clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops. They all come together in a light tomato sauce to create one serious seafood risotto.
Greek Islands: Cold Octopus Salad
Imagine walking through the market-lined streets of Greece, surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of culinary heaven. And then you stumble upon the fish-seller with a string of octopuses hanging from his stand. You point to the one you want, he plucks it straight from the line and throws it on the grill with nothing more than a splash of extra virgin olive oil. This is how it's done at Chicago's Greek Islands, well, except for the market-lined streets and hanging fish. But the restaurant is spot-on with its simple cooking techniques. Start light with the cold octopus salad, served in a light olive oil marinade, and then try it grilled, tender and charbroiled "to perfection."
Nia: Baby Octopus with Lemon and Mint
Lemon and seafood have a history like peanut butter and jelly; they're just meant to be together. Remaining true to form, Chef Greg Cannon broils baby octopus and then serves it up with Lemoncello vinaigrette, arugula and mint. The light flavors make this dish an ideal choice on a hot day, when you can enjoy it under the sun on Nia's outdoor patio.