But I want trofie!," I pouted and figuratively stamped the floor when I saw there was no pasta on the menu at Good Measure, a tight new River North barstaurant from Sophie de Oliveira, a sibling in a Chicago cocktail family dynasty that includes her brother Daniel, spirits-brand manager about town, and sister Jacyara (El Che). Along with her is chef Matt Troost, who's mounting a comeback after stepping away a year and a half ago from West Town pasteria the Charlatan, which closed three months after his departure.
I'm not suggesting that his leaving had anything to do with its closing—I have no idea. But Troost is a talented chef with a pasta-loving fan base that has followed him from the short-lived Fianco, back in the aughts, to the late, lamented Three Aces, on Taylor Street, and then to Charlatan. For us, it's been a long wait.
Alas, the bar's online menu promises just one pasta—trofie, traditionally nubby twists of wheat-potato dough from Liguria, usually eaten with pesto. The website promises that instead they'll be served with charred poblano pesto, smoked cotija, and corn husk ash. Sounds weird, but I knew, based on experience, that in this chef's hands it would probably be really good.
So yeah, I got sulky each time there was no trofie to be had (though there have been occasional pasta specials). But people follow Troost for other reasons too, and Good Measure seems like a good fit for the often-irreverent Italo-bar food he was capable of at Three Aces.
He goes there with cylindrical deep-fried supplì, arancini-like deep-fried Roman risotto fritters, here spiked with pepperoni and planted in a radiant marinara made with sweet Sungold cherry tomatoes. And again (with a detour to France) with ribbons of prosciutto on toast slicked with a creamy, eggy sauce gribiche with bracingly fresh parsley and chervil. Gluey and overelastic, burrata makes a less credible case with cucumber, pickled peaches, and puffed quinoa.
From there it's a wild ride. Jumbo deep-fried "Nashville Hot" chicken livers have little of the sweetness endemic to that style, but they're crisp, hot, and spicy and come with a cool cucumber-ranch dipping foil. Like the supplì and the fried chicken thighs, not to mention the leg quarters with malt vinegar and curried honey butter, they make a strong case for the skilled fry play at work in the kitchen. So it's a real disappointment that, on the two occasion I had the fries, the thick, well-done, hand-cut specimens tasted like they'd emerged from the oil long before they'd been ordered. That's particularly confounding given that Troost's Bolognese fries from Three Aces were an expression of spud love that lives on in legend (bring them back!).
Apricot-glazed pork ribs seem a little tired too, but underneath them is chakalaka, a medley of curried legumes and peppers that proves to be the South African baked bean analogue you didn't know you needed. The burger those fries come with is a workmanlike double patty with smoked American cheese, served on an onion bun with optional add-ons including onions caramelized with bits of foie gras, a whole lobe of burrata, or, as it states, "any other damn thing on this menu." (In the future I might request the nutty sunflower hummus showered in smoked sesame seeds.) A fat deep-fried Polish sausage is also elementally satisfying smothered in those same ducky, fatty onions.
A few nods toward Mexico are more inventive, like a salt cod brandade tempered with sweet corn and given an inky, fungal depth from dabs of black corn smut, or a pile of black mussels in a red posole-like getup: thick guajillo-stained broth with hominy, shredded cabbage, and tortilla strips.
This all goes down in a narrow bar with red booths on the opposite wall and a decorating scheme and soundtrack—Mudhoney posters, 25-year-old Fugazi—that seem a bit overearnest until you remember you're in River North. Yet de Oliveira's straightforward cocktails make for easy drinking even if they do seem short on acid, and there's a surprisingly winning cosmo brightened with aronia berry (aka chokeberry). The fantastic dry and superfizzy Japanese whiskey highball is gassed to the tenth power by the Suntory Whisky Toki carbonation machine I need for my yurt.
Good Measure seems like a nice and mellow enough spot to hang out in a neighborhood that lacks such a place. But the short menu, given its missteps, is really only a glimpse at Troost's unique talents. The good news is that eventually there will be pasta, according to Troost, who cites time and space limitations as the factors that have so far held him back.
"No one's more bummed than I am about that," he told me. "Believe me, there will be pasta." v