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Contadino Will Do Full-Tilt Italian in Downtown Wilmette

The new restaurant will replace the Italian-American spot The Avenue later this month.

Sausage and peppers at Contadino   Photo: Huge Galdones

Sometimes the way forward is the same way you’ve been going, just with greater purpose. So hope the owners of Contadino (1146 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette, 847-920-5962), an Italian restaurant opening in mid-March in downtown Wilmette. Compared to its predecessor in the space, The Avenue, another Italian place under similar ownership, Contadino plans a more authentic Italian menu, as you might guess from the name’s switch from an English word to the Italian word for “farmer.”

To wit, Chef Will Johnson (Filini, Sportello in Boston) says Contadino’s menu will always feature three risottos made from Acquerello rice. The restaurant will prepare pizzas Sicilian-style, with a thick, focaccia-like crust. Johnson thinks his beefsteak rotolo will stand out—a pounded-thin flank steak rolled up with walnut pesto. Gnocchi, ravioli, and other pastas will be homemade. The Avenue’s menu, on the other hand, skewed toward Italian-American staples and dipped into hamburger and taco specials.

The reinvention extends to the decor, which has received a complete overhaul. A wine display, a new bar, and woods arranged mosaic-like show off the new direction. “You will know exactly who we are the moment you walk in here,” Johnson says. A holdover from the old regime, a gigantic antique wine press now anchors a transition area for diners waiting for tables.

That reminds us of another aphorism like the one that opened this item: Big things should stay put.

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