181220ABREO

The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes enjoyed this order of Moroccan chicken during a recent visit to Abreo in Rockford, Ill.

ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS

The simplicity of Abreo is in the observable—the décor and gorgeous presentation of the plates. But it does not extend to substance of the dishes, all of which we found to be quite complex.

As we scanned the menu, there were quite a few ingredients we had to look up, such as kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) and sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes).

In the dimly-lit dining room, communal tables line one wall opposite the bar. There also is an outdoor garden patio and a private wine cellar for more unique dining experiences. Decked out during our visit in turquoise and gold accents, Abreo was festive yet elegant.

Helene started out with a house cocktail, the Sweater Weather ($9). Smoky-sweet mezcal with hibiscus liqueur, honey and apple bitters were all poured over large squares of ice, and then finished with a fragrant citrus peel. The drink was smooth and comforting.

I was delighted with my drink, the Muse ($10). Vodka was paired with a zesty ginger syrup and muddled basil. I only learned this year about the amazing varieties of bitters, and this drink had a lovely orange one.

We threw our server a curveball and ordered using the elimination method. Of the 14 small plates listed, we excluded three and ended up with quite a feast. It might sound excessive, but keep in mind the recommendation is 2-3 plates per person.

Our first round included the apple salad ($7), which had wonderful flavors and textures. Arugula, a favorite, was nicely combined with fried Brussels sprouts and pine nuts. Goat cheese and Parmesan completed the dish. It was nice to have the lighter salad served with two protein plates: seared tuna ($18) and pork belly ($14).

The slices of tuna were seared along the outside, but inside the tender flesh was a nice red color. Thin slices of cucumber and jicama joined the tuna in a wonderful lemon and miso vinaigrette. The cucumbers drew raves.

One of Helene’s favorites was the pork belly. Two fork-tender cubes of meat were in a sauce of kabocha squash. The highlights were the textures: the soft, melt-in-your-mouth pork and the pepita seeds, which just popped as you ate them.

When three blackened scallops ($19) came out of the kitchen, our thoughtful server went back for a fourth so we could each enjoy our own. The scallops were huge and rested in colorful sweet carrot and mango sauces, garnished with crisp pieces of prosciutto.

Jennifer’s top picks were the Asian noodles ($9) and duck nachos ($13). Thin noodles were tossed with carrots, scallions, mushrooms, asparagus and peanuts in a garlic-ginger sauce that was amazing. It had some spice but wasn’t overly hot. The nachos were bursting with flavor, with tiny hunks of duck along with chopped avocado, morsels of goat cheese, pickled chilies, cabbage and soy sauce.

The Moroccan chicken ($9), served with a carrot hummus, long strips of shaved carrots and grilled pita triangles got Nikki’s vote as one of the best. The aromatic dish was the perfect finger food, and we used the flatbread to wipe up the last traces of hummus.

Everyone enjoyed the chicken crepe ($9) in a sauce of aged white cheddar with amazingly tender chicken and mushrooms on the inside. A squeeze of lemon gave a brightness to the flavors.

Pushing into the more substantial offerings, we sampled the sweet and savory Korean beef ($11), one of our go-to dishes when we see it on a menu. It was delicious. Another of Nikki’s favorites, the ribeye ($16), had the most wonderful sunchoke onion puree along with roasted potato and carrot with a fresh chimichurri garnish.

The last plate presented was the shrimp Asiago ($13), which came in a small skillet and was more like a fondue. If you love cheese, this will be a favorite.

The hits just kept coming, all the way up to the choice of desserts. We had to try the rocklava ($10). It was a perfect fusion of pine nut baklava, glazed citrus slices and lavender-scented panna cotta sprinkled with fresh thyme. Not something you find every day.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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