The Family Behind Papa Milano Returns with Mama Milano
Two brothers are the great-grandsons of Papa Milano, who at one time owned 13 Chicago-area restaurants. One, at State and Oak, had the old-school red-sauce charm that made people sigh with nostalgia even when it was open. In Act One, these two brothers face a decision: Keep their Lincoln Park branch of Papa Milano or produce an unusual, interactive theatre show. The brothers, named Joseph and Tony Tomaska, choose the show, called Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. It’s a hit, running 17 years. In Act Two, they are successful producers, having just premiered a movie called Drunkboat, with John Malkovich, John Goodman, and Dana Delany at the Chicago International Film Festival. In Act Three, they decide to return to the family business to open Mama Milano Pizza Bar (1419 N. Wells St.; 312-787-3710). “[The pizza bar] is a concept that’s pretty hot in New York now,” says Tony Tomaska. Bartenders make Neapolitan pizzas in a gas oven, and wines are served in quartino carafes. The Milano family recipes come back, including the Giuseppe pizza: tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, salami, and olives. “Our great-great-uncle Tom Granato was the first restaurateur to have pizza on a menu in Chicago,” Tony says. “On Taylor Street. It was called Granato’s. Probably the late thirties.” Mama Milano is scheduled to premiere in May.
Pollack’s Dinner at GT Fish & Oyster in Six Bullet Points
GT Fish & Oyster (531 N. Wells St.; 312-929-3501), the instant River North hot spot from Rob Katz, Kevin Boehm (Boka, Landmark, Girl & the Goat, Perennial Virant), and Giuseppe Tentori (Boka), opened March 31st.
• The décor: Like a Cape Cod fish house—albeit an awfully spiffy one.
• The vibe: Hipster heaven, but happy rather than hallowed.
• The noise: Tolerable.
• The service: An army of friendly, knowledgeable, helpful staffers.
• The prices: For the quality and the portions, as friendly as the wait staff.
• The food: OMG. Specifically, tuna poke with mango, barbecue eel with wasabi, sunfish seviche with chimichurri, lobster roll with fried onions, carrot cake with cream cheese gelato. Crab cake, meh.
“Fish is the only food that is considered spoiled once it smells like what it is.”
—P.J. O'Rourke (1947–), American writer
Struggling to find a place in his neighborhood to bring the kids for dinner, Joe Sabath decided to open his own: West on North (2509 W. North Ave.; no phone yet), a 17-table restaurant scheduled to open in two months on the eastern edge of Humboldt Park. Sabath, who also owns Marble on the Humboldt Park/Logan Square border, described a menu of flatbreads, steaks, fried chicken, and kid-friendly dishes. Appetizers include a deep-fried cream cheese ball (made with Animal Crackers, Goldfish, and saltines) and bacon-wrapped pretzel sticks with a sweet chile dipping sauce—and that’s the adult menu. For dessert, Sabath says, “I’m going to have your classic, deep-fried breaded Twinkie.” And also a cheesecake chimichanga, which is a tortilla wrapped around cheesecake, fudge, nuts, and caramel. “I’ve always made them for special people, but here I will consider everybody special,” he says. Just like a restaurant version of Lake Wobegon.
Usually, when a restaurant has city and suburban locations, the concept starts in the city and expands outward. Prasino, a hit in La Grange and St. Charles, is making like a salmon and coming inward to open Prasino Wicker Park (1846 W. Division St.; no phone yet), planned for August. The same farm-to-table, sustainable philosophy will travel to the city location, along with the menu, for the most part, including the lobster-stuffed avocado. Specials may differ. “We’ll maybe do a little more interesting items [in the city] that we can’t get away with in the suburbs,” says Scott Halverson, the executive chef of all the Prasinos. Halverson says he and the pastry chef, Todd Feitl, will both relocate to Ukrainian Village to make the newest Prasino the flagship. And also to get away from all that darned racket and smog in the burbs.
Nine Questions for Andrea C. Correa
Correa, the pastry chef at Real Kitchen, features in the book The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli, by Lisa Abend, just out from Free Press.
Dish: How long were you at El Bulli?
Andrea C. Correa: Six months, which is the full season, from July to December of 2009.
D: What was the experience like?
ACC: Overwhelming. An amazing experience. It is a different kitchen, different from anything I’ve done before. Different techniques.
D: Like what?
ACC: Let’s say you have just regular, plain water, you add algin [a chemical derived from algae] to it. Then you drop olive purée into the algin water. You will create a kind of skin around it. So you will have a thing that looks just like an olive, but when you put it in your mouth, it will explode because it’s liquid inside.
D: What was a dish you worked on?
ACC: We had sweet potato gnocchi that was one of my favorite dishes, but none of the dishes were my creation. You would make a purée out of roasted sweet potato, and then spherify it. Then we would try it with different flavors. We tried it with Parmesan cheese. Tonka beans—you can’t get them in the States. We tried it with tangerines. And we came up with the best combination, which was sweet potato with Parmesan emulsion and Italian white truffles.
D: Now that you’re doing desserts at Real Kitchen, what are you making?
ACC: My favorite desserts are lemon desserts. I have really good lemon biscotti, lemon cupcakes filled with lemon curd and glazed with cream-cheese icing, and then a lemon tart.
D: How much do you coordinate with the savory side of the kitchen?
ACC: We are tasting each other’s food constantly. We spent about two weeks tasting everything.
D: Do you see yourself having your own place some day?
D: A restaurant or a bakery?
ACC: A restaurant, actually. Before this pastry job, when I lived in Europe, I was doing savory food but now I’m back in pastry. So I go back and forth.
D: Sounds like you can do it all?
ACC: Sure, you could say that.
What’s New? What’s Old
For his upcoming restaurant in the old Cornelia’s space, Taverna 750 (750 W. Cornelia Ave.; no phone yet), Paul D. Cannella, the owner of the bar Scarlet, is renovating old recipes. Cannella’s grandfather owned Grand Tap Room in the forties and fifties, and the chef Ryan Bovinet is giving Grand Tap Room’s old-school dishes contemporary tweaks, creating $10-and-under Italian small plates. For example, Taverna 750’s chicken noodle soup will have olive oil, red peppers, and chicken encased in a raviolo, which releases the ingredients into the broth, poured tableside. The restaurant will also make its own limoncello, as well as orange-cello and grapefruit-cello. Everything comes back eventually—look at skinny ties.
• Just when you think he has covered it all, Scott Harris announces he’s opening a dive bar.
• Cubs fans—and wings fans—are lucking out this season thanks to Fifty/50.
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Things to Do
1. Take a dip at Geja’s Café (340 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-281-9101), where the National Cheese Fondue Day party will rage for a week (April 11th is the “official” day) with free bites of Swiss Gruyère fondue on April 10th from 12 to 4:30 p.m. and through April 17th after 5 p.m. in the restaurant’s bar.
2. Find your seat at holiday tables during “April in Paris” at Fox & Obel’s Market Bistro (401 E. Illinois St.; 312-379-0132), where a French-themed prix fixe dinner menu will be on offer for $15.99 through April 17th.
3. Get one of the first peeks at the list of chefs, sommeliers, and restaurateurs tapped by StarChefs, an online magazine for foodies, as Chicago’s “Rising Stars” for 2011. (Winners will prepare sample tastes of the dishes and drinks that helped win them accolades at the Rising Stars Revue on May 23rd at Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park.)
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Grant Achatz officially opens the doors to Next (953 W. Fulton Market) this evening to anyone lucky enough to hold a golden ticket. . . . Sage Grille (260 Green Bay Rd., Highwood), popular for elevating classic American food through polished tweaks, closed on March 20th—a move that puzzled diners and staffers, including former chef Adam Grandt. “We were pretty much the busiest restaurant in Highwood,” Grandt says. Filled seats apparently didn’t fill the restaurant’s coffers, however: “It never really made money, and it was time to close it down,” says Charles Rhea, an owner. . . . The proprietors of The Cupcake Gallery opened Uptown Pie Company (1319 W. Wilson Ave.; 773-334-5450) at the same address, where fresh pies—both sweet and savory—will be baked six days a week (excluding Mondays). . . . Native Foods Café, the California–based chain of vegan restaurants, is setting up shop at three locations in Chicago (the Loop, Lake View, and Bucktown) this summer. . . . The secret’s out: Hush Supper Club, a traveling dinner party that embarked from Washington, D.C., celebrating Indian home cooking and its history, has dinners scheduled in April and June in private homes in Chicago and the suburbs (reservations are available to the public through the club’s website. . . . As reported in Eater, Bananas Foster Café (1147 W. Granville Ave.; 773-262-9855) is expanding to an adjacent storefront that will nearly triple the restaurant’s size. . . . Congrats to Stephanie Izard, one of Food & Wine’s ten “Best New Chefs” in America for 2011. You go, Girl & the Goat.