When you enter into the tiny space, you’re greeted with the smells of freshly baked bread and pizza and a clear view of the kitchen. Paradiso is very much a neighborhood restaurant, as was evidenced by numerous people coming in and being greeted by name.
Walking into Paradiso on an unseasonably warm fall day, soup was the last thing on my mind. I knew going in that Jean-Paul and his staff make three soups a day (all around $4.50), and they’re generally very good, but it was warm and I didn’t have comfort food on my mind. That changed when I saw the Cuban black bean soup’s description on the menu, promising “traditional Cuban spices and flair.” So I had to start with the soup, which is served with a generous hunk of Jean-Paul’s country white bread. It was flavorful and a little rich, but I expected more heat after being promised those Cuban spices.
We moved on to a Grecian salad, which was inexplicably served with a balsamic vinaigrette instead of a more traditional olive oil/red wine vinaigrette. All of the salads, from the garden salad to the chef salad ($5.70 for small; $8-$10 for large), are served with this dressing, which is really more of a dip.
It’s very thick and not really pourable. But the balsamic vinegar worked quite well with the Grecian salad’s accompaniments (artichoke hearts, tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese) and the greens were delightfully fresh.
For my main course, I chose the pesto chicken pasta and worried about my choice until it arrived. The pasta was served with enormous chunks of juicy chicken breast, artichokes and spinach in a basil pesto sauce. The menu doesn’t list cheese but a lovely, creamy goat cheese topped the dish and kalamata olives were sprinkled on top. This was one of the best pesto pasta variations I have ever had the pleasure to eat. Everything worked together, from the large pasta shells to the slightly sour pesto to the artichokes. It’s certainly not a low-fat option but the quality surprised me. The portions are incredibly generous as well — we had enough to take home and the pickiest member of the household couldn’t stop eating it.
Along with the pasta, we decided to try a pizza. My companion hails from the East Coast, where pizza rules. He is very particular about his pies, shunning Chicago deep-dish in favor of a thinner, crispy-chewy crust. The Paradiso claims to have “the best pizza in the universe” and I must say I was duly impressed. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a master baker has one of the best crusts I’ve tasted in this city. The toppings on the Sicilian (pepperoni, ham, salami, capicola, tomatoes, basil, garlic) were fresh and plentiful, and you can get certain combinations by the slice. But at prices ranging from $19-$23 for a large ($10-$13 for a small), I doubt we will make this our new go-to pizza.
Being in an award-winning bakery, we felt compelled to try some of the dessert offerings. We chose an apple-pie pocket, which was delightful. The crust was flaky and crisp and the filling wasn’t too sweet, redolent with cinnamon and nutmeg. Jean-Paul has been offering house-made gelato for some time now, so we decided to check out the chocolate. It was scrumptious, nice and creamy, with a little of the cocoa grittiness showing through.
Even though Paradiso is within walking distance of my house, I haven’t been a regular customer. That’s about to change, though, because I have a feeling there are more surprises to discover there.
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