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Nico Osteria

Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune
 

For most restaurateurs, Nico would constitute a masterpiece, the shining culmination of a career. For One Off Hospitality, an extraordinary empire that’s ruled by Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander, and four other partners and counts Blackbird, Avec, and the Publican among its offerings, it may seem like a downshift.

But while Erling Wu-Bower’s coastal Italian menu of housemade pasta and fresh seafood looks familiar at first, the plates, both large and small, surprise and satiate at every turn. You could sit at the open kitchen’s chef counter and make a fine meal out of crudo, perhaps Nantucket Bay scallops with roasted cauliflower and tangerine oil or a fettunta (basically a Tuscan bruschetta) with baccalà-style Dungeness crab and celery. Or you could ease into a window booth and split an incredible buttery whole wild branzino, crusted with salt and served with forest mushrooms and Zante currants (tart cousins of raisins).

Some visitors never make it to the chaotic dining room, opting instead for a seat (or a couple of square feet) in the chaotic salone with its wall of creeping plants, where they sip cocktails made by distinguished barman Matty Eggleston. Dynamic flavors and soaring prices charge the glam space with high expectations and higher drama; but whether a downshift or an upsell, Nico delivers pure pleasure.

Perfect for: People who haven’t set foot in the Gold Coast for years

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