The bombshell about the August 4 closure of Bistro 110 (110 E. Pearson St.; 312-266-3110) is more than mitigated by news of its replacement: a modern Italian bar and pizzeria, courtesy of Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Café Spiaggia, and Terzo Piano). Promises of good espresso, homemade pastries, gelato to go, a mozzarella bar, and a roster of Abruzzo-inspired small plates sound a whole lot better than the autopilot tourist fare into which Bistro 110 had devolved.
Dish: It’s hard to believe that Bistro 110 goes back 25 years.
Tony Mantuano: I wrote the original menu for Bistro 110. Larry [Levy] said go eat in Paris for a couple of weeks and come back with some ideas. And I did. I hired the first chef.
D: Is business at Bistro 110 still good?
TM: Business is really good there.
D: So what prompted the decision to completely change it up?
TM: I think we can build on what they have accomplished there. I guess the analogy is Brasserie Jo and Paris Club. It was a good restaurant. Maybe Paris Club, like this new Italian bar, appeals to more people. I think this concept has wider appeal. This concept. I hate that word concept. It’s really something coming from my heart. I have wanted to do this concept for along time.
D: Can you describe it?
TM: The idea is that this is an Italian bar more than a pizzeria. The pizzeria is one of the elements. This is about an Italian bar. It can be used for all meal periods.
There will be a vast gelato display when you first walk in. All house made. You can walk two steps in the front door and get gelati to go, in a cone or a cup, and walk to the beach. So sort of a retail element, too. The fact that the gelati is all made here. All on display. Another use for the space, other than a sit-down restaurant.
And there will be a mozzarella bar.
D: What does that mean?
TM: It means that there will be several kinds of mozzarella on display. Mozzarella bobbing in water, being held in water. Mozzarella garnished with various ingredients. Slices of prosciutto, a handful of arugula, vine-ripened tomatoes in season. But you will be able to see the mozzarella. You will be able to see your mozzarella sampler plate of maybe three different kinds of mozzarella right there on display.
D: Any other clever stations like that?
TM: A pizza bar so you can sit down and watch your pizza being made in the wood-burning oven. The biggest thing is that we needed to put in a real wood-burning oven for pizza. The oven that’s been there for 25 years is fantastic [but not for pizza].
D: What else can I expect be eating there?
TM: A lot of small plates. There will be a lot of large salads. It will be a place where you can go and get entrée salads. The biggest expense will probably be our vegetables and produce.
D: Tell me about some small plates.
TM: A lot of little things, called rosticcini. Basically these are little charcoal-grilled skewers. Different kinds of protein. This is really a specialty of the region of Abruzzo. Pieces of lamb marinated with herbs and things and charcoal grilled.
I [also] think it will be great for breakfast. You can get a house-baked cornetto, the Italian equivalent of a croissant. We will be baking our own pastries. You can walk up and get a great espresso in the morning. I go to Italy all the time. That’s how Italians have breakfast. Standing up.
D: Will the price go up if you sit down? Like what happened to me in Venice.
TM: No. We will leave that unimported.
D: Will there be a chef de cuisine?
TM: Yes. Spiaggia has Sarah Grueneberg as executive chef, for both Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia. Terzo has Meg Colleran Sahs.
D: You like women.
TM: I can’t get enough of them.