On a no-man’s-land stretch at the edge of Uptown, six-week-old Monticchio (4882 N. Clark St.; 773-275-7080) could someday qualify as a pioneer. We were intrigued by the Tuscan-contemporary spot after the owner, Jim Delelio, said about his Neapolitan pizza, “I didn’t want to put myself out there as the best pizza in Chicago. Even if we are. . . .” So Pollack checked the place out. Decent pizza, nice slice of moist banana cake, but the showstopper was the arancini. Served piping hot, the classic fried rice balls are mysteriously light and crisp on the outside, oozy with mozzarella inside. Two to the order, they beg to be called “just like Mamma used to make.” Pollack’s not saying she would drive out of her way to repeat the meal but mention the arancini and she’s in the car.
“I get the Reese’s candy bar. If you read it, there’s an apostrophe. The candy bar is his. . . . Next time you’re eating a Reese’s and some guy named Reese comes up to you and says, ‘Let me have that,’ you better give it to him. ‘I’m sorry, Reese, I didn’t think I would ever run into you.’” –Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005) American comedian
5 Questions for Todd Stein
The former chef de cuisine at MK and graduate of Kendall College will be running the show at two spots in the upcoming theWit Hotel (201 N. State St.): Cibo Matto, a modern Italian restaurant with a ten-foot salumi/cheese display, and Roof, a massive lounge on the 27th floor. (FYI: TheWit’s third concept on the drawing board, an artisanal American restaurant State and Lake, will not include Stein.)
D: Let’s start with Cibo Matto [“Crazy Food”]. Have you ever done Italian before?
TS: When I lived in Ohio, I ran Italian restaurants. I lived in Paris in 1994, and at the time my sister and her husband lived in Bologna and I spent a lot of time there. Fell in love with Italian food and Italian culture. And said someday this is what I’m going to do. My soul is in Italian food.
D: What are your plans for Cibo?
TS: In Italy, it’s about where you are and what’s in your backyard. I’m taking those ideas and incorporating them into an American style. Will do some of our own salumis and have great cheeses. I’m thinking about a really nice walleye with peperonata [a stew of peppers and tomatoes] and some simple parsley oil. We want accessible and affordable food. This is the kind of place I want people to come to in blue jeans or in a suit.
D: What will Roof’s menu be like?
TS: More like an enoteca with small plates. We will have a wood-burning oven up there for pizzas. I think you will see a little crossover with some of the items from Cibo.
D: When is all this happening?
TS: The hotel is scheduled to open at the end of April, early May. State and Lake and Roof will open at the same time. A little while down the line [summer 2009] we will open Cibo Matto.
D: Where have you been since you left MK last year?
TS: Took some time off. Went to Greece to see my sister. Consulted in Minneapolis. David Burke then lured me to Las Vegas. I have a wonderful job, but it’s time to come home.
Alan Shikami plans to close Shikago (190 S. LaSalle St.; 312-781-7300) on December 21st, then reopen with a new name on January 5th as “a fun Japanese restaurant”—his original plan for the space in 2007. “We’re focusing more on sushi, noodles, and sizzling-platter food,” says Shikami. “Lighter, more affordable, and we’ll probably reopen the takeout area with fresh salads. I’m excited because this is what I wanted to do all along. Kevin [Shikami, his brother] turned Shikago into something more along the lines of Kevin. I thought it was a mistake.”
He Said It
“Irene’s in the French Quarter takes an oyster and wraps it in pancetta, and they pan fry it with Romano cheese and garlic bread crumbs. And then they drizzle a beurre blanc over it. One of the most decadent things you’ve eaten in your life. Definitely not heart healthy but absolutely delicious.” –Robert Marani, explaining the New Orleans inspiration for his 62-seat Italian/Creole spot, La Bella Bistecca (410 Circle Ave., Forest Park; 708-771-8466). The five-month-old restaurant/wine business includes a raw bar specializing in unique oyster dishes and a menu with fusions like barbecued shrimp over a Fontina cheese polenta.
1. Kitsch’n On Roscoe (2005 W. Roscoe St.; 773-248-7372) offers a different $10 comfort food special every night, which includes a wine or beer.
2. Before 7 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, kids eat free at Soul (1 Walker Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-920-1999) with each adult paying meal.
3. Weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m., Reel Club (272 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook; 630-368-9400) serves mini burgers and fish tacos for $1.50 each.
4. Every Wednesday night at Feast (1616 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-7100) you can get two courses plus a glass of wine for $25.
5. À La Card, produces a snappy deck of 52 cards, each one good for a $10 discount at a Restaurant You Already Love (Lula Cafe, Naha, Hot Doug’s). Decks cost $30, $1 of which goes toward Common Threads.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Anyone remember Mama Sue, the red-sauce restaurant where Francesca’s on Taylor (1400 W. Taylor St.; 312-829-2828) currently resides? It now exists as the 45-seat Taylor Street (2916 Central St., Evanston; 847-570-0188). Same New York–style pizza and lasagna and eggplant Parmesan. . . . Andy Motto, the chef who takes over at Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St.; 312-943-3000) on December 26th, says he plans to change the menu but keep it in the brasserie vein. . . . Watch Spiaggia’s amiable Tony Mantuano, still glowing from his Obama connection, prepare dishes on CBS’s The Early Show.