The Heart of the Matto

The head kitchen position at Cibo Matto (The Wit Hotel, 201 N. State St.; 312-239-9500), vacated when Todd Stein moved to The Florentine, was filled a couple of weeks ago by Evan Percoco, who most recently helmed the modern steak house Bokx 109 American Prime in Newton, Massachusetts. “I feel that Cibo needs to go into a little bit different direction,” Percoco says. “It’s kind of thought of as an Italian fine-dining restaurant. And I would like to make it more modern Italian and try to get away from the fine-dining aspect of the room. It could be more approachable, especially in pricing.” Percoco told us about his background and gave us some details on Cibo Matto’s new menu.

Dish: You started your career in Washington, D.C., cooking at the Mayflower Hotel, at the Saudi Arabian consulate, and with Loews Hotels. Where did you go after D.C.?
Evan Percoco: I was 30 at the time. I felt like I had one last opportunity in my life to do something that I always wanted to do. I took a leave and traveled to Italy. I arrived in Rome and moseyed up to Florence. It’s where cuisine as we know it started, with Caterina de’ Medici. I worked in a family-owned trattoria called Donnini in Bagno a Ripoli.

D: And then?
EP: Back to Loews hotels. They were opening their second hotel in Orlando, Florida, the Hard Rock Hotel. We developed a new concept, The Kitchen. Monthly, we would cook with rock stars [such as] Sammy Hagar, Dee Snider, Mark McGrath, Joan Jett, and Gwen Stefani.

D: What makes your Cibo Matto menu modern? Arancini leads the appetizers, and that’s pretty classic.
EP: I’m serving it with pork belly and porcini latte, which would be like a creamy, light foamy-style porcini cream.

D: What are your spaghetti and meatballs like?
EP: [We’ll have a] playful way of doing spaghetti and meatballs—we will do wild boar, and it’s going to be studded with foie gras. The chitarra is made in-house. It’s served with white truffle garlic bread and “Sunday gravy.” [When I was] growing up in a half-Italian house, Mom would make a big pot of sauce. My grandparents would come over and have some lambrusco. They would sneak me a sip or two, and we would sit around and eat Sunday gravy.



“You first parents of the human race . . . who ruined yourselves for an apple, what might you not have done for a truffled turkey?” —Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826), French gastronome


You Will Be Presented with a Dining Opportunity

Our last fortune cookie heralded good news: “You will hear about a new Asian restaurant.” Sure enough, we soon heard about PL8 (736 W. Northwest Hwy., Barrington; 847-382-1988), a Chinese and Japanese restaurant planning an auspicious February 3rd opening—Chinese New Year. PL8’s managing partner, Ed Culleeney, left Lettuce Entertain You in mid-December after 25 years, 15 of which were at Ben Pao. “I felt like I was Luca Brasi going to the Godfather having to tell Rich [Melman, LEYE’s chairman],” Culleeney says. He met Shawn Li, the owner of TL’s Four Seasons in Bartlett, four or five years ago, striking up a friendship with Li and becoming a regular customer at his restaurant. When investors approached Li about a new place in Barrington, Li brought in Culleeney. Okay, Fates, now that our first fortune came true, about this other one we have that says, “You will come into a large sum of money” . . .


Pancakes of Babel

Under new ownership, the former Pannenkoeken Café in Bucktown has sloughed off its outer coat to become Yuca Café (2257 W. North Ave.; 773-227-6600). William Stable, the new owner, recently arrived in Chicago from Barcelona via Miami and saw the place for sale on Craigslist. “[Chicago] is the closest thing to Europe to us. You have almost everything here we had over there.” As for Yuca, he says Pannenkoeken’s namesake item will stay on the menu: “I want to make it kind of a European café. I love the Dutch pancakes.” He hired a Parisian acquaintance as the head chef. So it’s Dutch pancakes made by a Parisian at a place named after the Spanish word for the tuberous root also called cassava. On second thought, it’s not that strange—since our first Big Mac, we’ve been getting French fries made by Americans from a place with a Scottish name.


Romantic Meating

Speaking of yuca, which is frequently served with South American cuisine, construction is under way at La Parrilla Colombian Steak House (6427 W. Irving Park Rd.; no phone yet), in Dunning, near the edge of Portage Park. The 40-seater will offer $13 to $15 plates with prime steaks (or other proteins) and sides such as plantains, rice, and potato. Raquel McCormick, a partner in La Parrilla, says ownership has totally gutted the space, which Google Street View suggests was most recently something called “Spiritual Botanical Solutions.” As to when it’ll open, she says, “Lord knows. I’m hoping by Valentine’s Day.” If they make it, there are some great marketing possibilities with steaks through a heart.


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Things to Do

1. Sit down to dinner or lunch on January 6th at Dunlays on the Square (3137 W. Logan Blvd.; 773-227-2400), where every menu item (excluding wine) will be $6 or less in honor of the restaurant’s sixth anniversary.  
2. Start breaking your New Year’s resolutions at Crumbs Bake Shop (303 W. Madison St.; 312-263-6500), which celebrates its grand opening January 7th by handing out 1,000 free cupcakes, starting at noon.

3. Get a pair of pizzas for the price of one, January 10th through 14th at RedFlame (2417 N. Clybourn Ave.; 312-462-0486), a pizzeria that makes each pie using a two-step process (grill first; flame-cook later).


Dot Dot Dot . . .

Since early December, The Uptowner Cafe (2233 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-661-2299) has been serving up its twists on breakfast and lunch staples—including the “Renslo,” a take on the Reuben that unites corned beef with roast beef and bacon. . . . The tableside guacamole carts have been permanently parked at the Division Street location of Adobo Grill (2005 W. Division St.), which closed its doors December 31st. . . . Café con Leche (2714 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-289-4274) is now open for dinner, serving Latin-inspired entrées (as well as burritos, sandwiches, and other bites from its lunch menu) until 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. . . . The Noble Square storefront that formerly housed Ritz Tango Cafe is now home to Kin Japanese Cuisine (933 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-227-7758), a 35-seat BYO serving sushi and Japanese dishes. . . . He may not be running for mayor, but he does seem to be taking over the city one restaurant at a time: On Monday, Scott Harris debuted DiSotto Enoteca (200 E. Chestnut St.; 312-482-8800), a late-night wine bar and small-plates restaurant, in the basement space below Francesca’s on Chestnut. . . . The team behind Gilt Bar opened Maude’s Liquor Bar (840 W. Randolph St.; 312-243-9712), a restaurant and cocktail lounge with Frenchie flair, last night in the West Loop. . . . Wolcott’s (1834 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-334-4848), an American-food restaurant and bar with a late-night menu, opens tomorrow.