Photos: Tyllie Barbosa
Like your Italian food straight up, no twist? Head for Da Luciano (8343 W. Grand Ave., River Grove; 708-453-1000), where good prices and an utter lack of pretension keep the local cognoscenti coming in for pizza, pasta, and other classic dishes-all as relaxed and confident as can be. Robust minestrone, chock-a-block with vegetables, is the best choice as a come-with-entrée freebie or as a stand-alone ($2 for a cup). Fried calamari is a darn good shareable appetizer, but we were blown away by the grigliata di pesce (pictured here; $10.95), a showstopping mélange of tender grilled squid, baby octopus, and shrimp on a bed of garlicky fresh spinach. Follow it with deeply satisfying rigatoni porcini ($9.95) or other deceptively simple-looking choices from the long pasta list, and two people will walk away very well fed. Pizzas are offered in pretty much any size, thickness, and variation imaginable; the crackerlike extra-thin crust with pepperoni ($9.50 for a 12-incher) was our fave. Finish with homemade cannoli, if you can. Added attraction: a serious and wide-ranging menu of gluten-free dishes, including pasta, bread, pizza, even desserts. Modest selection of beer and wine.
Curry Hut (410 Sheridan Rd., Highwood; 847-432-2889) is so devoted to its bread that it has two clay ovens in its kitchen: one for naan, roti, and paratha-and one for almost everything else. An overlooked Indian gem in Italianate Highwood, this upscale white-tablecloth spot goes beyond the usual vindaloo-and-pakora stuff (though it’s got that, too), crossing the border into Nepal with dishes such as khasi ko maasu, tender goat meat on the bone. The chicken tikka masala and masala naan (pictured here; $13 and $3.50, respectively) may come from separate ovens, but put ’em together and you’ve got a pretty good marriage.
If you ask the chef-owner, Riccardo Michi, to name his favorite dishes at Riccardo Trattoria (2119 N. Clark St.; 773-549-0038), he answers without hesitation, “The fish stew viareggina, from my mother’s recipe.” He also grooves on the veal and ricotta meat loaf cesarina-same source. In 1942 Michi’s mamma founded Girarrosto, a traditional Tuscan ristorante in Milan, which won her recognition by Le Cordon Bleu. Her son has learned well: he’s quite the master with spaghetti and Manila clams (pictured here; $18), and we figure only Michi and his mother know the secret to Chicago’s creamiest panna cotta.
Devon Seafood Grill (39 E. Chicago Ave.; 312-440-8660), an upscale concept that Houlihan’s launched in May, has one strike against it in Chicago: we’re all bound to mispronounce its name. (It rhymes with “heaven.") But it has a lot more going for it, like fish flown in daily from multiple coasts, prime New York strips, a ton of wines by the glass, and a cushy Gold Coast address. Check out the grilled salmon salad (above; $17.95), and you know that the chef, Mick Verheyen, a Wolfgang Puck protégé, is refreshingly unfussy. “When you use the best, freshest ingredients,” he says, “You don’t have to add a lot of culinary fluff to make a dish work.”