Hungry Hound: Mediterranean delight at Cira in West Loop

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Last Saturday night, I introduced you to a new Peruvian-inspired restaurant on the roof of the new Hoxton Hotel in the West Loop. Tonight, part two, with a visit to the lobby where there's a completely different chef and menu. It's more focused on the Mediterranean, with nods to Turkey, the Middle East... even Italy.

You could spend the better part of an afternoon, or evening, soaking up the scene in the lobby of the Hoxton Hotel in the West Loop. The bar is open - and loungey - but tucked in the back is another restaurant: Cira, where kebabs are prevalent.

EXTRA COURSE: Turkish Breakfast at Cira
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In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a look at the elaborate Turkish Breakfast offered daily at Cira.

"Cira is a representation of the Mediterranean basin, kind of done through a seasonal lens here in Chicago," Chef Chris Pandel said.

Start off with something light, like olive oil-slicked razor clams.

"Razor clams are harvested by the lunar cycle, so they're tough to get consistently in Chicago. We serve them as a simple escabeche - they're almost lightly pickled then covered in olive oil and they sit for a day. It's kind of light and refreshing," Pandel said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a hearty stew of morcilla - that's blood sausage - combined with green chickpeas and clams, all swimming in an assertive chili broth.

"That's kind of an ode to Spanish, chickpea, clam and morcilla stew. Really simple," he said.

Spinach is wilted in the heat, and once it's plated in its cast iron dish, it's fortified with an enormous dollop of saffron aioli and fresh herbs, all the better to sop up the excellent Publican Quality Bread with.

Pastas are all handmade, like Pandel's simple-but-stunning ravioli.

"Very simple ravioli filled with pistachios and a little bit of arugula, it actually has a texture kind of like ricotta cheese; it's bathed in a saffron-orange butter sauce with toasted pistachios and breadcrumbs on top," he said.

Plus, some finely-chopped chives to finish. Even more impressive, Pandel and his team are making Turkish-inspired manti, a traditional lamb-filled dumpling, which is cooked in a bit of poppyseed-flecked butter sauce with chives, and is then nestled into a pool of tomato sauce. Fresh mint, some sumac and tiny dollops of spiced yogurt give the dish both creaminess and complexity.

"They say the smaller the manti, the better the cook. So we're working on getting them smaller and smaller. We could make a nice lamb sausage, we could make the pasta in-house, and the yogurt and the tomato it all comes together really nicely so we thought it would be fun to do. It's definitely labor-intensive but it's an awesome dish," said Pandel.

So Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, even Turkish here at Cira, and the thing they all have in common: lots of fresh herbs and dried spices.

200 N. Green St.
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