Change of plans: What was slated to be the second location of Nella Pizzeria Napoletana (2423 N. Clark St.; 773-327-3400) at 1359 West Taylor Street has transmogrified into Davanti Enoteca, an Italian small-plates concept with Luigi Negroni (Carlucci) as chef. The owner of both places, Scott Harris, says, “Nella [Grassano, a partner at Nella] is just not ready. I can’t move her from Clark Street. She needs to be there to make that pizza rock-solid.” The brick-and-candles décor at Davanti Enoteca features floorboards from Old Globe Reclaimed Wood Company. Harris says A16 in San Francisco resembles what he hopes Davanti will be, with a frequently changing menu of a lot of vegetables and four or five pizzas. “Luigi promised me stuff that you’ve never seen in Chicago,” says Harris, who may have an addiction to restaurant openings, with five in the last year, including Francesca’s on Chestnut (200 E. Chestnut St.; 312-482-8800) this Friday. In addition to Davanti Enoteca in mid-April, he has another one coming soon: Aldino’s (626 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-9300), set to open next week.
“Bacon is not good for them that have weak stomacks: for it is of hard digestion, and breedeth cholerick humors.” –Tobias Venner (1577-1660), British physician and writer
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
There’s a lot of trash-talking from the leadership team of Pork Shoppe (2755 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-961-7654), a barbecue place in Avondale from the owners and chef of Tizi Melloul, with an opening planned for mid-April. “There are a lot of good local barbecue places, but their atmosphere is like a prison cafeteria,” says Steven Ford, a partner. In contrast, Ford and his co-owner are shooting for a “jazzier-looking,” “urban,” “consistent” restaurant that rides the industry-wide porcine wave. (“Pork is the new sushi,” Ford says.) They also plan to out-hardcore other restaurants on local sourcing. “A lot of people claim to have local ingredients, but it’s from Iowa and Wisconsin,” says Michael Schimmel, the other co-owner. “There’s a lot of good product right here in Illinois.” If the ribs are half as good as the smack talk, we’re there.
It’s splitsville for Rustico Grill (2515 N. California Ave.; 773-235-0002) and Mixteco Grill (1601 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-868-1601). Mixteco’s owner and chef, Raúl Arreola, says he sold his interest in Rustico in December. The divorce is taking both parties their separate ways. “We have made some changes to the menu, since Raúl is not there and it is not his menu anymore,” says Alma Herrera, a co-owner of Rustico. “We put in light sauces and are focusing more on seafood now.” Rustico’s rebound chef will be Manolo Martínez, who is coming in from Cabo San Lucas, as soon as his visa gets worked out. Rustico will keep its name.
Vive La France!
Ben Mohamed Mchabcheb, who owned Lincoln Park’s long-gone L’Olive, tells how he came to own and operate La France Café & Crepes (939 S. Main St., Lombard; 630-613-9511). (His remarks have been condensed from a longer interview.)
“I went to a French culinary school in my hometown of Rabat, Morocco. I came in 1979 to Chicago. I started with L’Escargot at the Allerton Hotel. From there, I went to the Ritz-Carlton, then La Cheminée and Café Bernard. Three years at Café Bernard as executive chef.
“I worked all my life in the French culinary field, and then I opened L’Olive. After 9/11, a lot of restaurants closed. And one of them was me. After I closed the restaurant, I basically made up for all the years that I missed on the kids.
“I started cooking for people at home. I came back to it with a lot, lot, lot more enthusiasm. I missed it so much.
“[At La France] I don’t want to play with French cuisine. I just want to do basic standard authentic French cuisine: Mornay sauce, ratatouille, niçoise. I’m doing poulet à la sauce aux câpres communes.
“It’s a little place. Seats just about 15. That’s all. I live just a few blocks away. That’s smart. It comes with age.”
The new “tapas nuevas” section of the menu signals a nouveau régime (er, régimen nuevo) at Tapas Las Ramblas (5101 N. Clark St.; 773-769-9700) in Andersonville. Michael Moore, the owner, hired Greg Cannon (Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Haro, Nia) to helm the kitchen and develop authentically Spanish tapas to add to the menu. “[The menu] goes the gamut in sauces and key subtleties. It has really changed the restaurant,” Moore says. The new menu items, launched yesterday, include grilled octopus with arugula, mint, and limoncello vinaigrette and duck leg confit and roast duck breast with wild mushrooms.
Things to Do
- Take advantage of the lingering finish of Restaurant Week. About 50 of the restaurants that offered $22 prix fixe lunches or $32 prix fixe dinners (or both) for the organized event from February 19th to 28th are informally continuing. Several recommended spots are participating: Aria, Boka, Capital Grille, C-House, Japonais, Joe’s, Perennial, Salpicón, Topolobampo, and Zealous. Chicagomag.com has information on how long each restaurant is offering the deal and whether reservations are available, as of today.
- Eat late at Pizzeria Via Stato (620 N. State St.; 312-642-8450), where pizzas are half-price Monday through Friday after 9:30 p.m.
- Have lunch at Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039) on a weekday, starting Monday, March 8th, before everyone else discovers that they serve lunch on weekdays.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
As its name reflects, Bua Hana (7330 W. Madison St., Forest Park; 708-488-0480) serves Thai and Japanese food. “Bua” is the Thai word for lotus, and “hana” the Japanese word for flower. It opened January 15th. . . . In what must be some kind of record, Don Diablo (3749 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-489-3748) hit the dreaded “closed for remodeling” skids in late January, after opening December 8th. . . . Also closed for remodeling is Matsuya (3469 N. Clark St.; 773-248-2677). . . . Trattoria 225 (225 Harrison St., Oak Park; 708-358-8555) has been sold as of March 1st, said Craig Charlton, the chef and owner, on the restaurant’s Facebook page. . . . A Mano (335 N. Dearborn St.; 312-629-3500) is closing. Its last night is Saturday. . . . Same story for Bamboo Blue (18147 Harwood Ave., Homewood; 708-799-4700)—last night Saturday . . . Slightly different story for Nozumi Japanese Cuisine (100 W. Higgins Rd., South Barrington): It’s already closed. . . . If you haven’t been baconed out by the pork trend of the past two years (or dissuaded by Tobias Venner’s quotation, above), check out Baconfest Chicago. Tickets go on sale Thursday.