Bar Roma (5101 N. Clark, Andersonville) will open in early November, in the space that’s previously housed Tapas Las Ramblas, Il Flasco, and Riojas. Julia Zhu, a one-time partner in the Michigan Avenue incarnation of Oysy Sushi, is masterminding the project. To reimagine this storied address, she teams up with executive chef Fred Ramos (Gioco); über-sommelier Bob Bansberg, and restaurateur Howard Davis (he’s Zhu’s boyfriend).
The project is a realization of Zhu’s longtime dream: She recently quit her job at Citibank to manage Bar Roma and pursue other passions. “Every year, I have a resolution,” she says, “and this year I don’t have to have to put it off any longer.”
Her vision is finally coming together with interior design help from Frank Fontana of HGTV and WGN fame (also a partner in the restaurant). But why Italian? Why not the cuisine of Zhu’s native Shanghai? “I can eat Italian food every day,” she says. Plus, according to Zhu, the two cuisines share a special history. “Many Chinese [people] believe that pasta was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo.”
The compact menu hones in on the dishes of Rome, with five varieties of meatballs—including a Shanghai-style pork belly ball called the “cina” (Italian for “China”), and another made of veal sweetbread. Other highlights include fried baby artichokes (popular in the Jewish ghettos of Rome), beef tripe and tomato stew, and a plethora of hand-made pastas. As for prices, ex-banker Zhu has done her research: She aims to compete with local favorites like Anteprima by offering a slightly lower price point.
Diners can choose between an intimate dining room and a more casual high-top area, each of which seats 60. There’s also a cheekily-titled “VIP area”—a 10-to-15-top booth in the back, that will provide a little privacy for larger groups. Zhu says she hopes to become a part of the Andersonville community, with regulars coming in once or twice a week.
“I am the new kid on the block, but I like to bring people together.”