Handcrafted pizzas, modern wine system impress at Barrington's Neoteca
Barrington's Neoteca is a wine and pizza bar, and stays faithful to that Italian denotation with their menu -- offering a selection of pizzas (with red sauce or with olive oil sauce), three types of pasta, appetizers, salads and two other types of bar: bruschetta and salumi. A full bar, although with a wine focus, augments the food and list of traditional Italian desserts.
A selection of Neoteca's most expensive wines head into the Cuvenee System. It's essentially a wine chiller that, while keeping the wine cool, replaces oxygen in open bottles with nitrogen gas to stop the wines from oxidizing and going bad. Each wine in the Cuvenee System is marked by a corkscrew icon on the menu. The design aesthetic inside the restaurant is as modern as the wine system, with dark colors, velvet couches, large-scale art, unique light fixtures and house music pumping throughout the space.
For our appetizers, we ordered the salumi bar with prosciutto, porchetta, mortadella con pistachio, soppressata di chingiale (wild boar), manchego cheese and caciocavallo di grotta cheese. We also got the bruschetta bar with three types: Portobello mushroom, burrata bacon and smoked salmon. The salumi bar selections were great; very tender meat and flavorful cheeses, with a porchetta that tasted quite similar to what I have tried in Italy. We had to compare the board to the menu so we could determine what we received though; no one came by to tell us what was what.
The bruschettas were also good, albeit a little bland and needing more toppings -- our main issue was that they were supposed to be cut in half. The bread was, but the toppings weren't, so trying to separate the bruschetta into two pieces each was basically an exercise in bruschetta making since we had to rebuild it after we pulled it apart.
For dinner, we ordered the fennel sausage pizza (sausage, caramelized onions and smoked provolone on an olive oil and Parmesan base sauce) and spaghetti and meatballs. The crust on the pizza -- baked in a big open oven on display to the restaurant next to the bar -- was a delight: crispy yet chewy at the same time. The fennel sausage didn't have much of a fennel flavor, but overall the pizza was good.
For the spaghetti and meatballs, the pasta was thicker than I was expecting and made the smallish serving much more filling than it would be otherwise. The meatballs, a best-selling appetizer according to our waitress, were soft but not too mushy and had a nice blend of meats that tasted great. It was topped with a chunky tomato sauce (again a little bland) and, perhaps mistakenly, a sprig of mint leaves.
For dessert, we ordered the deconstructed cannoli, or as I fondly refer to it, cannoli nachos. It comes in a sundae cup, shards of cannoli shell sticking out of a double serving of the filling, chocolate chips and pistachios. As expected, it tasted just as delicious as constructed cannoli.
Our biggest gripe at Neoteca was the service. Our waitress, although polite, clearly didn't care about our table since we weren't ordering alcohol. She barely came by unless forced to, and I was likewise forced to go up to the bar to get refills on our waters during one of her frequent disappearances in an otherwise mostly empty restaurant. I had considered getting wine after dinner, but decided against it after the way we were treated.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Neoteca Pizza and Wine Bar130 S. Hough St., Barrington, (847) 382-1330, neotecainc.com/
Setting: Modern casual
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday