Courtesy of Blast Marketing

The past two chefs at Carnivale (702 W. Fulton Market, 312-850-5005) were Mark Mendez, who now owns the affection-inspiring Vera, and David Dworshak, who just opened the promising Takito Kitchen. In February, Rodolfo Cuadros took his place in the gigantic Spanish restaurant’s chefly lineage.

Born in Colombia, Cuadros started early at restaurants, possibly earlier than was legal. “When I was 12, I worked in New York and in New Jersey as a dishwasher,” he says. “At 13, I started cooking.” Now 29, he came to Chicago after gigs in New York and Miami and immediately started sculpting the menu.

“The short rib had to go,” he says. “It had no texture. It was basically braised short rib with polenta. Heavy on heavy. Like eating baby food.” His replacement short rib is braised in espresso coffee and served with caramelized root vegetables and fennel kimchi. Tweaks sufficed for other items, such as the arrachera: The skirt steak will now be marinated at least 24 hours and grilled over higher-quality wood.

Cuadros makes his own desserts, including a chocolate cigar made of dark chocolate mousse and filled with Marcona almond nougat and airbrushed to look like a real cigar. The cigar comes alongside smoked Zacapa rum ice cream and Oreo ash in an ashtray.

Longtime customers now can see Cuadros’s own stamp on the place. Mendez’s and Dworshak’s menus were somewhat different—close, but no cigar.