Hungry Hound: Cabra shines with bright, fresh Peruvian flavors

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Stephanie Izard is one of the city's busiest, high-profile chefs. Not only does she oversee several restaurants in Chicago's West Loop, she's also an "Iron Chef" on TV and does a lot of charity work.

But she recently added a new restaurant to her portfolio - this one more Peruvian inspired - and it's part of a new rooftop, just a few blocks from her other projects.

EXTRA COURSE: Desserts at Cabra
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In Steve's Extra Course video, he takes a closer look at a pair of desserts on the current menu, including a soft serve that is truly memorable.

A warm breeze from Peru is how Cabra makes its presence known. Located on the roof of the brand new Hoxton Hotel in the West Loop, the large windows help to illuminate some of the brightest, freshest dishes in the already oversaturated neighborhood.

"I kind of think of this restaurant as one that is mostly inspired by being in the city of Lima; so a lot of coastal fare, really celebrating all of the fish," Izard said.

Five tiraditos - inspired by the Nikkei, or Japanese influence in Lima - offer sliced fish, like hamachi with marcona almond slivers and smoked trout roe. But ceviches are where Cabra excels. The Classic begins with sweet potatoes and bass that's lightly salted, then crunchy corn nuts, fresh shallots and cilantro. A very different assembly than ceviches from Mexico.

"The fish isn't sitting in lime juice and actually cooking before it goes out. It goes out fresh; we just toss it with a little bit of salt, let it marinate for a minute, and pour leche right over the top, so it's just marinating right before it goes to the table," she said.

Leche de tigre is essentially the marinating liquid, plus fresh lime, chilies and fish scraps.

"We're blending these fresh leches all night. So you really get the ice-cold leche with the ice, bits of fish in it and all the different lime juice and flavors," she said.

Izard says be sure to use a spoon.

"All of the liquid, all of the broth, all of the leche that's in the bowl, that is the best part of the dish," she said. "The fish is a garnish in my mind."

There are also lots of potatoes on the menu, since Peru is home to several thousand varietes. Here, she offers a causa, or cold-whipped potato.

"They're whipped with olive oil and a little bit of lime juice. When it's chilled, it's absolutely delicious," Izard said.

Surrounded by a green chile sauce, large pieces of crab are dressed in a lime mayo, which is, in turn, used to top a fresh avocado fanned out over the potatoes. Garnishes include pickled aji amarillos, pickled green mangos, red onions and some crispy tempura flakes for constrasting crunch.

Among larger plates, the Tacu Tacu is a deeply satisfying plate of tamarind-inflected shrimp.

"We're using Japanese sticky rice and putting in some beans and then cooking that on one side. So one side is crispy and the other side stays nice and sticky. The sauce around it is a tamarind-shrimp sauce, sautéed shrimp and then a yuzu-tomato vinaigrette over the top," she said.

Drinks are plentiful, ripped right from the Lima playbook. Pisco sours may be the most famous, with their frothy egg whites shaken along with fresh lime and pisco and the dots of bitters as garnish. But the real gems reside among the chilcanos: lighter, brighter and full of flavor, like the "Alpaca My Bags," featuring gin, banana, coconut, lime and ginger ale.

"There's a lot of lime juice that we go through. Really bright, lots of great textures. I think even in winter when you're up here, you can feel a little bit of sunshine in the food. I think it's gonna feel like summer all the time up here," Izard said.

The thing I love most about Peruvian-inspired food is all of the citrus. There are lots of bright notes in this food, including the drinks, with lots of lime juice. Great for summer sipping.

200 N. Green St.
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